This month, i had the pleasure to give a keynote at the MeCCSA conference in London. As the UK subject association for Media, Communication and Cultural Studies, it was a real pleasure to be amongst peers I have known for well over a decade and a personal honour to have this opportunity. I focused on the way in which Sport 2.0 tells us a story about media change which has applicability well beyond the sports discipline.
This work takes me next to PyeongChang in February, where I will cover the Olympic Winter Games, my 5th one! Keep an eye on this platform for short blog pieces and wider coverage.
Here's a bit of an overview of the manuscript for the talk....
It’s a real pleasure to be here at MeCCSA some 15 years or so after my first MeCCSA conference. And I wanted to take this opportunity to reflect a little on the intersection of disciplines that operate around this diverse subject community.
I have the dubious privilege of working across a number of subjects and, depending on the day, have my expertise described in quite various ways.
In fact, last year, I found myself giving public talks on drones, fake news, genetic enhancement, social media, Google Glass, and eSports, over just the month of November.
But over the years, the connecting theme has been our technological culture and I have always focused on emerging technologies, writing about the digital alongside biotechnology from an early stage.
I have always been interested in the moment when technology becomes available and where new cultures of use emerge, curious about how our day to day lives are affected as a result.
I mention these details because they speak directly to the emergence of my own creative space within the conduct of my research, which has a bearing on the theme of this talk, Sport 2.0 – itself a title which speaks of a digital transition, drawing on the idea of Web 2.0 or Humanity 2.0, as Steve Fuller used it.
But, to put this further into context, next month my research takes me to PyeongChang for the 2018 Olympic Winter Games, at which I will spend my time embedded within the media structures around the Games. Even here, there is an interesting story to tell I think, in terms of the complexity of how we, as academic researchers interface with the media communities we study.
But the origins of this work begin with a story like this from a couple of days ago
SHOW: BBC North Korea to Olympics screenshot
Way back when, I was taken with the idea that events - mega sports events in particular - become moments for cultural and political discourse and perhaps even social change. At the very least, they are imbued with these expectations and, indeed, the principal industries around them covet such importance.
And here we have, at a time of presumed instability of North and South relations, the possibility that the Olympic Games will help ease these relationships, which may have major geopolitical consequences.
We see this kind of expectation operate around many other recent Olympic Games, where organizations position themselves and their values around the event to put across some crucial social message, as we saw with Beijing 2008, nearly 8 years ago in this Amnesty campaign.
SHOW: Beijing Amnesty campaign
And the media artefacts created around these programmes of work fascinate me intellectually. The imagery here along is deeply provocative and disruptive in a context where all imagery associated with this proprietary event is controlled.
And yet they are also spaces of multifaceted resistances. I recall how, in the lead up to the Beijing Games – China’s first Olympics as host -its aspiration to use the slogan
“New Beijing, New Olympics” was ultimately quashed, in favour of “New Beijing, Fresh Olympics”,
The story goes that the International Olympic Committee deemed that host cities are not there to change the Olympics, but to simply be its temporary custodian.
And often, technology is a thread within these discussions. In fact, every Olympic Summer Games over the last century has involved the pioneering of some new form of media technology, whether it is underwater film making, or virtual reality.
SHOW: Pool Cam
Back in London 2012, one big success was Pool Cam – underwater cameras in the swimming venues, that then had their own Twitter accounts and which were tweeting images during the competitions. Within 2 days of its launch, over 21,000 followers to the account.
Here we have examples of media innovation and media change – how to photograph the games differently – which itself is a consequence of saturated and democratized media. The professionals having to think more creatively, but with the added nuance of these being automated photographers – another theme emerging within this territory – the handing over of creative decision making to artificially intelligent systems.
So, sports as innovation spaces for the media is a core theme here and it makes sense when you consider the economic infrastructure of large scale programmes like the Olympic Games, where billions of pounds in sponsorship and rights holder money are tied up in the system and where those organizations that fund its staging seek to leverage the 16 days of competition to increase their market share through exposure.
We see this at every Olympic Games, especially over the last 20 years with each subsequent Olympic Games claiming to have transcended the previous achievements of the last, especially technological terms. For Beijing 2008, the organizers even created a building designed to look like a bar code, as a key flagship infrastructure, central to one of its core themes: Digital Olympics.
SHOW Beijing Digital building
And in many respects, this is an easy win - more people consumed the Olympics on social media than the previous Games, because there are more people using more social media.
SHOW: image of the intel site
This year, in advance of the Korean Games, we see a huge step in the direction of eSports, as Intel – a primary Olympic sponsor – hosts a major event a week before the Games begin, at a time where discussions are afoot to include eSport in the Olympic programme, which is partly why the backdrop to this prezi is a photograph of an eSport event – the World Champs from 2015, also in Korea.
Already then, we have a number of questions to ask of this terrain, which are pertinent to the expansion of our field
· How are the sports and creative industries being reconfigured through digital change?
· How does technology operate as currency within the staging of mega events?
· How do we observe change within the media industries through such activity?
And through this talk, I want to outline how my research and practice have interwoven over the years, developing in part an ethnographic style of media research, and eventually how this moves into speculative ethnography, an idea which is particularly challenging to articulate, but which I think is crucial to our present times, which are characterised by the Kickstarter economy, an ever increasing part of our consumer culture, itself intimately connected to our pursuit of the future. I found myself writing about this a lot in a Nesta project on drones where, back in 2014, nearly every month a new Kickstarter drone was released, many of which never, dare I say, took off.
