Digitalisation through the eyes of young people and the tourist industry

The GenZ project, which brings a human-centred approach to digitalisation, is receiving two extra assistant professors. Noora Hirvonen will be examining the role of artificial intelligence in young people's everyday lives, while Siamak Seyfi is researching the connections between digitalisation and tourism.
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Siamak Seyfi and Noora Hirvonen standing in the University hallway.

The University of Oulu's profiling project GenZ, launched in 2019, is receiving two new tenure track assistant professors. Noora Hirvonen and Siamak Seyfi, who will begin their work at the start of 2021, will bring the project’s tally of assistant professors up to six. With Hirvonen being part of the Faculty of Humanities and Seyfi representing the Faculty of Science, all faculties participating in the project now have their own GenZ assistant professorship.

Noora Hirvonen will be starting work in the Research Unit for History, Culture and Communications, and her field of research is information science. She completed her dissertation (2015) on young men's information literacy and information behaviour in the context of health. The topic has since expanded to become her main research focus.

‘I have studied the ways in which young people acquire, use and evaluate information sources, and the skills needed for this. In particular, I have examined the cognitive authorities for health information: what kind of information sources become credible and reliable sources that can affect people’s ideas about health.’

The central concept is information literacy. Hirvonen's perspective on this is socio-cultural: she does not examine people's cognitive abilities, but rather literacy as a social and cultural phenomena. In the GenZ project, the particular focus is on ‘AI literacy’, and the target group is still young people.

Hirvonen's perspective on information literacy is socio-cultural: she does not examine people's cognitive abilities, but rather literacy as a social and cultural phenomena.

‘My role in GenZ relates to artificial intelligence literacy in particular,’ says Hirvonen. ‘I am particularly interested in artificial intelligence in young people's everyday lives: where is it visible and how has it become part of everyday life? Also, what skills must young people possess in order to make use of AI solutions and recognise the risks involved.’

‘Artificial intelligence is visible as personalised content in social media, for example, and artificial intelligence can also filter and organise information in search services. This affects how young people build their perceptions of the world and themselves.’

In Hirvonen's own research, young people's health and well-being continue to play a key role, but the context as a whole is expanding: two doctoral candidates are also starting their research into AI literacy, and they will become Hirvonen’s small research group.

The research approach is qualitative and utilises not only interviews and observation but also participatory methods, such as including young people in the research planning process.

The plans will be developed further. ‘Artificial intelligence literacy research has often been connected with the needs of working life – there has been little research on artificial intelligence expertise in everyday life,’ Hirvonen points out. ‘The challenge is first to find situations in which artificial intelligence is involved. Then we move on to consider the impact.’

The GenZ project has two overarching objectives: to strengthen people’s abilities and strategies for coping with the turmoil of digitalisation and to involve the human sciences in the development of smart technologies. Hirvonen’s research area furthers the first of these objectives, and it may also contribute to the development of technologies.

‘It can increase understanding of the problems or needs of young people that can be addressed by smart technology, as well as possible negative impacts that should be taken into account in the development of such technologies.’

Smart technology is also visible in border control

Siamak Seyfi has completed a PhD in tourism geography and a Master of Sciences in Sustainable Tourism at Sorbonne University in France. For him, the key features of the GenZ project are its multidisciplinarity and one of the project’s main themes: resilience. In tourism geography, resilience is associated with the concept of resilient mobilities.

There are also other reasons why this assistant professor position was an attractive option. ‘Firstly, I was particularly interested in how the focus of the work is on flexible mobilities, new technologies and sustainable lifestyles. Secondly, the job is located in the Geography Research Unit of the University of Oulu, and this unit’s research themes are perfectly suited to my own research. Thirdly, GenZ offers a great opportunity to continue developing my research and to set up my own research group. I have appointed two doctoral researchers who will begin their research soon.’

In the GenZ project, Seyfi focuses especially on digital technologies and tourism, and on the related smart border control procedures.

In his own research, Seyfi has examined the links between tourism, politics, flexible mobilities, and ethical and political consumerism (e.g. consumption choices driven by ethical and political values). In the GenZ project, he focuses especially on digital technologies and tourism, and on the related smart border control procedures.

‘To facilitate mobility, border control has long gone towards digital or so-called smart borders, such as automatic travel document inspection, automatic border inspection and biometric identification of passengers,’ Seyfi explains. ‘During the coronavirus pandemic, the topic has become especially important. In the post-Covid-19 world, there is an additional need for health, hygiene and border control technologies, especially for airport passenger flow management technologies, such as touch-free check-in, boarding and product ordering, or even baggage handling for robots.’

The relationship between the coronavirus pandemic and tourism has already become one of the topics for his research projects. One of these projects looked at whether the collapse of tourism caused by COVID-19 could contribute towards shifting the tourism industry into a more sustainable and ethically responsible direction.

‘Negative growth and forced reductions in consumption have created a unique opportunity for resetting tourism. However, our analysis showed that many of the UN's Sustainable Development Goals have met with serious setbacks due to the economic and social impact of COVID-19.’

Another study examined how the media’s handling of the COVID-19 situation in ten different countries affected people’s plans to travel to each country. ‘Our observations showed that trust, crisis management, the health system and solidarity are important predictors of tourism behaviour. Trust and solidarity strongly affect the desire to support and travel to the destination in question.’

Text: Jarno Mällinen

Photo: Two tourism geography-themed books are set to be published in 2021 by Siamak Seyfi, as publishers Routledge and Channel View Publications. Since the beginning of December, Noora Hirvonen has also managed the docenture of health communication at the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Oulu.

Last updated: 10.2.2021