Postdigital – putting language to what we know

I’ve just come back from an amazing couple of days with 52group over in the UK. We got together to look back at some of the work we’ve been doing for the last couple of years and to look for new projects to stretch some of our conclusions a little further.

Our first step was to take a look at what we’d learned and make sure we shared a common perspective on our work. Many of us have just come out of MUVE research and, in a sense, found the same community stuff that we’ve found elsewhere.

Hours passed and we dug in deeper and deeper and finally found that the key point of concurrence for our thinking was that we want to plan for the future of education and not get mired in the petty pendantries that we fall into debating one platform over another, or one approach over another. We needed some language to elucidate this.

And so… the postdigital. You can check out the early draft of our thinking over at our published google doc.

I’ve been sending the link around to folks in the hopes of getting some feedback, and so far we’ve gotten everything from “yeah. i read it.”(my personal favourite) to “i don’t think ur saying anything” and “it’s beautiful” and “this is exactly what i’ve been trying to say”. It’s not surprising I suppose, as our intent was to put language to something that we have seen happen and expect to see continue… not create something new out of whole cloth. We’ll be incorporating the feedback into the second draft, moving towards something that better reflects our intent.

When i do look out to the future (i’ve been ask that question alot “where do you see education in 5-10 years) i think we need to drop our lens from today and think about change as incorporated into the society. Many people seem to believe that the kids coming up now are going to be ‘plugged in’ or ‘digital somethings’… in truth, they will probably take these things for granted and not consider themselves any such thing… no more than i considered myself part of any TV generation. I just happen to share any number of ‘universal narratives’ with the people around me. EVERYONE knew the characters of every show. We shared a common language, a reified culture, based on TV characters. The next generation will probably be less centralized, and, probably, more interesting to talk to :)

But what we see as ‘digital’ now, will to them be retronymed. The way that ‘mail’ is quickly becoming ‘default email’ an ‘snail mail’ is starting to require a prefix. If we start now thinking about how to prepare them for a digital age, we’ll be preparing them for now… not for ten years from now.

Like i said, we’re not claiming that we’ve invented some brand new idea… but rather it’s an attempt at giving language to what we seemed to all be saying so that when we turn around and try and explain it to other people… we know we’re saying the same thing.

The feedback so far has been all over the map. Very interested to hear what you guys think.

10 thoughts on “Postdigital – putting language to what we know

  1. aaahhhhh. that feels good.

    The only problem with this post is not knowing where in my organization I need to insert it. This is an important context for the discussion we had this week about the interactions students are having everyday with ‘information packages’ online databases, www content, abridged novels to fine literature. Our obsession(s) is(are) to sort out the syncable from the ‘unsyncable’… Verbal culture and educators ability to deal with differences in depth at each/many interactions

    maryakem, Media Librarian and Sys Admin large urban school district, BC

  2. I loved reading the piece because, as you mention, you gave language to something I’ve not been able to communicate very well. My rants of, ‘Web 2.0 is not the future of education,’ have largely fallen on deaf ears. When I ask teachers why they think social media in middle school is preparing them for their post-k-12 life, I rarely get feedback that includes the ‘people’ part of life. I do believe the current technologies can support learning and connecting when used effectively. I just don’t believe mastery of these tools is an essential life skill. When I see ed tech folks who’ve spent the last three years proselytizing the same technologies to the same reluctant instructors, I just don’t get it. There is no battle for technology adoption. We’re not on sides, the adopters Vs. non-adopters. If we’re really all in it for the learning, we have to think more long term and seamlessly (invisibly) incorporate emerging technologies as they emerge. You deserve a much longer response than I’ve composed, and I’m sure I’ll get pushback for my generalizations and emotion, but I hope this is just the beginning of an exciting discussion. Great work!

  3. yeah, I read it.

    I could not resist, but I did read it. Like Jen says, it ought to open some interesting discussion. I resonate with the notion that some of the things that we make a lot of hay about now (iPhone vs Android, blogs vs wikis, Blackboard vs anything else) ought to become less of a frontal point. Language is a funny evolving thing, but I can see some of the verb/noun shifts you describe.

