Digital worlds, useful evidence and the revolt against always-on culture
We've been working over the last few months on a new programme to support effective uses of digital technology in schools.
It's partly an offshoot of the Next Gen. work on games and IT, but also a response to the evidence that many new opportunities are opening up thanks to the ubiquity of technologies like smart phones.
Michael Gove announced the programme in his recent speech, giving fulsome backing to the recommendations made by Ian Livingstone and Alex Hope.
A few months ago we feared that government hadn't got it. Now there seems to be a 180 degree switch which is very encouraging.
Watch this space for lots more on what we hope to do in schools and how. We hope to launch the programme in the spring.
We had a visit this month from the team running Family Nurse Partnerships, a great programme supporting young families that's expanding fast across the country.
FNP is also one of the stars of a great book I read over the Christmas break. Redirect, by Tim Wilson, is billed on the back cover as the most important psychology book ever written.
I can't comment on whether that's true, having not read all the others, but it is a brilliant account of quite a simple idea: the importance of narrative in helping people live happy and successful lives.
It includes the best written accounts I've come across of many social programmes that appeared sensible and well-designed, on topics ranging from teenage pregnancy to crime reduction, that went on to be scaled up in the US.
Sadly, as Wilson points out, when they ended up being rigorously assessed using randomised trials they turned out either to have no effect or negative effects.
The programmes which emerged as stars often helped people change their perception of themselves - their own narrative.
Quite a few involved volunteering - doing good made people feel better about themselves - helping them to live more constructive lives.
The book doesn't look like a book about evidence, but it's one of the best, and I hope will be widely read by the 200+ organisations now signed up for the Alliance for Useful Evidence.
A welcome tonic before Christmas was seeing a jazz giant, the saxophonist Gilad Atzmon - a middle-aged Israeli with an engaging mix of acerbic political commentary, risqué jokes and the musical ability of an angel who's been plugged into the mains.
He can jump from standards to Arabic melodies, a snatch of jingle bells to something like mid-period Coltrane.
The first time I saw him I almost gave up learning the clarinet - I knew I would never come close. He still performs several times a week at small venues across the world.
We know that there is only a faint correlation between talent and audience but it's still odd in a great city like London to see an obvious genius performing to only a few dozen people.
Always On or Sometimes Off?
The Christmas period reminded me of one of the intriguing questions of this decade: will we want to live in an 'always-on' world?
Only a few years ago it was a mark of status to carry around a BlackBerry. The most powerful people were always connected - so important that they couldn't afford to go offline.
A few years later, things look very different. The richest and most powerful people take pride in being able to go offline for long periods of time - to island retreats and remote jungles.
Movements are growing up for Digital Sabbaths and other ways of turning off the incessant chatter of the web.
Theorists of creativity and networks are reminding us that imagination depends on being cut off - too much interaction can lead to a bland uniformity, whereas silence and reflection can be the preconditions for genuine creativity.