Chief Innovation Officer
Dr. Giovanni Rimassa supports business development, market positioning and commercialisation activities, while leading research and innovation initiatives with a particular focus around Artificial Intelligence and Human-Centered AI. In more than 20 years in academia and industry, Giovanni worked as a visionary researcher, a startup entrepreneur, a product manager and a detail-oriented software engineer. He is drawn to holistic themes where technology matters but is also part of a dynamic social and ethical context.
After a series of decrees by the Italian government, in March 2020 the whole country was experiencing a lockdown; at that stage such strong measures were still not considered necessary by other European states. As an Italian living in Switzerland, I was following the news in Italy to understand the effort to slow the coronavirus spread and how people were reacting in such an emergency, for an indication of things to come, both for where I live and for the rest of Europe.
An eighteen-hour uninterrupted live streaming program “L’Italia chiamò” (Italy called, from the last words of the Italian national anthem) was quickly organized, viewed by some 18 million people. The initiative aimed to help Italians cope with the social distancing and isolation, with the added goal to raise funds for Italian health and civil protection services.
Around 20 news journalists, TV, and radio presenters took turns in this relay marathon to be a solitary talk show host, entertaining and interacting with the public over social media channels, as well as receiving around 50 guest contributions from Italian personalities and celebrities, each connecting from their own home in compliance and solidarity with the national effort against the COVID-19 epidemic.
The resulting experience was really one of a kind to watch: here they were, experienced media journalists and anchormen, along with A-list actors, singers, writers, and scholars, sitting in their homes and struggling with the constraints of common Internet online meeting technologies and with their own limited knowledge of them. More than once jokes were made by the resident host about having to embark on a crash course on Web conferencing apps, or about some young musician being far less comfortable with their smartphone than their age would lead one to believe.
L’Italia Chiamò… highlighted the value of community, the ability to be together while staying indoors to support each other, as well as the role of the Internet in enabling the rediscovery that kindness is key to our social life
Watching something like L’Italia Chiamò was a great source of inspiration. Mass media professionals, working without the support of their broadcast studios and technical crews, dealing directly with the everyday technology we use at work and in our private lives, united with each other, their guest, and the participating public for a common good cause. This highlighted the value of community, the ability to be together while staying indoors to support each other, as well as the role of the Internet in enabling the rediscovery that kindness is key to our social life.
But there was also another aspect to it. Like many Martel colleagues, customers, and partners, I have used many different kinds of online communication software along the past twenty-five years; not only as a professional working internationally on innovation projects in the academic and corporate world, but also as an Italian emigrant with family in three nations. I participated in online meetings, audio- and videoconferences of various effectiveness and quality, with plenty of lessons to learn on the way: during L’Italia Chiamò, a few more ‘lessons learnt’ were added.
On the one hand, particularly for larger online meetings and events, planning and technical preparation are a worthy effort, and it’s advisable to have a competent admin, separate from the chair/host. The live streaming marathon, as new and improvisational as it was, strictly followed the pattern taken in the old days of free radio and adopted everywhere in TV, with the host who entertains and runs the show, while someone else behind the scenes takes care of whatever is not the current focus of attention (active camera, next guest, etc.). For online meetings, this is someone skilled with the admin features of the chosen tool, such as muting/unmuting, approving entrants, removing people from the conference, and making sure that the presentation token is passed around as necessary.
At Martel, when we lead or organize online meetings and events, we strive to pay due attention to the visual, audio, social, and even proxemic aspects that go beyond the basics of agenda, content, and audience engagement
On the other hand, it’s equally important to embrace the nature of online meetings. Like in videogames, things can happen in online meetings that are impossible in the physical world. People appear and disappear, their mouth moves but they make no sound, their time is out of sync with the others. One great lesson in watching L’Italia Chiamò live streaming was seeing how the hosts were dealing with the unavoidable obstacles and failures thrown at them by the complex technological setup and the unpredictable guests; this is what we all should try to do. At Martel, when we lead or organize online meetings and events, we strive to pay due attention to the visual, audio, social, and even proxemic aspects that go beyond the basics of agenda, content, and audience engagement, applying our organizational agility and leveraging technical and behavioural knowledge of the online medium.
For more information on Martel’s services, read how we apply our expertise to harness ICT for innovation
Looking back at the L’Italia Chiamò event, the agenda was there, the guests were there, the rhythm and pulse were exciting, and the live streaming was a success, but nothing really worked exactly as planned. An actor sent a video of themselves reading a poem, but there was no sound. Another surprise guest was supposed to connect from their laptop, but nothing worked until they called the host directly with their smartphone. A scheduled interview kept being postponed for connection problems, and it finally happened only when the live program was supposed to move on to some other topic.
Overall, L’Italia Chiamò was an uplifting and engaging example of how we can work together with passion and competence to operate for good in difficult and fast-changing circumstances. At Martel with our focus on human-centered technologies, the ‘take home’ lesson of this ‘stay at home’ extravaganza was that there is still a way to go for a masterful adoption of communication technology by society, and we’re here to help.