Two recent/ongoing examples have informed my thoughts a little regarding unplanned events, principally ??the amount of work that has gone into planning them. ??So much so in fact that to call them unplanned is in many ways a misnomer; 'ambush' events is probably more accurate. ??There is a link to technology to both however as it makes possible the preparation which is at the heart of these goings on.
First up is the??Wikileaks/Afghanistan story, which was broken by??The Guardian,??The New York Times??and??Der Spiegel??on Sunday/Monday of this week (25/26 July 2010). ??In his two hour press conference on Monday the founder of Wikileaks,??Julian Assange, talked about the carefully orchestrated manner in which the material was initially handled, analysed by experts from the different organisations, then splashed across many pages of print and online media: he wanted to set the news agenda for the week ahead. ??This is therefore a case study in manipulating the news cycle in a connected world, yet also an experiment in limiting access to the data in order to maintain/increase its value. ??The journalists who had a few weeks to pore over the documents were doing so because their editors saw the benefits in being in on something this big, there was much to be gained from devoting resources to a careful analysis of the material that would be lost if Wikileaks simply announced a free for all. ??This has been done in the past and when supply is infinite (while their servers hold up) the value of the material plummets.
So late on Sunday night the sites went live, Channel 4 posted an interview with Assange and Twitter turned its attention to such things while suburbia slept. ??Monday saw the civil society take hold of the story as the BBC and other news outlets tracked the story: a series of set pieces played themselves out, from the White House to Downing Street to Assange's press marathon and presentation. ??Was (is) this therefore an event in itself?????The planning was clandestine, the execution effective, the legacy wide-ranging and the initial evaluation generally positive in terms of overall success as set against the organisers' short term objectives. ??(The long objectives range from withdrawal from Afghanistan to potential enquiries into war crimes, which isn't within the remit of this post.)
Where's the tech? ??All over the place. ??From the means by which the material was illicitly obtained and forwarded to Wikileaks, to the ways in which it has been manipulated and displayed by the mainstream media organisations listed above - just look at this??time line??of IED explosions from The Guardian. ??Discussions erupted about what this leak of material means for state secrecy, war time propaganda, the state's ability to control the flow information, the ways in which governments respond to such events and so on. ??The time pressure placed on all the actors was paramount because there was so much information to be processed (some 92,000 documents, give or take) and a rolling news machine that demands comment and decisions and analysis and so on. ??To my mind this shares many of the same features that tend to pepper discussions about London's hosting of the 2012 Olympic Games, where legacy, politics, vested interests and the like are regular themes. ??It is fitting that the Games celebrated their 'two years to go' this week, although the contrast is clear in that this high profile event is being organised, constructed, discussed and amended in the full glare of public opinion. ??Hence the thought that the Wikileaks story is not so much an unplanned interruption to everyday life as an ambush: the planning is every bit as important to those involved in order that their objectives may be met. ??This argument needs further refinement!
The second ambush event comes with plenty of warning, again destroying my argument before it's made. ??Edinburgh is due to play host to 'Camp for Climate Action' in August 2010, about two thirds of the way through the festival. ??The focus is due to be on RBS and their investment practises, drawing on the decentralised and passionate enthusiasm of the Climate Camp's supporters. ??Here's their website:??www.climatecamp.org.uk.
It was old fashioned print media that brought this to my attention, courtesy of a Climate Camp free paper picked up at the Big Tent Festival in Fife. ??The publication talks through a history of capitalism, a run through of past successes and a litany of RBS's sins (which is currently a majority-publicly owned bank). ??There's also some pointers on what to expect should one choose to attend the camp. ??This has been followed up in my inbox by a couple of newsletters with loads of information about current plans, ways to get involved and so on: it's all measured, open and non-threatening. ??There are sections there about links with the police and how they see the camp operating alongside the forces of law, order and civil society. ??The key piece of information that's missing seems to be the final location of the camp itself, which will be somewhere in Edinburgh.
The technology in all this is there on their site, and it's behind all the links that are listed in the closing pages of the free paper. ??It's my intention to try and follow this as it develops, from the blogs they write to the Tweets they send and discussions they host. ??To what extent others find ways to join in remains to be seen, but with the tools available it will be second nature to so many of these activists and their supporters to find common cause through social media.
Unplanned? ??Not at all. ??Secretive? ??Perhaps. ??Ambush rating: currently unknown.
The value of this for me is manifold:
- where does this fit into the standard understandings of 'events' and 'festivals'?
- what can be seen and learnt from the ways in which it is being planned, organised, publicised and carried out?
- are there lessons here for less controversial events, in terms of gaining popular support within a particular community?
- does the use of technology, alongside more traditional forms of media, lend this event a range of opportunities and means of communication/organisation that would not have been the case a few years ago; how are those opportunities being grasped?
- is there are link between the motivation to achieve an objective and the degree to which technology is fetishised/relied up? ??(To whit the fact that Climate Camp have a driving passion has necessitated a focus on that and tools which will help achieve that goal, rather than spending time and energy on superfluous activities. ??If old-media and direct action is more effective than an attractive website that's got to be their main focus.)
This is the day I finally engaged with the 2010 Edinburgh Festival Fringe as I picked up half a dozen tickets to events and shows. ??The Fringe relies on technology to work, as is all too apparent when it falls over, yet the themes above are perhaps equally relevant: the driving motivation behind their work and that of their contributing artists, the balance between the planned and the unplanned/ambushed event, and the role of different media to aid in that process. ??Is the medium the message? ??Surely not when the focus is on live interaction between people... though if there's a means by which the live experience can be enhanced by technology so be it.
Let's not forget the audiences: perhaps they're the ones with some ambush moments up their sleeves.