The rise of Generation C

In his paper Mapping Digital Makers, Julian Sefton-Green defines digital making as the process of using digital technologies creatively in order to make new products or digital artefacts . The approach to this form of making has its roots in the world of computer programming, but although programming skills often form part of the process, concepts from art and design, engineering and problem solving are also significant components of the intellectual framework. Active engagement with digital tools contributes to an understanding of how digital media work, and in so doing both a more creative and a more active critical engagement with prevailing technological environments results. With an understanding of how digital technologies can make meaning for people comes opportunity for enterprise in creating new value and meeting market needs.

David Gauntlett’s Making is Connecting explores the ways in which digital making constructs participatory cultures that positively transform societies. Central to that process is the notion of play. Gauntlett uses Lego bricks as a practical, physical example of the kinds of processes that digital making encourage: the ability to create and re-create from simple building blocks. As a frequently improvisational and social activity, digital making includes trial-and-error and collaborative approach to learning. Digital making not only contributes to the making of games, but also emulates game-like thinking in its approach – seeking solutions, reaching goals and solving problems through exploration and experimentation.

Digital making is often expressed as ‘hacking’, which presumes a hands-on approach to re-using, reappropriating, remodelling and reinventing existing technologies in order to make new and previously unimagined ones. Those new technologies may be virtual, physical or some combination of the two, but the process of digital making that underpins the hacker activity is a productive and creative one that blurs the line between user and creator, producer and consumer, performer and audience. Creative processes from pre-digital media forms provide a range of metaphors with which to understand digital making: e.g. editing, composing, producing, developing. Gauntlett’s Lego example provides perhaps the best analogy, since digital making is an inherently iterative process, in the sense that everything that can be made in the digital environment can be remade and repurposed again.

Digital making not only retrieves and reinforces the agency of citizenry when it comes to culture and media, it also provides a uniquely fertile space for creative enterprise and entrepreneurship due to the abundance of raw materials, the removal of physical restrictions on creativity and the speed with which a new tool can be taken to market, tested, altered, revised and remade. Digital making is both creative engagement and empowering opportunity with a low entry barrier, low risk and potential for high rewards.

It’s helpful to think of the shift in patterns of media creation and consumption as not simply some new behaviours and approaches, but as representative of a complete generational shift. Digital paradigms for Generations X and Y were web access, content delivery and information consumption. Today, we are in the world of Generation C, who are instead focused on Creation, Curation, Connection and Community. According to a research report released by Google 90% of Generation C are Content Creators.

Following data showing that “the recording industry is making more money from fan-made mashups, lip-syncs and tributes on YouTube than from official music videos” (IFPI), some of the Creative Industries who had previously been reluctant to accept new ways of participation and co-creation of content, welcomed content creators as legitimate alternative routes to monetisation in content co-creation. According to Francis Keeling, global head of digital business for Universal Music Group:

“It’s a massive growth area. We’re very excited about the creativity of consumers using our repertoire and creating their own versions of our videos”

The Google report claims that 39% of Generation C are aged 35 years or above, thus dispelling the myth that Generation C are strictly young digital natives. Amongst those are professionals who are regular content creators, and 60-70% regularly curate online content. Generation C paradigms are therefore different from those of Generations X and Y: their priorities are web uploads, content creation and information curation.

In this new Generation C-dominated market, Creative SMEs are becoming leading cultural producers. Generation C content creators are active contributors to culture and major cultural influencers, who build followers and a critical mass, which in turn creates opportunities for monetisation. Creating culture is therefore important for business. Every content creator who is able to earn from their content is a micro-company, and therefore monetization of creative content is contributing to the rise of the numbers of Creative SMEs.

Apple reports that the iTunes App Store has generated over €11bn for creative developers since its launch in 2008. An equivalent, but open, agile and fast technology framework for content creators allowing a combination of virtual and tangible applications could contribute to a considerable profit for EU Creative SMEs, spearheading innovation in manufacturing, interaction and communication, and driving new markets and business models.

Creative SME Content Creators require tools based on open platforms which they can reuse, recycle and upcycle, suitable for agile development environments which allow ad-hoc creation and connectivity through mesh networks, and fast uploads into the cloud. The aim is to create a rich ecosystem which impacts on culture, society, employment, and economic profit.

In other words, Generation C are looking for their own Lego bricks. By creating Application Programming Interfaces (APIs), Graphical User Interfaces (GUIs) and Tangible User Interfaces (TUIs) that connect with existing bodies of data and digital cultural artefacts, we lower the barrier of entry to a world of content creators; we enable the kind of play that creates revenue for stakeholders right across the value chain; and we contribute to that participatory culture.

[co-authored by Andrew Dubber]

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