As the fourth annual Canada 3.0 opened in Stratford, there was a common theme—not dissimilar to The Stafford Shakespeare Festival where rehearsals and previews must finally give way to actual performances (this season starting May 28 with Much Ado About Nothing)—that the time for meetings, chatter, surveys and reports was over. If the ambitious goal of having all Canadians fully able to participate and utilize all things digital by 2017 (the so-called Moonshot: “to be a digital nation”), then actions must now speak louder than words.
This year hosted by CBC News Network’s morning anchor, Heather Hiscox, the energetic veteran kicked off the proceedings by asking one and all to stand (but not sing) for two national anthems: Brazil’s then Canada’s. Composed nearly two hundred years ago by Francisco Manoel da Silva, the Brazilian patriotic ode (rendered without text by symphony orchestra) has a wonderfully Viennese-informed tone (replete with gleaming triangle) that is worlds apart from the frantic era of digital everything. Perhaps a bit overly generous in length, the music merely faded al niente rather than concluded with surety. Canada’s more overtly stirring call to patriotism was served up as a collage of voices (beginning with a brass baritone) where each young contributor chose their version of pitch, melody and tempo, resulting in a visually interesting, musically sketchy version that spoke volumes about the dangers of giving anyone, anytime an unedited voice over the Internet. The Angel Media group took the credit for this unapplauded show opener.
More appropriately, the first speakers, following Stratford Mayor Dan Matheson’s welcome to “the cultural jewel of Canada,” delivered their messages live from Brasilia. Governor General David Johnston and Minister of State Gary Goodyear were in the South American capital beating the trade drum with Canada’s 12th largest partner. Johnston likened the advent of the web with the invention of the printing press and extolled the virtues (and commercial implications) of the sciences and humanities learning to play well together in order raise Canada’s industrial pace and productivity at home and around the digital planet. Hopefully, his assertion that knowledge will be the most important global currency ahead of money and military might will prove to be true. (Yet, as we learned just last week at the NAB Show in Las Vegas, predictions that look beyond the next 48 hours are frequently unreliable: one need only look to Danielle Smith of Alberta’s Wildrose Party for the most recent example.)
Minister Goodyear pointed out the significant increase in funding for digital R&D in his government’s Economic Action Plan 2012. With Canada’s measured productivity falling far below the U.S. in the past few years, he encouraged everyone to “work smarter, not harder” with the time- and labour-saving opportunities that the digitization of everything can bring. Yet might there be fewer jobs to go around if, for example, manufacturers employ more shop-floor robots than reliable journeymen?
Kevin Tuer (managing director, Canadian Digital Media Network) then took the stage to drill home his earnest desire that “this year needs to be different…[by] rolling up our sleeves and work[ing] together.” Three questions can drive the hope of turning theory into game-changing practice: Who can make progress? How? What can I do? We will report back tomorrow to see if these questions have been answered and just what the blueprint going forward might look like.
The unapologetic (“I live on the Internet”) executive chairman and chief strategy officer of OpenText, Tom Jenkins, then brought the digital class to order with a fascinating lesson on the challenges of living in a country where “You’ve got to force people to innovate"—and in a tone of be careful what you wish for on the borderless web—“When you’re [product/content] taken global you have to be excellent.” Similar to the Governor General, Jenkins extolled the value and growing necessity of brilliant programmers partnering with those who have insight into all manner of fields in order to spawn first-class products that will provide robust solutions to real problems. His mention of the coming power of social media and big data set the stage for his new boss a few minutes later.
In between, Canada’s Minster of Industry, Christian Paradis, stepped into the fray to deliver a curiously English-only (the Governor General having done his best earlier in both official languages) speech where he promised to provide much-needed resources (capital, R&D funding) then “get out of the way.” Everyone eagerly awaits the substance of those promises when—finally—Canada’s long-awaited digital strategy is completed and released “later in 2012.”
“The Predictive Nature of Social Media and Big Data” was the topic of OpenText’s recently appointed President and CEO, Mark Barrenechea. Essentially, his message was that the future can be largely predicted by data mining into every available bit of the Internet (privacy did not enter into this presentation), sift it all together and then be able to predict everything from the mundane (Netflix knows before you do what film you will want to see next) to the Arab Spring. Culling future trends, possible health pandemics (think Contagion in real time, cross-reference below) from the tea leaves of billions of tweets, Facebook likes, et cetera seems to be the next chapter of Big Brother. Yet how much of that enormous amount of social fodder is actually true? Are people more honest in cyberspace than at the office water cooler? Still, not a few wars have been started on bald lies (of course those weapons of mass destruction were there—somewhere, really, I mean the New York Times said they were … cross-references below).
Finally, David Fransen, Canada’s Consul General of Los Angeles used his time to explain what a rich market California is for Canada’s digital companies and entrepreneurs (notably gaming) and how it is also the gateway to Asia for the North American high-tech market. He challenged everyone present to network with ex-pat Canadians wherever in the world they may be as a means to improving our worldwide network and, consequently, take another swipe at Canada’s lagging productivity and lack of “speedy” venture capital.
By the end of the morning, this year’s theme, Accelerating Canada’s Digital Future, seemed more apt than ever. With so many other countries learning from Canada’s early leadership in the communication and digital fields then going on to surpass our expertise and output, there is an uneasy sense that the need for acceleration stems more from catching up with the pack than winning the race. Let’s develop a Social Media logarithm to test that premise! JWR