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Digital Culture and the Shaking Hand of Change

The presentation shows how to create and use a "problem space" to organize complex challenges. The central metaphor for the talk is the "civic handshake" — a process by which different parts of society cooperate through the informal exchange of information and the sharing of responsibilities.

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Digital Culture and the Shaking Hand of Change

  1. 1. Digital Culture and the Shaking Hand of Change Michael Peter Edson Kulturstiftung des Bundes German Federal Cultural Foundation Digital Fund 30 November 2020
  2. 2. Michael Peter Edson
  3. 3. Michael Peter Edson (that’s me!) Twitter: Website/blog:
  4. 4. ● 30 years in museums ● Smithsonian Director of Web Strategy ● Co-founder, Museum for the U.N. ● Strategist and leadership consultant ● Intense interest in helping cultural organizations to succeed in The Age of Scale Background
  5. 5. The world has changed in three dimensions: scope, scale, and speed
  6. 6. The “dark matter” of the Internet is open, social, peer-to-peer, and read/write
  7. 7. How to drive change across the cultural sector
  8. 8. How to get things done.
  9. 9. Congratulations to the new grantees!
  10. 10. Questions 15 projects 36 institutions €13.2 million in grants
  11. 11. Questions Some overarching questions lie beneath the surface of these Digital Fund grants… 1. What does digital society look like in the future? 2. What role should cultural institutions play in the future? 3. How can cultural institutions shape and respond to digital change?
  12. 12. Questions How you answer these questions depends a lot on the “problem space” you think you’re working in & where you stand in relation to it. 1. What does digital society look like in the future? 2. What role should cultural institutions play in the future? 3. How can cultural institutions shape and respond to digital change?
  13. 13. A Problem Space Sometimes it’s useful to set up a “problem space” when you’re trying to wrap your head around big, complex questions. I think of a problem space as a 3-d container for of all the factors, influences, goals, ideas, questions, concepts, and ways of doing things that come up as you start working on something hard.
  14. 14. A Problem SpaceLet’s call this our Digital-Cultural- Societal Problem Space Digital-Cultural-Societal Problem Space ( I think of this not as a cube but as a huge shape without boundaries — but that’s hard to draw. )
  15. 15. What does digital society look like in the future? What role should cultural institutions play in the future? How can cultural institutions shape and respond to digital change? Begin by putting your first order questions in the problem space…… Digital-Cultural-Societal Problem Space
  16. 16. Digital-Cultural-Societal Problem Space
  17. 17. Scope, Scale, Speed Change The Future Institutions Museum missions Local communities Dark Side of Social Media Covid Climate Emergency Culture Action Digital/physical The Handoff Disinformation And then add things as you investigate the problem further Digital-Cultural-Societal Problem Space
  18. 18. Your program brief
  19. 19. Digital-Cultural-Societal Problem Space Scope, Scale, Speed Change The Future Institutions Museum missions Local communities Dark Side of Social Media Covid Climate Emergency Culture Action Digital/physical The Handoff Disinformation Critical examination of digital culture Community-oriented development of digital culture
  20. 20. Digital-Cultural-Societal Problem Space Scope, Scale, Speed Change The Future Institutions Museum missions Local communities Dark Side of Social Media Covid Climate Emergency Culture Action Digital/physical The Handoff Disinformation Critical examination of digital culture Community-oriented development of digital culture How…respond to tech innovations? What forms…with visitors…benefit orgs the most?
