How are emerging technologies changing the ways we connect and communicate?
If you’re looking for an answer, your first thought might not be York’s Theatre Royal, a gilt-and-plush delight built in 1765.
Think again. It was the setting for July’s Shift Happens conference, exploring ideas about the digital future.
The spotlight was on creativity. With Shift the brainchild of Pilot Theatre, most delegates were from theatre or arts organisations.
But a fantastic programme – with 17 very different speakers – threw down some juicy challenges for anyone working in communications.
Forget the recession
…declared theatre critic Lyn Gardner. She’s not in denial. Arts organisations face fearsome cuts. Her message was: uncertainty is here to stay.
Constant change is the new norm – and we’d better get used to it.
Sacrifice predictability for effectiveness
Internet guru Clay Shirky has worked in digital since 1990. ‘But we’ve never done it that way before’ is the single biggest barrier to trying something new, he said. The presence of process is harder to change than the absence of resources.
Organisations prefer predictability. Successful organisations sacrifice predictability for effective change.
Technology is just a raw material
One theme ran through the day. The focus is still on the tech not the content. That’s the wrong way round, said Rachel Coldicutt of Caper.
Think of technology like potters see clay, she urged. It’s only the basic material for us to mould into something new, not the thing itself.
Silly things mask serious purposes
Clay Shirky described a flashmob of young Belarusians strolling round the central city square, eating icecream. The police moved in heavily. Were the authorities clamping down on icecream? No. But they were threatened by the informal collaboration and spontaneous organisation behind the conefest – and they were meant to be.
‘The real message lay not in the behaviour but in the collective action,’ said Shirky.
Ideas come at the end not the start
Abhay Adhikari (@gopaldass) advocated sharing the development of ideas online, making connections, holding conversations as thinking progresses.
Openly involving people as the story unfolds gives them a sense of choice and engagement.
Remix the format
Arts academic/DJ Rebekka Kill had the final slot. Is Facebook disco and Twitter punk? she asked. What’s next in social media, post-punk? Engaging questions. She posed them without speaking at all. Projecting her text, she span a set of post-punk vinyl on-stage. It went down a storm.*
After a long day in a stuffy auditorium, the audience boogied their way into the foyer buzzing and ready to network.
Sometimes digital has no place
There were inspiring and innovative presentations. Clay Shirky Skyped live from New York, Jennifer Yu from Manila. Honor Harger showed us dark matter visualised in video, Peter Gregson played us live music composed by Twitter traffic.
But Lyn Gardner and actor/director Sam West got the most emotional response. Both argued for the importance of the arts to communities. Both spoke direct from paper. Neither used any visual aids or sound. Their passion shone through. There were tweets of tears in the audience.
Sometimes one voice speaking has the biggest impact of all.
There was so much more to the day.
I’m already saving up for my ticket for next year.
* After all, you can’t hear LipSync’s Funky Town too many times, can you?
Sharon Telfer is a freelance writer and editor. Follow her here