Looking At The World Through A Tech Lens | A Q&A with Gadget Show Presenter Georgie Barrat
A leading technology journalist and broadcaster, Georgie Barrat is has presented for diverse clients including HP, Sony, Asus & Motorola, and is now part of the Channel 5 team as one of The Gadget Show’s presenters. We spoke to her to find out more about which technologies she is most excited about, their social and cultural implications, and how she achieved a world record for time spent in VR!
Hi Georgie. Have you always been inspired by technology?
Technology, gaming and gadgets were always around me while I was growing up. I always had a love of them! I think technology is amazing, and I talk about how it affects our lifestyle, how we communicate, how we work, and even things like feminism.
When I was at university, I studied English as I wanted to become a journalist. I started up a student radio show that was all about technology and the latest releases. From there, I went on to find appropriate work experience, and I’m now a presenter of The Gadget Show.
I also do a combination of speaking - both keynotes and facilitating panel discussions – and writing for the likes of The Guardian, Tech City News or The Mirror’s Tech section. I really look at the social and cultural implications of how technology is shaping up. I look at the world through a tech lens.
How did you get into broadcasting and presenting The Gadget Show?
When it comes to the more broadcast side of things, I joined The Gadget Show where I get to travel around the world trying out the latest in robotics, AI and all the latest gadgets. It’s very consumer-focused and really fun!
What are the areas of technology that you are most excited about?
VR is really exciting, and I think anybody who has tried a really good VR headset would really agree that this has a real impact and is an intense experience for the user. However, not that many people have VR headsets – they’re still clunky, and, when you put them on, you feel quite self-conscious because they take away any other vision that you have, so there’s still quite a lot to be desired there in terms of the technology. I think we still have quite a way to go until it becomes mainstream.
We heard you have a world record in VR…
Yes, I have a world record of being in VR for over 26 hours. (Weirdly at Westfields shopping centre!) It had to be one game for the whole experience, so I decided to play Minecraft. The idea was to see if there would be any side effects. I have to say, I didn’t suffer from any nausea, but it obviously isn’t totally comfortable spending that long inside as the headset is still quite big and uncomfortable. I think that will be something that we look back on and go, ‘Haha! Look how big and clunky they were!’
A bit like old mobile phones?
Exactly, I think it will be like that. It was so interesting. The only thing I would say is that my memories felt quite real – it really does feel like you’re remembering a real thing.
What examples are there of using VR effectively?
I recently came back from Oculus – which is a Facebook-owned VR company in San Francisco – and I met with all the head designers and people working on Oculus Rift at the moment. It was fascinating to see what they’re doing with VR and where they see it going, as it’s a new genre really: a new way of playing games, interacting with entertainment or content, and for training and educational purposes.
When I was over at Oculus, they had some amazing examples of how we can use VR to conduct meetings. There’s also something called Facebook Spaces – where you are turned into an avatar and can hang out with your friends in an interactive virtual environment as if you were in the same room. You can have a conversation with them, it tracks all your movement… and you can also do amazing things as you are completely in a digital world. You can show your friends 360 photos and videos where you can point at various bits and pieces, or you can watch a movie, play games together - no matter where you are. It really does feel real, even though it’s an avatar, and shows the interesting social side of VR.
They also gave me an experience, which they are currently using the states, to teach doctors how to handle emergencies in the A&E trauma room. In the VR experience, they could recreate the stress of having someone in front of you who you have to save, as well as having a nurse giving you information while the mother of the child is screaming at you and the machines are beeping. Beforehand, they would just have a model, and it would just be you and the person. Now, however, they can really recreate what it’s like to be there.
Are there other areas that you think will have a big impact socially and culturally?
