The announcement of the availability of a video summary of the event reminded me of the opening F-ALT session, held on 8 September in the Lass O’Gowrie pub  (a pub I always try to get to when I’m at a conference at Manchester University).  This was my first time at F-ALT, the ALT’s Fringe event, and I was looking forward to meeting up with the F-ALT organisers and participants, many of whom I’ve met previously or may not have met but read their blogs or follow on Twitter.

From what I’d heard of last year’s F-ALT, the Fringe event would provide an opportunity to discuss topics related to elearning in a informal and friendly setting. I’d heard anecdotes of last year’s debate on the “Edupunk” meme and was looking forward to a similar light-hearted evening of geeky fun.  However the topic of the opening F-ALT session was “Postdigital” and the description on the F-ALT wiki  read:

What does this mean? Why is it not two words? Is it just Dave making-up another term in an attempt to get keynote gigs? No, it actually has some substance to it and could be a very helpful way of framing the learning-tech discussion over the next few years. If you are sceptical about all this then you should definitely turn-up. The chances of an argument breaking out are very high.

Perhaps this year’s F-ALT wouldn’t turn out to be  the informal evening and drink and chat that I had expected! The participants at the event were asked to give a two-minute response to a number of ideas we were presented with. Mine was, if I recall correctly:

The speed of the change, however, has left us with the mistaken belief that social change was somehow ‘created’ by the digital rather than simply played out on a the canvas of the digital; that the digital itself is the main driver of change.

Being presented with this serious topic in the pub on the opening evening of the conference I tried to response in a light-hearted fashion. I suggested that it was appropriate that this topic was raised in a traditional Manchester boozer, possibly a pub which Fredrick Engles drank in when he spent time in the city. And just as we call for ownership of our scholarly works in ours IRs (institutional repositories) so Engels called for ownership of the means of production in the better known IR – the industrial revolution.  So the arguments we are having now aren’t about primarily about the technologies, but reflect arguments which date back hundreds of years (indeed Martin Weller has suggested that the debates go back many centuries).

The publication of the video summary of the evening (which is embedded below) provides an opportunity to revisit ‘postdigital’ debate …

If, as Dave White suggests in a post on “Postdigital: Escaping the Kingdom of the New?“, we tend to overhype the new and exciting, and fail to appreciate the aspects which are actually useful, what are the implications? Perhaps this is a topic which is worthy of more considered thinking. 

Now maybe it is correct to suggest that we in the development community, who consider ourselves to be agents of a transformational change to a better environment, fail to appreciate that our users often ignore our developments and our vision. After all, if the initial evidence reflects a more general trend, we seem to be living in a world in which most users use an MS Windows platform to access institutional resources – they’re not interested in Linux, for example, despite many years of evangelism from the open source community. A computer’s a computer, just like a fax machine is a fax machine – only nerds care about what goes on underneath the bonnet.

But if this is true, what are the implications for accepting that we are in a postdigital age?  Don’t we then accept that our IT environment will be owned by the mega-corporations – Google and Microsoft. And let’s forget debates about device independence and interoperability – unless the mega-corporations feel such issues may provide a competitive edge.

It strikes me that the postdigital agenda is a conservative one, in which we are asked to accept that we (in our institutions and in our working environment) cannot shape our digital environment. And for me that is a worrying point of view which I don’t accept.