Project Timeline 2005–2010

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Summary of Notes

First it’s important to say that the morning produced really valuable results in terms of framing a research project and in terms of sharing some solid new information. Here’s some detail:

1. Hugh Mackay

gave the meeting a very solid base by analysing some of the implications of changes wrought by:

He explored the demographic changes which this country will experience over the next 10-15 years. He emphasised the consequent “social substitute” role of the whole array of modern media in “increasingly edgy” western societies.

A sample of the implications includes:

a) 1 million kids p.a. growing up in a one-parent household, half of them migrating fortnightly to the other parent. For them, media are one source of absolute stability and particularly so in a much less child-friendly society.

b) The shrinking household: 50% are already 1 or 2 people and 25% are 1 person only. In ten years that will grow to 34%, thus the need to find new herds and new groups.

c) Switching off the outer world and focusing on the details of our private lives. Thus the shift in viewing from newscaff (in the face of which we are powerless) to lifestyle/backyards (which we can control).

d) A consequent reaching for three concepts:

e) A yearning for programs “that you can lose yourself in”

He noted also the restlessness that goes with this yearning: only 36% of people who start viewing a program finish it.

Hugh also raised the question of the nature of on-line relationships (real or virtual) and whether they are fake or real.

2. Genevieve Bell

explored the need to deeply understand peoples lives, why they do what they do and what they truly care about. She stressed the importance of not starting with the point of interaction between people and media, but well before it: “Tell me what you did yesterday” Plus the importance of not imposing our own understanding onto what we are seeing. She spoke in depth about the anthropological approach to research, giving a range of examples from her own work. She emphasised the importance of suspending assumptions and allowing those being researched to generate the narrative of their lives, using photos, maps of their homes and so on.

She spoke of the need for content developers and distributors to understand the context and difference within different groups: that there is no typical media user but that needs/uses vary in every society (the 1000metre router in a 100 sq.metre environment) and that those differences can be fundamental: eg the definition of “home” or “individual” varies considerably around the globe. And in exploring concepts like home it’s important to understand its key places, including social spaces and places of conflict (often where the media technology is). She included interesting differences in the same consumers’ behaviour in “second” homes (typically weekenders or vacation homes)

She stressed also that the different media are not all one thing (they are not all “just screens”) and that the most successful technologies become naturalised (like tv and radio) PCs are still not naturalised in this way.

She noted that the “social substitute” role for media is historically linked with the ways that film, television and radio entertained and also provided a sense of connection, intimacy and companionship.

In a remarkable presentation the underlying message was quite clear: know how your people live and you will know how they may use media.

3. The entire group

then discussed a range of subjects including:

4. Conclusion

The final key value of the morning lay not only in what was discussed but in what was not available to assist the discusssion: any consistent exploration or understanding within Australian screen industry research (across all platforms) of the lives and motivations of audio-visual media users. We know what they do but not why; we know where they have been but not where they are going. Given the scale of investments to be made over the next ten years in both hard and software and in every conceivable kind of screen content, that is an extremely high-value gap to fill!

My proposal, then, is that AFTRS initiate an anthropologically-based project exploring the lifestyles and cultural practices of different types of Australian “home” and their occupants’ motivations for using (and relationships with) different technologies/platforms for different entertainment/information/social outcomes.