I attended SXSW 2009 down in Austin, Texas a few days back. I was thinking back to see a theme between all the panels. Anticipation. Faith. The opportunity. Being lost. I think most people there realized the times are tough and that we are experiencing one of the biggest crossroads of our time. We have a set of, in many ways intimidating, challenges ahead of us. Challenges as diverse as environmental, political and recently a seriously wounded and rotten financial market. These challenges will force us to start questioning where we are, why we came here and more importantly how we will overcome these.
It is a responsibility as a citizen of this world.
The panels really breathed, and yet not at all breathed, this change. They all tried to address the challenges in their little niche area, but sadly enough nothing groundbreaking or innovative was really being put forward. I have to say I felt a bit disappointed. I caught myself fading out of the discussion when they did not really challenge previous conceptions and beliefs of the world (here mostly in the shape of the web and the media industry).
This is the time of change. That is a funny word. Changeâ€¦ We throw it around frequently. Do we really know what it means? What it really means to go through change?
What I do know it is intimidating to most people.
I guess this is something like growing up. Finding your identity. Meeting yourself. The world of today is in a serious identity crisis. We have lost our identity. Why? Who knows. But we have. We have to find it again. It will probably be a different identity than we knew. I think that would be awesome.
Personally this is a quest for me. I am a 33 years old guy born and raised in Sweden, a pretty calm, democratic neat wonderful little place in northern Europe. Some say it is even one of the few idylls on earth. Some say we have it too good there. Maybe we do. I have been informed about everything â€“ wrongs, rights and everything else â€“ ever since I made my stumbling steps in this world (and probably even before that). I have been taught since kindergarten how to behave towards my fellow human beings, what they expect from me, what is expected from me, and how to treat other people with respect regardless of skin, ethnicity, cultural background or religion. There is a big emphasis in Sweden on being able to have your own opinion and being able to express it. It is also a big emphasis on conformity – for the better, and for the worse.
In addition the schools in Sweden, which are predominantly public, we are very keen on teaching in depth what has happened through history and how it has affected us without anything being censored. We also study a lot of the present issues around the world and the roots of the issues we see with the focus on looking on all sides.
Ever since I was around 12 years old I have had access to computers and played with them constantly. I wrote programs and then especially a text- based golf game. During my time in college, the IT-boom began and I got my own personal Internet connection and gained immediate access to information and could follow the growth of the Internet and the web from the â€œorchestra seatsâ€. Astonished by the freedom online, I usually spent hours in front of the computer browsing the web for all sorts of information, and I quickly started to interact via various chat programs and instant messengers. I was amazed and intrigued by the technology.
I can, therefore, honestly say that I have been able to read whatever I want to, and have (at least the right to) my own opinion. Basically, I have spent 11 years of my time at a university level including PhD studies, a Stanford Fellowship and working as an associate director at Stanford with alliances between Stanford and Sweden, which has made me a full-feathered, full-blooded academic guy. I have become who I am because Iâ€™ve lived in a country where that is possible, and more importantly, because I know I have (or the very least should have) the right to do so.
Now consider some boy or girl in a developing country, emerging democracy, who might be living in state run by a dictator, corrupt regime or even just a troubled area. By troubled area I mainly refer to an occupied territory. What kinds of information will that boy or girl have access too? Who will provide this information? Will it be accurate? Will it be diverse? Will it be free and uncensored? What difference between that information and the information I can see, hear or read is there? Will they feel as entitled as I do to both access and to create that information? Who knowsâ€¦ What I know is that they should have the choice. At least in my opinion. That is their right. That really should be their right.
Unfortunately, alternative news sources in media are a rare occasion in the world. Too rare. However, via cellphones you will be able to share news, as the cellphones are ubiquitous, immediate and simple. By creating a tool for anyone in the entire world to share their stories at anytime from anywhere about anything you will start to bridge this media divide and create a more diverse media scene. We definitely need it.
It is something that is very important as everyone has the right to have an opinion and the right to express it. The freedom of expression. The freedom of speech. The freedom of the individual.
The freedom. The freedom.
This discussion might seem a bit far out, and a bit too philosophical, but a big issue for the areas I mentioned previously is that the sources of news coverage are very scarce and limited. There is a tremendous gap here between the media coverage, even though the media in the â€œdevelopedâ€ world has their deep issues in coverage as well. In a constrained landscape either by the number of news sources or narrow owner structure you will have an issue here. It becomes very easy to force an opinion on people, and not have an open discussion. Take for instance Iran, which spends billions of dollars on filtering the web for information that the regime does not feel should go online or opinions they have decided the people should not hear. If you are exposed to one news angle, that angle will become the truth even if it is far from the truth. It is the version you will hear. The only version. It is easier to believe something than not believe anything. You feel part of something, even though this something is artificial.
A few weeks back during the WeMedia conference, I recently spoke to a guy from Cuba when I was down in Miami drinking a Mojito. He told me that when his friends and family came to visit from Cuba, he was amazed how â€œinaccurateâ€ their perception was. He has to spend time explaining that the stories about Cuba are biased to one viewpoint and “filtered” by more corporate interests. Or is it? I really do not know. Yet ironically who knows who and what is right here. He has his views. They have their views.
What is the truth? I donâ€™t think anyone knows. I for one do not believe in the (expressed) absolute truth. The perceived truth will only be in the eyes of the beholder. Oh, there are so many analogies to quantum mechanics, but let us stay out of that one. Look up SchrÃ¶dinger’s cat as an example.
Back to the conference, during which I was listening to a panel at SXSW with amongst other Clay Shirky and Deborah Schultz talking about the future publishing model. Once again the discussion between the panel and the audience ended up being polarized. â€œWe should have free publishing. No. We should keep the old model. We need to safe the publishers.â€
Hmm. I both understand and donâ€™t understand why we find comfort in the extremes. The world, the media industry is not black and white. It is gray. It will be gray. Embrace it. Move on. Just accept it.
One of the comments from the audience on the publishing models were: “What purpose do you [publishers] serve in the future since you can’t be a filter anymore? That’s why you’re disappearing.”. I guess I see his point, but he is still wrong in my eyes. The â€œwe-against-themâ€ mentality will not work. It will never work. Maybe it is easier to think it would, but it is not. It is actually inhibiting to the process we need to carry out.
It was a bit symptomatic for the whole conference.
Ultimately I think and hope that we now start to think about the new identity of the media industry. How it will change and should change. Why it has to change. Find comfort in the change and see it as the shade of a plant.
I do believe SXSW is the right place for these paradigm shift thoughts and ideas. It would be embraced by the audience. The attitude of the conference participants were forward-thinking and open. They wanted to change. They wanted to innovate. They believed.
Let us find the shade of the plant that grows our future.
Ombra mai fÃ¹
cara ed amabile,
Never has there been a shade
of a plant
more dear and lovely,
or more gentle.