By Padraig McKeon.
So I was invited this week to a talk on how “ubiquitous digital is changing the nature of scholarship”. Now at a level, there was an element of “Gee Sherlock, you say?!”, but once that moment passes, it’s worth dwelling on the real changes we’ll see as the power and scope of digital envelop our world. Let’s consider a few example situations for context.
• Observers of the media industry have been calling technology driven change in how we consume news for almost two decades. That’s happening. The Reuters Oxford Digital News Report for 2014 reports “a quickening of the pace towards social and mobile news... and significant growth in video news consumption online with 52% of Irish consumers accessing news via a smartphone”
• In cities all over the world organisations and applications like Hailo, Uber and Car2Go are changing the way that we think about moving around and accessing transport services… and that is before ever we consider the technology of vehicles themselves.
• In sports we see how technology has begun to impact decision making with Rugby World Cup final referee Nigel Owens recently arguing that “You can’t have a Test rugby match anymore without technology to help you make decisions, especially the big decisions, correctly… that’s how the game has gone”
But it's not the big changes that will get us, not the ‘obvious things’ or even the actual primary innovations themselves. Instead it's the knock on effects, the change to familiar little ‘default’ behaviours that will no longer take place naturally, the rituals that will cease. It is about new ways of seeing and or interacting with regular everyday situations; new behaviours that are enabled and/or facilitated by digital communications technology and distributed by social media.
Let’s look at that sports example. Rugby has already embraced technology to adjudicate on scores that are not immediately obvious, cricket likewise – if not more so. Others, including the most widely followed sport in the world – soccer – are slowly coming around to it. Resistance though is futile. The advances in recording, publishing and presentation technology allow for any given sports event to be assessed and analysed in minute detail, instantly, and the results shared in the same timeframe through mobile and social media. If those watching a broadcast can get that intelligence, it is available to any spectator attending an event that carries a smartphone or similar device.
In the same way that the consumer can ‘pay to view’ premium content from a broadcaster it is only a matter of time before the premium seat attendees at a sports event will expect that seat to be bundled with a premium data feed, and in terms of equipping a stadium, the know how is already there.
So if everyone watching the event – either in situ or through a medium – has multiple views from which to analyse it, then it isn’t credible that the person with responsibility for officiating or regulating the event doesn’t. Consequently an element of the unpredictability or spontaneity of sport changes – basically the ref won’t decide, the analyst will! It is not of course the end of the world, but it will be very different.
The point is drawn out to illustrate but looking elsewhere:
- Commuting today is already substantially informed and increasingly influenced by a combination of mapping, real-time information and booking or ride management apps. The dots may take a few decades to join but already one can see a day when it won’t make sense to own a car. Why would you when it is more economical and more effective - time and connectivity wise – to use ‘pay as you go’ transport options.
- In education, the mix between teaching skills and teaching content will inevitably change as ubiquitous computing makes the necessity for anyone to learn off and personally retain content pointless. Instead of just educating to remember given content, there will be a requirement to master core skills in comprehension, articulation and expression, ‘train’ memory and more aggressively develop critical higher order skills to assess, analyse, evaluate and inform judgement. Those requirements will have a transformative effect on teaching with a follow up impact on how we assess and value educational effort.
- Think too of our systems of government where almost every democracy in the world operates to a ‘parliamentary’ model of representation that reflects a 19th century paper-based paradigm, with a concession to digital representations of material that are simply an extension of what has always been rather than a fundamental shift. This is at a time when a much more substantial and representative sample of the population could be mobilised to vote on any given issue at very short notice through an existing mechanic – their digital device. There would no doubt be challenges to manging such a scenario but now that the component parts of the solution are there, so in time will come the change.
And we could go on but now that we know all of these processes ‘could’ happen… so they will and as we default to digital tools, we have to embrace the change, or risk being like the Hem and Haw characters of Spencer Johnson’s fable ‘Who moved my cheese?’
So in considering the changes that digital will bring to your world, stop thinking about the ‘big’ changes and the changes at the ‘front end’. Focus instead on the cumulative effect of the many small changes and the effect on our interaction with what happens as a result. When we meet in Cong let’s see what picture of our everyday digitally enabled future we can piece together… and lets huddle to see what effect the changes we see in different areas of life have on each other; let’s explore what changes will in themselves impact on changes?
Then, in the year of the 150th anniversary of his birth, we can determine if there is a need to borrow from the poet Yeats and declare that, indeed, “a terrible beauty” is being born