I’ve spent some time recently wondering about the nature of things digital. Is a weblog a document? A YouTube video? A FaceBook page? Are any of these in any traditional sense either fixed or truthful? And why might this matter? These questions I find troubling; they are the kind that niggle when you teach & research a line over a period of time but come inexorably to accept that there are large areas of strategic gap and omission in your project. Basically, too much time spent looking and not enough seeing.
Of course it is a truism to say that information technology has radically changed the world. The past thirty years or so has seen the reconstruction of all major global economies around notions of knowledge and data passaging. Digital documents – in their myriad forms – fill the airwaves. They are germane to almost every emerging practice around contemporary economy and society. Most especially, they run native to the possibilities of communication networks; they travel on demand and instantaneously, and invite easy transposition, translation, repurposing. We gather, process, and exploit information on an unprecedented scale and at an unprecedented pace. Aided by the ubiquitous and increasingly powerful transmission capacities of the internet, the architectures of what it is to know and act are endlessly shaped and reshaped – both physically and, arguably, cognitively. And to succeed in this frenetic world we must be at ease with its technologies and its value systems which are interwoven in essentialising ways.
With the digital turn of the past decade, notions of what constitutes the act of ‘documenting’ and the product of such acts has truly gone liquid to a startling extent. Nothing remains untouched in a storm of change and new practice. Foucault terms this the state-creating function of the economy and it seems to me to be almost wholly ascendant even in these post-Tiger days: market values are extended to every social action and embedded in every institution. And so there is, I suppose, no reason why the act of personal documentation and (re)presentation should escape similarly reinvention and repurposing.
And here, in this Best Of All Possible Worlds, even schools suffer from variations on this digital fever. From an early age we expect young people to learn to process larger and ever-more complex data sets. Our students are expected to gain and hone the literacies, skill-sets and understandings that will allow them to be ‘successful’. As workers we are incessantly told we must be more entrepreneurial, more innovative, more flexible and adaptive, more team and task savvy, more opportunity focussed, more resilient, and above all more driven, more competitive.
Technology also proliferates in all the defining spaces of our lives; the home and the social. And while I love my technology, I am still perverse enough to let these things niggle. A whole global generation now goes out to play on the web – mostly in the rich, global north but also increasingly in many parts of the south. Our usages range – like those of our younger digital compatriots – from the unremarkable to the unrecognisable but centre mainly around the participatory cultures of social media and building what are – despite the assumptions that can too easily be made about this – unique spaces / worlds, often personalised to the extent that a particular public genre of social media will allow. We Facebook, WordPress, YouTube, IM ourselves into existence(s). And in doing so, we present ourselves in terms those many others outside our shiny, digitalised contexts can find troubling and even ‘untrue’.
I think often I really should find time to write something about all this digital fever… a sort of Uncle John’s guide to it all. Perhaps here on my blog. 🙂
But then, inevitably, another set of those unmet obligations derail all good intentions. Lakelife kicks in. The academic groves need tending. Another load of pedagogical wood needs chopping. And it’s back to the mortgaged hours.