Media Perspective: The cultural elite still think the web is just a big camera

I spoke at a conference on Thursday. There were lots of important people there from the worlds of media and the arts. Ministers of culture, heads of the Art Council, that sort of bod. It was very pleasant and very refined.

And as I sat, watched and pontificated on the panel, I realised that I had accidentally struck a rich seam of that very rare thing - a bunch of people who hadn't ever properly mucked about on the internet.

Certainly lots of them had, but generational and cultural effects meant that many of the senior folk, the people in charge, were still pre-internet in that rather charming way you don't see so much in agency-land any more.

And it helped me see, with a clarity I wish I'd had years ago, the big mistake that media/arts/culture people always make when they start thinking about using the internet - they think it's just a big camera for pointing at all their stuff.

They see it as a recording and distribution tool, a way that lots more people can suddenly see the stuff they've been making all these years. The only problem to be solved is how to get all these new people to pay. Resolve some niggling rights issues and we can then start streaming our avant-garde opera on to the web, simultaneously preserving the national culture and demonstrating British supremacy in the arts.

Well, I don't think so. The realisation that took so long to sink into commercial communications culture, but which I think is embedded now, is that the web is a doing machine, not a watching machine. People don't come to look at it, they come to do something with it - to play, to chat, to explore, to make, to muck about.

Thinking of the internet as a big camera has another unfortunate tendency, one I don't think any of us have completely resolved yet - with unlimited storage and bandwidth, it's soon going to be very easy to film everything.

That seems to be the arts instinct - to preserve everything for the ages.

The problem, of course, as years of Big Brother have shown us, is that filming everything isn't necessarily a good idea. It's important that some things are forgotten or forgettable, that they can grow or shrink in memory or myth. That famous Sex Pistols gig at the 100 Club would be a lot less culturally potent if it could be established precisely who was there and who wasn't. Imagine it now - on YouTube, flickr, eventbrite and foursquare. With everyone counted in and then counted out again.

The most important, memorable and covetable experiences will soon be those that aren't filmed, that don't feature the glowing tribute of phones in the air, that aren't on the big camera in the cloud.


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