Going digital- from festivals to academia

Going digital- from festivals to academia

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Covid restrictions have undermined the primary function of the festivals.

A whole world suffers on account of the pandemic. Therefore, the world is moving towards enhancing data collection and going digital. The performing arts is one of the worst-hit sectors. However, there are ways and means to make a virtual and digital going world.

Going digital meaning

Going digital meaning working together without being together. These days the festivals in Europe are a good example of humans going digital. In Europe, major festivals and concerts have shifted to the digital mat.  Recently, the digital festivals were the Glastonbury Festival and the Eurovision Music Contest.

The Glastonbury Festival is famous for its lively and noisy festival. Crowds gather in the open air and reverberate with nature. They are exposing to the elements of nature.

It was to regenerate to relive in the  ancient Greek. The crowd does not care for their appearances and covering. They just wallow in the mud to recreate the mood of revelry.  Because it has been a tradition there. Accompanying the ritual of music and dance. So, it is the primal expression of letting go and emerged into nature.

Europe people enjoying festivals on screen

The Glastonbury Festival and the Eurovision Music contest going digital and disappointing the world

The festival continued with the massive failure and breakdown of the streaming services.  Besides other technical failings, which are becoming a regular feature, the digital version collapsed to give progress reports. So, the primary function and role of the festival have undermined. The people come close to one another is the primary role. Then,  revel in the environs of nature. The culture thrived in this way since time immemorial.

Glastonbury Festival Pic
Glastonbury Festival

Festivals do not mean to sit at home watching or viewing music on their screens of whatever digital denomination is available.

The set and the environs above all are human-made shelters. It is to avoid the uncertainty of the elements. Moreover, people can not go against government. Nowadays, there is no exposure to the weather. No one is wallowing in the mud and mire. Never anybody expose to the coexistence with the trees, grass, and foliage.  Rather the festival means a virtual reliving in the sanity and safety of the homes. The short opening that people had granted for themselves was taken away from them in this going digital recreation.

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In addition, the virtual reliving is just a reminder that the instinctual existence and its power is no more. Nowadays, one had to live in the digital going life. The opportunity of human beings to expose to nature has almost robbed. The escape from the constructed, manicured existence into the unpredictable of the primal need has hidden from the civilization.  Now, civilization wants to go back and experience the essential primariness of existence.

The Eurovision music concert, an empty man-made environment

The Eurovision music concert, too, was a festival without the audiences. It was to interact with the audiences that generate the excitement. Thus, it was creating the feedback to egg the performances. Now, it is performing in an empty man-made environment. The contest was like the performers performing to one another. They yearned for human preference and finding none, they turned to their fellow performers for the satisfaction.

Eurovision music concert 2021
Eurovision music concert 2021

As it is, Eurovision is a medley of hi-tech digital glamour mixed with the liveliness of the music.  But without the teeming crowds, the contest just becomes a digital razzle-dazzle. It looked like a display of invasive technology and a parade of achievements without jelling into the fluidity of human expression through art. As it is, the digital or the technical side is dominant. So, it overpowers the primary human expression, which to the contrary, is relatively more stable.

It seemed mostly like a spectacle edging the human content out. The experience of the people was indirect and vicarious.  All the time the struggling with the breakdowns reminds one of the frailties of humanness rather than the perfection of a science-driven world. The streaming services and their poor connections disappointed many people.

Perhaps, this drastic change with technology within a year is unacceptable for the human experience.

Many feel that it will become a common experience in the future. Therefore,  the human or live performances and the coming together of the audiences will be the second-best thing or a very specialized niche activity in the future.

Barcelona concert

The audience was vaccinated in the Barcelona concert. So, they came with proof that they had not tested positive for the virus. To get in, fans had to download an app, input their contact details and book a time for a rapid Covid test on the day of the concert.

Barcelona concert

The people having negative Covid 19 test got a code to gain entrance to the building.  While those who tested positive were stopped to enter the hall. They were offered a refund. Inside, masks were mandatory and the public was divided into three areas holding about 1,600 people each. Five thousand electrified fans sang, jumped, and danced to indie pop hits. It might be any Saturday night gig in 2019 if it weren’t for the masks, the whiff of the sanitizer, and the tickets proving a negative Covid-19 test.

People want outdoor activities. As the third wave repercussion has restrained the hopeful souls.  However, the Barcelona rock concert, a big concert happened on 27 March 2021. The organizers of Spain’s largest music festivals managed the concert. Furthermore, the regional health authorities, doctors, and epidemiologists collaborated with these music organizers

We are limited to present the digital going form of our big festivals.  If seminars and conferences are digital going then they can be compromised.  But not with huge gatherings and music concerts. Rather such programs should be live and one should expose to the elements of nature.

