Looking back at ‘postdigital’ 6 years later

In June 2009 the ‘52group’ gathered from across the Higher Education sector to consider the confluence of education and the digital. The result was a position paper entitled ‘Preparing for the postdigital era’. At the time the paper was largely met with a mixture of scepticism and confusion, a common response being “The digital hasn’t been superseded?”. Despite this, over the intervening years the term has slowly gained traction in educational contexts.

To what extent our original paper influenced the recent proliferation of the term is of course not clear but we see the concept being employed in various locations including last year’s SEDA conference: “Opportunities and challenges for academic development in a post-digital age” and a forthcoming conference hosted by Greenwich university: “Flipping the Institution: Higher Education in the Post Digital Age”. There are also numerous examples of the term casually making its way into strategic rhetoric in and around our institutions.

To mark the shift from Digital to Post-digital thinking members of the original ‘52group’ have each revisited the term to consider its definition and relevance five years on. This is my perspective:

Two weeks ago I tried to convince Oscar (my eight year old son) that he wanted to learn to code. I explained to him that it would allow him to do really cool things, like design his own stuff on a website, or create a database for his coin collection. I didn’t get a ton of feedback from that discussion, I think the floor immediately TURNED TO LAVA. I’m not sure why that happens in my house on a pretty much daily basis. Anyway… a week or so later, in the midst of me trying to get some shovelling done, Oscar looks at me and says “I’m really looking forward to learning to code with you”. Cool right? I thought it was at first…

What I thought i was selling to my son was the ability to be able to do crazy things on the internet. Of course… he’s had a blog since he was four. We’ve done vines, instructional videos, and, a while ago, podcasts. He’s a performer my son… and he not only wants to post things, he wants to know that people have seen them. He wants to say “cool huh?” to everyone who’s seen what he’s posted. Coding was a con job to try and get me to stop shovelling snow out of the driveway and come play with him. This the brother of Posey (six) who has only just come to terms with the fact that the LED screen on the telephone does not contain a moving picture of her GrandMaman.

14 years ago, Prensky suggested that we may have a generation of digital natives. That these kids had a relationship to technology, a facility for it, that we digital immigrants couldn’t understand. He may have been right, i think, in a particular way. (EDIT for @donnalanclos: not the ‘facility’ part) When i look at my children and i see them look at what i think of as a ‘digital technology’ they don’t make a distinction. They don’t care if they are talking to GrandPapa on Skype or on the phone… they are talking to GrandPapa. My kids don’t care if they are performing on the stage or on video, they are performing. Sure… they are different, but they aren’t different for ‘digital’ reasons, they are different for human reasons. They can type to Grandpapa over Skype (actually, mostly by sending inappropriate emoticons) which they can’t do on the phone so the phone isn’t as funny. They feel the audience more directly when they are acting on the Confederation Centre stage, but not for as long as they do when they post a video.

Postdigital. That’s what my kids are. It’s a funny expression borrowed from the art world that six of us tried to use to describe how we saw the need to say ‘digital’ disappearing. It mirrors its philosophical mentor ‘postmodern’ in the sense that to be ‘post’ digital is also to deny that the digital should have ever been a foundation that we built on. The digital technologies that were once so complicated to use on the internet have become mostly transparent (though not, importantly, socio-economically transparent). There was an interim space where saying digital might have been necessary… as the weight of effort to do the simplest connecting online was huge. The computer, for better and for worse, if fading into invisibility next to the board marker and the tv screen.

The ability to connect to more people faster certainly changes things, but the change has already happened.

Further reflections on the Post-digital from members of the 52group:

Mark Childs: http://markchilds.org/2015/02/04/post-digitalism-an-evolutionary-perspective/
Richard Hall: http://www.richard-hall.org/2015/02/06/reflections-on-the-post-digital
Lawrie Phipps: http://lawrie.jiscinvolve.org/wp/2015/02/04/pd_review/
David White: http://daveowhite.com/post-digital-revisited/

Author: dave

I run this site... among other things.

2 thoughts on “Looking back at ‘postdigital’ 6 years later”

  1. Interesting. I think when something new comes along that takes our attention to do it—like being digital or being modern—then we have to foreground it and name it. You did that with MOOCs, but after it no longer demands our attention to do it, then we become confused about what to do with the name that no longer needs to be used because everyone just does it. We are talking to Grandpa—sometimes f2f, sometimes on the phone, sometimes Skype—but mostly we are just talking to Grandpa. That core activity returns to the foreground, and the medium resolves into the background noise.

    So are we post-MOOC, just taking courses—sometimes f2f, sometimes hybrid, sometimes on the Net—but mostly just pursuing a course and a practice? Seems so.

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