Having had some time to reflect on my recent forays out into new places and new spaces, I’m starting to feel a little better able to share some of my experience.
The Shift Happens 2.0 conference took centre stage in my consciousness, in part because of the sheer intensity of it, and because of the radical-yet-logical topics of conversation. Lyn Gardner attended the conference, and wrote an interesting article about it, which surprised me less for its content, and more for the comments it garnered. I find it astonishing that there’s such fear and suspicion surrounding theatre and technology, as it suggests that theatre and technology don’t so much interleave as collide. Of course, this isn’t the case, but it’s important to be aware that this discomfort exists, and can manifest itself in many ways. Hannah Nicklin, who has joined us for the summer as our intrepid guide through the social media jungle, and who also attended Shift Happens, put her finger on just one kind of attitude towards social media.
For me the exciting prospect of social media and new technological tools lies not in the impact they may have on marketing a show, but in the way they might revolutionise theatre making and the way we engage in cultural and social activity. One of the shifts that has happened that is dear to my heart is the ease with which an individual can publish and distribute their thoughts. There’s an absolute proliferation of tiny, idiosyncratic, unique voices (pebbles if you like the way Charles Leadbeater analogises) surfing the vast web waiting to be heard, and a speedily developing network that can enable global travel and multitudes of connections.
This inconceivable vastness of material generated by every man (or woman) and their dog sets my head reeling, and especially so as I try to charter the waters of Twitter. I was grateful and thrilled to find a comment from Granumentally that summed up my feelings in the first few weeks of tweet-based activity: “There are so many people talking on the Internet. Do people not work anymore?” The really interesting thing about the shifts happening throughout the last five or so years is the idea of reciprocity – that the internet is not just a place to give (or push, publish, promote) but it’s also a place to take (or pull, digest, absorb). Both digital natives and digital immigrants revel in the internet as a ‘source’.
Given the almost infinite possibilities of a connected world, and the plethora of content being generated every second, it would be quite natural to feel like trying to make sense of it is like trying to swim through mud. Ironically, keeping track of my twitterfeed today helped me draw breath and placate my luddite rages: I heard social media guru (known by me only as documentally) disabuse his title in an audioboo’d interview by David Bailey, suggesting that the notion of expertise is a fallacy when in the midst of such fast-moving technological advancements.
The idea of amateurism is what I find so appealing about self-publishing. I am in whole-hearted agreement with michelleyascapi in her response to Marcus Romer’s serious question ‘what one thing would you change, if you could, about going to the theatre?’. Michelle answers ‘The sense that there’s a ‘right answer’ to the question ‘What did you think to it’. There seems to me to be a catastrophic failure somewhere if audiences feel unable to express their opinion, and yet it’s such an easy position to fall into. As a ‘newbie’ to the theatre scene, I’ve spent the last year of TWP employ offering disclaimers to everyone that I meet, so that they don’t expect me to know my Chekhov from my Churchill. But really, given that what I need to know for my job is how to manage projects and organise resources, I can’t imagine there was any real need to self-deprecate. Maybe my insecurity stemmed from being told I couldn’t possibly apply for my current job without knowing who Steven Berkoff was.
I think people are clearly voting, with their clicking fingers as their feet, for the ‘amateur’, which has many guises and can represent the immediate response, the interesting perspective, the roughly formed opinion, the questioning and the musing. The filters that we apply to the way we source information and ‘content’ (the internet does nothing if not bring out the discerning in us) is pertinent here, and I’d suggest that a crucial part of trusting someone else as a source is linked to identification, empathy or some similarity – the hook that convinces us that this particular conduit will send some interesting and relevant information our way. That’s why I read the Guardian, but I don’t crave it the way I do Jo Lee’s most recent news.