Interview with Milad Doueihi, philosopher, religious historian, digital specialist, chair of research into digital cultures at Laval University (Quebec). Member of the editorial board of “Digital Intelligence” which will be held in Nantes for the first time from 17th to 19th September 2014, then in Quebec in 2015.
How do you see the Nantes Métropole digital ecosystem ?
From my point of view, the Nantes digital ecosystem is unique. There is significant convergence between all its stakeholders, the city and its residents, the region and the research laboratories, following the example of the University of Nantes, the artistic community and company directors. This is a specific feature inherent to the Nantes urban area, one which is very rate and essential to economic, scientific, social and cultural development.
All the elements are there and working together in the same place, with a high degree of consistency. This gives Nantes is specific identity, related to this metropolitan density. Digital is an identity marker in this. If we look at what’s happening in Cambridge, which is highly technological, we can see that the economic and cultural dimensions are beginning to converge. In Nantes, which is both a city of networks and a networked city, these two dimensions have already come together and digital runs right through all economic and cultural sectors. Being transverse is in digital’s very nature.
One other element that characterises Nantes’s digital ecosystem is its diversity. This is both its strength and its attraction and numerous dynamics co-exist in Nantes, with great minds thinking alike. It is first and foremost a unique ecosystem, a factor for attraction, because it has been able to set up the necessary infrastructure while welcoming the developments in digital culture.
What does a digital territory cultivate?
A digital territory is a hybrid. It is not just a way to give citizens access to a vast amount of data, public or otherwise, to work and move forward, but it is also an intelligent community which affects all individuals. Artists, scientists, engineers and company directors all live together here, due to the changes we are experiencing in the world and the profound paradigm shifts that are imposed. In a digital territory we cultivate or grow easy access to numerous services, to local authorities, to all forms of participation in economic life, which modifies our working space as much as our ways of living and communicating.
Nevertheless, in the near future we will need to reinvent the frontier between the public and private spheres, the relationships between the individual and the collective and develop new opportunities for participation in economic life. New skills are required, so that each person is concerned, avoiding generation gaps or forms of exclusion that might develop unconsciously.
There is also a danger of being swept along with the flow, in living for the now and trying to do things too fast. But it is clear that digital links strengthen human links, as long as we remain on our guard and re-imagine a community that says “we’re the ones who decide”.
What are the perspectives in Europe for digital?
Europe’s advances in terms of digital are particularly impressive in Berlin or the Netherlands, not to mention London, which are home to more and more start-ups and are encouraging the development of innovative young creators. This is also true for Paris, even if in France there is no European equivalent of Google or Facebook. But I think it would be a bad idea to try to create a French Silicon Valley. France, despite all the bureaucratic and administrative red tape, has all the resources needed to invent a model, a model which is created in Europe without needing to copy another country’s model.
This is especially true as the government is highly committed to this. One of the almost unexpected aspects of digital, which I think is a very interesting one, is the return to the local level, with no identity fallback – which would be a risk were we to make this naive choice – to a region, a territory. Technologies enable us to look at territories differently, i.e. territories which are highly informed, which are very open, which do not forget their roots and which have flexible economic models, for example, with dual-location for companies, in the United States and in France.
Interview by Cécile Faver