An ArtsProfessional feature in partnership with AMACultureHive

Technological and digital developments grow exponentially. The arts sector must take advantage of the technology available now and be ready for the digital changes ahead, advises Daniel Rowles.

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Ellie Pinney

Many would argue that the ways we look at and interpret a painting, experience a performance or appreciate an architectural location have not changed in millennia. This may be true, but the ways we discover, research, plan and communicate our experiences have fundamentally shifted. Whether it’s because of search engines, social media, mobile devices or online reviews, our experience of the world has been changed forever by digital technology.

These technologies allow us to discover, interact and share our experiences of art in new ways

Resistance is futile, which is why we need to understand what underlies this digital technology. In 1965, Moore’s Law observed that computing power grows at an exponential rate and will continue to do so – a fact that has proved to be accurate.

Exponential growth

Imagine a large (watertight) stadium filling with water from a tap, one drip per minute. If the tap continued dripping water in the same regular way, it would take thousands of years to fill the stadium. But if that tap dripped at an exponential rate (the number of drips coming out of the tap doubled every minute), it would be a different story. This is exponential growth.

Now imagine you are sitting at the top of the stadium. The first drop from the exponential tap drips in the middle of the stadium field at 12pm. How much time do you have to leave the stadium before the water reaches your seat at the top? You only have until 12:49pm because it takes an exponential tap less than 50 minutes to fill a whole stadium with water. The interesting part is that at 12:45pm, the stadium is still 93% empty. So, after 45 minutes all you would see is the stadium field covered with water. Then, within four more minutes, the water would fill the entire stadium. It would then take one more minute to fill another stadium. Exponential growth gets very big, very quickly.

Technology changing art

In practical terms, this growth means that the devices we use will do more things that previously seemed impossible – and do them faster and faster. Recent innovations such as controlling the playback of video by just looking at your device will seem like common technology soon. It’s likely that the role a mobile device currently takes in bridging the gap between the physical and the online world will grow in ways most of us can barely conceive right now.

These technologies allow us to discover, interact and share our experiences of art in new ways. They make art more accessible, our knowledge of art potentially deeper and give us new ways to express how art makes us feel. Just as importantly though – and potentially more important in the long run – digital gives us a range of new mediums in which to create cultural experiences.

Advancements in tech have pros and cons. There’s the mobile phone ringing mid-way through a theatre production or the gallery visitor taking pictures on their phone but not really looking at the works of art. This double-edged sword is a reflection of a few issues, but often the problem is that technology is getting in the way.

Creating a seamless experience by reducing how much technology gets in the way is what ‘frictionless’ technology is all about. We could compare what technology we need to create, edit and publish a video. 20 years ago, it would have meant a lot of heavy and very expensive equipment but now it means carrying the average smartphone.

As an organisation, it’s important to ensure your tech – from your website to an augmented reality (AR) experience – is enriching the experience or at least not getting in the way of it.

Fundamental steps

So how do we take advantage of the technology available now, and ready ourselves for the digital changes ahead? The most important step is to start with the fundamentals.

You can start by mapping the user journeys of your target audience. This means grouping your target audience and identifying their online and offline behaviours, so you can select the right marketing channels, technology and content. This podcast about user journey mapping explains the process and the 4 Step Guide to Mapping the Ideal User Journey will help you get started.

How people search in Google is a great indicator of what they care about, particularly when you can see how this changes over time. It’s a good idea to keep checking the terms your organisation’s users might search regularly to spot shifts in trends. Google Trends can show you how two search terms have changed, with one gradually overtaking the other.

It’s important to get to grips with your organisational readiness. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by digital changes, but essentially the process of digital transformation is simply asking where you are now and where do you need to be to use digital effectively.

You will find it useful to establish how your organisation measures up against ten elements to judge how ready you are for the fast-changing environment.

The only guarantee is that the pace of change within the arena of digital technology, and the rate at which this impacts our organisations and wider society, will get faster and faster. There’s no stopping the dripping tap now. Don’t leave it until 12:49. Start looking now at where you are, where you need to be and how to lay foundations for getting there, so that your organisation can thrive in the evolving digital landscape.

Daniel Rowles is a Mentor for Digital Lab.
www.a-m-a.co.uk/digital-lab

Email rebecca@a-m-a.co.uk to apply to be part of Digital Lab.

This article, sponsored and contributed by AMACultureHive, is part of a series sharing resources and learning from the online library for the sector.

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