Diana El-Azar of the World Economic Forum on the need to move beyond a polarized debate on the future of digital media.

I looked up “resilience” in a dictionary (online, of course) and saw that its synonyms include “elasticity”, “buoyancy” and the “ability to return to original state after being bent, compressed or stretched”. And while I largely agree with the need for flexibility and adaptability in today’s world, I am less sure about the need to “return to an original state”.

Nowhere is that potentially more visible than in the digital media world, which has been stressed, stretched and even disrupted and distorted in the last decade or so. What a certain generation has grown up to understand by words such as “freedom of the expression vs censorship” or “intellectual property protection vs piracy” no longer resonates in today’s media world, and definitely not to a younger generation, known as Digital Natives.

To illustrate this point simply (and unscientifically), most people I know have never stolen a CD from a store. However, a survey conducted by McKinsey (iConsumer Survey, 2011) reported that over 50% of those in countries surveyed thought that they had a friend (or someone they know) who would download content illegally online – US (56%), Germany (57%), Brazil (76%).

Technology has disrupted the old ways and norms of how content is created, distributed and consumed. This has enabled the crowds to create content rather than having that task being confined to paid experts, and allowing content to freely find consumers and vice versa, rather than having gatekeepers control the flow of information and misinformation. This has allowed for wider opportunities for individuals and citizens, but it has also had unintended and unforeseen consequences for businesses, governments and even those newly empowered individuals.

To illustrate, an offensive video such as “The Innocence of Muslims”, which would never have seen the light of day a decade or so ago, became available online and caused riots that resulted in deaths and injuries. On a less dramatic side, sharing some personal information has often allowed individuals access to free content and enabled them to connect with friends and relatives across the globe. Yet, it is this same personal information that many individuals are requesting to control, own and retain in order to maintain a desired level of privacy.

Striking a balance between what is private or public, shared or owned, open or closed, or free or paid is now required of stakeholders that were not prepared for a much more nuanced vision of the world, and where the present rules and norms seem not to always apply.

As a result, most debates on these timely issues have been highly polarized, with arguments stated as “for” or “against” a certain issue and specific stakeholders siding together on one end of the issue.

At the World Economic Forum, the Media, Entertainment and Information community has explored this topic over the last year and developed a framework to initiate discussion around these issues. It starts with the clear and explicit intentions of each stakeholder and proceeds to unravel the different tools they have, the intended outcomes and the often unintended consequences, hoping to foster dialogue and start shaping a new mindset regarding these questions relating to digital and social media – a mindset that is resilient and adaptable, learning from past mistakes, with no guarantee to return to the original state of digital media.

To view the full Media, Entertainment and Information report on “Shaping Norms and Culture”, click here

Author: Diana El-Azar is Director of the Media, Entertainment and Information Industries at the World Economic Forum.

Image: Picture of a backlit keyboard REUTERS/Kacper Pempel