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Digital culture: hierarchy to network

Digital culture: hierarchy to network

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Published by: Crowdsourcing.org on Dec 23, 2011
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02/03/2013

 
Digital culture: hierarchy to network
Posted byPatrick Hussey , 21 December 2011
In the first of a two-part series,
Patrick Hussey
outlines the game-changing impact of digital growth on global culture.
Power to the people: digital culture is about networks, not hierarchies. Photograph: Phil Banko/GettyImages
If there's a single, bullseye phrase that sums up the radical and globalshakeup catalysed by digital culture it is this: the change from hierarchyto networks.This is not a new phrase. Several weeks ago, it drifted past me onTwitter like plankton. But it's a precise way to express, if not the destinyof society, then at least the laxative process it is undergoing.Laxative? Yes. Thanks to digital, things are loosening up, powerdecentralising, decisions becoming more accessible. From the ArabSpring to theEU's recent plunge into open data,cyberspace is now reshaping so-called'meatspace'like never before.
 
Sceptics will say this slide from hierarchy to networks is an old tug of war. From Magna Carta to Marx, it's been the defining narrative of analogue history. But the crucial difference digital culture brings is thescale of access and the immediacy of the 'real-time' world.You know the crowd is the new establishment. Even Time magazineagrees with you,naming the 'protester' its person of the year.So you'll also know the coronation of the crowd is the fundamental challenge andopportunity facing arts and public life in the coming year.
Data and 'data philanthropy'
It is one of the brilliant ironies of the web that even at its most rampantlycommercial, it is laying the foundations for social good. So-called'consumer facing' technologies (marketing devices to you and me, oftensecretive, sometimes unsavoury) are gathering more data on humanitythan ever before.When geeks refer to data, they mean the tsunami of information the webgathers day in day out. Data is being harnessed to create the largest,most comprehensive set of metrics on society ever seen, yet this new by-product of capitalism is not just the future of money and measurement, itis also the future of civic strategy.I recently saw Jon Pratty talk intriguingly of City Camp Brighton.This digital event bought together representatives from public life (police,health, local government) to discuss how they could link up data fromtheir respective IT systems to inform each other's ability to serve thecommunity.
 
Jon described these talks as a fascinating way to work out the equitywhich the arts hold. I agree.Using visualisations,we can pinpoint areas suffering high teen arrest rates, economic deprivation, the poorestvocabulary scores. We could even 'reverse engineer' socially privilegedareas. What cultural infrastructure do they have? Can that be recreatedelsewhere?Here at last is the chance to put the arts to the test. Are they really thecivic panacea we trumpet them as? Work in these areas, then return 10years later armed with solid data.'Data philanthropy'is the term the UN has given to the practice of  encouraging businesses, the biggest collectors of 'big' and 'passive' data,to share it for charitable purposes. I dislike the label; it suggests thedonation is some sort of gift when it is harvested from often obliviouscustomers.But name quibbles aside, it could be a good thing; a kind of healthyPanopticon.The UN'sGlobal Pulse project appears to be an audacious attempt to bend commercial monitoring to social good. A kind of Google Analytics not for websites but for
 – 
deep breath
 – 
the world.Global Analytics anyone? I am both excited and terrified by this idea.1984 is happening around us, only it's data, not the camera, that ischanging our world. It needs urgent discussion. Soon both public andprivate arts funding could live or die by the digital measuring stick.Perhaps the arts should build itself  one of these. 

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