And so last night to the first of four lectures by Anthony Lilley, CEO of a U.K. production company called Magic Lantern Productions. Lilley is the News International Visiting Professor of Broadcast Media here at Oxford. He'll be pondering the future of media and, as expected from a 21st-century digital guy, he's inviting the audience to play along. He wants all of us to contribute to his blog so he can create a user-generated lecture, one that presumably comprises the points that the audience raise.
Have the students write the lecture? Nice work if you can get it!
But seriously, it will be interesting to see the direction Lilley takes over the next three lectures. Last night was a bit of a curtain raiser, as he stuck his standard in the ground and staked his claim for a networked future where the one-to-many broadcast model will be swamped by the many-to-many. The mass media of the last 100 years, he said, will be seen to be an aberration, a deviation, as we return to a culture defined by social networking, this time made possible by the Web as opposed to the face-to-face ties that flourished in the pre-mass media age.
Lilley lamented that no mainstream media organization has at its head a visionary. As he said this he flashed a PowerPoint slide that featured a quote from Ernest Hemingway: "Never confuse movement with action." Ouch.
Then Lilley went all memetic on us. Memes, he explained, are the basic building blocks of culture, the stories societies tell themselves. The media no longer controls the creation and distribution of memes. The internet makes it possible for anyone, anywhere, anytime, to slip some memes into the cultural bloodstream. In other words: Come on down to Karl's Kulture Barn! We've gone meme crazy! Buy one meme, get one free! Better yet: Make your own memes!
(This meme business, by the way, was evidently started by Richard Dawkins, the Oxford professor best known these days for doing all he can to ensure he doesn't get into heaven.)
The problem we face isn't a scarcity of memes (we suffer, Lilley joked, from "infobesity"), it's a scarcity of attention. We're hip-deep in memes and don't have the time or attention to sort through them all. In the past, brands served as attention filters. We know what to expect from a BBC1 comedy or a Channel 4 TV show. We know how a Washington Post story differs from a National Enquirer one. But now things like "search" (trolling for memes using Google) and social networking (sharing memes with your friends on Facebook and MySpace, presumably) are eroding those distinctions. The days of the mass media's brute control of stories--of being, in Lilley's words, "the bouncer at the door"--are over.
I think he's probably right, though of course it's impossible to know right now to what degree this will Change Things. And Lilley was short on specific, real-world examples of how he sees this all playing out on the ground. A point about broadcasters always paying a lot to transmit sporting events because of sport's inherent memeeness didn't quite satisfy. And a slide he threw up that proclaimed "The Novelty of the New...The Immediacy of the Now" left me scratching my head. Why not "The Nowness of the New...The Immediacy of the Novel"?
I did take heart in his supposition that storytellers will have a place in tomorrow's interactive, networked world. He didn't say what their role will be. But Lilley has three more lectures to cover that ground.