I have just come back from York after two thoroughly stimulating and challenging days at Shift Happens 2.0 hosted by Pilot Theatre at York Theatre Royal. I try to go to as much stuff like this as I can both to support my work but also through personal interest, and this event did not disappoint. It answered lots of questions that I had, but also created new ones that I am now trying to come to terms with and find solutions to.
One of the most interesting things that kept coming up was digital identity and how we create identities for ourselves within the digital world. This in turn lead to questions of authenticity and honesty in the representations of ourselves as individuals, in terms of the organisations that we are linked to and the work that we create. I think that I am fairly honest and open in the things that I share here on this blog but I am also aware that this is only a single part of my online identity. For example, there are lots of people who do not read this blog but who may be more familiar with the ramblings that I post here. I know that there are many who may say that in having two blogs I am not creating an honest representation of myself but I feel that these are two distinctly different parts of my life that deserve to be thought about in their own right. And they aren’t even making any consideration of the new project I’m creating that is kind of related to my work in some respects, but in others it isn’t related at all… I’m not even going to start thinking about Twitter, Facebook, Flickr….etc…
It gets complicated thinking about all of these parallel identities that the explosion of Social Media has allowed me to create and have fun engaging in but I also find it interesting to think about how the new forms of communication that this is generating can be embraced by cultural organisations that sit within this ever changing landscape. Social networks are revealing new ways that individuals are able to interact with each other leading to whole new ways of thinkings and perspectives on the world. The challenge for us as artists is to bring our work and our institutions into these new ways of existence that are being developed, and to start asking the question of what it means to be human in a networked world.
The challenges and opportunities of this are many and varied but one of the greatest ones is how cultural organistaions can respond to this change quickly enough before they are swamped by other more pervasive opportunities for engagement and entertainment. Organisations need to find ways to be fluid and responsive to deal with the changing world around them. They can no longer assume that audiences will automatically rush to watch their work when the world is awash with different opportunities and interactions to tempt and engage them. Competition for a theatre or gallery is no longer just the other local theatre or the television but it’s videos on You Tube that attract millions of hits, computer games that make more money that the biggest grossing movies or work that people create themselves through the tools and power that the internet affords them.
We’re living in times of great change in terms of digital but also in terms of the world around us and if we as artists and cultural institutions want to survive we need to continue striving to ask the big, challenging questions that need to be asked, we need to be open to collaboration and new partnerships and relationships, and we need to recognise the critical part that we should play to develop the future that we want to live.