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Postdigital – second thoughts

September 11th, 2009 · No Comments · web 2.0

Lining up the arguments at the start of the falt09 postdigital session

The first meeting of the F-ALT09 group was on what might be meant by ‘postdigital’ led by Dave White. I posted First thoughts on ‘postdigital’  here before the conference. It was a very interesting and lively session and David has posted about it since – Post-digital – an update? I left a couple of comments on the post earlier today but I thought I would post them to my own blog so I can expand on there here more easily in future (and correct the spelling errors).

Graham Attwell in full persuasive flow at the falt09 postdigital session

Pat Parslow has also reponded to David’s post – A technical post on the post-technical.

Noting that on-line platforms do not come with manuals and this doesn’t seem to be an issue for users, David says:

This is not necessarily because they are especially simple to use, but because they are massively multi-user and simply by watching the behaviour of fellow users it is possible to ‘pick up’ not only how to use the platform but also why you might want to use it. This should come as no surprise as we are particularly good at learning by observing fellow members of our own species. (There will be a fancy pedagogic/sociological term for this. If you know it then please insert it here as you read.)

I think this is a useful description of an important aspect of informal learning whatever fancy a name sociologists might give it – mimesis perhaps.

David goes on to consider if the term ‘post-technical’ might be closer to what he is getting at. Personally I don’t think we will ever be post-technical society as technology always evolves and there is always something new – these days often quite awesome. However, post-digital might be possible in the same sense that we are post-literate. That is not to say that we are beyond literacy or it has been abolished. It is just that, in our society, literacy is a given, an unstated assumption of practically all we do. Much of what we do is based on literacy and would be impossible without it. But this is now unremarkable and unremarked. As David says, “For many the term (post-digital) seems to imply a discarding of digital technologies as if they were no longer important” and this isn’t helpful. What may be happening is the emergence of a society where digital technologies and affordances become ubiquitous and will condition all our activities and experience in a way that is as unremarkable and taken for granted as post-Gutenberg literacy is today. We are witnessing the cultural shift that conditions and is conditioned by digital technologies and, like the colonial anthropologists of old, we need to explore and understand it now while it is in transition, visible and still remarkable; before we take it for granted. The best political thinking and sociology is often done when society is changing rapidly and previous ways of thinking and understanding seem to fall short, as in the birth of modern political thought and sociology in the transition from the medieval to the modern industrial world. As Graham Attwell says in his thought provoking impressions of  the ALT-C conference – Thoughts on Alt-C – “The perspectives we are currently using, to come to an understanding of the cultural/educational influence of digital technologies and the opportunities therein, need to be reconsidered”. He made it pretty clear at the post-digital discussion, and with some justification, that social sciences and particularly sociology have not offered us much by way of understanding of the current changes in technology and culture. It pains me to agree with this as sociology is my business mainly. However, my feeling is that there are important sociological theories and concepts around that offer ways into dealing with and understanding current changes more concretely and I hope to expand on these here in due course.

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