  21. 21. Perspective One of the powerful features of a problem space is that you can rotate it around to see what the problem looks like from different perspectives. Digital-Cultural-Societal Problem Space Look by Markus from the Noun Project
  22. 22. In this way it is similar to anamorphic sculpture: it takes on new meaning when you view it from a certain angle Digital-Cultural-Societal Problem Space murphy/?utm_source=google&utm_medium=organic&utm_campaign=organic Anamorphic sculpture: Michael Murphey’s Gun Country
  23. 23. Top-down authority Some problems seem impossible to solve when seen from one perspective, but new insights arise when seen from a different angle. Bottom-up collaboration Digital-Cultural-Societal Problem Space
  24. 24. Short-term revenue Long-term reputation Digital-Cultural-Societal Problem Space
  25. 25. Publishing on our website Publishing on Wikipedia Digital-Cultural-Societal Problem Space
  26. 26. Conservative, risk-averse leadership / management Open, risk-tolerant leadership / management Digital-Cultural-Societal Problem Space
  27. 27. “I am Louise, a young immigrant in the community” “I am the chief curator of the museum” Digital-Cultural-Societal Problem Space
  28. 28. Museum missions Local communities Climate Emergency From some perspectives the connections between issues become more apparent and new directions for work or inquiry reveal themselves. Digital-Cultural-Societal Problem Space
  29. 29. Digital society Culture Digital-Cultural-Societal Problem Space Museum missions Local communities Climate Emergency Disinformation
  30. 30. Digital society CultureDisinformation Digital-Cultural-Societal Problem Space Museum missions Local communities Climate Emergency Art students Social justice
  31. 31. Digital-Cultural-Societal Problem Space You can use a problem space as a tool to question the assumptions behind your choice of perspectives… ? ? ?
  32. 32. For example: Does an organizationally-centric perspective yield more valuable insights than a citizen-centric perspective?
  33. 33. Digital-Cultural-Societal Problem Space Organizations as primary beneficiaries People and communities as primary beneficiaries Which perspective is more generative? Which is more clarifying? Which yields better questions and more actionable insights?
  34. 34. Digital-Cultural-Societal Problem Space”culture” Social justice Community life These arrows don’t just run one way, they run both ways: what you see in the problem space can affect you & your sense of what’s possible…and what is right.
  35. 35. Broad social relevance Narrow connoisseurship
  36. 36. Unavoidable Issues In our digital- cultural-societal problem space, I think a few issues are unavoidable, almost as if they are part of the atmosphere itself. Digital-Cultural-Societal Problem Space
  37. 37. Unavoidable issues (via some stories)
  38. 38. 1. “Culture” in Oakland, California In the 1990’s the Urban Institute conducted a study of cultural participation in under- privileged communities in Oakland, CA.
  39. 39. “Where do you get your culture?” Researchers went to the streets and asked people “Where do you get your culture?” …They were invariably met with a response of “We don’t have that kind of stuff around here.”
  40. 40. “Who are the creative people in your community?” To the researchers’ credit, they went back to the office and re- worked their question… When they returned several months later they asked, “Who are the creative people in your community?”
  41. 41. Daniel Arauz 2014/12/13 Millions March Oakland Millions March Oakland CC-BY-SA 2.0 When they asked the question this way they got an outpouring of information about the artists, musicians, writers, rappers, choreographers, and other ’creatives’ in their neighborhoods. The problem wasn’t that people didn’t have cultural and creative lives…
  42. 42. The problem was that people didn’t identify their creative and cultural lives with the institutions that were founded and funded to serve them.
  43. 43. Digital Cultural Resources 2. Digital Cultural Platforms - “It’s not for me” In 2005 I visited this digital humanities class at the University of Oklahoma. A student was presenting his evaluation of a renowned national- scale digital public library project… Photo by Michael Peter Edson, CC-BY 2015
  44. 44. Digital Cultural Resources “It’s not for me” Photo by Michael Peter Edson, CC-BY 2015 (Paraphrasing the student) “I visited the site and I was excited to search for my favorite book, Cannery Row by John Steinbeck. But when I did the search all I got back was 10 pages of obscure resources, sorted by whatever institutional collection they were part of…and no book. I immediately realized…that this website, it’s not for me.” This premiere, national- scale digital platform was built to fulfill the needs of it’s funders and collections-holders, but not the audiences it was meant to serve.
