I attended a stimulating forum in Alpbach, Austria, from the 20th to 26th of August. The forum is well known in the German speaking regions of Europe, but less visible than it should be, in Britain, for example. The forum was launched in 1945, immediately following the Second World War, as a means to open up communication about public issues. The beauty and peacefulness of the site, wonderful for Alpine hiking, certainly might contribute to bringing people together. My major role was to direct a seminar on the Future of the Internet (Seminar 09), which I did in collaboration with Professor Yorick Wilks of the OII (photograph). You can get a glimpse of our seminar on YouTube if you search for ‘on the World Wide Web Alpbach’. The theme of the seminar and the larger forum was Trust. Many points were made about the theme’s choice, since it preceded the credit crunch, which prioritized issues of trust. It did prove to be a useful link across a wide variety of seminars. I also participated in a plenary panel, entitled ‘Public Media in the Digital Age: Whom do you trust?’ This was chaired by Roger De Weck, a major print journalist within the German and Austrian sphere.
Two of the most general lessons learned from the forum were both around the centrality of the Internet in the new media landscape. First, there is major angst over the impact of the Internet across the media landscape. This came out clearly in the panel on which I participated, but throughout the conference more generally. However, there was clearly a generational divide, with younger participants being as enthusiastic and Internet media literate as anywhere in the world, but the older participants, predominantly from the humanities, being far more concerned about the potential implications of the transformations occurring in broadcasting and the media generally. I realize that this generation divide is becoming nearly a cliche, but it manifested itself clearly throughout the forum.
Secondly, the Internet proved so instrumental in enabling our seminar to move beyond the traditional practices at the forum. We were fortunate that a European consultation was launched immediately before the forum: ‘A Public Consultation on Post-i2010: Priorities for New Strategy for European Information Society (2010-2015)’. Seminar 09 participants were intrigued by the idea of drafting some input for the consultation, and set up a Google document so that that 25-plus students could jointly co-create a response. At once, it provided a real concrete objective for the course, a case study of the potential and difficulties of collaborative networks, and a means to integrate and apply the themes arising in the lectures, which preceded each day’s work on the consultation. I will blog something separately about our input, once it is completed.
In the meantime, do make your own contributions to the public consultation. It enables you to answer a questionnaire or post a position paper.