I had a few sleepless nights lately.
First Brexit, then Trump, and all this in a context that was already destabilized by ISIS terrorism, a war in Syria, and Putin’s resurgence. A certain historic déjà vu of populism, protectionism and isolationism winning over openness and diversity, the fear of globalization and economic crisis dividing countries through fear… all this makes me wonder if we ever learn from our past.
My recent trip to Berlin and its multiple museums has probably not helped my growing anxiety. Once you take the time to ponder what a wall can do to a prosperous city, where dictatorship can lead a country of people like you and me and how fear can be manipulated to accept what we all know is inacceptable… then you start wonder what can be done today, what should be done today, and at which point we should take responsibility for what is effectively our world and the future of our kids.
As I was going through Libeskind’s Jewish Museum with my family I had the time to read the letters of several Jewish families that in the ‘30s took the decision to stay in Germany because it was their country, they were educated people, they assumed there was nothing to fear as it seemed inconceivable that doctors, teachers, merchants could be prosecuted…
We all know how the story turned out. For those that had too much faith in human rationality and common sense, a year of indecision may have cost their lives… For those like me, that are reading these touch-full letters of mothers to daughters full of rational resignation and indecision, a major doubt emerges: when is it too late to act?
History teaches us that during periods of uncertainty the individual has a window of agency: decide to flee, create a movement, organize resistance… but once that window is closed one is trapped into the authority of people you may not agree with, and by then you are obliged to follow the status-quo. The window of action might not be as large as we think, and if we passively look at the news it might be too late.
So, as I write this blog, I am wondering: what can we do today, as citizens, before things change and we become the victims of a system we actually disagree with?
The answer to this is clearly personal, and one solution does not fit all, but it seems to me that we need to start from what we can influence, and that depends of our area of expertise.
After years spent preaching that interactive media can give us the agency that legacy media had over politicized, I am now wondering what we have done with such opportunity. The filter bubble effect, the algorithmic isolationism of social media and the spreadability of easy lies and punchy headlines have toned down our hopes of a better informed society. In depth articles from journalists waking up post-Brexit, or post-Trump, have already tried to understand what has happened (I particularly recommend editor-in-chief of Guardian News & Media Katharine Viner’s How technology disrupted the truth , Prof Cesar Hidalgo’s article in Medium and Rick Web’s answer to Mark Zuckerberg’s post election Facebook entry)… but what can we do?
It seems important to me to stand out and say: “we want to use digital media in another way”, “we are not accepting the technological status-quo”, “we want to shape our digital and social future”. It seems urgent to wake up, all of us but particularly the millennia generation, and start using the tools that are at our disposal: building alternative news channels, tell our stories of discontent and propose solutions.
The web is our tool… could we use the current urgency to wake up and use it instead of just consume it?
It is with this quest in mind that I look forward to launch disLAB (the digital interactive storytelling LAB) at Westminster University in September 2016. I see it as an opportunity to build alternative channels of storytelling and empower people to tell their stories through platform that represent them. Together with my colleagues Dr Massimiliano Fusari (a leader in photojournalism, with a rooted background on visual communication formats and interactivity for diverse and multicultural audiences) and Dr David Dunkley Gyimah (an international award-winning innovator in journalism and pioneer in videojournalism and cinema journalism) we want to re-empower the opinion makers of the future. Our values stand for diversity, creativity and professionalism (see David Dunkley’s recent article on the need of more diversity in journalism).
We welcome your help. This is a lab for change.
Email us if you want to know more about it as a potential student, if you want to be part of it as a guest lecturer or if you want to propose any type of collaboration.
Ideas and creative disruptions are welcomed.
Now it is our time to act.