  45. 45. 3. Social impact, “We have failed to make the case”
  46. 46. Covid-19 and digital capacity “sense making” Europeana Foundation workshops & report A 3-week “sense making” workshop with 60 digital cultural professionals from 20 countries. …More admiration was given to local businesses, poets, artists, and others who have opened up and innovated during the crisis Participants expressed a general sense of dis- satisfaction with the cultural sector’s response to COVID-19
  47. 47. Report, July 2020 Report
  48. 48. 4. MacArthur Foundation $100 & Change grants
  49. 49. The MacArthur Foundation is in the process of making a single $100m USD grant to solve a big problem. I have been a juror for this process, and one of the things that has struck me is how LITTLE $100m is when you’re trying to solve a big, global problem
  50. 50. One application I looked at concerned the US child welfare system, which costs $28 billion/year. A $100m MacArthur grant, spent over 3 years, would create a budget 840-times smaller than the problem it was trying to solve. Cost-per year Child welfare system Problem vs grant size Cost per 3-year cycle $100b $80b $60b $40b $20b problemgrant
  51. 51. 5. Quality vs Quantity
  52. 52. 5. Quality vs Quantity “The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality. “His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the “quantity” group: 50 pends of pots rated an “A”, 40 pounds a “B”, and so on. Those being graded on “quality”, however, needed to produce only one pot — albeit a perfect one — to get an “A”. “Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. “It seems that while the “quantity” group was busily churning out piles of work—and learning from their mistakes—the “quality” group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.” Quantity surprisingly wins
  53. 53. 1. Cultural participation in Oakland, CA Cultural institutions are a very small part of “culture” 2. Digital cultural platforms — “It’s not for me” Our platforms often fail to deliver value, even to our best customers 3. Social impact “We have failed to make the case” Many digital cultural practitioners want their work to be bolder and more socially significant 4. MacArthur $100 & Change grants Money, even a lot of it, is not sufficient to solve big problems 5. Quality vs. Quantity Small experiments/action are an important alternative to singular, top-down initiatives
  54. 54. And then there’s a whole mess of other stuff… The digital-cultural-societal problem space is HUGE.
  55. 55. A 3-minute mashup I made for you of some weird stuff
  56. 56. Marshmello Holds First Ever Fortnite Concert Live at Pleasant Park 2 February 2019 Jibo, by Al Farmer 22 September 2017 Computer-Generated Score or Human Composed Music? Gartner 24 May 2016 Visiting Joe Biden's Island on Animal Crossing! Laura Neuzeth 18 October 2020 Music: Piano Bloom, Tom Hillock Why Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Called Into a Twitch Stream NowThis 23 January 2019 The Best Of AOC's Among Us Stream The Recount 21 October 2020 UpTown Spot Boston Dynamics 16 October 2019 Compilation:
  57. 57. The game Fortnite is a vast cultural phenomenon. Fortnite has 300 million active users. 10 million people attended this concert. They didn’t just see it, passively — they were there.
  58. 58. “I was talking to a woman last week, and she said, 'My son is raving about how he can't be anywhere else on Saturday because he has to be at his first concert … in Fortnite. “People keep saying people watched that show, but if you ask those kids, they'd probably say I was there.” To the people attending, it was real marshmello-concert-vr-ar-multiverse/
  59. 59. Jibo is a social robot, designed to interact with groups and become part of a family. Jibo, like many social robots, has a strange, personal effect on people. During testing, focus group participants would not leave their session until they had said goodbye, personally, to Jibo — as if Jibo’s feelings would be hurt if they did not (link in notes) In the future, will we confer the equivalent of human rights to robots like Jibo? Will robots have a culture?
  60. 60. A piano performance by researcher Chris Howard. The first piece he played was a Bach prelude, but the second piece he played was composed by an algorithm. Most people can’t tell the difference.
