by Tingting Bai*
[This blog is part of a series on the pandemic. The introduction to the series can be found here.]
Digitalization in the cultural sector can support the dissemination of culture and was very beneficial in maintaining the economic, social and cultural activities during the covid-19 pandemic. Digitalization also has transformed the cultural sector in relation to public access and the operating model in the post-pandemic world. More irresistible and intensive than before, digitalization will be a crucial and unavoidable challenge in the reboot of the cultural sector. As such, it is important to rethink infrastructures, accessibility, cultural attractivity, legal rules, management of cultural content and data, and their effects on health. The objective of this blog post is to rethink digitalization within the context of the cultural sector and the cultural practices of the public. It will analyze the situation of the cultural sector in the post-pandemic period and its opportunities, challenges and problems. In particular, the blog aims at exploring some of the systemic risks involved in the digital evolution with an focus on France.
A digitalized population
We are all connected digitally, whether we like it or not. The 2022 digital report by We Are Social and Hoot-suite on the use of the Internet and social networks in the world notes that digitalization has become an even more essential part of daily life over the past year. Social media, e-commerce, and streaming content have all grown economically, culturally, and socially. Moreover, there are trends that note the changing behaviors and demographics of digital users. Across the board, data indicates that more and more people going online with, nearly 15.5 new social media users every second.
The figures are particularly higher among younger users, Gen Z internet users are digital natives. They spend more time on the internet and social media than in front of the TV.
The French Gen Z is very creative according to a 2021 Oxford Economics study in partnership with Snap. 60% of Gen Zers surveyed in France say they “know how to create something new from online content.” That’s a much higher percentage than the overall share of 44%. The study also predicts that three quarters of jobs in France will require advanced digital skills by 2030. As the first generation to grow up with technology, Gen Z is likely to benefit from this growing need for digital skills.
Culture, one of the most affected sectors in France
Before the pandemic, the weight of culture in France was estimated at 2.3% of the economy with a sector composed of 79800 companies and 635700 people who were employed primarily in culture, with a turnover of 97 billion euros for an added value of 47 billion euros.
Based on a survey of the Ministry of Culture on the economic impact of the crisis of Covid-19 on the cultural sectors, there was a 25% decrease in turnover in 2020 compared to 2019 (22.3 billion euros). The performing arts sector (-72%), heritage (-36%), visual arts (-31%) and architecture (-28%) were specially affected. The impact of the policies to contain the virus differed within the diverse sector. Cinemas, shows, and museums experienced a sudden halt; advertisement, book, and music publishing halted more gradually; and video games and online platforms developed throughout the pandemic. Similarly, the recovery varied too; while bookstores, museums, and cinemas were able to resume their activity relatively quickly, shows and festivals were closed for a lot longer.
Digitalization, a journey of no return?
The digital transformation of the public shows that a profound change in behaviour is underway and accelerating. At the same time, one may wonder about the impact of digitalization in all sectors.
Covid-19 had a significant impact on the growth of the number of Internet and social media users (more than 13% since January 2020). The French government has placed technology and innovation ecosystems at the center of the revival programming. During a speech on September 14, 2020, President Emmanuel Macron recalled his ambition to make digital technology a lever for growth. Confidence in and desire for digital culture are much stronger today than before May 2020.
However, there is also increasing concern about the interaction of culture and digitalization and its impact. “The crisis is only the revelator, the enlarger of a cultural change as we never knew: the change of the cultural practices of the French. The opposition between heritage culture and digital culture becomes the main issue of cultural policy”(Roselyne Bachelot French politician, former Minister of Culture (2020-2022)). Indeed, cultural practices fundamentally change if they are mostly consumed on platforms and online immersive visits rather than in person. Moreover, with digital culture, we are getting a taste of free culture, which calls into question the economic model of many cultural structures.
As such the measures taken are not simply emergency responses to save the culture sector, but they are restructuring and adjusting. They are focused on the reconciliation of digital with heritage culture and the preservation of digital property in a completely globalized world.
The real virus is digital
Digital culture is still ambivalent, although it is a motivator of creativity and a facilitator of access to the arts and knowledge.
Eric Dacheux insists that the digital is a dangerous metaphysical virus. Now pandemic related regulations reach their end; digital communication remains relevant. Accordingly, the metaphor of the digital virus amplifies two elements. Firstly, the computer viruses that infect our computers. Secondly the technological solutionism; referring to a narrow focus on digital solutions to resolve the identified problems.
