Creative Times: The Beauty of Digital

The last of my November speaking gigs took place on Wednesday. I was at Fazeley Studios in Birmingham on a panel alongside the (recently BAFTA winning) Brothers McLeod and Pete Ashton (who’s blogged about it briefly and linked to his notes).

The event was called The Beauty of Digital: New technologies, old aesthetics and where the two meet. I used that to talk about how digital and analogue technology are often viewed as being in conflict, the relationship is really much more complicated than that.

Chris Sharratt, who chaired the event, has done a good write-up on Creative Times. This is the bit about my contribution:

He talks about all the ‘analogue’ stuff needed to support digital, the former nuclear bunker being used to house a server farm, the fact that cloud computing isn’t light and fluffy at all – it relies on loads of heavy duty physical kit to make it happen.

Made work a lot with arts organisations and Chris also talks about the way digital is increasingly sold as a neat and clean cure-all – which it isn’t. It can be messy and complicated and confusing too – just like the analogue world.

That last one refers to a quick semi-rant about arts organisations’ expectations of digital solutions, often stoked by funding agencies who think they’re helping. I’ve seen two problems:

  • A reporting bias whereby you’re much likely to hear about a handful of successful projects (if it’s iPhone apps then it’s Tate Trumps and Streetmuseum) rather than the hundreds of flops
  • An assumption/expectation/desperate hope that a bolt on digital solution will be a silver bullet that will solve organisational problems. This one probably deserves a longer rant at some point

I also referred to a chart that cross-referenced new and old tech with new and old ways of using that tech. For instance:

  • New tech giving rise to new possibilities: see National Theatre Wales‘ use of a niche social networking platform
  • New tech put to old uses: iPlayer being an example of that.
  • Old tech with new uses: think of the way the internet’s made new ownership models possible, such as with Zipcar
  • Old tech and old uses: pizza leaflets are my favourite example of this. They still serve a use and probably will do for a long while yet, irrespective of how much is spent on high speed broadband

With reference to the last of those, I’ve since allowed myself a small pat on the back for the line ‘nostalgia is the dead cat bounce of old technology’.

It was a good event and I enjoyed the chance to talk about the kind of things I often think about and that inform the work I do without being directly relevant to the day-to-day stuff I do. Thanks then, to Creative Times for inviting me and for everyone who came along to listen, ask questions and get involved.

Incidentally, Pete and have worked/spoken publicly together a lot less than one (and I include myself in that) might assume. Oh, and here’s the latest from the Brothers McLeod:

Published by Chris Unitt

I work at One Further, doing digital projects with cultural organisations. Follow @ChrisUnitt or find me on LinkedIn.