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Mobile phones and Social Networks: masters or slaves? – University of Reading

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Mobile phones and Social Networks: masters or slaves?

Release Date 28 November 2012

There is a real generational difference in the way people adopt and exploit technology in our increasingly interconnected society, the University of Reading's Professor Peter Grindrod will tell the Royal Academy of Engineering on Wednesday 28 November.

Peter's talk is part of the Academy's prestigious Vodafone Lecture Series. Director of the University's Centre for the Mathematics of Human Behaviour, Professor Grindrod will explore the societal impacts and consequences of our 24/7 digital communication.

Young people have very few issues with privacy of information compared with older generations, who wish either to impose a legal solution of more detailed legislation or a technical solution of enhanced verification procedures.

Professor Grindrod said: "Young people don't have identity baggage, they ensure privacy through their behaviour and meaning, or by using jargon. Humans do this all the time in normal conversation where one group wants to keep information to itself."

However, Professor Grindrod says social networking, search and communications applications have also dramatically changed people's attitudes to the value of services.

"Our ethics have changed, "he continued. "We have learnt to love ‘free' and indeed feel that we are entitled to free content and accept the fact that social networking companies and digital giants need to make money from our participation from others. Yet we anticipate we will be the beneficiaries of further investment in R&D and novel feature-functionality. This business model is intuitive now, yet it collides directly with old world notions of content rights where the consumer pays."

Professor Grindrod will also discuss the use of behaviour-based measures that can infer age, gender and lifestyle of the mobile user and the analysis of social networks and Twitter data, in identifying the role of influential individuals.

"This is essential for the future of digital media marketing in order to identify the strategy and returns on social media marketing, and indeed to infer when it is and is not appropriate to invest a larger proportion of this into the media mix," added Professor Grindrod.

Professor Grindrod will also address the role of instantaneous communication in the radicalisation and facilitating of terrorism. "Events in one location can have a major impact on audiences in other parts of the world hardening attitudes and creating polarised reactions," he says. "Now we have a digital society within which everybody is both close up to and far away from everybody else."

The lecture will draw on an analogy of the ‘journey to radicalisation' of a potential terrorist with a game of snakes and ladders - the journey mirrors progress around the board in larger or smaller steps, sometimes accelerated by ladders. This equates to a distinct tipping point along the trajectory of being radicalised - a sudden event that narrows the individual's world view and hardens their attitudes.

"The task for the community at large, and its political leaders, is to avoid creating ‘ladders' whilst at the same time helping create the conditions where ‘snakes' can be formed to take people off the board," he says.

Professor Grindrod and his colleagues have taken this concept on into mathematical modeling.

"Our research has looked at some of these event drivers correlating activity on the world wide web associated with specific events," he says. "It indicates that there are relationships out there in cyber space that might form the basis of more detailed models."



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