Why Human Contact Is Still Essential in the Digital Age; AGENDA as Digital Experts Gear Up to Argue the Cost and beneCts of the Digital Revolution at the Big Debate on June 9, Paul Bradshaw, Lecturer in Journalism and New Media at Birmingham City University and Author of the Online Journalism Blog, Argues an Online Future Is a Bright One

The Birmingham Post (England), May 30, 2008 | Go to article overview

Why Human Contact Is Still Essential in the Digital Age; AGENDA as Digital Experts Gear Up to Argue the Cost and beneCts of the Digital Revolution at the Big Debate on June 9, Paul Bradshaw, Lecturer in Journalism and New Media at Birmingham City University and Author of the Online Journalism Blog, Argues an Online Future Is a Bright One


Byline: Paul Bradshaw

Digital.

Hm.

Zero.

One.

Zero.

One.

One.

Zero...

That's one way of looking at it. Here's another:

Footage of aeroplanes hitting the Twin Towers. One.

A series of blogs detailing survivors of the Asian tsunami and information about rescue efforts. Zero. One.

A mobile phone image of the tube tunnel on July 7, 2005. One. One.

AFacebook group communicating information about the Virginia Tech shootings. Zero.

Zero. One.

Text messages about the Chinese earthquake.

One. Zero. One.

To an engineer, "digital" is simply a universal language of zeroes and ones. Want to describe a picture? Digital does it with a series of yes and no questions. Want to replicate a song? It's the yes-no game all over again.

That may not sound as poetic as an old analogue world of scratching needles over vinyl, but that's not the point.

The point is, a universal language like this creates the opportunity for conversation.

And digital, for me, is all about conversation.

To begin with, that conversation was between computers and audio, video, text and still images. For a decade or so the buzzwords were all around "digitisation" and "convergence"

- being able to transmit pictures, text and audio using the same channels. For more colourful illustrations, you'll Knd websites that take music and create moving pictures from it (think Windows Media Player).

What we're only genuinely realising now is that digital technology also allows humans to have those conversations. And because of those technologies we can have those conversations faster than ever before, from places we could never before talk from, with people we would never otherwise even know existed, and to a depth and connectivity we never thought possible.

Take the Chinese earthquake. Some who used the free web-based text-messaging service Twitter on the morning of May 12, heard the news before the US Geological Survey recorded it; and it's fair to say that a signiKcant proportion of ordinary Chinese citizens knew what was happening via the instant messaging service QQ before their government did Within a minute of hearing about what had happened, from my ofKce at Birmingham City University I was able to contact someone in China 27 miles from the epicentre, view pictures and video, and read Chinese reports that someone else had helpfully translated into English.

Then there are the September 11 bombings.

While broadcast media replayed the footage and newspaper websites crashed under the demand, a network of blogs stepped in to relay messages from survivors and emergency services.

These are old, and exceptional, stories. But take it down to an everyday, personal level, and the picture is no less startling.

What does digital mean to me?

For me, as a lecturer in journalism and new media at Birmingham City University, it has provided a platform for doing things unimaginable 10 years ago. As I type this, for example, a class of second year journalism students are working on an environmental news website (EnvironmentalNewsOnline.com) that has attracted more than 40,000 visits since being launched in February.

Ten years ago most journalism students would have been lucky if their work was seen by two people.

What's more, this is a global news website.

One student is covering Africa; another Australasia; and a third is writing reports on environmental movements in India, and all from a computer room in Birmingham. …

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