Lasting change?

I have been at the SEDA conference and will be contributing to Helen Beetham’s “flipped keynote” today.

Helen has asked me to consider what lasting changes technology enhanced learning have left on me. Helen has suggested that the digital in education (and culturally, more widely) can be characterised by porosity and a persistent simultaneity. That is, once an utterance goes digital we are no longer completely in control of where it is used, who might see it and so on: our digital utterances and digital “spaces” are “leaky” or porous. And, as well as leaking beyond their original or intended audiences our utterances leave traces that persist and which might be recalled at any moment.

Now, I am not sure if these are unique to the digital. Certainly more people leave more traces that are persistently visible to more people than they have been. Is this merely quantitative or has the volume produced a shift in quality too? My suspicion is that it has, and this suspicion that there has been a qualitative change is how I read Helen’s illumination of the “post digital”.

So, for me, I will mention two lasting changes: one has to do with identity and the other has to do with language.

One lasting change for me is that traces of my life are leaky and persistent. This goes beyond the sphere of formal learning and reaches into my domestic and social spheres.

Was I a “late early adopters” or “e-pioneer” or “early majority” user of the internet? I had a Compuserve account in about ’94 or ’95 and remember my first dial-up modem and the exciting US Robotics Sportster “smart modem” that ran at a blinding 14.4 kbps. I ran IRC chatrooms for professional education in the energy industry in 1998 or thereabouts. Stuff like that. But what was significant was that I and many others thought that BBS and IRC and email would usher in an era of identity play and available anonymity. On the Internet no one knew you were a dog. A child could pretend to be an adult and an adult a child with all (apparent) innocence. I thought my life could be compartmentalised. If I embarrassed myself in one sphere the others could remain unaffected. There was the professional me, the political me, the poetical me and the domestic me and these four spheres of identity, I believed, were separate and the Internet facilitated this separation.

Clearly I no longer believe this. While there are other factors in play beyond the Internet, the development of the internet as we know it now has facilitated (or forced) the collapse of boundaries between parts of my identity. Nothing is private online. Deal with it. But let’s not underestimate the scale. This has become a huge power issue with Facebook, Google, GCHQ, NSA, Wikileaks and the subsequent projects to TIA. Cyber-security and Cyber-war and Cyber-colonialism and imperialism are very real phenomena and we do not need to wear tin-foil hats to appreciate this. (Ref Code Red and the Software sorted society links to come).

The other lasting change for me has been a widening of my understanding of modes of communication. I did my MA in Education at the Open University between 1997 and 2001. As a part of the degree I took “H802” Which had a title like “Application of the Internet to Open and Distance Learning”. While I had used Compuserve BBS and IRC I had never been invited to consider these as being genres of language. Through H802 I came to understand that digital literacy had many forms and some of these were new. There was moral outrage abroad at txt speak. H802 valorised this as just one new mode. I learned that forums were not chat, were not essays, and no more or less than any of these things, just different. And these genres and registers of communication refracted power and identity differently than letters, journalism or academic essays.

So for me the porosity and simultaneity do not have to do with my daily digital practices or the tools I use at any moment. They are deeper and broader than Diigo or Posterous. They embrace a domain of one’s own and BYOD.


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