Manchester was buzzing last week with a range of events, from the preview of Videogame Nation at Urbis, the Digital Britain Unconference at MDDA, and particularly Futuresonic 2009. This year’s conference, to which myself, and a number of colleagues from AmbITion related arts organisations attended, had a range of themes, from Environment 2.0 to the Digital Economy. What stayed with me throughout the 2-day conference were the thoughts of main speaker Stowe Boyd from the opening session. He framed the debate in terms of the “edgelings” – individuals who are not necessarily part of one or other corporate structure. The destruction of traditional business models like local newspapers, record companies is resisted, but inevitable. The new business models, (and for that matter political and organisational models), will be more “connected,” more “social.” Making them pay might be the problem.
The two days of debate saw a polarisation between optimists and pessimists. The optimists saw that we’d continue to evolve technology to improve our social connections, but also address those bigger issues of accessibility, democracy, economy and environment; the pessimists felt that we were too wedded to organisational models that wouldn’t and couldn’t change, and that our big problems would only be touched on peripherally.
Meeting in the middle, you’d have to say that those who put their faith in technology to change organisations, and those who have lost faith in organisations ability to do the right thing with regards to technology, are both likely to be part-right. Our social media tools, and business models are useful, but to some extent “supply driven” (here’s another VC-funded dot.com application), yet those that succeed are “demand led”. Heated debates on the panel about “why isn’t there an open source Facebook?” raised the objection “because the user experience is what’s important,” and Facebook, for all its faults has got that mostly right.
In a room full of quite advanced digital thinkers, it was pleasing to hear a few voices on behalf of those who aren’t digital evangelists. The conference itself required a range of delegate decisions – about what session to go to next, from artists talks, to sessions dedicated to the digital economy or environment 2.0. Although there were sessions on the “semantic web” and other new technologies, the conference’s social agenda, rather than its technological one, was what stood out.
What makes Futuresonic (rebranding next year as FutureEverything) interesting is that it happily puts side-by-side computer programmers, artists, thinkers, entrepreneurs, academics and policy makers.
Links, photos, summaries and blogs from this year’s event can be found here.
2 thoughts on “Rise of the Edgelings”
Nice post and a good summary of the mood and feelings of the meeting.
One point I’d like to respond to though
“you’d have to say that those who put their faith in technology to change organisations”
“those that succeed are “demand led””
I don’t quite see it like that. It seems to me that change is about ‘edgelings’ [an inelegant term] collaborating together to deliver change. The social tools they need to produce ‘action at a distance’ should then be developed in response to their needs – your demand led point above. Successful social tools based on technology are therefore an ‘output’ and not an ‘input’ if you see what I mean . . . .
I see why Stowe Boyd has invented the term ‘edgelings’ but I instinctively don’t like it. It’s a bit like the term the Telco’s use “Last Mile” for where we all live. About 5 years ago some of us began using “First Mile” to describe this part of the network.
While the term ‘edgeling’ may accurately describe the user’s position in the network (not sure about that even?) it has a strange dissonance when we think about user-centric design and services.
Thanks for your post.
There did seem to be a bit of a tension about Stowe Boyd’s view of things. Alot of “pioneer” thinkers (e.g. like the open source movement) have a tension between their own individuality and their desire to join together socially, collaboratively.
I’ve talked alot to people over the last year or so about how I’m seeing knowledge and information no longer being at the centre of things, but at the edge – so we’re all knowledge nodes if you like – but a node only has value if its connected. Over time, the centre (the corporations for instance) should wither away, but the likelihood is that these new nodes will grow their own corporate structures around them (Google for instance.)
The arts is interesting, as its a series of individuals (performers, artists) often sustained by organisations, but also much of our publicly subsidised art is about a very deep collaboration (orchestras, theatre groups etc.).
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