It is time for going digital in the academies

Throughout the world, there is a  discussions on the use of digital interaction formats for academic exchange. The tools of technology for conferences, lectures, and meetings revealed that currently available tools can substitute many of the physical interaction. It also showed that academics are moving towards digital tools for scientific exchange. In theses days,  scholars’ are experiencing with digital formats and tools during the pandemic. In fact, digital interaction formats increase the scale of knowledge exchange. It reduces time and costs of organising academic interactions. Thus enabling more diverse workspace with geographical and temporal flexibility.

We need a hybrid formats to emerge

However,  digital interaction formats struggle to reproduce social interactions. The interaction such as informal discussions, raise new concerns on data security, and can induce higher stress levels due to the blurring of the boundaries between work and private spaces. Therefore, digital formats is not a substitute of physical interactions entirely.  Rather it reshapes how research communities operate and how academics socialise. We expect hybrid formats to emerge, which combine this digital going world and physical interaction formats.  Thus increasing in digital interactions between geographically distant working groups. We conclude that this era is for digital interaction formats to be part of a new regime in the field of academic exchange.

It is time for going digital

 COVID-19 pandemic is a cause for the integration of digital interaction formats in the field of academic exchange. Many academics adopted digital tools for conferences, lectures, and meetings during the lock-down. So, it seems the available technologies can substitute many physical work interactions adequately. It also showed that academics are willing to use the rapidly increasing number of digital tools for scientific exchanges (see Table 1). But, even before the pandemic, growing concerns about resource waste and the increasing carbon-footprint of scholars had triggered calls for more sustainable forms of academic exchanges. Despite these calls, academic travel behavior continued to contradict research agendas. And physical conferences are announced to take place after the lifting of international travel bans.

However, scholars’ experience with digital formats and tools during the pandemic revealed a broader range of positive and negative impacts of going digital. In the following, we reflect upon six of the most prominent ones and argue that the time for digital interaction formats has come. Throughout this article, we draw upon our experience organizing the first digital conference for the Network of Early career researchers in Sustainability Transitions (NEST) and a subsequent survey with all participants.

Definition: Digital interaction formats enable the exchange and collaboration between individuals and working groups that are spatially distant from each other. Digital interaction can include both real-time or pre-recorded formats. In this perspective, we focus on the interaction formats for academic exchanges that had to be adapted and transformed during the Covid-19 pandemic (see Table 1).

Table 1. Summary of common academic interactions and related examples of digital formats.

Interaction Main characteristics Digital formats and tools
Lecture, course Highly formal interaction mainly from one speaker to many attendants Webinar (e.g., Zoom webinar, GoToWebinar), e-learning platforms (e.g., Open-edX, Udemy)
Seminar Highly formal interaction from one or a few speakers to a few attendants Webinar, video-streaming (e.g., Zoom, YouTube, Skype, GoToMeeting)
Interview Formal interactions. One-to-one or small groups Video-streaming, automated video interviews (e.g., Sonru)
Workshop Formal interaction with inputs to and from a few participants. Diverse formats, often aimed at active engagement Video-streaming, web-based text processors (e.g., Google Docs, Microsoft Sharepoint), online facilitation tools (e.g., IdeaFlip, Stormz)
Team meeting and group working Formal interaction among a few participants Video-streaming, web-based text processors, web-based project organization and communication tools (e.g., Trello, Asana, Slack, Microsoft Teams)
Conference Highly formal and informal interaction. Combines multiple formats, typically involving tens to thousands of participants Video-streaming, online facilitation tools, web-based event tools (e.g., Sched)
Networking Informal interactions. One-to-one or small groups Video-streaming

Digital going academy is more inclusive

First, digital interaction formats can be more inclusive than physical events as they lower the barriers to participating. For example, early-career researchers often lack the financial means to join physical conferences. This is even more problematic for researchers from the Global South as most conferences are organized in Northern America and Europe, exacerbating traveling costs and time.

Digital going is also a barrier

However, while digital events lower traditional barriers, others arise. For instance, participants from distant countries might have difficulties joining live virtual sessions due to time zone differences. Another new barrier could be the access to individual computers, webcams, and a stable internet connection, although the pace with which researchers adopted digital interactions during the COVID-19 pandemic suggests that most researchers have access to the necessary IT infrastructure. It is important to acknowledge, however, that the higher inclusivity of digital conferences does not guarantee a richer diversity in digital events, particularly, if the organizing research community is geographically concentrated. Therefore, going digital can make academic exchanges more inclusive but is only the first step to enhance the diversity of the research community.

Digital format lower cost and time

Second, digital formats lower the cost and time required to organise academic interactions and diminish food, plastic, and paper wastes. The direct cost of organizing a digital interaction is lower than a physical event.  Because travelling, accommodation, and catering expenses disappear while the additional costs for hosting webinars are marginal. In the NEST 2020 conference, expenses decreased by more than 90% of the initial budget when moving from a physical to a digital event. In addition, organizing a digital event involves significantly fewer working hours than a physical one. For example, booking the travels and accommodation for keynote speakers, preparing the conference venue, and organizing social events are time-intensive tasks exclusive to physical conferences. Finally, when going digital, conference organizers can avoid the food, paper, and plastic wastes from catering, beverages, and printed material used during physical events.

