in London, School governance, Technology

Side-effects of technological change

This fascinating question was posted in a school governor webinar that I attended today, as we covered the services offered by the NSPCC:

With mobile phones being far more popular than landline phones, are children finding it more difficult to access Childline? What are their options?

I’d never thought about this before. It’s an example of a side-effect of technological change that I hadn’t considered. Like many other people I know, we ditched our home ‘land line’ phone some time ago. Fortunately, as one avenue of communication has closed down, others have opened up; children are now able to contact the service via other methods such as live chat and email.

When I started work almost 25 years ago, the big London train stations all used split-flap displays for their departure boards, like this one:

At some point they were replaced with digital dot matrix displays, which themselves have recently been superseded (at Euston at least) by new full-colour high-definition dashboards. A side effect of getting rid of the split-flap displays is that there is no longer any noise as they update, forcing people to keep looking at them as opposed to doing something else whilst listening for the audio cues.

I wouldn’t want to give up the benefits of new technologies — cheap mobile phone plans and information-rich dashboards in these two cases — but it’s interesting to see these side effects and note that not all of the progress is completely positive.

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  1. @adoran2 that’s a good point about the audible sound of the signs. Although, I suspect this was more of a side effect rather than a design feature. Sadly very few replaced user interfaces I see learn from the previous.

    IRT Childline, is email or chat any more accessible to children than a phone? Maybe once they reach a certain age. Many children aren’t going to have their own device.

  2. @matharden Yeah, I was thinking the same as you. The feedback from the representatives from Childline was that they are seeing upticks in demand for/engagement with their services, suggesting that access isn’t a barrier. But I would think this would need to be looked into a bit further to really understand it. A telephone in a communal space in a house has downsides too which may have been a barrier in the old days.