The theme of the Creative Industries and Trade Digitisation Forum is “Inequality at the Root”. And on Day two of the forum, one panel dealt with the topic of Creative, Cultural and Technological Emancipation.
Adrian Green, co-Lead Organiser of the forum, served as moderator for the session. He began by stating that, “With this Creative Industries and Trade Digitisation Forum, we are operating from the perspective that the promise which the creative industries and technological advancement holds for levelling the playing field for small island developing states will not fully be manifested unless we take a serious look at some of the embedded and entrenched inequalities in the global contemporary system. We believe that culture, creativity and technology are inextricably linked and go hand in hand.” He added that, “We cannot fully understand one of the three, unless we also understand the others.
He invited the first panellist, Josanne Leonard, to start by explaining the relationship between the creative and cultural industries, and their importance to the development of small island developing states, particularly in terms of social and cultural development.
Ms. Leonard, a communications consultant, stated that, “I think that we can agree that what has come to be defined as the cultural and creative industries is really on the one hand a representation of cultural expression of traditions and activities which are rooted in individual creativity and skill and talent. And when these artistic forms or heritage assets and products are produced or reproduced to be promoted distributed for commercial gain, financial gain, particularly when it converges with technology, it is at this intersection that we talk a lot about the creative industries.”
She continued, “At the heart of this centrepiece that is once again being touted as having some form of economic salvation for us is the creation and production of intellectual property. And it is the harnessing and exploitation of this intellectual property created by an individual or group of individuals, whether those are groups within countries or whether these are regions this is really the unfulfilled promise in many respects.”
Ms. Leonard said that as well as we play the game and as fair as we play the game, the game is rigged against us. She also expressed the view that, “This conference is a bit of a paradox. Because even though it’s virtual it’s being hosted by a country which is in a region that has humongous, tremendous exponential cultural output, cultural production. From Haiti and Cuba in the north all the way Suriname and Guyana in the south. We’re bursting at the seams in every cultural sphere. Yet we are poor. They say that we are poor, and we say that we are poor.”
Dr. Leonard Nurse, Principal of the Sir Arthur Lewis Community College, was the next panellist. He was asked to expound on his published statement that culture is the fourth pillar of sustainable development.
He explained that, “In the traditional literature, and still today, sustainable development is defined as having three pillars – economic, social and environmental. I have been arguing ever since that culture is not only the fourth pillar; it’s actually the central pillar. Because culture defines everything. And here we’re using culture in the broad sense of the word. It refers to our mores, our value system. It refers to the way in which we envision ourselves as a specie.”
Dr. Nurse expressed the view that from that grand notion of culture, it informs everything that we do. The way in which we define, for example, how we manage the economy. It’s very cultural. Culture is also embedded in systems of expression, from cuisine and dance and theatre and cinema and so on.
He said that Ms. Leonard was correct in stating that countries like our own are bursting at the seams with creative content and generation, but that content and generation does not translate into economic activities that generally generate trade or generate economic development in the classic or standard way. “That’s because most developing countries, barring the exception of about ten of them, are net importers of culture. Meaning that we consume more culture from abroad than we export.” He suggest that we need to be uploaders and not just downloaders.
He warned that, “The game is not just rigged as Josanne put it; it’s actually stacked. If we continue with the status quo, which is a very week and meek approach to the creative industries, we will continue to be bypassed.”
Sociologist Dr. Michael Kwet introduced the term digital colonialism. He defined it as “the use of digital technology for political, economic and social control of another group of people or a country. It’s principally achieved through the ownership and control of the technology itself.”
He explained that the evolution here is one of a colonial form in the sense that if we look at the prior early days of colonialism, infrastructure domination was a major part of how colonialism was achieved. Where you had Europeans who showed up in other people’s parts of the world as predators who imposed their will violently on the population.
Digital colonialism is not settler colonialism. There’s been an evolution of strategy, he said. Dr. Kwet suggested that, “If we look at the dominant platforms and dominant companies, it’s no mistake that it’s the United States especially in the global economy. it’s American firms. If we look at big tech, it’s more or less an American empire project which is being contested to some degree by Europe and China, who’re trying to get their slice of the pie. They’ve set down a model for how the digital society should be designed and coordinated, and that’s also part of the colonial process.”
The final panellist was Trevor Wood, an IT professional with a major financial institution and a former cultural entrepreneur involved in fête and event promotion.
He expressed the view that, “What we’re hearing is that not necessarily that the rules have changed, but that the game has changed. He said that he didn’t think that these issues were top of mind for producers and consumers of cultural products. He stated that, “What’s going to be important in changing the mindset is allowing people to navigate the game as it stands for their benefit as well as providing alternatives. “
Mr. Wood said that, “At a macro level, there is a challenge with the quality. But at a micro level, for people who want to get their services out there, the perception certainly is that the barrier to entry is much lower, and I think that’s by design. All of these platforms are created specifically around marketing, gathering data and making consumption easy, and making marketing easy. Even though there have been some incremental benefits at the micro level to individuals, it certainly doesn’t amount to equality.”
He added that, “There has to be some kind of targeted advocacy to make people aware of exactly what they’re participating in, what the real rules are and the progress they can expect.”