I’ve just come back from The Big Debate (part of the New Generation Arts Festival), a cosy couple of hours listening to talk on the subject ‘Digital Uptopia — more power or powerless?’. As is the way of these things the proposition was skirted round by most. The lack of a digital naysayer on the panel might have warned the organisers that it wasn’t to be a heated discussion, I think that the twitter/liveblog backchannel (albeit composed by the local digerati, who ought to be on the ‘power’ side really — the digerati in the room were hampered by failing wifi tho’)  tried hard to counteract that but still…

Two of the panel, Anthony from the BBC and Doug from BT, would have had be commenting on the live blog like mad during their opening addresses. Anthony, who works on the iPlayer, seemed to confuse “choice” with “power”,  I was waiting for the payoff where he reconciled the two concepts but it never came. How the choice to watch the same stuff on TV (by other means) at different times equates to ‘power’ I couldn’t grasp — the day they let people chose what is made rather than transmitted would be when iPlayer effected power at all.

Where as Anthony seemed not to have got hold of the right end of the stick, I’m not sure Doug was even in the same building as the stick. He talked (again, again it seems to those of us that follow discussions of this nature — something picked up on the live blog) of the history of media and how people hadn’t looked at the problems of what he wants to call “shape shifting media” yet. Shape shifting media seems to be an IPTV version of “chose your own adventure books”, and there was much online grumbling that the 30 odd years of video gaming has been addressing exactly that. “Not quite a game, not quite a film. Somewhere inbetween.” was one of his phrases. I’m not sure that this has anything to do with power (power to be entertained in a slightly different semi-interactive way?), and I’m not sure this is anything like a laudable aim (anyone remember the pretty but boring Don Bulth games?).

There are sort of two threads to the discussion that work for me, one is whether the ‘democratising effect’ of social media does mean more power in the hands of the individual, Jo had a few good points on that from the standpoint of local ‘traditional media’, but apart from that it wasn’t overly discussed. Again I think because the panel were all of the mind that there was more power, (but think about privacy for example) — oh for a member of the No2ID lot on the panel.

The second topic, and a secondary thread to the first, is whether (accepting that internet access is empowering) there really is a “digital divide” and if so how is it best dealt with. There were interesting points from the audience on this, “was the divide one of motivation, or economics?” and if economic who should pay? A great discussion, but not one there was enough time for here.

Really, for me at least,  the true digital empowerment of the digital age for me has come at the expense of events like this. Apart from Joanna Geary, whose opinions I have come to trust though her writings and actions, the panel had to work very hard to make their points to me. In the pre-internet age, the opinions of panellists, debaters, those “selected” where the only ones heard and would be automatically given credence, but now unless the reputation of the speaker precedes them I can think of twenty people I regularly communicate online with who would tear the discussion apart with wit and experience.

It’s those voices that I want to hear and online is the only real way to get them all together.

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