I want to explore a topic today that is both daunting and elusive, yet I believe is both urgent and consequential enough to be one of the foundational forces shaping the events industry as we know it. It’s a notion that I’ve been playing with for perhaps over a year by now, and on some level was one of the reasons why I started Eventful World Media. With the over 100 explorations we’ve done up to this point, on subjects ranging across all verticals and settings touched by the events industry, I think I am more prepared today than I was before to organize my thoughts on this subject into a hopefully somewhat cohesive argument. So here it goes…
For the first time in the history of mankind, technology has enabled and forced a generation of society (mine) to consider the differences between space and information. In all the thousands of years of past human civilizations, drawing distinction between these two ideas has never been necessary. In the days before any recording technologies were invented, all information to be both perceived and delivered could only be facilitated through coordinated space. If you wanted to say something to someone, or hear something from someone, you had no other choice but to coordinate to meet that person, catching each other at the same place at the same time.
In these historical times, the concept of “live events” was literally the only facilitator of society itself. Information could not be broadcasted in any way, as broadcasting technologies developed far after recording technologies did. Whether it was sharing news, producing entertainment, or bonding with friends, mankind had no other means of being social other than to coordinate with each other to be at the same place at the same time.
Advances in technology over the centuries dramatically changed these dynamics. The first recording technology invented was that of writing, then the materials on which these writings would be transcribed onto, which became increasingly portable until we came to the ubiquitous designs of today’s paper. The subsequent advancement of printing scaled the broadcast of information enormously when it was first invented. For the first time in history, people could pass on firsthand information to a large group of people through commissioning a section in a newspaper instead of organizing a live event. Along with these advancements, the function of live events was beginning of evolve as well.
Within the last two centuries, mankind has invented ways to record voice, record visual reality, record visual motion, and subsequently record the combination of these things which sparked the golden age of Hollywood well before the spark of ubiquitous television. What television could achieve that the movies could not was to follow in the footsteps of radio in creating the “live but remote” human experience with information. Secondhand news was historically always accessible: as early as human beings knew how to communicate with each other, the notion of “word of mouth” existed as a way to spread news. Newspapers and printing enabled the masses to get firsthand news without coordinating to be in the same space. Secondhand information always has the variable of reliability, but what’s printed on a newspaper stays the same no matter what time of day you read it. Radio and television took that one step further, by being not only firsthand, but also “live”, a notion so obvious to our generation but presumably such a novel idea in its days to distinguish.
Concurrent to these advancements in broadcasting came the advancements in personal communications. The telephone enabled people to hear each other in real time without the need to record nor coordinate to be in the same place. As I’ve argued in previous explorations, I don’t believe in the notion of one thing necessarily replacing another when it comes to modes of human communications. I think the key to technological advancements is that it opens more options than people have had before. Our generation (and the several previous ones actually) all know too well how some conversations are better had on the phone than face to face, and some vice versa. Like language itself, the availabilities of these options for modes of communications I believe have fueled an increase in sophistication in our human abilities to be social.
The two most recent advancements that fundamentally shape our particular generation’s lifestyle are the advents of personal computing and smartphones. The softwares and applications on both these kinds of devices enable them to perform all the combinations of things previously separated into the different technologies of print and television and telephone. With technologies like Skype, we can message each other, and see each other, and talk to each other, all in real time. We can chat “face to face” on Skype and think of some picture to send the other person, and see her live reaction the moment we send that picture through messaging. The sophistication of our awareness and information-delivery increases.
The internet, an advancement that permeates most interactions we have with both the computer and the smartphone, has evolved in its own right in terms of the way it contextualizes human interactions. While Web 1.0 of the 90’s enabled people unprecedented access to information for research, it was the social aspects of Web 2.0 that has truly transformed the world into the data driven economy it is today. People began to make friends and keep connected with friends in ways we never have before, and our new learned behaviors on social media sites are tracked and measured in ways no companies nor any kind of entities in the past have ever been able to accomplish.
This all begs my biggest question as hinted to in the title of this exploration: what is the remaining relevance of live events in this digital age? What is it about the face-to-face interaction that technology has yet to replicate, and perhaps, what if anything is there that technology can never replicate?
The notion of live events has existed literally since the beginnings of mankind, and used to be the only moments when humans were part of human societies. For thousands of years, there was no distinction between coordinating space and getting information, because you couldn’t do the latter without the former. In the past two centuries, this dynamic is rapidly changing, and it is my belief that the events industry must lead the thought process of what it means for humans to be social animals.
As a specific example, in past decades conference producers can claim that conferencing was all about content, that “content is king”, and that people come to their conferences to learn xyz materials. Nowadays, that content can be consumed in so many alternative ways. To merely ban on-site recording just so you can milk the revenues for people to come does not in itself add real value to society. In fact, this pervasive practice from many event producers I believe only hinders the possibilities for growth and further innovation. True value is delivered when event professionals can somehow lead the exploration process of what people are really doing when they coordinate a space and time to get together and see each other in person. For all the thousands of years of us being “mankind”, for all the thousands of generations that came before us, this exploration has never been necessary. Today, I believe it is more important than ever, not only for the events industry, but for mankind itself.
See you at the next exploration!