The end of solitude


Does digital communication connect or isolate audiences? Do we fully understand the psychological impacts smartphones have on society? Is corporate social responsibility being co-opted by big business and the political elite? And do demonstrations in Hong Kong represent anti-China sentiment, or are they part of a larger class struggle?

Questions and paradoxes were fired off throughout the first day of the ICA Brisbane Regional Conference, held at QUT Gardens Point, Brisbane. With nine concurrent sessions and more than 140 presentations over three days, the conference is a hub to discuss all things in the digital economy, social media and geo-economic sectors.


QUT Vice Chancellor Professor Peter Coaldrake; ICA board member and QUT Professor Terry Flew; with ICA President Elect Amy Jordan.

The first day was jointly opened by QUT Vice Chancellor Professor Peter Coaldrake; ICA board member and QUT Professor Terry Flew; and ICA President Elect Amy Jordan. The conference’s theme addressed digital transformations, social media engagement and the Asian Century.

Professor Coaldrake said QUT was proud of its standing in the communications research field both locally and internationally. He suggested ICA attendees explore the nearby Cube installation, a physical metaphor linking the arts with the sciences.

Professor Flew said the regional conference was a platform for further research in the Asia Pacific region. According to Professor Flew, there is an essential need for conceptual and critical mapping of communications theory and practice, particularly for communication practices such as public relations.

The conference theme of the ‘Asian Century’ suggested implications of shifts in communication theory, with the Professor of Media and Communications noting the dramatic developments currently taking place in Hong Kong.


Keynote speaker Professor Peter Vorderer discusses ubiquitous communication

Keynote speaker Professor Peter Vorderer from the University of Mannheim looked at the ubiquitous nature of smartphones and how they have penetrated global societies. He noted that the difference between interpersonal and mass communication is no longer relevant. He examined the human need for belonging, and the impact smartphones now have on families, friends, relationships and institutional settings. The fear of being excluded and ostracised is powerful, he explained. We live in societies that support a sense of fear from exclusion, and people claim they “cannot afford to be unreachable”.

While media is a means for us to overcome loneliness, what is the price for the end of solitude? Are overly-connected citizens incapable of making their own decisions?

Professor Vorderer also warned that information is also becoming “less interesting”. Unlimited choices means choices are less interesting to those surrounded by mountains of information.

“There is a real danger that we may lose sense of how important information is to us, and what we need to do in order to gain information,” Professor Vorderer said.


Professor Vorderer interviewed by QUT News

peter video

Professor Vorderer and Professor Flew were interviewed by QUT News reporter Marcus De Witt-Ryall during the morning tea break. Marcus reports the conference is looking at “how we adapt to emerging technology while acknowledging that the longer term effects are yet unknown”. Click the image above to see their video interview (MP4 file).


Professor Mohan Dutta is concerned by the push for ‘public-private partnerships’

The keynote presentation by National University of Singapore Professor Mohan Dutta looked at the perceived framework for communication in a modern society: democracy, capitalism, technology and science powering state, civil society and the market. He examined the tools and instruments of modernity, how they interpenetrated global boundaries, and their relationship with Asian societies.

He expressed his concern for growing global inequalities and how ‘public-private partnerships’ are being used to marginalise important public sector services.

“This has become a narrative for taking over public health, and turning them over to the owners of private health,” he said.

He observed the use of the charkha spinning wheel as a powerful symbol of protest during the Indian independent movement. He ended his presentation by playing a video showing media being used in response to the exploitation of tribal land and forests in the name of development.

Following the keynote presentations, conference attendees parted for concurrent sessions. Covering a range of topics, the sessions included:

  • Understanding symptoms and impacts  of smartphone  dependency among adolescents in Singapore.
  • Old mastheads and new media: newspapers striving  to adapt in Australia and South-east Asia.
  • Is the digital environment transforming the meaning of “relevance”?
  • Whose app is that?: a stakeholder analysis of debates surrounding mhealth software policy and regulation.
  • Mediating community resilience: Explicating the relationship between older citizens’ informal interpersonal communication and community resilience following a natural disaster.

Senior Lecturer Jon Silver on YouTube content

Jon Silver, Annabelle Sheehan and Sue Turnbull’s session looked at digital disruption in screen distribution, emerging new TV networks and value chains, and opportunities for Australian innovation.

Senior Lecturer Jon Silver shared his research into the top YouTube creators and their relationship to established media organisations. He discussed the growing importance of multi-channel networks: content aggregators with a defined focus that help content creators find audiences. He presented monthly video numbers showing the audience reach of YouTube, rivaling and surpassing legacy media organisations.

“Your going to see some scale numbers shortly that are nearly unbelievable,” he said.

While Hollywood owns high quality content targeting 18-34 year-olds, it cannot sustain the high rate of daily content being produced by low end YouTube creators. In this ‘battle for eyeballs’, are there viable strategies for building a sustainable business on YouTube? Silver showed how large media organisations are purchasing and trawling for talent from the top down, while small creators are leaping up an down the value chain in a new game of snakes and ladders.

New players in video web series were then looked at by Annabelle Sheehan and Sue Turnbull. The vale chain for screen media is in flux, with the permeable wall between professionals and amateurs constantly moving. The current landscape has disrupted but expanded career paths, with many possible scenarios available for individuals and companies to become involved in online video content.

Sue presented Wastelander Panda, recently released on ABC’s iView, as an example of a web series finding funding and audience through non-traditional methods.

Professor Stuart Cunningham also contributed to the digital disruption panel. He is Distinguished Professor of Media and Communications here at QUT, but also Director of the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation. His current research focuses on digital transformations of the screen sector, which will be pursued as a Fulbright Senior Scholar in 2014/15. He will also be on the Day 2 panel about the Australian video game industry, and will be the first keynote speaker on the final day presenting a talk about change in media industries.

Final day one keynotes were presented by Professor Cynthia Stohl, University of California, and Associate Professor Jack Linchuan Qiu, The Chinese University of Hong Kong. An evening discussion led by Professor Christine Huang on “Crisis Communication in the Asian Century” was sponsored by the Public Relations Institute of Australia (PRIA) and the QUT Business School;

QUT Creative Industries is pleased to welcome Professor John Hartley for the second day of ICA Brisbane. He is Distinguished Professor at Curtin University, Director of the Centre for Culture and Technology at Cardiff University and also Professor of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies at Cardiff University. Author of many books in the media and journalism sector, he pioneered research into popular media and the creative economy and became foundation dean of the world’s first Creative Industries Faculty at QUT from 2000-2005. John will be presenting a talk on about political narrative, demes, and the transmission of knowledge through culture.

Other ICA keynote speakers include:

  • Professor Lance Bennett, University of Washington
  • Professor Stuart Cunningham, Queensland University of Technology
  • Professor Cindy Gallois, The University of Queensland
  • Professor Yi-Hui Huang, The Chinese University of Hong Kong
  • Professor Christoph Neuberger, University of Munich


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