Peter A Bruck
Bridging the Content Gap:
Showcasing the World’s Best
Inspiring the Info Society
Technology does not inspire. Contents do. The book which you are holding in your hands tells about contents and about the conditions of production and creation in the different corners of the earth.
Content is cultural. This book maps cultural activities which are structured intimately by technology. Anyone who has an affinity to media has also some love or liking for technology, for the elegance of machines, for the power of transformation and production.
On a social scale, technologies have profoundly restructured the lives lived by people around the world. Since the beginning of the industrial age, we live in technology based societies not just in relation to the material world. The information society is upon us and it is characterized by the conquering of the immaterial and the symbolic by electronic reproduction and transmission.
This book works out the details of how technology can be used to generate positive knowledge, insight and also fun. But it also has a sharp message: ‘Information Society’ will remain an empty concept, if one talks solely about technology, networks and access issues. We need not only to consider the general uses or impact of the new Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs), but also the cultural messages which they can relate. This book guides you to consider the conditions of how the best e-contents from around the world are created and what the state of development and industry is.
A writers’ college of friends
The editors did not select the authors for this book one by one. They are all members of the Grand Jury of the World Summit Award (WSA) and participated in the 5-day intensive process of reviewing, evaluating, discussing and judging over 800 products from the 136 countries which have participated in the WSA 03.
Imagine meeting 35 people whom you never met before and who come from 35 different countries and many different cultures and you have to agree on process and result of decisions which have considerable impact. The jurors of WSA journeyed together and struggled with each other considerably. It surprised, even stunned all involved how such a diverse group of people could come to such a strong sense of collegiality and mutual respect in such a short time. They left the hospitable venue of Dubai Internet and Media City as friends and as a college of eminent experts who strongly share in the objective to overcome the barriers for the exchange of contents among the people in different countries.
The WSA is conducted in the context of the United Nations World Summit on Information Society (WSIS). It adds to the WSIS process the graphic presentation of e-contents. Not any contents, but those which the best available expert opinion has judged to be the best. This was done in the two rounds of the World Summit Award -WSA 03: first, the most eminent experts nominated by the leading professional organizations and institutions in 136 countries selected their national best in eight categories; then 36 of them (the authors of this book) met in Dubai City to choose out of 800 the five best in each of the categories. These products are presented in the WSA website and catalogue. In addition, the jury looked at six world regions and awarded special distinctions to some additional products.
The goal of the entire WSA 03 process is simple: Making visible the contents that already exist and thus demonstrating the richness and diversity of content creativity to those interested in understanding and planning and the global Information Society.
It is a curious fact of the emerging ‘Knowledge Society’ that many people – even the most involved in industry and policymaking – have little opportunity to see, use and experience the power of great e-contents. There is a general ‘non-knowledge’ of e-content. The WSA tries to offer a change. At the very least, it gives recognition to those who work creatively produce message with IS technologies.
The World Summit Award builds on the success and experience of the EUROPRIX which over the last six years has developed as the leading contest in quality multimedia contents. On the initiative of the European Academy of Digital Media, over 80 organizations partnering from around the world worked together to make WSA 03 possible. More than 400 experts have provided input and a number of governments and private companies are funding it.
The WSA wants to demonstrate the existing creativity in the use of computers and excellence in the use of networks; it might confirm the conviction that access to networks and ICT platforms is beneficial due to the high quality and value of e-contents which are produced and available. It might also lead one to consider that quality contents, their production and economic sustainability require changes to the way markets operate and governments act.
A gap is growing
A gap is growing. Information and communication technologies become more powerful, cheaper and omnipresent. E-Contents can keep up with technology in terms of speed, economies of scale and simplicity of consumption. Information and Communication technologies save and shift time, reduce or even eliminate space. In contrast, e-Contents require time and resist reduction of space. Technology is turning pervasive and ubiquitous, contents remain local and connected.
The clash between technology and content is as old as media based culture. It is not a fundamental contradiction, but a dynamically created structural gap. This gap is widening as we move into the information society.
Technologies develop rapidly and reach hurricane levels of velocity but quality e-contents and innovative applications lag behind. Digitization has made production of contents simpler, but they take time to produce – and also to use. They cannot be speeded up without changing or even loosing meaning.
The content gap is a social and economic one. It is not the result of machines, but of social structures. It is created by the imbalance of pay and inequity investments. Post-industrial societies pay lots for equipment, gadgets and ‘tech things’. They pay far too little for stories, knowledge and insight.
