We made a bit of a change to our regularly scheduled lab meeting, moving it by an entire hour to 12pm and scheduling it for 2 hours instead of the normal 1. This unprecedented move was to accomodate the group watching the last of the Sussex Conversations, on Digital and Social Media. As the only lab member who’d been able to attend was Leslie (who’s on holiday at the moment), the rest of us felt that this was a conversation we should be aware of.

The view of the future that Tom Rodden presented appeared to us to be slightly frightening, and actually linked to some of the discussions that the reading group have been having after reading the Mark Weisner article “The computer for the 21st century”[1]. In some ways we didn’t think that was the most interesting question to start with, and Dan Chalmers touched on a more interesting angle in his response: what part will technology play in our society in the future? Obviously in some ways that’s a much harder question, but the question of where the technology is going seems to be often answered by people who have a clear view of the technology without much thought about how or whether the technologies they are interested in will be welcomed or otherwise by the rest of society.

In some ways that was where Jodi Dean came in, talking about the way that we still need very much to be aware of literature, history and philosophy especially when we are trying to make sense of the new digital medium. This section of the debate was unexpected and enjoyed, although it did show up the different backgrounds of the group. Those with a background in philosophy found it interesting, whereas some of us with a more engineering background found some of her arguments a little difficult to follow (but no less interesting for it)! She was a little more dismissive of distance or technology enhanced learning than the group members liked, and there were some cheers for Helga Nowotny’s rebuttal on that score.

Helga Nowotny‘s comparison with various revolutions in the past (the scientific revolution and the ‘the early modern republic of letters’) struck a chord again with our recent discussions, both in the recognition of the similarity of the challenges of learning to use the digital medium to previous new mediums, and the lack of equality in the distribution of the effects of the ‘digital revolution’. Many of the discussions we have as a group tend to return to the idea that although new technologies do represent some new challenges, the vast majority of the worries that people voice around them are not new at all but have been voiced about most new shifts in technology. We are also frequently reminded that although we in the UK assume that everyone has access to these new digital technologies (although some choose not to use them), in other areas of the world access is not so universal.

For a fairly short debate on a rather wide topic, we felt this was a good discussion touching on a lot of different areas. The fact that there were signs of disagreement and proper debate between the panel was welcome. Although (obviously) some areas that were only touched on could have been discussed in much more depth, overall we enjoyed the debate.

Watching it as a group definitely added though. Particularly since Edgar brought pastries from Patisserie Valerie… Seriously, if you didn’t make it, you really missed out!

Patisserie Valerie cakes

(Not the minirolls – those lived to fight another day!)

[1] Weiser, M., 1991. The Computer for the 21st Century. Scientific American, p.94-104.