There’s so many. The sharing economy as a whole – I think we can all relate to how the likes of Uber and AirBnB have impacted the way that we go about our daily lives and the sort of communities that can be formed through technology. I recently did some interviews with GoKid and Split, which are two interesting new startups - sharing apps - which sort of formulise that process of sharing cars or bills to make it simple and frictionless. By taking out some of the legwork and unnecessary side of things, I think we’ll see technology really having an impact in terms of the sharing economy.
Moreover, the internet is democratising information and education – with everyone in the driving seat of being able to make a change for the better, and VR can be used to provide teaching and access to information. You can do stuff like engineering or learning to become a doctor – I think the next step from online courses will be online VR courses. What is really interesting is you can see where people are pointing and you can ask questions, and you’ll be able to feel like you’re having that learning experience in person. It will really help if you live in a remote part of the world, or you want access to information. That will really open that up to people able to learn from all walks of life for all sorts of jobs.
Thinking about the impact of technology, you also talk about millennials, who have grown up in an age of social media. What defines this cohort and how can businesses can learn to communicate more effectively with them?
Millennials are the first generation that have grown up on a diet of technology, and we’re starting to see the impact of this on this whole cohort of people who are surrounded by technology and social media all the time. They’re sort of the guinea pig generation.
There are some negative repercussions – for example, they want everything to happen immediately, because they are so used to being able to skype someone on an app, for things to turn up immediately, to be able to watch shows back-to-back, to order an Uber and get from A to B. They’ve been given an information overload. They want immediate job satisfaction. They want to go in and get work experience and be the boss - and if they feel like they're not having an impact at work straight away, they're a little bit disheartened by the whole thing and feel like they aren't making waves or doing what the rest of their peer group are doing. Not only does that make them more unhappy at work, it can also be quite hard to manage! They want constant feedback, they want to progress, and they want new job titles and more responsibility all the time.
Looking at the lessons from startups, I talk about what the factors that have shaped this cohort to explain that there's a reason behind this neediness, and how companies can manage it through acknowledging that it is a journey for millennials to get to where they want to, that their view is valued, and that they see work not as a work-life balance but as a work-life integration.
You talk about getting girls into STEM?
Currently, only 17% of those working in technology are girls - a horrendous stat that needs to change. Not just from a gender balance perspective, but primarily because we need more tech workers to support our economy. We need the talent for the UK to be competitive in a global market.
How do we go about getting more women in tech?
We need to address getting more girls interested in technology. We can do this by bringing them relevancy in the role models that appeal to them. We don't necessarily need extraverted ones, but ones that would speak to girls of all categories, calibre, and personality. We also need to talk more about the variety of jobs in technology. It goes from coding to roles such as project managing - and coding is not actually that much about maths and more like learning a language and about problem-solving. It's also about showing what you can do with that skillset and the range of jobs that you do. For example, you can travel, and it's actually quite a sociable job with plenty of opportunities to work in groups.
When I'm speaking to a young audience, it's about giving them those examples in particular. From a business perspective, it's about looking at your recruitment process and ensuring that your company culture appeals to a female audience and has an inclusive environment, It's about having a system in place where if you are a mum and you do want to come back, there are more flexible hours. It about how you are portraying yourself, especially online - if online, you have loads of pictures of just men working, that could put women off. There's also some practical stuff - having a rule where you actively aim to interview a specific number of women for a role, and if you don't get that number, you actively go and headhunt. There are a lot of things in place that can help to get more women in the tech industry. It's about leading from the frontline and making sure that women don't leave the tech industry because they don't enjoy working there.
How would you describe your speaking and facilitating style?
When it comes to facilitating, I would say that I'm quite conversational in style. I'm definitely not formal and I like to inject a bit of personality to make sure it doesn't feel too stuffy or staged in any way. I'll often ad-lib and interact with the audience. And I mean, for me, I'm just incredibly excited about technology, and I think it has the potential to change the world. It's constantly moving and it's really progressive. So to get the chance to get people to go, "Wow, there's a real bright future out there" (even though they'll be hurdles along the way), that's what I love to do!
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