25 July 2010

Is "digital" the right word?

"Imagine you are travelling on a train, say in Australia. Imagine, while on this train, you are on your mobile phone, speaking to a friend. Your friend is travelling on a train also, but this train is travelling between London and Edinburgh. ... Both of you are using laptops, and you're on the web via WiFi, searching for information. Additionally one of you is using Twitter, the other is using Facebook, and you are communicating with other friends, via these, in the US and China." The writer says that such train questions often end, jokingly, with a question about which way the smoke is blowing. (Harper, 2010)

My question would be: "Which way is the wind blowing?" It could easily be argued that Australian universities, by and large, don't know.

In a short piece in a recent Campus Review, Harper discusses the implications of the evolution of digital technologies for universities – for the ways our institutions use, develop, and analyse them. He says that if universities are to maintain relevance in the contemporary world, they must lead the way in exploring the uses of the technologies. He isn't writing about the conversations I encounter most of the time – you know, the ones that focus on whether it would be better for academics to use an LMS or a blog or how you make students take part in online discussions about course content or whether it is fair to all students to set group assignments. He is writing about the need for universities to start taking communication technologies seriously, to embrace the opportunities they provide for new ways of collaboration and learning, and to design curriculum that advances our understanding of how these technologies have and will affect our worlds.

First of all, he says, we should stop talking about "digital" technologies and start talking about "synaptic technological use". He writes: "In essence, contemporary technologies are synaptic; meaning they are technologies of flow, of bringing together, of transmission, exchange, networking, of social, financial, political, cultural and personal activity. The experience-focus of these technologies has long superseded any logical reason for a continued reference to the digital. And yet, in universities this reference continues to be widespread, as if we have entirely failed to grasp the size and complexity of the changes that have been occurring in the world around us."

Makes sense to me.


Harper. G. (2010). Digital is dead: synaptic technologies rule. Campus Review, 22 June 2010, 20(12), 13.

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