“Digital strategies” have been deployed by governments and businesses with risk-reduction technical solutions via contact tracing, digital tools, online business and streaming services, maintaining and developing social and economic activities during (and after) the pandemic. Not surprisingly, the Covid-19 crisis has accelerated the digital technologies, with their quick fix for resolving social and individual challenges.
However, responsible companies, public regulators and governments alike still struggle with striking the right balance between public needs, personal data privacy and technological management. Obviously, any tech-lead solution cannot stray far from the people it’s intended to benefit. The public needs to trust in their data property “managers” to provide various possibilities for a well-balanced better life.
Risks on the preservation of cultural diversity
This notion of a digital virus can also be understood in the way that digitization impacts our culture means, perception and memory. In the digital space, we risk losing our own cultural memory while we increase digitalized content. With the digital world being much more fragile, this will put as at the mercy of a digital virus potentially destroying what we hold most precious.
Impacted by this virus we are not only indirectly guided by the devices themselves for having a better use with adaptation, but we are also no longer considered as human beings in the midst of objects which we could freely be involved in as we are conditioned by this digital universe. A good example is big data. Music platforms can best capture listening intentions (and therefore music purchases). The distribution of a music network is psychometric, the era of radio with demographic formats is revolutionized, digital platforms use implicit details, such as individual viewing habits. Nevertheless, psychometric approaches to music do more than influence our categorizations, they restructure the way we construct our ideas, thoughts and vision of art from works and sensations. They transform the kinds of abstractions we use to think about and describe aesthetic phenomena such as beauty, harmony, timbre, or noise.
In other words, digital technology does not have its own rationality, like a living organism, but is embedded in socio-technical and economic frameworks that create, develop, transform and serve it. In the case of streaming services, they do not stop at encircling, pinpointing, or exhausting the cultural tastes of each individual.
Digital era and cultural data
“Personal data” is at the heart of the privacy issue. With the development of technologies, an international consensus on the right to data protection and the right to privacy is emerging. The right to privacy is enshrined in Article 8 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU and the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) further protected the personal data and privacy. The concept of personal data is strongly linked to the concept of “cultural data”. Online newspapers, social media, virtual bookstores, music and movie platforms, and museums all collect data on Internet users for commercial optimization purposes. In this way, they participate in the transmission and collection of cultural data. In general, cultural date is described as any data related to art & humanities and culture studies, it can be qualitive or quantitative and comes in various data types: image, video, textual, sound, numeric and spatial. Vishal Kumar identifies various types of “Cultural Data”, including historical cultural data, contemporary cultural data, art market data, special cultural data, social-economic cultural data, and new forms of cultural data (like digital art). With immersive digital exhibitions, concerts, spectacles, artificial intelligence and virtual reality, digital technology is gaining new territories and audiences in the cultural sector.
This digitization of cultural places was already underway before the creation of the Google Art & Culture project in 2013, which aims to offer virtual tours of museums in all corners of the world. Museums have long included virtual tours on their internet platforms. In March 2021, a 100% digital art piece entitled “”Everyday: The First 5000 Days”, was sold in the United States for $69.3 million by Christie’s auction house without including any physical component. This clearly marks a new digital age in that art sector. Digital technology gives additional assets to individuals and groups who already poses the wealth, creativity, knowledge and networks.
As we approach a new digital age provoked by the technical mastery of information, digitalization is developing in all areas, posing challenges to public policy.
Although digitalization is seen as a potential for artistic and cultural innovation, this assumes the possibility of new formats of cultural goods, unprecedented collaboration, and an enrichment of creation. These benefits could in time be reversed. The networking of the world is generated in an environment without borders and without the power of the state, and can make cultural system more and more monopolistic, undermining the economic models.
The evolution of technology has allowed for the societal development with important implications on political, economic, legal, environmental and social nature. Thus, the evolution of technology influences not only the evolution of media, but also the evolution of law, environment, culture, all around of it. New challenges and questions emerge with digital development which give rise to many fascinating exchanges and debates.
Tingting Bai is at the Laboratory LUMEN (Lille University ManageMENt) ULR 4999, Doctoral School in Legal, Political and Management Sciences of Lille University, Lille