I spent yesterday at a workshop – organised by Dominic Hinde – at the Institute for Advanced studies in the Humanities. The title of the workshop was Living in Liquid Worlds. The idea was to bring together scholars from different disciplines to discuss the huge environmental and technological changes at the centre of the human-earth relationship. In this context, liquidity (I think) refers to the idea that society continually evolves/flows and the people are somehow embedded in this flow (at least, I think this is what it is – I may well have this wrong).
The morning session revolved around a presentation by Mark Deuze, Professor of Media Studies at the University of Amsterdam, and author of Media Life. His argument was that we essentially live in media; it’s an integral part of our existence. He presented quite a positive view of media, although it might have been more that it was neither good, nor bad, than it specifically being good.
He discussed many things, but the thing that struck me was the concept of transmedia; telling a story across many different platforms. An example would Marvel, which includes many movies, TV shows, comic books, etc. One aspect is thinking big, but starting small. Additionally, every component tries to stick to the same basic story, but what happens in one can then influence how the story on another platform might have to evolve.
I did wonder if this has some applications in science communication. There is definitely a sense that people have strongs views about how we should undertake science communication. It might be better if we accepted that there are many different ways to contribute to telling this story. Sarah Myhre is comfortable telling some personal stories. Katherine Hayhoe often focuses on engaging with those who are most likely to be dismissive about anthropogenically-driven climate change. Others focus more on presenting the scientific evidence. There are also many on Twitter, for example, who engage in various different ways. Maybe we need to do a better job of recognising that we’re all part of the same storyline; we’re just engaging in different, but complementary, ways.
The afternoon session involved a presentation by Philip Garnett who recently published a paper called Total Systemic Failure (which he discusses in this post). Essentially, in complex systems the failure of one part of that system could lead to a significant change in the overall behaviour of that system, or – potentially – to its total collapse. One example would be the banking crisis, that started in 2008 and which required a large injection of money in order to prevent collapse.
Another potential example would be changes to our climate having knock on effects (on ecosystems, for example) which lead to some kind of global collapse/failure. This possibility was discussed in his paper, and I was surprised that there wasn’t a bigger response from the usual suspects. One issue is that we don’t actually know what changes could then trigger some kind of systemic collapse, or even if this is necessarily likely. I guess we have to hope that the potential loss of summer Arctic sea ice and the Great Barrier Reef doesn’t have significant consequences beyond the local ecosystems.
Anyway, I’ve said enough. It was interesting day, which has given me lots of things to think about. It was also fascinating to discover that there are people in many different disciplines who are looking at various aspects of environmental change. It would probably be good if this was better known and if there were more links between the different disciplines. This workshop may have been a step in that direction.