The awareness–behavior–attitude model can be used to explain the influencing factors and modes of action of the digital communication of handicraft ICH. However, the five influencing factors, influence the modes and action paths of digital handicraft ICH communication in different ways.

Antecedent factors

Digital communication awareness is the prerequisite for the digital communication of handicraft ICH and is also the internal cause in the entire communication process. Combining the awareness–behavior–attitude model with the findings of existing research reveals the key driving roles of digital environment cognition and cultural adaptability cognition in the digital communication of handicraft ICH. Digital environment cognition results suggest that there are normative principles with regard to the digitization of handicraft ICH in terms of information resources; namely, forming a “digital community” for handicraft ICH information dissemination and building a content activation strategy system. For example, in 2019, Hubei Provincial Museum, the first 5G smart museum in China, disseminated ICH by means of high-definition 4 K live broadcast, VR roaming and 5G holographic projection [50]; Nanjing Yunjin actively promotes the cross-border integration of handicraft ICH culture, digital resources, and other industries through game development, cultural tourism integration, derivatives development, and ICH intellectual property protection [50]; and many museums and art galleries are also actively cooperating with platforms such as Taobao live broadcast, Weibo live broadcast, and WeChat to create “palm museums” and virtual cloud exhibitions [51]. Cultural adaptability cognition results focused on exploring the contemporary value of traditional handicraft culture and its attendant historical memory, cultural characteristics, practical values, and aesthetic significance, and on building an open and innovative digital handicraft ICH creative cultural industry. For example, the creation of the Digital Dunhuang has resulted in the preservation and sustainable use of more than 30% of Dunhuang’s Mogao grottos. The repository was launched in Chinese in 2016 and in English in 2017, and has been visited more than 10 million times. Meanwhile, elements of Dunhuang culture have been digitally transformed, and a series of cultural creations have been developed [24]. However, it should be noted that digitalization may lead to the disappearance of randomness, and naturally occurring irregularity and subtle changes of the process need to be preserved, to better support the inheritance of the cultural value of handicrafts [52].

However, overall, relatively few studies explore handicraft practitioner awareness. Based on our interviews and textual analysis, we found that awareness greatly affects the structure of the digital communication of handicraft ICH, which in turn affects the consistency of awareness–behavior. Although the consistency of awareness–behavior is directly proportional to the level of digital communication awareness, a simple linear relationship does not exist between the two. Only when the disseminators of handicraft ICH are deeply aware of the value of digital communication can they ensure the smooth development of the communication process. Based on the model, we predict a significant increase in digital communication awareness among handicraft ICH practitioners who are more rational about their craft and who display more initiative. This may also explain why many handicraft ICH projects continue to cause cultural conflict due to improper practice when attempting to engage in digital communication. As one interviewee pointed out, “These craftsmen and communicators are still thinking about these issues in a traditional way, so why can’t they change the way of communication?” (F03), while another said “I feel that technicians do technical work while cultural scholars only talk about theories, and audiences feel bored after watching the video without any sense of empathy” (F07). In other words, technicians do not care about content, scholars are divorced from practice, and digital content needs to be made attractive to young audiences.

Situational factors

Of the situational factors, the adaptability of digital technology is the internal situational factor. It is the media factor of the behavior stage in the “awareness–behavior–attitude” model and, therefore, the core of the entire digital communication process. These factors include internal situational conditions determined by platform responsibilities, technical rationality, and crisis awareness. Initiative of cultural communication is an external situational factor, and is the disseminator factor of the behavior stage in the awareness–behavior–attitude model, so it is at the core of competitiveness. It includes communication perspective, communication subject, communication content, means of communication, and effect of communication. It is directly affected by the subject of handicraft ICH communication, as well as by audience perceptions and attitudes. Audience acceptance and cognition is an external situational factor, and the consumption factor of the behavior stage of the model. It is determined by whether audiences benefit from digital content and their emotional reaction to it. It includes value cognition, interest connection, and emotion performance. It is also affected by audience psychology and behavior [19] while it directly affects the mode of communication that handicraft ICH practitioners choose.

