You’ll Miss Us When We’re Gone: Report from Future Media Lab

This week, the fourth Future Media Lab took place in Brussels. It is a workshop and seminar for the news and magazine industry. Netopia attended to take the pulse on how these industries tackle the digital challenges.

– Who should judge which content is trivial? said DG Connect Director General Robert Madelin on one of the panels. What looked like a dirty Petri dish, turned out to be penicillin. It would be dangerous for the future to make this an elite discussion.

This nihilist argument has Netopia often come across in the digital debate: as quality is so difficult to define, every attempt is futile. But Netopia respectfully disagrees, while we may not have a single definition of quality, three millennia of combined wisdom and efforts form trying to find out demonstrates that it may be the process that is important rather than the end result. This might be difficult to put into a cloud server, but that might just require better technology. Whichever your position in this, the question of quality is fundamental to any creative effort including journalism, the topic of the conference.

Most of the many media executives that attended had a positive attitude toward technology. Springer boss Christoph Keese had just returned from six-month stint in Silicon Valley, trying to stay ahead of the curve of new media technology.

Microsoft strategist Paul Lee shared his views as a technologist on the future of media. Among the scores of interesting points he shared was data on smartphone shipments in Europe. 76% of the market is Android devices, 15% is Iphones, leaving only 9% of the European market to the competition. This market dominance puts the Silicon Valley giants Apple and Google in an unusually dominant position (my comment, not Lee’s). Techies often makes the case that digital communications are great for freedom of speech, but is there a point where niche monocultures threaten both this and the continued innovation? Netopia asks.

MEP Nadja Hirsch (ALDE) made the point that it is difficult for us humans to predict the future, as we react to technology and change, but do not anticipate. In her key note speech, she stressed the importance of looking forward and embracing change as a success factor for the media industries, while at the same time protecting civil liberties from not only the state but also from neighbours.

–  This includes intellectual property, Hirsch added. That is the basis of the creative industry.

At the Future Media Lab, Netopia witnessed an inspired group of media leaders hard at work cracking the case of how the media should be set up for continued success. Bear in mind that freedom of speech traditionally has been the domain of journalism, which over time has developed sophisticated systems of press ethics, protection of sources, neutrality and editorial responsibility. These are fundamental values, regardless of distribution form and should be handled with care in the technological evolution. Otherwise, the dire phrase “You will miss us when we’re gone” could become a painful reality.

Per Strömbäck, editor Netopia