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perthDAC – The 2007 DAC – Wrap-up Post

perthDAC 2007 - The Future of Digital Media

The DAC (Digital Arts and Culture) conference was in Perth last week and I was lucky enough to be able to attend perthDAC in all its glory. It was the first time DAC has been held in Perth, and only the second time it’s been in Australia; and at the outset, a huge congratulations must go to conference organiser Andrew Hutchinson who ran a very well-oiled event and brought some an amazing intellectual and social extravaganza to our little city. There were so many engaging and exciting ideas and papers floating around that I’ll never do justice to them in one post, but I thought I’d mention a few things and papers that really stood out for me. That said, if you’re after a robust blogging of perthDAC, check out Axel Bruns’ posts which capture the vast majority of the conference. (I’m starting to think Axel should be up for some sort of prize; he’s without a doubt the world’s most thorough conference blogger, conscientiously acting as a collective scribe whose records prove extremely valuable for giving overviews of conferences and keeping in focus some of those details which when not recorded in the instant tend to get lost in the ebb and flow of conferencedom.)

[X] Christy Dena, “The Future of Digital Media is all in Your Head: An Argument for the Age of Integration” – While perhaps less an argument than a snapshot of the present and the trends being laid bare for the future of media, Christy’s paper illustrated the incredibly rich media world we’re all currently living in. More to the point, in looking at Cross-Media, Transmedia and many other points where media is literally crossing medium boundaries (as the plurality of the term has always implied), Christy ended with the salient point that, in assessing the future of digital media, one core point is that it certainly won’t be just digital! Indeed, the future of all media really stands at points of intersection and potential integration of all media in various complex ways. (This point, incidentally, was powerfully reinforced by Stewart Woods whose paper – “Last Man Standing: Elimination and Risk in Social Game Play” – argued that games studies really still needs to keep looking at the social complexities of physical and board-game play which really haven’t been fully explored in the algorithmically bound play of digital videogames.)

[X] Mark McGuire, “Virtual Communities and Podcasting: the emergence and transformation of public electronic space” – Mark used the work of Jurgen Habermas on the public sphere and combined it with a solid overview of internet communities (like the WELL) and community-practices (such as those encouraged and facilitated by Amazon.com) to interrogate the relatively new history of podcasting. The shift from the utopian ideals of Dave Winer (and to a lesser extend Adam Curry) to the commercialisation of podcasting – in terms of accessibility and distribution, if not creation – is seen as another instance where community-led ideals and interaction are undermined by a lack of public ownership and public institutions (exemplified by Apple’s commercial iTunes Store becoming the default podcasting directory, and thus major podcasting portal).

[X] Axel Bruns, “The Future is User-Led: The Path towards Widespread Produsage” – Axel has been sharing his work on ‘produsers’ (producer/users) for some time now, but each time I hear or read his work, I’m impressed by how carefully situated it is. While produsers are clearly part of the same realm as participatory culture and citizen journalism, Axel takes great care in showing that a change in the modes of production and consumption in the era of networked communication and distribution (the core of the produser) has great social and democratic potential, but is sure to acknowledge that produsage still needs political drivers in order to avoid being co-opted (Amazon.com is a great example of produsage, but the social networks and user-generated content on their website is clearly working in financial terms primarily for Amazon). One slide Axel showed which I thought summarised his take well was a fairly complex dynamic which showed culture in the double sense of both our world and of a scientific Petri Dish in which something is refined and grown before it becomes fully realised and useful for the real world:


You can read Axel’s full paper and get the full set of PowerPoint slides over at his blog; I can’t wait for the book! (On another note, I didn’t manage to convince Axel of Twitter’s value – not for lack of trying – but we did chat about the Mashedlc project which I’m very interested in and think it could be of very real value for educators using web2.0 tools in their teaching.)

[X] Jill Walker Rettberg, “Blogs, Literacies and the Collapse of Public and Private” – In a nutshell, Jill argued that while traditional (print) literacies was part of the reification of a divide between public and private, newer digital (network) literacies are leading to the blurring, or even collapse, of that neat binary division. Of course, many cultural commentators and others have vested interests in the public/private divide, and the blogging ethos or every reader potentially being a writer has produced something of a backlash (albeit as much due to skepticism of the shift rather than a deeper engagement with it). Jill and Axel’s papers had a lovely symmetry, both arguing for new ways of conceptualising fair traditional things on the back of the shifts toward a more meaningful participatory culture. Jill’s paper is also part of an upcoming work, her Blogging book due from Polity Press next year. I think that, too, is well worth watching for.

While I shan’t go into any depth, DAC also had quite a few papers on games (both digital and otherwise) which I really enjoyed and, for a game studies novice like myself, game a very accessible overview to current trends. The two stand-out papers for me were Torill Mortensen’s, which looked to synthesize the current multiple directions of games research into a menaingful single framework, and a paper by Nick Montfort and Ian Bogost (delivered by Fox Harrell) which looked at the idea of Platform Studies which explores the way actual game platforms influenced the design, agenda and possibility for game play and game design. Another exciting area were papers from Lisbeth Klastrup and Larrisa Hjorth (the later of which was presented by Christy Dena) both looked in depth at mobile phone culture in relation to community-building and story-telling respectively (although obviously with large points of intersection).

Outside of the formal academic papers, two things about DAC really stood out: it’s as much a community as a conference, and it’s heavily invested in maintain connections with art and pratice beyond the formally academic. Case in point: this year’s DAC was perfectly integrated with the larger BEAP and as part of DAC we visited I took a deep breath…, Impermanence (PDF), Still, Living (PDF) and other exhibitions, complete with artist and curator talks. This, mixed with DAC’s informal performance night, meant that broader discussions art, digital media and interaction, were focused through shared experiences and provocative installations. On the social side, DAC folk combine intellectually exciting and socially engaging in impressive proportions! In that spirit, I took a few photos which are in a perthDAC Flickr set and Lisbeth Klastrup has posted a DAC 2007 photo set, too. Of course, the thing that everyone really wants to know is who’s the best DAC dancer, and, somewhat surprisingly, thanks for Scott Rettberg (part of the GTA team), we now know:

Fox Harrell is an excellent dancer, and Mary Flanagan does some amazing hyperkinetic lawnmower-and-grocery-shopping-moves. Lisbeth Klastrup was clearly the most agile of the Scandinavians, though Jaakko was nearly as fluid and he won the prize for the coolest T-Shirt — the “conference moderator” shirt with the built-in-clock. I was shuffling at about an equivalent level to Raine Koskimaa, average Finnish dancer.

Follow Scott’s post back for a cameraphone video capturing the DAC dance action (and, no, I’m not there on the dance floor you’ll be relived to hear).

Finally, here’s a picture of Mary Flanagan from Lisbeth’s set, reminding us all to be there for DAC 2009 …

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