I’ve just returned from England where I spoke at the Abandon Normal Devices (AND) event, an independently funded festival of new cinema and digital culture. It was held in the Cornerhouse, a 25-year-old arts and media space located in the heart of Manchester. My presentation was part of the #media2012 session dedicated to the growing importance of social media in covering the Olympics, and during the preparations for the Games. The event drew artists, designers, researchers and new media folks from many corners of the world, including the U.S., Canada, Brazil, and Scandinavia.

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Social Media and the Olympics

A special session on social media and the Olympics was organized by Andy Miah, a professor in emerging technologies at the University of the West of Scotland. He’s a very well known Olympics culture researcher, and he posed a challenging and thought-provoking question, “Will citizen media take over the 2012 event?”

Miah built a very interesting one-day long program that drew charismatic and knowledgeable speakers. The goal was to have discussions “focused on opportunities, strategy and vision to create a publicly owned new media legacy for the Games.” Miah also presented a media blueprint for London 2012, which emphasized the significant role of the new media in covering the Games.

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Fortunately, the modern Olympic movement doesn’t view the Internet as a threat (as it had). The IOC has started taking steps towards embracing the Net, and that trend seems to be continuing. It’s obvious that the future of the Olympics strongly depends on the openness towards, and readiness to accept, new technology. With social media reinventing activism, the Games have a chance to get more people engaged in order to create positive change. And even more important, new media enables organizers to build a public archive of the preparations for the Olympics and the Olympics themselves. The legacy of the Olympic Games is one of the most important issues that the IOC and host country address every time the Olympics is organized. New media are the best tools to preserve and spread the legacy.

Presentation and Discussion

While in Manchester I gave a presentation about SochiReporter and participated in the discussion that followed. I spoke after Kris Krug, one of the creators of the True North Media House, which was established during the Vancouver Games. (Read more about it here.) My presentation was followed by one from Josi Paz of Brazil. She told us how the former Brazilian president had cried when he learned that Rio won its bid, and described the current state of preparations for the Games.

I first met Professor Miah virtually when I Skyped into the W2 Community Media Arts Fresh Media Olympics event back in February 2010. The folks at W2 in Vancouver organized an exciting discussion about social media’s growing role in the coverage of the Olympics. The Vancouver Games were truly a breakthrough when it came to the engagement of bloggers; the expectation is that new media will only become more involved in telling the story of the Olympics.

During the event in England, Ruth McKenzie, the director of the Cultural Olympiad for the London 2012 Organizing Committee, pointed out that during the Olympics the London 2012 website expects a peak of 6 million visitors a day. They plan to turn the site into a platform for presenting the culture and soul of Britain.

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A Natural Fit

In reality, the popularity and the accessibility of digital media basically requires the organizers of big events such as the Olympics to do their jobs better. The ability for anyone to document anything on their mobile phone and produce high-quality footage is something that organizers have to keep in mind. Fifteen years ago the big media played the role of a watchdog; today everyone is a watchdog.

Here’s the simple truth: the Olympics are global and the web is global. What could be more logical than to marry the two? You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.

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