CREATIVE ECONOMY: INDUSTRY & MARKETS RACE WITH TECHNOLOGY REVOLUTION
by Josh Nyapimbi
The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn. Alvin Toffler
The high turnover of technological and internet innovations has fundamentally altered the way we live, work and relate to one another. In its scale, scope and complexity, the transformation calls for creative industries to establish or enhance their undertaking or application of technology and internet to remain viable and relevant to the market. The strategies and actions to fully harness technological innovations must be integrated and comprehensive, involving all stakeholders of the creative economy value chain, from the public and private sectors to academia and civil society. The acceleration of innovation and the velocity of disruption are hard to comprehend or anticipate and the drivers provide a source of constant surprise, even for the best connected and most well informed.
Electronics and information technology have blurred the lines between the physical, digital spheres and systems previously defining and driving training, production, distribution, promotion, management, governance and consumption patterns of creative goods and services.
The speed of current breakthroughs has no historical precedent. Moreover, it is evolving at an exponential rather than a linear pace. disrupting almost every industry in every country. And the breadth and depth of these changes herald the transformation of entire systems of production, management and governance; as possibilities for industry and market to connect via mobile devices, with unprecedented processing power and storage capacity, are unlimited. And these possibilities will be multiplied by emerging technology breakthroughs in fields such as artificial intelligence, robotics, the Internet of Things, autonomous vehicles, 3-D printing, nanotechnology, biotechnology, materials science, energy storage and quantum computing.
Already, artificial intelligence is all around us, from self-driving cars and drones to virtual assistants and software that translate or invest.
The digitisation age has the potential to raise income levels and improve the quality of life for all those involved in the creative industries. To date, those who have gained the most from it have been consumers able to afford and access the digital world; technology has made possible new products and services that increase the efficiency and pleasure of our personal lives. Listening to music, watching a film, watching a live performance or playing a game – any of these can now be done remotely.
It goes without saying that technological innovation leads to long-term gains in efficiency and productivity, such as a decline in transportation and communication costs, logistics and supply chains becoming more effective, and hence reducing the cost of trade; resulting in the opening of new markets and driving creative economic growth.
At the same time, as the economists Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee have pointed out, the revolution could result in greater inequality, particularly in its potential to disrupt labour markets. As automation hypothetically has the potential to substitute for labour across the entire creative economy, the net displacement of workers by machines might exacerbate the gap between returns to capital and returns to labour. Imagine a theatre ensemble or music band entirely composed of robots! Automated theatre stage management and lighting! Radio drama by robots cuts out script reading rehearsals and directing and labour related tasks entirely! On the other hand, it is also possible that the displacement of workers by technology will, in aggregate, result in a net increase in safe and rewarding jobs.
In addition to being a key economic concern, inequality represents the greatest creative economy concern associated with the digitisation revolution. The greatest beneficiaries of innovation tend to be the providers of intellectual and physical capital – the innovators, shareholders, and investors – which explains the rising gap in wealth between those dependent on capital versus labour. Online platforms currently command the most wealth. Technology is therefore one of the main reasons why incomes have stagnate for most workers in emerging creative economies.
Discontent in the creative industries is also increasingly fuelled by the pervasiveness of digital technologies and the dynamics of information sharing typified by social media. Ideally, such interactions should provide opportunities for inter-cultural dialogue, understanding and cohesion. To the contrary and to a larger extent they are creating and propagating unrealistic expectations as to what constitutes success for an individual or a group, as well as offering opportunities for extreme ideas and ideologies to spread.
Digitisation will see creative industries exponentially introducing new technologies that create entirely new ways of serving existing needs and will significantly disrupt existing creative industries value chains. This is good for industry and the market in that it improves the quality, speed or price at which value is delivered. Continued innovations in mobile networks and data will also mean creative industries must adapt the way they design, market and deliver products and services. The impact on governance and the traditional concept of strategic planning and monitoring and evaluation is staggering to say the least.
