lisbonTo Lisbon for the first iteration of Web Summit in the city. The event is now gigantic, c.50,000 attendees, but what was happening beyond the Summit was of most interest last week.

As noted elsewhere I’ve become increasingly cynical about the tone of start-up events, often representing the triumph of hope over experience; where value is measured by VC investment rather than output, and the vision is delivering marginal lifestyle efficiencies as opposed to real world impact (it was described as “dystopian” by another contact). There were some honourable exceptions but this all appeared a bit of a digital bubble when related to the political and societal fractures being played out in the EU and US.

The inside / outside fracture was visible in the response to the election of Trump in the US. Apart from howls of disbelief there was very little acknowledgment that digital may have a role, and responsibility, in these seismic shifts. However, as the days have passed since it is interesting how this conversation has rapidly developed:

  • That the tech giants will struggle to hold their position of “platform not publisher”, and are feeling pressure regarding the veracity (facebook) or tone (twitter) of content (also c.f. Uber or Deliveroo on workers rights)
  • That the echo chamber of social media is self-reinforcing, algorithms delivering only content which matches to your world view thus exacerbating polarising forces.
  • That the demise of quality journalism and trusted news sources impacts on reasoned argument in favour of headline clickbait – factual, exaggerated or otherwise.
  • That normalising abuse gives rise to a tolerance of racism, misogyny and outright lies from public platforms

2016 will be a year studied by future children in history lessons, and part of that shift feels like a pivotal point in the maturing of the digital world from outsiderdom to social dominance – with the responsibility that entails, wanted or otherwise.

To end on a more positive view, the statement of intent by Lisbon in enticing Web Summit from Dublin is emblematic of sustained support for the growth of a new digital economy in the city. With other highly effective players, such as Beta-I, supporting development, the Lisbon scene has moved a long way forward over a series of visits since 2013.

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