“Creative democracy” / Daniel Erlacher

Daniel Erlacher - Mitbegründer und Organisator des Elevate Festivals

On the influence of creative media usage on the democracies of the future

— Daniel Erlacher

How will the hegemony of just a few corporations in the field of social media influence the democracies of the future? What role can the public-service media in particular play in the democratic process in our increasingly complex world? How are algorithms already influencing democratic opinion formation and creative processes today? How can fair and sustainable information technology benefit democracy?

Overall, creativity is the ability to create something that was not there before, something original and constantly new.¹

The initial situation

In the still young 21st century, in light of the radical developments in the different fields of technology, including the media, the question arises as to how the potential offered by creativity can best be used to benefit people. Or rather: what new opportunities arise from these new framework conditions in relation to social policy and democracy?

In addition, current developments in the field of information technology and media usage must be critically assessed. A monopolisation of social media and its concentration on just a few US corporations which dominate the entire market is problematic, precisely from a democratic perspective. IT giants such as Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, etc. are after all not offering their services in order to strengthen democracy, but to generate a profit. The fact that in the process, the users themselves become products, whose data is used behind their backs to do big business, is becoming clear to an increasing number of people. However, there is little awareness of the significant role played by algorithms in deciding what users get to see when they log onto Facebook. Or how their Google search result is personalised. It is evident that here, socalled “filter bubbles”² are created – and not necessarily to the benefit of the user. When our lives are optimised by algorithms, we run the risk of losing much that played a decisive role in the evolution of humans: the ability to take a broader view; the unusual; the random; the NON-pre-determined.

Algorithms and creativity

According to Vince Ebert, cabaret artist, author and qualified physicist, “Algorithms are optimising away creativity”³. Can creativity be programmed? Are inspiration and mechanisms irreconcilable in the long term? A large number of entirely new questions arises from the system constraints imposed by the new technologies. The answers will be of an evolutionary nature.

One thing is certain: information technologies, modern media and the algorithms that form their basis can be of enormous benefit to the creative process of their users, and thus trigger a cascade of innovations. There are many examples of this. The boom in apps for mobile operating systems is a particularly good current example. As the saying goes, creativity knows no bounds. But does this also apply here? Generally speaking, no. The bounds of creativity for mobile apps are set by the conditions of use and general terms of the corporations that dominate the market. There have already been several cases of censorship⁴ – particularly when creativity also turns political or transgresses boundaries.

Public service media in the 21st century

In Europe, public service media companies have been an established part of life for decades, and are also regarded as being an important component of our democracy. In contrast to private media, they are subject to democratic control and are based on a value system dedicated to the common good. Classic public service media (“PSM”) broadcasters traditionally focus on TV and radio and are usually obliged to abide by rigorous regulation standards for their activities online.⁵ However, it is the PSMs in particular that have enormous potential for promoting creativity in the “media and technology” field – above all in terms of their relevance to democratic policy. To this end, the relevant legal framework conditions would have to be put in place, while with regard to content, the focus would have to be on the sustainable production of innovation.

The promotion of fair and sustainable it

Creativity and innovation must be promoted under specific conditions in the context of the added public value that they can generate and their democratic relevance: programmers should design codes with the free software licence models, and in this way make them transparent and re-usable. In turn, funding models should make sure that developers are paid fairly and create framework conditions that bring innovation and creativity to the fore. The creation of suitable rooms for exchange and interaction between people working in this field should be facilitated.

Targeted promotion measures and the embedding of developments into the PSM ecosystem in Europe would ensure that the innovations receive the relevance and reach that they need. Precisely defining certain challenges and basing projects on specific issues surrounding the politics of democracy can channel creative potential to make it relevant to social policy. There are many examples of exciting ideas in this area⁶, such as a “public service operating system”⁷.

Open data and free software

Two important terms for commons-based innovation and sustainability are “open data” and “free software”. Many data pools that can in the interim be used creatively as a result of the open data movement are already of real benefit, and not only in order to promote transparency. Whether they are official, cartographic data pools within the framework of the OpenStreetMap⁸ project or public transport data, the added is value only provided when this data is made freely accessible. They are in turn usually used with codes and licences from the world of free software.

Creative media use and democracy

The technology that forms the basis of the media used, together with its quality, must be closely questioned, and measures must be taken to avoid subordinating the potential of human creativity to the logic of profit, but instead to stress its relevance to socio-political development.

There is enormous creative potential in the modern technologies: democratic decision processes, forms of organisation in society in the local and national context, knowledge transfer, education and information systems, open data and free cartography, mobile applications, the ability to overcome language barriers and much more.

Creativity needs space to unfold. This space should be free of commercial determination, but at the same time full of socio-political meaning. The scope of opportunity is broad – particularly when Europe-wide cooperation is expedited. In this area, the “old continent” might indeed have the potential for setting democratic policy and ethical standards of global relevance that are unlikely to emerge from other regions of the world in the near future. Support and framework conditions are required that place the focus clearly on the creative use of media and technologies in the context of the further development of our democracies in this still young 21st century, and in so doing, also secure their future – within Europe and beyond.

The author

Daniel Erlacher has been cofounder and organiser of the Elevate Festival in Graz since 2005. His work focusses above all on the interfaces between free and open technologies, media, art and critical discourse. He coordinates the discussion section of the festival, the Elevate Mediachannel and the Elevate Awards. As a musician, he has made numerous recordings for international record labels. He is also
a member of the jury for the Austrian Big Brother Awards and runs several web serverss

1 Michael Mumford: Where have we been, where are we going? Taking stock in creativity research. In: Creativi
ty Research Journal, 15/2003, S. 107–120.
2 Vgl. Eli Pariser: The Filter Bubble. How the New Personalized Web Is Changing What We Read and How We 
Think. New York [u.a.]: Penguin Books 2012.
3 Ingo Rentz: Kabarettist Vince Ebert. „Algorithmen optimieren die Kreativität weg” In: Horizont Online vom 
17.05.2016. Online URL: http://archive.is/u0R0B (Stand: 29.06.2016).
4 Online URL: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Censorship_by_Apple (Stand: 29.06.2016).
5 Christian Meier: Die Zukunft des öffentlich-rechtlichen Rundfunks im digitalen Zeitalter. Einführung in die 
Debatte. Online URL: http://www.bpb.de/gesellschaft/medien/medienpolitik/171926/einfuehrung-in-die-debat
te?p=3 (Stand: 29.06.2016).
6 Online URL: http://document.li/cu7A (Stand: 29.06.2016).
7 Stephan Doerner: CCC fordert EU-Betriebssystem für Smartphones. In: The Wall Street Journal vom 
08.05.2014. Online URL: http://archive.is/kvh37 (Stand: 29.06.2016).
8 Online URL: http://openstreetmap.org (Stand: 29.06.2016)