Many of these ideas borrow also from work with the Designer Interactions team at the RCA, for which I guest lectured over 10 years and where the central proposition involved designing for the future in a way that invited critical interrogation.
My most often cited example from this is the design of a telephone tooth implant which two colleagues developed and I want to play you an interview with them about it, if only to show how their mischievous exploits in exploiting the media’s fascination for technology was used as a way of starting a conversation about the direction of mobile technology.
SHOW: Telephone tooth input
And here in one design is an indication of where media technology may take us, throwing up all kinds of complex ethical, cultural, and social questions.
And as the future shows us its teeth, we begin to glimpse this brave new media world
SHOW: Cicret Bracelet
Over its course, there is a research story here that describes the development of theory, practice, and of the crucial role of collaboration with the media industries, or which tries to weave together the theme of this conference on creativity and agency, as a lot of my research has involved utilizing creativity as a means through which to assert agency within an industry community and to utilize that opportunity to explore technological and cultural trends within the media.
So, I have done things like given social media training to Olympic athletes. Another role I have is as the future media mentor for the Young Reporters programme of the International Olympic Committee, which takes 35 young people around the world to the Games to learn how to report from them.
So where does sport come into all of this? It is my contention that we obtain critical insights into media change by studying sport and that, especially as this interfaces with emerging technology, we gain an insight into how technology changes societies and individuals. And so, this is also a talk that foregrounds the expansion of our field into new territories, which have yet to benefit from a research community around them. And I will go on to say more about this in the final part of this talk
To this end, I urge you to think of this not as a talk about sport at all, but of the media technology ecosystem that operates around it. I want to offer an indication of where I think this takes us as researchers and tie it back to some critical commentaries on what this means for us more generally about our diverse field.
SHOW: Screenshot of chapter and book
While the MIT book is a more in-depth overview of many of these thoughts, further insights about this can be found in a recently published Afterword for a book on Digital Qualitative Research in Sport and Physical Activity, itself a good example of how expansive media research has become.
Yet, my entry into this field is also a story about the interconnections between research theory and practice.
Back in year 2000, I was working on a range of ethical issues related to sports technology and found myself brought into the fold of Olympic research.
This took me eventually to Sydney for the Olympic Games there, at which I learned of a place called the Non-Accredited Media Centre, set up in the bustling Darling Harbour, a prime city destination, way more integrated with the city than the Official Olympic Media Centre.
When arriving into Sydney, I went along to the Media centre and presented my case for their accrediting me as one of their reporters. At the time, I was a phd student and with very few media credentials. But I had a website and I had published a few things. And let’s face it, back then websites were radical. Sydney was only the second summer games to have one.
SHOW: Sydney 2000 website
So I showed them my website and that seemed to be sufficient for them to accredit me giving me a fancy pass which got me access to all number of things, everything except the sport in fact.
A big part of the early years of this work then saw me fascinated by the Olympics for everything other than sport. Thousands of reporters would come to the Games just to cover what happened around the cultural, political and social side and, at the same time, it was becoming apparent that the reporters who went to this kind of centre would be those typically working in an online capacity. In many respects these were outsiders to the Olympic world, but it was far more complicated still. In fact, some major media providers who had more staff than official accreditations would put their staff into this facility.
And here we see another intersection – between place marketing, event hosting, and new cultures of journalism. Very soon after Sydney, it became apparent that a core feature of such reporting was the rise of the online journalist around sports, which grew into a focus on citizen journalism. Many of the reporters accredited by the city to cover the games were people looking for that kind of story and by the time we get to Athens, the non-accredited media centre has become the politically most important venue at the Games from a non-sporting perspective, hosting all kinds of important events – in part because the access restrictions in the main Olympic venues made this prohibitive.
So, here I am trying to infiltrate this world of new Olympic journalism, while also trying to understand what was taking place around this new sports media complex.
In part to occupy this space more comfortably, I co-developed a platform that fitted the brief of the research aspirations, an online media outlet called Culture @ the Olympics, which would frame every application to subsequent Olympic Games to become accredited as non-sports media – media that the host city and region sought to engage to tell their story.
Now, there were two parallel tracks of digital change emerging at this point – 2004 – the time when we see the term Web 2.0 emerge to describe a shift in what the web could do. The first is the growing digitalization of the sports media and the second is the rise of citizen journalists who sought to occupy the privilege space of the professional media and disrupt its structures and narratives on the Games.
The two clashed around the time of Beijing as it became apparent that the expansion of who could be media meant that the exclusivity of that status could undermine the previously privileged exclusivity afforded to the media.
So for the remainder of this talk I want to whizz you through these points of intersection, which provide a glimpse into the complexity of the Sport 2.0 world and which hopefully will stimulate you to think differently about this field and where it is going in the future.
And to do that, we start here: 3 trends, all of which intersect in this world
- Mobile Health
- Mixed Reality
- Internet of things
- Artificial Intelligence
And so, to conclude, I want to frame Sport 2.0 as an intersection of various media cultures the analysis of which requires taking into account their complexity. Examining sport tells us a great deal about where the media have come and where they are heading and this is why all studies of the media need to take on board how they work around the complex world of the sports industries.