A key trend is the development of technology-enabled platforms such as the Creative Economy Outlook Zim Portal (CEOZ) that combines both demand and supply to disrupt existing industry structures, such as those we see within the “sharing” or “on demand” creative economy. These technology platforms, rendered easy to use by the smartphone, convene people, assets, and data – thus creating entirely new ways of consuming goods and services in the process and driving the local creative industries or economy. In addition, they lower the barriers for creative businesses and individuals to create wealth, altering the personal and professional environments of creative workers.
On the whole, there are four main effects that digitisation has on creative industries – on customer expectations, on product enhancement, on collaborative innovation, and on organizational forms. Whether consumers or businesses, customers are increasingly at the epicentre of the creative economy, which is all about improving how customers are served. Physical creative products and services, moreover, can now be enhanced with digital capabilities that increase their value. New technologies make assets more durable and resilient, while data and analytics are transforming how they are maintained. A world of customer experiences, data-based services and asset performance through analytics, meanwhile, requires new forms of collaboration, particularly given the speed at which innovation and disruption are taking place. And the emergence of global platforms and other new business models, finally, means that talent, culture and organizational forms will have to be rethought in the creative economy scheme of things.
The bottom line, however, is the same: creative industry business leaders and senior executives need to understand their changing environment, challenge the assumptions of their operating teams, and relentlessly and continuously innovate.
The digitisation evolution is also now increasingly enabling creative civil society to engage with government, voice their opinions, coordinate their efforts, and even circumvent official censorship and bans. Simultaneously, governments are gaining new technological powers to increase their control over the diversity of cultural expressions, based on pervasive surveillance systems and the ability to control digital infrastructure. Overall, however, governments will increasingly face pressure to change their current approach to public engagement and policymaking, as their central role of conducting policy diminishes owing to new sources of competition and the redistribution and decentralization of power that new technologies make possible.
The current status quo of a linear and mechanistic public policy and decision-making, when decision-makers have time to follow a strict “top down” approach to study a specific issue and develop the necessary response or appropriate regulatory framework, will soon no longer be feasible as the wave of digitisation takes hold. This means creative civil society must rethink strategies for campaigning and lobbying on public policies.
Finally, digitisation will change not only what we do but also who we are. It will affect our identity and all the issues associated with it: our sense of privacy, our notions of ownership, our consumption patterns, the time we devote to work and leisure, and how we develop our careers, cultivate our skills, meet people, and nurture relationships. The list is endless because it is bound only by our imagination.
I am a great enthusiast and early adopter of technology, but sometimes I wonder whether the inexorable integration of technology in our lives could diminish some of our quintessential human capacities, such as compassion and cooperation. Our relationship with our smartphones is a case in point. Constant connection may deprive us of one of life’s most important assets: the time to pause, reflect, and engage in meaningful conversation. Suffice to mention how new information technologies have altered the notion of privacy to an unprecedented and perennially worrisome level.
Neither technology nor the disruption that comes with it is an exogenous force over which creative industries have no control. At least it’s true for northen creative economies but problematic for southern creative economies that often succumb to northern dictates. Leaving little prospect of a future that reflects our common objectives and values in the true letter and spirit of the 2005 UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions, as in its most cynical, debased form, the technological revolution may indeed have the potential to “automate” humanity and thus to deprive us of our heart and soul. But as a complement to the best parts of human nature – creativity, empathy, stewardship – it can also lift humanity into a new shared and moral realization based on a shared sense of purpose. It is incumbent on us all to make sure the latter prevails.
In conclusion, it is important to always bear in mind that it is not just technology which is driving change but the rapid diffusion of information which is the key driver. Just think about the impact of these simple statistics:
- 70% of the African population have a phone, compared to 0.7% just 20 years ago;
- 20% of the African population have access to the Internet compared to less than 1% 5 years ago, and it is projected to rise to 50% within 3 years;
- 40% of the world's population get their news from Facebook...that includes Africans.
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