Hardware and software can be marketed globally. Chips and routers, screens and cameras work in any place where electricity is available. The companies producing them have become the wealthiest multinationals and their brands count globally among the most recognized.
Contents are tied to culture and language. Unlike technology they don’t ship easily. They ‘work’ only where people share these and can understand them. They are largely local and regional. People and companies producing them depend on recipients sharing in skills and community. Most creative producers – save the ones working for Hollywood industries and in English – have culturally restricted audiences and markets. They need to localize and adapt, if they want to get out of English language markets. Quality digital contents and producers remain largely unknown.
The marketeers of technologies sell devices, quick jolts and instant services. Creative producers offer stories, images and travels of the mind.
Around the world, social life, education, business and politics are being transformed by the new information and communication technologies. This transformation is addressed by the United Nations’ first World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in terms of infrastructure, access and digital divide issues. The content gap needs to be added.
The digital divide: info trash for info poor
The content gap has an additional dimension brought forth by the digital divide. ‘Information poor’ people have less access to Internet and other digital platforms. They are also getting lower quality contents and applications. The digital divide widens the content gap.
Information and communication technologies (ICTs) have already changed the way people work, the way many learn and the way everyone communicates. The ways in which citizens relate to governments is changing and businesses are restructuring. Nowhere is that potential impact greater than in the developing world, where the deployment and diffusion of ICTs are increasingly intersecting with each other, equally powerful revolutions for democracy and democratic governance.
With this, the gap between those with access to new media contents, technologies and tools and those without it are posing a serious threat to the world community and constitutes a serious inequity in the globalizing social and economic relations.
The threat of a widening content gap runs counter to the promise of the Information Society. The capacities of technologies, systems and tools to generate, distribute and store content increase progressively if not exponentially, but content markets are not transparent or open.
Rather, concentration has reached a global scale with the likely scenario of five to seven dominant content providers, creating a cultural oligopoly of a new magnitude. This will diminish cultural diversity and the opportunities for small and middle sized producers to be economically successful. In addition, the capacity of individuals to gain and maintain an overview of what is available on the markets decreases due to the marketing powers of a few.
The content gap exacerbates existing inequalities and undermines the vision of a global Information Society for all. The emphasis on cultural diversity and identity, the creation of varied information content and the digitalization of the educational, scientific and cultural heritage are not side issues. They belong to the core of quality development of the Information Society in which people will live.
Making a contest work
The WSA 03 has been open to any company, organisation and individual active in the content industry and based in one of the UN member states. Entries could be made in any UN language. All products were to be marketable products and not demonstration prototypes, and to exploit the ability of the multimedia technology on-line and off-line interactive products which combine audio, video, text and graphics.
The number of submissions from one country was limited to one product per category as decided by the eminent expert and they needed to be published/completed within the last two years, copyright 2001 or 2002/03.
The jury was composed of most eminent content industry personalities, proposed from professional, governmental or industry database of evaluators and from nominations by partners, multimedia associations and UN member states. The Board of Directors of the WSA selected the final jurors. The jury consisted of experts, consultants, teachers/researchers and journalists but also of young professionals. A special effort was made to have the gender distribution in the jury as balanced as possible.
The jury was acting independently from the organizers and conveners and all vested interests, and followed the guidelines for participation published in advance for the contest. All selection and award decisions made by the jury were final and no form of legal recourse is possible. The jury divided into several panels according to the categories for the pre-selection of the nominees. The full jury made the selections of the winners. The jury elected its spokespersons according to cultural regions in the world.
Cultural richness – bridging the gap
The World Summit Award and this book place their emphasis on cultural diversity and identity, the creation of varied information content and the digitalization of the educational, scientific and cultural heritage. These are not side issues for the world community and the WSIS process. They belong to the core of a quality development of the Information Society in which people will be happy to live.
The World Summit Award serves the United Nations and the World Summit as a mechanism to allow an understanding of the richness, which already exists and creates, the necessary transparency in information markets as regards to quality content and applications and their availability.
The benefits of the new technologies to citizens and consumers need to be addressed concretely on the level of what the use of these technologies is. The World Summit Award is a means to demonstrate that on the basis of the already existing products and innovative applications.
The goal is to break the awareness barrier and the marketing deadlock where big promotional budgets or market dominance decide over what is available, and known in e-content and to overcome the linguistic and cultural barriers and the smallness of national markets to generate an international showcase, and interchange on quality multimedia.
Peter A Bruck