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The digital future comes to town

The world of media is changing fact, as this week's Abu Dhabi Media Summit will show. The opportunities for this country are enormous.

This week’s Abu Dhabi Media Summit gives us a chance to notice just how rapidly the world of communications is changing.

A century ago, “the media” meant not much more than print: books, newspapers and magazines. Cinema was in its infancy. Then came radio, television and most recently the still-accelerating drumfire of new digital communication: “media” still means newspapers, but now also means Twitter, gaming consoles, smartphones, YouTube, e-books, Facebook, podcasts, SMS, the cloud, streaming movies, Alienware … And who can say what will be unveiled next?

The annual media summit, the fourth edition of which opens today at the Yas Viceroy, convenes a wide range of media leaders and experts to review all this change, spy out what’s coming next, and consider the effect of this non-stop innovation on society and the economy. The three-day event is subtitled “Leveraging the Digital Age”.

As the UAE continues to grow in stature, the proliferation of media offers particular advantages, and challenges, for this country. Sir Tim Berners-Lee, often called “the inventor of the worldwide web”, told The National that in his keynote address today – to be delivered by satellite link, appropriately enough – he will say that “This is a key moment for the UAE and countries in the Middle East region to determine how they can make the best use of the internet”.

Advice on that and related subjects will come from a constellation of digital-media stars, including leaders from Discovery Networks International, Twitter, Sky News Arabia, Walt Disney International, and a range of digital start-up executives, venture capitalists and senior journalists.

What they’re talking about is more than just theory. The summit begins just days after Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, set out plans to greatly expand wireless coverage, as part of the transformation of Dubai into a “smart city”. The UAE is fortunate to have stability and sound technical infrastructure, essential conditions for rapid uptake of the best of digital innovation.

The whole point of digital media is that this new world is not just for computer experts and venture capitalists: in countries like the UAE almost everybody is part of the media universe now, and new hardware and software will keep improving life for us all.

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