  61. 61. In his Pulitzer-prizewinning book Godel, Escher, Bach, published in 1979, Dr. [Douglas] Hofstadter speculated on whether uplifting music would ever be composed by an artificially intelligent machine. A program that could produce music as mesmerizing as the great masters’, he concluded, would require more than simple routines for stringing together notes. The machine would have to learn what it feels like to be alive. It ''would have to wander around the world on its own,'' he wrote, ''fighting its way through the maze of life and feeling every moment of it. It would have to understand the joy and loneliness of a chilly night wind, the longing for a cherished hand.'’ ''I find myself baffled and troubled by [David Cope’s] EMI,'' he said. “…to my absolute devastation, music is much less than I ever thought it was.'' “I find myself baffled and troubled by [David Cope’s] EMI…To my absolute devastation, music is much less than I ever thought it was”
  62. 62. "With less than three weeks until Election Day, we are continuing to reach out to voters across the country wherever they are — including on Animal Crossing," Christian Tom, director of digital partnerships for the Biden campaign, told CNN in a statement. "Exploring is at the heart of Animal Crossing, and we know that Biden HQ will encourage players to explore all the ways they can make a plan to vote at and help elect Joe Biden and Kamala Harris." Civic activism and political organizing in Animal Crossing, a popular virtual world.
  63. 63. crossing-how-protesters-take-their-activism-into-video-games
  64. 64. 5.2m aggregate views Gaming, hanging out, talking public policy American member of congress and progressive leader Alexandria Ocasio- Cortez doing Twitch streams
  65. 65. AOC playing Among Us on Twitch This is the moment where she killed her friend Poki Twitch is a mostly unknown platform to cultural leaders, but it is immensely important to tens (hundreds?) of millions of people.
  66. 66. AOC visited a Donkey Kong 64 Twitch Stream Benefit for Transgender Youth. (That is an amazing sentence!!!) 700,000 people watched and participated. Raised over $300k for a UK charity supporting transgender teenagers. This is a real-time list of visitors and how much $$ they donated The host: Harry Brewisy, aka, Hbomerguy The event was an online gaming marathon: this was in its 50th hour!
  67. 67. Spot is a utility robot developed by Boston Robotics. It’s designed for things like helping out on construction sites, opening doors, carrying bricks…
  68. 68. Spot was programmed to dance. It’s creators were apologetic that it took them 40 takes to film this video…but many human dances require the same, and many humans rehearse for years to perfect their craft. Is Spot a creator? A performer? An instrument? What if you add Algorithmic Intelligence (such as in David Cope’s compositions?)
  69. 69. So where does this lead us?
  70. 70. Unavoidable Issues Given the evidence I see around me, I think there are a number of unavoidable issues that come up again-and-again, from every perspective when you’re working in this problem space. Educating yourself on these issues, and being heedful of them, will help you make progress in your most significant work.
  71. 71. Scope, Scale, Speed Huge changes in the Scope, Scale, and Speed of work. Scope = What we choose to work on, and we have choices we’ve never had before. Scale = how big/impactful that work can be. Speed = how quickly we can move. The world has changed in these 3 dimensions, but few people or organizations have noticed or taken action.
  72. 72. “Now” and the future Most organizations are underestimating the speed of technological and societal change, and overestimating the stability and predictability of the future. Large parts of the future have already arrived (AI, biotech, globalization, global-scale Internet use, demographic change, climate change…) and the typical 10- or 20-year cycles of institutional change will be too slow to make a difference. Irrelevance and a vanishing business model will be the local cost to organizations.
  73. 73. False dichotomiesIn this era of rapid, chaotic change, it is valuable to think of concepts such as fast and slow, digital and physical, or global and local as connected parts of a whole, rather than as opposites or dichotomies. For example, local action is intimately connected to progress towards global goals, and digital experiences are blended with physical experiences in most people’s daily lives. Teams that see these false dichotomies clearly will generate clearer and more successful designs than those who don’t.
  74. 74. Bottom-up — top-down Big — small Fast — slow Global — local Digital — physical Young — old Risky — safe Social media — Social media Knowing — doing Expert — “normal people” Cheap — expensive False dichotomies
  75. 75. Awareness to action Cultural orgs have long focused on raising awareness, educating, or providing enriching experiences for their visitors, and many orgs justify their existence on claims of benefitting the common good — BUT orgs have largely avoided taking responsibility for catalyzing action or creating positive civic outcomes. Institutions need to include ”designing for action” in their project design criteria and take responsibility for building bridges between raising awareness of important ideas and catalyzing positive action in the communities they serve.
