Epilogue: This is my game-face, courtesy of video sensations Leslie Wai and Huw Samuel who directed my selfie shoot.
A hushed tone befell the room in Central London. For the last five hours industry executives had been discussing the ins and outs of digital technologies, until a producer recommended a panel full of millennials (Ms).
If the oldie technologists thought they’d cracked it, the 15-year-olds had news for them. Oh No! Why would you download that, when one of you could and bluetooth it to your friends.
At this year’s Guardian Summit, the stars of YouTube presented equally challenging ideas about the future prospects of video. More scratching of heads by some of the audience.
The power of vine and brand casting is a generational paradigm observable from the habits of Ms in the commercial world. Invariably, attempts to decode these involves levels of grand theories from suits, proclaiming universally what all youth do. It’s as if youth were a homogenous programmed group entirely to themselves.
The alternative is that degree of supine talk amongst execs: ‘Hey, don’t worry, soon everything will be fine’, suggesting this is merely an era of aberrant behaviour.
In academia, there’s a different level of engagement. It’s May. Ask many a teacher or lecturer and the surprise package is not the pay rise or successful research bid, but an elephant masquerading as dissertations.
12,000 worded critical theories. They have a ring of familiar themes: the laws of digital cannibalism, the rise of body conscious fashion bloggers, and how motion graphics redefines visual schema.
Dissertations, if you’ve had the pleasure to write one, can be a difficult nut to crack. At best they’re a no-frills, systematic schema of writing. You pose a research question, methodically research previous literature that elides it, then set out to prove why your own methods can yield results on that question.
More often, which I wish for, the most brilliant, systematic writing flows your way with rich ideas and knowledge beguiling in its construct. Sometimes, a paper ticks all the boxes brimming with a muscularity and plasticity of ideas.
These really do need to be published. The best ones come better prepped than the honed explicatory journalism articles. They are different animals afterall. If you didn’t know why millennials don’t much care about privacy in the way your mum does, read through phenomenology and the sharp edge of new thinking. This is six months of ambition weighted by vigorous research and bibliographies.
If you want to know what the Ms think when it comes to future of this and that, drop the dissertation. It makes you think why every employer doesn’t see to gives its charges the space to think big and frequently deliver their findings. Yes, on occasion an idea requires more transitive logic, and guidance, but that’s fixable. That’s my job in the supervision.
But then, wait, there’s an added icing, rarely discussed. Ideas generate other ideas — often in a non-linear way akin to dream sequences.
This year, more than ever, I would finish my batch of 20, 10,000 word dissertation marking and think, ‘Yep’, the axis of what we do, our behaviours and media habits are turning.
I’m not easily convinced. It took a PhD to humble me to discover, mostly everything we’re doing now, our great grandmothers and fathers experienced it to. Really and trully. 1922, the dawn of communications theory is a rehash now, with added bits.
But the joy of data, in the sense of dramaturgical academic research, from a modernist perspective can be truly exciting.
My take home this year spells out loud for me what’s happening. Not in that confirmation bias way. You’ve seen those online articles in which a survey purports that smart phones will be responsible for all our e-commerce in the future. There’s no mention of the research data and buried conveniently in the last paragraph of the article is the sponsor. Er, a mobile phone ecommerce outfit. Yah, Really!
No, this take home makes sense. A generation born into the web, knowing nothing else, burgeoning, growing in numbers, occupying future spaces vacated by structuralists, or creating their own worlds, are challenging the academic constructs underpinning Comms.
I get the practise-driven argument in which user behaviour is documented and hypothesised. No! This is different, this is the justification of the where and why, sometimes left field of conventional arguments and truthfully I’m excited.
I’me getting my game-face on.