|Spiegeltent inner roof canopy|
Last week, I was part of the Scottish Law Librarians Group annual outing to the Edinburgh International Book Festival. This year, the chosen talk was The Guardian debate, “Rethinking the Internet: is the web changing society for the worse?”, with the following description:
We have embraced the online revolution with open arms and nearly 20% of all retail purchases are now made via the internet. More than that, the internet appears to be empowering citizens in ways that challenge the traditional relationship between individual and state. Is the net effect positive or negative? Writer Nick Harkaway, novelist Naomi Alderman and James Gleick, author of The Information, lead the discussion. Chaired by Ian Katz, Deputy Editor of the Guardian. *
So, you’d think with that sort of blurb that the debate would allow some involvement from those not in the room, via the internet itself e.g. that someone official (the Book Festival does have a Twitter account, and they’re using a hashtag for the event) would be there to live tweet it, maybe taking questions from the wider audience on the internet to pass to the panel. Perhaps a Twitterfall display, to show tweets and comments being made about the event by both those in the room and those following the event from outside, as they were being made. And of course, there’d be a hashtag to allow people on Twitter to take part virtually, using the hashtag to allow an easy collation of tweets about that particular session. You can’t really have a debate about the internet without a hashtag, right?
There wasn’t the slightest hint of any desire by the organisers to use the exact medium that was being discussed, in order to allow a wider pool of people to be involved in the debate. As there was no hashtag, my friend Laura Kidd decided to set one up, and as you can see from the link below, there was plenty of activity on it. Imagine how much more reach and publicity the organisers would have had if they’d actually set up the hashtag themselves, and informed their many followers?
The chair was also entirely disinterested in engaging with anything to do with the internet (in between his summing up of audience questions, during which he entirely altered and changed the original question being asked in about 50% of them, as he didn’t seem to understand what the audience members were asking), made lots of statements about why it was a Bad Thing (including, bizarrely, why internet dating was a terrible development), and did not want to hear about, or use the questions being raised by any of the people who were eagerly following the debate via Twitter.
The speakers themselves were excellent, and their discussions were obviously firing up a lot of people in the audience, who were keen to ask them questions inspired by their debate, and hands shot up all over the room when the chance came. This same enthusiasm from those online was thwarted, as there was no way for them to interact with the speakers, and no official tweeter in the room to direct their comments to, to channel them towards the speakers.
Sometimes, people just don’t seem to grasp the potential and worldwide reach of social media! This could have been a two-part event: the physical one, with the panel discussing, and the audience listening, with a virtual event running alongside, with thousands of people both inside and outside the venue taking part in a debate using the actual technology being discussed.
Instead, we got a discussion that included only those in the room, having their questions changed and simplified by the chair, and the event ending when the lights went up, instead of cascading outwards online, and continuing and developing in all sorts of interesting directions, for everyone to take part in.
Maybe next year, the Book Festival will get the hang of making and publicising hashtags for, if not each event, at least those ones where social media is being discussed and is therefore highly likely to be being used!
|The Guardian Book Festival logo in the Spiegeltent|
*Naomi Alderman was unable to be there, and the debate was actually chaired by author Ewan Morrison.
** Does not include Retweets, as far as I can tell. Tweets using the designated hashtag #GuardianRethink are still available as of 20 August, but will be deleted within a few days by Twitter.