    The question more interesting is, how will our actions change?

    I struggle a bout with the marking a point as “Post Digital” like digital technologies will cease to be developed and be where they are now (like an art movement that fades away)– it does not seem the intent of the paper, but that is the trapping of the language. What is “post” is not digital technologies, but perhaps the novelty of them.

    But IMHO it will continue to be a moving target that will challenge our ways, so even if microblogging and messaging become ordinary everyday things, something else is going to be there to confound most of us.

    I already feel mostly in the place you describe, and I am a tool geek, but I rarely do not have a layer of thinking about the people and sociality of the things I am toying with.

    Another dimension to perhaps consider is (and this seems hard) looking in more dimensions than time (in the future) as there is the uneven propogation of these “things” among a population, so there is the tension or mis-alignment of those that “get it” and those not there yet. By the time my Mom is regularly twittering on her mobile phone (which I forecast at about 8 years out, sorry Mom) where has the rest moved on to?

    I’d push back on the notion that specialists/gurus have “hijacked” anything; it seems a natural step in the progress of un-known territory. And I would suggest, without any evidence beyond my gut and observations, that there is a huge, silent, subsurface fear (fear of new things, fear of not understanding, fear of “looking stupid”) that persist in a present state of norm that people resist experimentation and trying new things.

    But I totally grok the idea that we may soon drop all the “e-” in front of things, that the “e-ness” just becomes a part of the things.

    Looking forward to the next rev.

  4. hey folks,

    Thanks for the support Jen and maryakem… would love to hear back from other people’s reactions if you do try it on someone.

    alan. i agree about how problematic is would be to define a point as ‘postdigital’ now. There are certain things that somepeople are that way about already. There are some people still stuck pre-digital, and the spectrum will easily continue. No doubt. And, in harmony with the title… we are looking towards ‘preparing’ for the postdigital… and in thinking about what education will mean in a few years we need to think past the tools.

    As for being a tool geek… i cohost a show called ‘edtechweekly’. Gurus was meant in a derogatory way… not hard working folks testing the cutting edge to find new and interesting ways to leverage it for students folks etc… but rather those folks who sell newness without substance…

    It’s the ‘already feel like i’m in the place you describe’ part that i find interesting. That’s been a common response. We’ll incorporate the feedback into rev 2. Thanks for taking the time to get over ur resistance :P

  5. @dave I’m still not quite getting a good picture of where you mean to be going with this.

    You write: “Many people seem to believe that the kids coming up now are going to be ‘plugged in’ or ‘digital somethings’… in truth, they will probably take these things for granted and not consider themselves any such thing… no more than i considered myself part of any TV generation.”

    Well, OK– except that whether members of our generation use the “TV Generation” label or not, the operative truth about them remains the same (which you elaborate on here). In the context of Digital X’s it seems to me exactly the same– whatever the name they will (and won’t) have for themselves, the presumed characteristics of the “postdigital” (and aren’t you just creating a new name for the Digital X’s?) aren’t, thus far, being questioned.

    As I see it, and it scares me, postdigital is so far renaming a conception of the future that the digital natives crowd has been yammering about for a long time. Not many of them argue that the separated, application-based understanding of many technologies now won’t transition– at least for that tech that isn’t wholly forgotten– into simply being a part of the context… as represented by the tiresomely common (and tiresomely apt in some ways) analogy of “teaching fish about water.” In fact, that *is* their position. The argument seems to be about when that state will be achieved, if it hasn’t already been.

    So, how is being postdigital different from the claims of what it is to be a digital native? And, following that, what does it MEAN to be that way, to the best of our ability to prognosticate such things given our very poor powers of prediction and the near impossible (I’m not going to give wholesale into the post-structuralist view of things hear and say it actually IS impossible, but it’s hard to resist given the nature of the language around the concept of “postdigital” right now) prospect of actually stepping outside of our not-post-digital frame.

