Media futures or media nostalgia?

And so it was off to the Media Futures Conference at Alexandra Palace on 20th June to debate future media trends. Along with the presentations, academics, broadcasters and researchers came together to second guess what the next big thing in media will be.

In a big blue tent tacked onto the palace the first speaker of the day, Dr Brian Winston from the Univeristy of Lincoln, raised some controversial points about our propensity to hype up new technology, inflating the importance of it in our lives. To hammer home his point he quoted Amara’s Law, “We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run.”.

Regardless of technical developments it’s easy to forget that we often just use developments for things we like – the frivilous stuff like fancy ring tones and facebook to mobile applications–that merely passes the time. We think it will alter how we live but it rarely does in any real sense. It was a controversial position that quickly brought the audience down to earth.

As I nipped out for coffee in the break I got talking to some marketeers who didn’t seem to agree with the route debate had taken. One person went as far as to say they were being “talked down to”. The bottom line is that unless there’s a guaranteed return on investment (ROI) for advertisers and marketeers in new technology they are unwilling to take that leap of faith.

The next track Research in the Real World started well but turned into a bit of damp squib. There was a big build up to interviews with the REAL consumers of media. The interviews were meant to be a cross-section of society but were let down by stereotypically generic answers. From the unmarried, professional couple, who “ no longer watched tv, but only bought the box sets because of the ads constantly being bombarded at them” to the gran who listens to her “wireless every night”. General consensus was that they were just covering old ground with this one.

I got talking to a nice lady from Sound Delivery, a charity that uses podcasting technology to tell the stories of people often overlooked in mainstream media. Her current project focusses on single parent families struggling in some of London’s toughest estates. “Where were the older people?”. “Where were the minorities?”, she asked of the morning sessions.

Ulitmately we were left to make up our own conclusions on the future of the media. The questions asked by the audience brought no definitive answers leaving those sitting around me, at least, fustrated and disappointed.

Researchers can’t present their own analysis on their research anyway; they’re just as likely as anyone to imprint their opinion on results. Isn’t up to the commissioning company to do that?

Perhaps that’s really the point. As the future approaches at an ever increasing speed it’s natural to keep looking in the rear-view mirror for recognition that your’re going in the right direction. What we really need is less looking back and more looking forward.