Thursday 8 December 2011

Digital dreams

@benjoda mocks me for getting excited about discovering a pdf aggregator which saved me a lot of time and presented things efficiently and effectively.

He's going to hate this post with a passion. Because in it, I am going to indulge something which has been missing for a while - and it is passion. For digital. Because it is what I am, who I am and what I do.

At the end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th century, this country experienced an acceleration of thinking, developing, innovation and JFDI arguably never seen before (yes, flinty, hence the slight give). It was distributed equitably in the spoils which emerged, at least geographically - I know this as I have walked beneath key stones from Edinburgh to York, Bristol to Exeter which have born roughly the same dates, leading to great palaces of learning named libraries - the 'giving back' method de jour of any self respecting industrialist.

And so, almost exactly 100 years later and what do we have? I passionately believe, a digital revolution. A monumental shift, not only in the way we conduct business, but also our daily lives, with the potential to shake the very foundations of the world, economically, politically and yes, even perhaps what it actually means to be human. Married with the scientific research discoveries which mean we can control physical objects with a thought, that we can see the unseeable and know the unknowable. As we strip away the layers of mystery between us and the stars, the skies, the sand and the snow, are we turning to a manufactured, invisible and unquantifiable digital space to satisfy what is perhaps a coded embedded behaviour in humans - the need to not know the future, to be uncertain, to see no guarantees?

So what will this digitalists leave? Industrialists took care of their workers, relatively at the time, by providing roofs over heads, opportunities for learning and personal development, and eventually education for the young. In their own sweet way they enabled social mobility, by ensuring that the generation beneath the workers spinning endlessly in factories were educated to a level where basic numeracy and literacy were possible, encouraged even, where it was possible to use education as a way to change their futures and to level up.

Digitalists have a number of options. Hack days, I think, are a shade of this in that it is an opportunity for developers to make contacts yes, and it is an opportunity for developers to make apps with useful data which will no doubt be marketable products, but the fact still remains; free time, free thinking, free bodies. A model which involves an exchange of something where both benefit.

But they are small. And in time, the memory of them will disappear. They are not, in other words, the equivalent of libraries still standing 100 years later.

Which begs the question, what will digitalists leave? What will be their legacy? Will they acknowledge their power and their genius, the collective wisdom collision that seems to happen once every 100 years and decide to collaborate and do something wonderful for no other reason than to further humanities development, or will they be oblivious, wrapped in the push to better the tech, better the tools, and forget entirely that humans use them?

I'd like to think the digital crowd are only just getting started.

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