    @jen I find it hard to understand how you can maintain mastery of method (which is, I note, the most productive pathway to understanding and self-expression) isn’t an important life skill while at the same time expressing empathy with the idea that those very technologies will get subsumed into our every day life and taken for granted. It feels to me like the desire to skip a necessary but not sufficient rung on the ladder. And I guess when it comes to teaching, I see educators as having an obligation to teach not just what is but to help shape what will be, your continual invocation of a strawman about “web 2.0 being the future of education” (seriously, who claims that? Similarly, who claims that it’s not about the people, regardless of what technology is used, from pencil and paper to nanoborg chips?) nothwithstanding.

  6. Chris,
    note: see apology to chris below.
    Please understand that we’re exposing the thinking process. We’ve posted initial, unguarded thoughts about an idea we aren’t sure about yet. I understand that there is something about this that really bothers you, but the ‘it scares me’ kinda language doesn’t really pull the conversation forward any. You might know, if you’ve read anything i’ve written or listened to a single podcast that i’ve done in the last four years that I happen to hate the digital native stuff all around. My hope, with actually approaching the work this way, is that people will allow for a little ‘good faith’ and allow us to firm up the explanations.

    I’m not trying to pinion an entire generation into a single definition… and if you are finding that there I’m either being very careless or you are finding what you are choosing to see. This seems to be what you are saying in three different ways in three different paragraphs. “you are just using postdigital as a synonym for digital native” and this scares you.

    No. I’m not.

    What it means to know is shifting, as it always does, as our culture changes… and that has very little directly to do with ‘digital’ it has to do with how the communities are growing around that. The focus on the technology as the locus of change is the problem.

    Or, maybe, we are the hacks we deride. that’s possible too. But this seems to be the dichotomy you’ve set up.

  7. I’m not sure you could more thoroughly misread me nor and I sure why you think it “really bothers me.” As I noted in my blog, I find the kind of philosophizing being engaged in here both amusing and necessary.

    The “it scares me” was tongue in cheek; as I’ve made clear multiple time, while I disagree with much of the rhetoric, I think the digital native and netgen proclaimers are agitated for a very real reason.

    I realize you hate the term, but if you set that aside I’m confident you can see what I am saying. *I’m* not saying you are trying to “pinion an entire generation into a SINGLE definition”– but I’m not sure how you can describe being members of “a generation” as an analogy, forward a term like postdigitalism and not recognize that in doing so you are– as a matter of practical force of philosophy and rhetoric– putting an entire generation (or a sufficient number to philosophize about characteristics of that future group) into *A* definition. A subtle (maybe) but critical distinction.

    You have a long way to go to demonstrate that your idea goes further than assuming the same subsumation of technology that digital nativists pine for and claim is coming. If anyone can do it, it will be people like you. But I don’t know that the distinction you seek from digital native assumptions is, in this respect, is even possible. It certainly isn’t apparent yet.

    Sorry if that bothers you, but it’s what I see from here and your distaste for digital native theoreticians, their rhetoric, and their other arguments isn’t really relevant. You’re both, so far, pointing at a very similar– if not identical– future, though I suspect your method of doing so has a much higher potential to be productive because, from the little that is there so far, you are actually interested in the “what happens then” rather than merely reveling in the fact that it can/will happen at all.

    I have no idea where the “hacks” thing is coming from. You seem remarkably bitter or resentful or *something* given that you put forth a minimalistic, abstract idea and asked for people to tell you what they thought. Maybe I’m just not smart enough to keep up; or maybe what you want to say– and to some extent think you are saying– isn’t quite captured yet. I’m not a mind reader.

  8. Dave, I was happy to read your article on the postdigital era related to my current work on a new updated and expanded edition of my book ‘The Future of Art in a Digital Age’ (Intellect Books/University of Chicago Press) and renaming it ‘The Future of Art in a Postdigital Age.’ The first section of my book ‘Educating Artists for the Future: learing at the Intersections of Art, Science, Technology, and Culture'(Intellect Books/University of Chicago Press) is titled ‘Beyond the Digtal.’ I’d like to keep in touch and gain your comments on my postdigital chapter for my book.
    Thanks.
    Mel

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