What is Digital Disruption?

What is Digital Disruption?

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Photo by Jerry Kiesewetter

It’s 2018. Doug Ford is Premier, Donald Trump is President, Stephen Colbert reports more facts than Fox News, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez could be the youngest woman elected to Congress, and in a couple of months weed is going to be legal in Canada. What is status quo?

Throughout foldA I was struck by two conversations.

The first was about how far behind we, as artists, are when it comes to technology. At the festival bar someone remarked, “Imagine a Silicone Valley theatre company, imagine what could be done with infinite tech resources”.

Another conversation was with Christine Quintana, a Vancouver based creator, who remarked at what a difference tech could make to protest. Imagine a sound company sponsoring a rally and everyone being able to hear the ideas and speeches clearly. It became clear to me throughout the week that disruption is possible, but it’s going to take a lot more resources and collaboration to effectively get there.

The truth is, it’s hard to disrupt something that’s non-existent. The world has changed drastically in the last 20 years and perhaps I hadn’t given that enough consideration when I first watched the Disrupting the Status Quo conversation with CBC Arts Executive Producer, Andrew D’Cruz, and Playwright/ Performer, Donna Michelle St. Bernard. It’s possible I took my life with technology for granted when I formed my first opinions on St.Bernard and D’Cruz’s conversation. As individuals, we’re running to keep up with the latest digital invention. As arts workers and organizations we’re struggling to come to terms with evolving our forms on unstable and unreliable platforms, often without resources.

The speed at which we adjust to change is dependent on the individual, but in a world that changes by the tweet, it’s safe to assume we’re all adjusting to something new. St. Bernard spoke about being uncomfortable with technology as she felt a lack of control. D’Cruz pitched that CBC Arts had revolutionized its practice by using a “digital first approach” which translates to creating content for the social media market and then working backwards to long forms. I felt confused. How was this disruption? Had there been confusion about disrupting the status quo under the guise of a digital arts festival?

Playwright and Performer Donna Michelle St. Bernard in conversation with CBC’s Andrew D’Cruz in a discussion of disruption as part of The StartUp at foldA.

The theme of the talk had evolved into a discussion about how both creators had disrupted their own practice with digital arts. What was fascinating was how both St. Bernard and D’Cruz agreed that a move towards digital was inevitable. D’Cruz remarked, “If we don’t engage with that reality (of cell phones taking over) then we’re missing an opportunity”. St. Bernard, while admitting to being uncomfortable with technology, agreed that using digital arts in performance gave information that she herself was not able to convey to an audience. In such uncertain times, it was clear that these creators agreed that we need to re-invent and push ourselves outside of our comfort zones in order to break the status quo.

Towards the end of the conversation, St. Bernard and D’cruz touched on “placing equity above style”. They were referring to their work with Tamyka Bullen an artist who speaks and communicates through ASL, but this overall sentiment may be the big takeaway from the conversation. Our digital lives can move at lightning speed, but we need to ensure equity keeps its seat at the table as we surge forward.

It’s clear that we’re living in a time of great uncertainty. The way things were is no longer, and a lot of us are finding life unpredictable. Whether that be politically, economically, or even, digitally. Status Quo in 2018 may actually mean uncertainty.

Perhaps in order to disrupt that uncertainty, we must find new ways to ground our own practices. If we shift our focus to equity and continually disrupt with the purpose of expanding our tables and collaborating with new voices, then a new status quo may emerge. One where the tech industry and arts world are not so separate. One where voices with a message can be heard, even if they are not accompanied by money. One where any artist of any ability can have the opportunity to create, to play, and to be heard. This may sound idyllic, but then instant digital connection with one another once did too.

 

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About the Author

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Madison is a recent graduate from Queen's University in Drama and Global Development. Most frequently she works as a Stage Manager, Production Manager, and Producer. Her next project is a MA in Art and Politics at Goldsmiths College at the University of London.