This is a conversation between Ketagalan Media’s editor in chief Chieh-Ting Yeh and Taiwan’s Digital Minister Audrey Tang, in January. It has been edited for length. CC0 license.
Chieh-Ting Yeh: First of all, I just want to thank you for giving us the opportunity to interview you last time. I wanted to ask you a couple of things; first, just how’s it been working in the government in general? What’s your experience been like?
Second, I know you’re involved with the Asia Silicon Valley project. What is your role? How do you see the startup culture and trend happening in Taiwan? I know there’s a lot of buzz around it, but I’m still not exactly sure what is the health of where that’s going.
Then the third thing is more about online media. A lot of what we have been doing is publishing articles on a website or a mobile app, but I’ve always felt that’s basically taking a print newspaper from 300 years ago and putting it on a screen. I think we could do better. I just want to see what kind of ideas you might have. What is your imagination or vision about what news media could possibly be in the future.
Anarchist as a Cabinet Minister?
Audrey Tang: The general experience has been great. I’ve been more or less doing exactly the same thing for many years now. Since I’ve got a staff which is entirely voluntary, basically I don’t have a ministry to command, which is great because I don’t like issuing commands. Which is what an anarchist means. Right?
Chieh-Ting Yeh: Right. Or taking commands.
Audrey Tang: Or taking commands for that matter. I’ve been building a learning circle of sorts, where people of a very diverse background — interaction designers, policy designers, code makers, and lawmakers get to learn with each other, and supporting what we call the participation officers of each ministry.
We are building a network of people-facing officers. It’s just like how all the media communication people of all the ministries, though by “media” they just mean traditional media. There’s no similar group to face non‑specific people, both online and offline.
At the moment it’s mostly online, because online we cannot really know who those people are. We still have to talk with them anyway.
Chieh-Ting Yeh: I see.
Audrey Tang: That’s the main work. We’re just facilitating and doing a lot capacity building with all the ministries who can face the online world as well as non‑specific people, so they can run their own engagements, public hearings and whatever, in a much more efficient way. Also consuming less resource internally, by also asking for help on external experts and so on.
In a sense it’s like running a media studio. All the ministries need to be there in what we call self‑media. We can’t really count on any particular media to serve as a proxy of the translational and the engagement work that the ministry really has their own duties to do. The media of course is our ally. However, we can’t really delegate all the work to the media to communicate to non‑specific people. That’s the main work so far.
As of the second question, the Asia Silicon Valley plan, aside from the name and the concept redefinition, I’m mostly involved with the virtual reality arm of it.
One of the deliverables is establishing a cross‑discipline cross‑university online learning platform, which is tailor-made for things that are tangible. That means we have plenty of Coursera, edX, and the Taiwan learning communities on two dimensional videos, and the interactions with chat rooms and whatever.
Those are good to learn just mathematics, psychics, things that are more verbal, more knowledge based. You can’t really learn fixing a motorcycle this way though. For that matter, repairing IoT devices also quires a more interactive kind of education. We really need to charter something that’s based on augmented and virtual reality.
Chieh-Ting Yeh: More hands on.
Audrey Tang: Right. More hands on and much more interactive. You see the whole teacher, or at least their hands and heads; not just a bodiless voice narrating on the whiteboard. That’s my main research interest anyway. I’m interested in that part.
The other parts of Asia Silicon Valley are most around investment and regional development. Those are handled out by the ASV agency, which is a semi‑independent entity, not really a branch of government. I’m not directly involved with that.
Whenever anyone wants to have some consultation around fintech, around regulation tech, around whatever, I’m mostly just this internal expert who can provide pro bono service. That’s pretty much my…
Chieh-Ting Yeh: The in house go‑to person.
Audrey Tang: Right. Exactly. I have my most research interest around agile governance and so on, and I do have connections of the external community, which is not at all national or region‑based. We’re just a bunch of cyberpunks experimenting with everything.
I think that’s an asset too. I wouldn’t call us code makers, natural policy makers. I think policy making still has its place. Lawmakers still have their place.
Chieh-Ting Yeh: My law degree is still worth something!
Convenience Store as News Media?
Audrey Tang: Exactly. Just carrying this west coast code into the east coast code. It’s very, very important to have this mutual dialog in this way, so it doesn’t get off track in the ASV project.
The third question, on the new media. During the transition time, like from the January election last year to May, we had an experiment that I contributed to, but not produced by me.
It’s called Talk to Taiwan (政問). It’s an interactive talk show of sorts. We really put into it a lot of imagination, as you mentioned, of how new media can be. Mostly it’s around the idea of a media co‑curated or co‑created by the audience.
We had a mission learning based public platform where people ask one specific person, like Minister Cheng (鄭麗君) what her thought about culture is. We crowd‑sourced the interview questions. Then we channeled them through a professional journalist and an anchorperson.
Then we tried to record in 360 at the beginning of the entire interaction. People don’t feel like they’re talking into this faceless camera, but into an ambiance. You can basically see that they gradually come to understand it.
Chieh-Ting Yeh: Usually when we watch a program like that, the image that we see is us talking. Then as the speaker, we’re supposed to be looking at a faceless camera representing the audience.
Audrey Tang: Exactly. We have an actual audience there. We had a 360 camera in the middle. If you tell a joke and nobody laughs, you actually feels that nobody laughs, because you can turn around.
It’s a psychological thing. It makes it possible for the person to talk with the anchor, but also with the whole audience, not with faceless people. The feeling that there is a gradual convergence in understanding. By middle of the show we also have online calls in in form of chat rooms.
We also have a curator who takes that and rephrases it into something that they can respond very timely, which is why it had to be a live show. Otherwise I would just watch a recording. Why would I watch a live show, if not for the possibility of influencing the production?
Chieh-Ting Yeh: Right. To be a participant of some sort…in that process.
Audrey Tang: Right. Exactly. We don’it see media as just a “content producer”, but as an engagement device. It’s to get a person, like Minister Cheng, to engage with hundreds of thousands of people.
Chieh-Ting Yeh: When we think of the “media,” we usually think of a “medium,” like paper, analog waves, or digital transmission.
But within our team, we sometimes ask, say a convenience store, why couldn’t that be a “media” of some sort? If one of the tenets of the news media is to create an informed electorate, to have civil dialogue, can that happen in the medium of a convenience store?
Audrey Tang: Of course. The Portuguese people are planning to have their participatory budget plan voted through automatic teller machines. That’s a media right there. You see all the PB plans and they have a screen and a drawing.
Which is great, because they have a lot of remote people who don’t have good internet access. Everybody has an ATM card. They can authenticate their citizenship this way.
Chieh-Ting Yeh: Right. That is really cool, actually. I love magazines, but I also love retail shops. Actual brick and mortar. I’ve always been thinking about this idea. What does it mean to have a brick and mortar “news” shop? It’s not just you sell magazines, snacks, water, and whatnot. Something like that just fascinates me. I haven’t figured that out. That’s something that we think about sometimes.
Audrey Tang: There’s a lot of this community work around, I think, Tainan especially, but also Taichung and other cities where this brick and mortar shop, as you mentioned, just turns into a semi‑public sphere gathering place. Where they host maybe weekly or maybe daily discussions. They make sure that they broadcast this or at least video tape this.
They’re livestreamed so that people who don’t have any way to engage at least can watch it online and type in something, for it to participate into the next agenda of their regular meetings. I do think regular meetings are key. Otherwise a space doesn’t have its own character.
(To be continued)
(Feature photo of Audrey Tang speaking at National Cheng-Kung University, Wikicommons, CC BY-SA 2.0)
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