Culture is future » Innovation and digital


Contribution : "Culture: the human-digital technology marriage" by David Lacombled

Digital technology disrupted our cultural practices by allowing hyper-choice and instantaneity. The dream of a culture for everyone and at any time is finally reachable. But the challenge to make this hyper-accessibility go with diversity will need to succeed in the union between human and digital technology, between algorithm and social.

If you had told a teenager in the 1980s-90s – yes, remember, before the Internet! – that one day he would be able to listen to all the music he wants, watch a movie or a series – there were already good ones at that time – or even buy a book at any time, in any place, he would have certainly taken you for a dreamer. But he would also have signed for this immediately.

A little flashback – not so far, not in black and white – is enough to make us realize how much digital technologies, in their development, have deeply changed our cultural practices. Hyper-choice, instantaneity and hyper-accessibility are the key words of this new cultural consumption. Everything – or almost everything – in one click[1]…

In short, in barely a decade, digital technology managed to make the “culture accessible to all” dream possible by overcoming the geographical, social or even financial barriers. Who would complain?

Not us, of course. But culture, as we know, is not a market like any other. Culture is a social ecosystem and the market it generates should precisely enable its ecosystem to carry on and grow.

First on the economic front, because evidently the digital technology disrupted and still disrupts – Netflix’s arrival in France next September – the existing balances. For some players, the Internet represents a “digital invasion” and a need for reorganization. The challenge is not about protecting or forearming ourselves against digital developments – which is a perfectly illusory attitude – but about creating with them some conducive balances to the development of culture. Thus the culture market is like a start-up, namely in constant search for a more efficient business model and in a constant and necessary redefining. Today, it is about adapting its economical model to the emergence of free services – and pirating – and to the outbreak of new channels.

On the other hand, in terms of diversity, which is culture’s real catalyst. More than for any other economic sector, diversity and innovation are vital elements for culture. And it must be acknowledged that digital technology, contrary to what may be initially assumed, does not naturally generate such diversity. We may have believed in the beginning that hyper-choice would de facto ensure the diversity development. This is the famous “long tail” theory developed by Chris Anderson in 2006, which supposed that alternative cultural products and niches would find a field to bloom thanks to the Internet’s hyper-choice. Yet, as Anita Elberse, Professor at the Harvard Business School, eloquently shows in her book Blockbusters[2], the Internet, on the contrary, allowed the mainstream culture to prevail, making alternative approaches even more hazardous. According to her, hyper-choice would more naturally lead to blockbusterization than to promotion of diversity.

Cultural diversity, as bio-diversity, is at stake: it is not naturally given, but the result of a voluntary approach, of attitudes and behaviors we have to encourage. Here again, it is not about protecting ourselves against the Internet but about the cultural ecosystem’s players seizing upon the Internet to make (their) diversity prevail. This calls for a development via the Internet but also in curation vectors’ physical circuits for the plurality of supply. Diversity needs to be built with all the cultural players, whatever their sectors are, by enhancing the curation players as drivers and soul of this diversity. Diversity is not the result of an algorithm, however sophisticated, but of the human factor as it is embodied in events and places of cultural sociability: festivals, bookshops, concert halls, museums, cinemas, prizes… In its turn, the Internet offers to all of them a sound box through social networks, cultural platforms or new approaches such as crowdfunding. The equation of culture does not lie in the choice between “digital or human”, but in the fruitful union of digital and human.

[1] What does not prevent a challenging 800-page monster from becoming a best-seller and a more than 3-hour long movie from winning the Palme d’Or in Cannes…

[2] Blockbusters: Hit-Making, Risk-Taking, and the Big Business of Entertainment, Anita Elberse (Henry Holt)

About David Lacombled 

A journalist by training, David Lacombled is a Managing Director for the content strategy at Orange. He is also president of the think-tank, The Villa Numeris and author of the book Digital Citizen (Plon).

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On Twitter : @david_lacombled