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.