Culture and the digital landscape. 22 January 2016 Let's embrace the possibilities that digital media presents

We're living through a period of rapid media evolution unrivalled in history. Or at least since the invention of the printing press. Largely driven by digital elements - the internet foremost among them - this evolution also concerns the shifting landscape of print media. The rise of the 'freeconomy', which has seen many major print titles move to a freesheet model, has shifted the tectonic plates of influence.

But it's the digital media that offers the greatest number of new opportunities to those in the culture sector. At last month's Remix conference, held at the British Museum and Google HQ, we learned more about new initiatives such as augmented reality and the much-touted 'internet of things', and how they might specifically apply to artists and creative companies.

One thing that stood out was the way in which the live and digital experience are beginning to converge. A few notable examples include the evolution of virtual reality headsets that enable digital elements to populate the real world; the rise of 3D printing is linking the internet to tangible objects; and last year's Tate Sensorium tracked attendees' emotional responses to artworks using a digital tracker worn on the wrist.

As filmmaker Anthony Geffen, who worked with David Attenborough on his recent virtual reality tour of the Great Barrier Reef, put it, these new technologies are all about making people want to engage more deeply with the real world, rather than creating a "generation of couch potatoes with cardboard boxes on their heads". Many would argue the opposite, but it's important that the culture sector recognises and exploits the opportunities presented by the growth of digital media.

According to statistics from Google, in 2014 there were over 3 billion people online, versus 360 million in 2000 - a growth rate of 764%. Nearly half the world is now online, while in Europe over 75% of people have internet access. Civilisation has made a fundamental shift to digital, and it's still very much in its infancy. We have the chance to be pioneers.

As Chris Sanderson from The Future Laboratory pointed out in our recent interview, we're "only just beginning to scratch the surface at the intersection between culture and digital". He cited the idea of art on a mobile phone as one example - after all, it's merely a format.

So let's be bold and let's make digital work in the way we want it to. Rather than roll our eyes at the thought of virtual reality, let's consider the possibilities for its usage in a cultural arena. And rather than fear the impact on the live experience that digital media presents, let's embrace it as a chance to make our mark in this brave new world.

- Theo Bosanquet

See also: Culture trends in 2016

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