Charles Leadbeater and “cloud culture”

Throughout the four cycles of I+C +i, a picture of the conflicts that affect the present cultural practice has been drawn: the notion of collective creation, the call for participation, the crisis of intellectual property, the emergence of the prosumer, new formats, media convergence and the new economy. The last session of this year (December 14) is devoted to distributed economy and will be closed with a talk by Charles Leadbeater on Cloud Culture, a topic that synthesizes all the concepts discussed during I+c+i.

Charles Leadbeater is a financial journalist turn consultant on economic innovation. His latest book We Think: The Power of Mass Creativity (2008) explores how the Internet is changing our world, creating a new culture in which more and more people can participate, share and collaborate, both with ideas and information. The conflict between the increase of mass collaboration and attempts to maintain control from top to bottom (top-down) will be one of the battles of our time. Leadbeater has become an expert in the increase of knowledge economy and the Internet, and has extensively studied what he calls “The Pro-Am Revolution“: Professional-Amateur (the contributors that Bruce Sterling defined) that show how online work independently may have great impact on politics, culture, economy and development.

This year Counterpoint (The British Council think tank) has commissioned him to write a paper on Cloud Culture, of which he will speak in this session. According to Leadbeater we have entered a new era of Internet, where, thanks to cloud computing a new cloud culture emerges.

In the world of cloud computing our data (mails, documents, images, songs …) is remotedly stored on a digital cloud which can be accessed from any device at any time (think about the way we may access our e-mail from a mobile device). In this context, sharing information and programs makes a lot of sense, at least in theory, as it paves the way for innovation and creativity (just as free software platforms have been created this way).

Like the sky, there are many types of digital clouds: there are commercial ones (Google or Amazon), social ones (Wikipedia) or public ones (The World Digital Library). They can be open (Twitter or WikiLeaks) or closed ( governments). They can even be permanent (scientific clouds, such as those created around CERN) or transitional and emerging (such as viral marketing campaigns). The increase of digital clouds will change culture, creativity and the relationship between them: data storage in the clouds, the expansion of broadband, new search technologies, and access through new devices should make culture more accessible and connected, increasing the expressive capacity of people in a large cloud Pro-Am.

But this cloud culture meets three major threats to which solutions will be proposed during the session. On one hand the control of powers that had dominated and prescribed the discourse (governments, companies, etc.). These institutions see how the cloud allows a greater diversity of cultural expressions, which is decentralized, plural and collaborative where the boundaries between amateur and professional are blurred, as the one between consumer and producer. The other threat is copyright owners who see the Internet not as a technology of freedom but of cultural destruction of its business model, which react by increasing regulations and make it difficult to share. And the last one is what he calls cloud capitalists, the new media moguls (Facebook, Google, Apple, Twitter …), that with the premise that they are services providers, organize the cloud to get economic advantage.

Leadbeater draws a map of the situation and warns that the importance of the cloud is its richness and diversity, so is the true potential of a new global culture commons that will only remain open if it resists the threats to close it and control it.

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Charles Leadbeater and “cloud culture”