Digital format still need more innovation

Digital tools enable formal interactions among researchers. But the need to informal discussion remain the same. Knowledge exchange, particularly in the form of feedback and comments, is highly valued at academic conferences. In digital conferences, knowledge exchange  is better. For example, meeting chats can provide a platform to collect, store, and share questions and comments. However, social interactions during coffee breaks and conference dinners are much harder to reproduce in a virtual environment. This difficulty poses a challenge for knowledge exchange across research topics and through less established personal links between participants. Particularly for interdisciplinary communities, creating bonds between young scholars across disciplines and topics is of immense value. Ideas on how to address these issues for digital events range from random or topic-centered speed “dating” to after-conference drinks in virtual party rooms. Still, there is a need of  innovation in digital interaction formats to improve social interaction.

Individual well being can affect

Fourth, using digital tools for academic interaction can affect personal well-being, happiness, and mental health. The extreme situation during the Covid-19 pandemic required most researchers to work from home and to restrict physical social interaction. Such lock-down can induce higher stress levels and jeopardize personal well-being  due to increasing loneliness, blurring boundaries between work and private space [5], and a lack of in-person collaboration. Particularly for young PhDs, who often build their social lives around work or move to a new country to start their research, the mental toll of isolation might add up in such extreme situations. Therefore, academics have to be alert towards the consequences for individuals’ well-being when switching fully to digital interaction.

Security issues

Fifth, using digital tools for academic interaction raises new issues on data security. In particular, the recent media attention paid to the phenomenon of ‘zoombombing’—the intrusion of trolls into non-password-secured digital meetings—triggered concerns on the privacy and long-term functioning of digital formats and left its mark on the recent hype around video-conferencing tools. While developers and users of digital tools quickly learned how to address such unanticipated risks, other data security issues might be more fundamental. For example, concerns remain about the power of the private sector and the resulting dependence of academics.

Just recently, Zoom suspended the accounts of members of the Hong Kong freedom movement, bowing to pressure from the Chinese government . Such engagement in ethically and morally questionable practices stands in stark contrast to scientific integrity, while new dependencies on large private companies thwart recent open-access movements of universities and scientific communities . Ultimately, this points to the importance of compliance considerations when choosing digital interaction tools.

Going digital contributes to energy saving

Sixth, rebound effects challenge carbon emission savings of going digital. Reducing energy use and the associated carbon (equivalent) emissions lies at the core of the appeals for replacing flying with digital interaction formats. The environmental impact of academic conferences, which stem mostly from flying , routinely sparks debates about ethically correct traveling behaviors of researchers. While many studies on the individual case level highlight the potential to reduce energy consumption (e.g), a recent review challenges these findings, outlining that economy-wide energy savings are most likely modest and, depending on rebound effects, might even be negative or non-existent.

Uncertainties of rebound effects relate to the extent to which digital conferences cause increases in non-work travel and home energy use that may outweigh the gains from reduced work travel and office energy use. Going digital, therefore, contributes to energy savings the most if it is embedded in a broader transition to more sustainable traveling.

Conclusion

To summarize, a broad range of new communication tools is paving the way for academia to go digital. The COVID-19 crisis revealed that academics are willing to and capable of using them for scientific collaboration. Existing digital tools are well-suited to enable most academic interactions such as lectures and seminars. They can increase the inclusivity of academic exchanges, reduce the time and costs of organizing academic interaction, save resources, and enable more diverse workspaces with geographical and temporal flexibility.

However, we also observe that digital formats struggle to reproduce social interactions such as informal talks, raise new concerns on data security, and can result in higher stress levels and reduced personal well-being. Also, the extent of carbon emissions savings from going digital is yet unclear. We conclude that digital tools are not meant to substitute physical interaction entirely in the future, but rather reshape how research communities organize their interactions.

Going digital need a fundamental change

For example, instead of one annual physical conference, we expect hybrid or additional digital formats, and, instead of researchers commuting to distant places for lectures and seminars, we expect geographically separated working groups that are connected online. Ultimately, going digital provides the opportunity for more knowledge exchange, which is particularly important for young scholars, allowing them to become more confident while presenting their work, get feedback on early-stage research, position themselves within research communities, and learn from multiple perspectives. Recognizing these benefits, most NEST 2020 participants said that they would participate in more conferences a year if it did not require them to spend more time and resources on travelling.

The time for digital new interaction formats is now. Digital interaction formats have successfully substituted physical conferences during the COVID-19 pandemic and will be part of a new regime in the field of academic exchange. So, going digital fundamental change in how academic communities operate and how academics socialize.


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