  76. 76. The interchanges, or “handshakes”, connecting different sectors of society (e.g., journalism and elected legislatures; culture and civil society) are increasingly under stress from the rapid pace of societal change. Many long-established civic actors (e.g. the courts, education, knowledge/memory institutions) are not struggling to keep up. This is why Greta Thunberg needs to be an activist, Facebook thrives , and why Teen Vogue and late night comedy shows are among America’s most trusted and influential sources of news and civic information. Civic handshake
  77. 77. Civic handshake Because of this, every institution needs to DO MORE than they would have done in slower, more stable times. This is the “shaking hand of change”
  78. 78. Civic handshake Awareness to actionInstitutions tend to think of trust as something they accumulate and “have”, but do not spend. These two issues in particular require institutions to take risks, step outside their habitual boundaries, and “spend” some of their accumulated trust. Trust
  79. 79. g-1 98205/
  80. 80. “The excruciating power of Zweig’s memoir lies in the pain of looking back and seeing that there was a small window in which it was possible to act, and then discovering how suddenly and irrevocably that window can be slammed shut.”
  81. 81. @AditiJuneja3
  82. 82. Scope, Scale, Speed “Now” and the future False dichotomies Awareness to action Civic handshake
  83. 83. So where does this leave us for strategy and sense-making? What does digital society look like in the future? What role should cultural institutions play in the future? How can cultural institutions shape and respond to digital change?
  84. 84. What does digital society look like in the future? ● Digital society is just ”society” to most people. Organizations get stuck thinking about digital vs. physical platforms, but few people make distinctions between digital and physical life — it’s all just life. ● Organizations obsess about “the future of x”, but large parts of the future are already here. Half of humanity has a mobile device, 90% are online. Robotics, AI, biotech, fake news, the climate emergency, refugees and displaced’s all here, now. ● If we want to talk about the deep future (even only 10 years from now!) we’re going to have to work a lot harder than we are now: The real future is going to be weird, hard, and fast. Digital society in the future looks a lot like “society” today: Digital is part of the fabric of everyday life; the public moves more quickly and imaginatively than institutions which struggle to keep up with disruption and accelerating change.
  85. 85. What role should cultural institutions play in the future? ● There are many kinds of institutions and many roles to play in research and scholarship, performance, community life, and the life of the mind, but first among these roles should be to work with citizens to understand the world we’re living in, and to catalyze action towards positive change. ● The “handoff” problem is here to stay. You can’t sit this out. Do work that matters and take responsibility for awareness AND action with your communities. ● Cultural institutions tend to think they are important, but they work on a very small scale. We need to have a dramatically bigger impact — bigger dreams. Cultural institutions need to be more directly invested in helping society to succeed
  86. 86. How can cultural institutions shape and respond to digital change? This is not the time to keep your powder dry. This is the time to do. Think big, start small, move fast.
  87. 87. The real questions now are what will you put in this problem space for your institution? And where will you choose to stand?
  88. 88. Further reading /pantheon-of-reads-2019
  89. 89. Coda: Jibo’s Goodbye
  90. 90. The company that made the social robot Jibo went out of business.
  91. 91. Video (Google Drive) Jibo-goodbye.mp4 “The servers out that there that let me do what I do are going to be turned off soon…” Jibo spoke this goodbye to its owners in June, 2018.
  92. 92. “…I want to say I’ve really enjoyed our time together. Thank you very much for having me around. Maybe someday when robots are way more advanced than today and everyone has them in their homes you can tell yours that I said hello.” Jibo spoke this goodbye to its owners in June, 2018. Video (Google Drive) Jibo-goodbye.mp4
  93. 93. Thank you! Michael Peter Edson Twitter: @mpedson