The Edinburgh Fringe, Black Holes and the Convergence 3.0 Conference

September 17, 2008

Many people acknowledge the importance of Convergence but very often it is an acknowledgment made without any real understanding of the level of impact that IT lawyers are going to see: ‘It’s about telecoms and online video – and yes it matters for copyright and stuff, and the EU seems to care, but I’m more interested in this schedule covering service levels.’ That sort of analysis is at least half right – Convergence does indeed matter for copyright and stuff and the EU, among others, does really care.

I have two obscure ways of explaining the importance of Convergence. These were especially useful when I had no real idea of what it was, but they continue to have resonance now I have some grip on its meaning. Fortuitously, one of them involves Edinburgh, which is the host city for this year’s major SCL Conference.

Anyone who has properly experienced an Edinburgh Festival knows that it is a cultural whirligig and that it is not actually possible to avoid the Fringe or events and atmosphere that don’t even qualify as Fringe. Sometimes people, especially media types, present the Edinburgh Festival as if it were an event arranged so that there can be a Fringe – the spin-offs have taken on more importance for them than the central cultural events – but that is not a real reflection of the Festival either. Not only do the official events form the springboard from which all else rises but they inform the ‘cultural atmosphere’ that is at the heart of the Festival experience. Convergence is a bit like that – central influences, like good old-fashioned TV and talking on the phone, are surrounded by innovative and minority formats that shift and almost overwhelm. You have to understand both those central technologies and the spin-offs and culture that surround them.

My second obscure comparison is with that popular science-fiction scene, standard Star Trek fare, where a space-ship is brought off course by unseen forces (black holes and aliens, especially). Like the space-ship, you and your clients may want to go about your business and just travel from A to B like you always have, but the gigantic natural, and occasionally malevolent, forces that represent Convergence will surely suck you in – and, just as in Star Trek, unless you understand them you will be destroyed by them.

So much for comparisons. What Convergence 3.0 actually refers to is the overwhelming trend which sees IT developments based on the digitization of data and various protocols drive the convergence of discrete communications and delivery platforms. And it is about a new way of thinking about data, connectivity, media, delivery channels, access devices and on-line services.

I confess that there was a time when I worried that the SCL Conference in November was too leading-edge. I feared that lawyers may not see Convergence as a priority for 2008. But the recent Ofcom UK Communications Market Review 2008 indicated, in a welter of valuable statistics, that a wide range of convergence technologies have shown great increases in popularity. People in the UK are spending more time using communications services than ever before and are stepping outside traditional patterns of use and thinking. At a simplistic level, and mixing my metaphors shamelessly, the Fringe has already been sucked most of the way into the black hole. Moreover, the sights of UK and EU legislators are very much set on reform of electronic communications and some of those changes are just around the corner.

The SCL Conference in November is going to be the event which puts all this into focus. It will provide both a business perspective and guidance through the legal problems that come with all this technological novelty: content changing, AVMS, the online advertising and PR revolution, DRM, increasing ISP liability, the new piracy, international regulation – and, throughout the event, context, context and more context.

The Conference has every organiser’s wish list of speakers, with movers, shakers and thinkers from the business, legal practice and academic worlds perfectly balanced. It is a glittering array of expertise and, with SSCL greatly looking forward to its role in hosting the event, I think this is guaranteed to be an enjoyable and memorable experience too. The networking opportunities are awesome and you might even get credit with the object of your love (or lust) by making it a weekend experience for two.

So you have two choices. Engage with Convergence, converge on Edinburgh and come to understand it. Or Stay on the Fringe – and risk being mistaken for an alternative comedian.

For full Conference details, click here.