Situational variables moderate the direction and strength of awareness–behavior. Previous research on the initiative of cultural communication focused on intelligent creation and cultural sharing from the perspective of digital information management and dissemination [21]. In light of this, we must consider the management, platform, and strategy for digitally communicating handicraft ICH, as well as the multimedia and interactive development of digital handicraft ICH products. Research on the adaptability of digital technology has predominantly been from a computer science perspective, emphasizing the cultural innovation required to establish an intelligent digital ecology [53]. Such research reveals three trends: the open sharing of traditional handicraft digital resources, the intelligent upgrading of methods and tools in the process of handicraft creativity, and the multimodal integration of handicraft cultural experiences. Meanwhile, audience acceptance and cognition research has predominantly been from a psychological perspective, emphasizing the driving factors and dynamic effects of audience acceptance of digital forms of handicraft ICH [54]. This form of research has used digital virtual characters, virtual scenes, and AR to conduct user evaluations to test virtual experiences of and learning about traditional handicrafts. However, no studies have comprehensively considered cultural communication initiative, the adaptability of digital technology, or audience acceptance and cognition.

From this study, we infer that when the influence of three situational variables is neutral or weak, handicraft ICH digital communication activities are primarily affected by digital communication awareness, and the connection between awareness and behavior is strongest. When the influence of three situational variables is significant (i.e., extremely favorable or unfavorable), such as where there is a rather high cultural communication initiative or when there is unsatisfactory audience acceptance and cognition, it may greatly affect (i.e., promote or inhibit) the digital communication of handicraft ICH; the connection between awareness and behavior is significantly weakened and the influence of internal and external situational factors on digital communication activities increases significantly.

Figure 4 shows that situational factors (both internal and external) belong to the behavior stage and digital communication awareness belongs to the awareness stage. Therefore, we believed that situational factors are directly affected by the orientation and intensity of digital communication awareness. When digital communication awareness is weak (e.g., when the practitioner has limited digital environment cognition or cultural adaptive cognition), the moderating effect of situational factors becomes significant. However, when the communicators of handicraft ICH have strong digital communication awareness, the moderating effect of these internal and external situational factors is weakened. One interviewee stated, “After watching videos and animations of handicraft intangible cultural heritage, I just liked them, but rarely forwarded them or commented” (F06), suggesting that the situational factors of the initiative of cultural communication and audience acceptance and cognition are weak. Meanwhile, another interviewee responded, “The digital transformation of traditional culture requires a process. We should be tolerant of the conflict between the reality of traditional handicrafts and the virtuality of digital experience” (F02).

Regulatory factors

Uncontrollable factors moderate the direction and intensity of behavior–attitude by affecting the relationship between digital communication behavior and the generation of audience attitudes. A number of previous studies have explored regulatory factors. Li [54] analyzed the Chinese Cultural Digitization and International Communication Project, and proposed that lessons from that experience could be applied to disseminating Chinese Naxi-Dongba culture; i.e., the connection and transformation of real space and virtual space should meet under one overall cultural output strategy [44]. Meanwhile, Xu and Sun [39] found that, among the factors affecting public will and behavior in digital communication of handicraft ICH, moderating variables, such as gender, age, and education, had positive correlations [28]. Chen and Ma [5] considered opportunities through an exploration of digital content packaging and live new-media broadcasting for craftsmen in the context of COVID-19 [2]. These studies highlight the need to reasonably examine the digital environment, respond in a timely manner, and develop corresponding communication strategies.

When the influence of regulatory factors is significant, audience attitudes toward the digital dissemination of handicraft ICH is strengthened or weakened. For example, on the basis of a public welfare project jointly launched by Starbucks and the China Women’s Development Foundation, Starbucks and Guizhou Danzhai Batik Technology jointly launched China’s first intangible cultural heritage experience store in 2021, integrating the cultural experience for customers in unexpected ways. The connection of behavior–attitude is then weakened, and the influence of regulatory factors on digital communication attitude increases significantly. An increase in uncontrollable factors also prompts the disseminators of handicraft ICH to psychologically re-examine their attitudes toward the digital environment. As one interviewee stated, “Just like Li Ziqi’s live broadcast of production videos of various crafts, sometimes there is a lot of controversy. Today’s digital content production methods and new media choices cannot please everyone. But in any case, the premise [of online communication] is that it correctly conveys ideas” (F01), while another stated, “In junior high school, we went to the craft base to practice every week. Once there was any new digital experience project, we would be very happy and hoped to go again next time” (F08).

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