This webinar from the BCS vITal Workers series explores the cultural silver linings that have emerged during the pandemic. Experts Matt Haworth, Ian Hughes and Nick Lambert tell Brian Runciman about just some of the enriching activities we can all take part in, virtually. Blair Melsom reports.

 

  • Matt Haworth - Social entrepreneur from Reason Digital explains the positive societal aspects the shift to digital has brought.
  • Ian Hughes - Senior analyst for IoT and Chair of the BCS Animation and Games Development Specialist Group shares how virtual worlds created for online gaming can break up video calling fatigue.
  • Dr Nick Lambert - Expert and Lecturer in Art and Digital Technology and Chair of the Computer Arts Society describes how digital art is blooming under the shadow of lockdown.

All three experts offer a selection of weird and wonderful activities anyone can participate in for some much-needed diversion and bonus cultural enrichment at this otherwise quite difficult time.

Social enrichment

‘Acts of kindness, service to others and a sense of purpose are what studies have shown to positively impact on mental health. Lockdown has made it harder for us to access some of those factors,’ explains Matt Haworth. Fortunately, if you’ve been thinking about volunteering or you have the nagging sense of guilt that you should be doing more, there could not be a better time to do it.

1. Give time

Just a few hours of a technologist’s time could unblock something for a charity that enables them to help thousands of people. Platforms such as Nextdoor’s Help Map are helping to connect people to communities.

2. Offer your services

The world needs the skills of IT professionals now more than ever as there are many organisations out there trying to figure out how to digitise their services. The BCS Volunteer Portal, is another great way to start to volunteer your professional skills.

3. Fundraise creatively

Charities are dependent on people finding creative ways to fundraise from home, given the massive drop in income from in-person events. Macmillan Cancer Support have launched Macmillan Game Heroes, which invites people to take part in a sponsored gaming marathon to support people living with cancer.

4. Donate

If you don’t have the time to give, did you know that you can buy an item off a charity’s Amazon wish list? Simply use a search engine to find the wish list of a charity you support.

5. Protect from mental fatigue

On a slightly different note, Matt Haworth noted that not having buffer space between meetings online that would have usually been necessitated by travelling to and from pre-lockdown, means it’s much more mentally fatiguing even without the physical element of travel. Using alternative tools for meetings like Miro and Mural, which allow you to collaborate on a big virtual whiteboard or post-it Kanban board is a lot more productive than staring at a grid of people’s faces.

Gaming enrichment

Ian Hughes is a great proponent of using online gaming and virtual worlds as a means of hosting gatherings online and he has lots of ideas for how this technology can be harnessed to host more meaningful meetings.

6. Get out of this world

Engaging in online meetings as an avatar in an environment such as Second Life for meetings, or in games such as Fortnite and Animal Crossing, he explains, makes for far more memorable and beneficial interactions and offer welcome respite from ‘video fatigue’.

7. Have fun with filters

People are now moving past the social contract of how they thought they had to behave on video conference calls and having a bit more fun. New tools are providing quirky customisations to help break meeting monotony. Snapchat, for example, now has a downloadable soft camera for the PC, which allows you to use its ‘lenses’ (filters) over any application, like MS Teams or Go To Meeting. Now you can turn up to your next business meeting as a potato, if you like.

8. Attend virtual concerts

Gaming platforms like Fortnite have expanded their offering to include online entertainment venues and experiences, such as rap star Travis Scott’s ground breaking Astronomical concert.

9. Engage with esports

If you need a sports fix and you need competition, try and use the esports games industry for that. Whether as a viewer sitting and watching things like Formula 1 or diving in and having a go to compare yourself with pro and celebrity drivers.

10. Get creating

If you’re a techie of any sort, you should have a go at building some games content; whether exploring what you may be able to do with 3D or graphics, which you may not normally do, there’s so many useful tools and resources such as Unity and Unreal Engine - they are just there so do it! Says Ian.

Arts enrichment

Digital artists have been embracing this as a time to push their work forward even more and people have the time to explore places like galleries and museums now - but the experiential element of art galleries and exhibition spaces is hard to recreate from home. Fortunately, says Nick Lambert, ‘there’s a whole raft of creative solutions to this isolation problem.’

11. Take a tour

Virtual galleries and museums have thrown their digital doors open. Here are just a few notable examples:

  • V21 Artspace has been doing virtual tours of museums and exhibitions from the world over.
  • The Guggenheim museum in New York is holding virtual guided tours, with a real life guide taking you through the space live rather than clicking through by yourself. And you can also look around for free
  • Google has been doing a lot to digitise artwork via its Arts & Culture project. It has digitised the collections of over 2000 museums and over 100,000 artworks in high definition.
  • The Serpentine gallery has done a series of digital commissions, including one called iMagma by Jenna Sutela which is a machine oracle app that delivers live readings and daily divinations in an interesting, immersive setting.

12. Get inspired

The Lumen Prize website is another excellent way to see some of the featured digital artists, to explore and trigger your own creativity in the digital medium.

13. Enjoy some V-Art

If you’ve got an Oculus, Spanish graffiti artist Felipe Pantone has been using the VR graffiti simulator called Kingspray Graffiti; he takes you through some of the things he’s been doing whilst he can’t get out and about in lockdown. If you don’t have an Oculus, you can view his work on Instagram.

14. Get playful

Even games like Nintendo’s Animal crossing, with its art dealing character (Redd) who turns up from time to time to ‘sell’ you some art, is encouraging people to get involved with and look at art online!

15. Get crafting

Lastly, there is the emerging trend for people to recreate famous works of art by staging them using things from around their house and posting the results online. Perhaps you’ll be the next person inspired to recreate a Hepworth with household objects…