Big Digital Society, I Think Not

OliverTwistThe future is here, it’s just being denied to the majority of people. The last time I put fingers to keyboard I tried to argue the case for rethinking our ideas of digital inclusion. This was not because a great deal of what happens in the fields of digital literacy and inclusion isn’t good. This was because there is a tendancy to assume that it’s job done and one size of solution will really fit all; so let’s move on. I argued that some of the current trends in innovation and in health and social care would lead to an even greater digital divide because current digital inclusion thinking would not address the long tail of deep exclusion.

There have been a couple of articles this week which do nothing to make me feel any less concerned that we are failing to address the fundemental need for a knowledge society so that the benefits are there for everybody and not just the few.

A piece in The Guardian by Sarah Knight from JISC and signposted by Joe Wilson (@joecar) who is Head of New Ventures in Glasgow, highlighted the impact of poor digital literacy skills amongst both students and academic staff. While JISC seeks to mitigate this it doesn’t bode well for the digital natives theory. For me it highlights the limitations of an office skills IT curriculum rather than a knowledge management curriculum.

The MIT Technology Review carried a piece called “Techtonic Shifts in Employment” by David Talbot and signposted by Richard Florida (@richard_florida) who describes himself as a Global Urbanist; this piece describes how the impact of technology is superceding jobs in what was once perceived as the secure, middle management/clerical white collar sector and the skills and understanding required to create new jobs and to innovate on the basis of the newly aquired digital skills was not there – yet? – . Given the implications of the Guardian piece it might suggest that a policy shift was overdue to redress the balance; not so.

The final piece by Tristram Shepard on his “All Change Please” blog  signposted by Mike Bostock (@mike_bostock) who works in Education Leadership Development, highlights the shift in the National Curriculum away from Information Technology and Design Technology to more “traditional” subjects. Why? At a time when there are concerns about the use of IT in the higher education sector, when the shift in employment trends demands a grasp of knowledge based tools why do we see a shift towards traditional subjects?

The conspiracy theorists could have a field day; the current government doesn’t want a knowledge society and it certainly doesn’t want the democratising potential of IT to be realised. I’m not a conspiracy nerd and would take a much less charitable view that the current government doesn’t even understand what it required; their view of a Big Society is rooted in the 19th Century Victorian ideals of a benign ruling class who oversee the welfare of the masses. This is a view that will lead to the increasing inequality of our society, we may be able to shop online and watch reruns of Strictly but we will not be empowered to make a difference to our own lives.

So what should we be doing? Our policy thinking should be more systemic so that we understand more of the influences that are shaping our society. We should be more iterative in our approach and move away from the tick box mentality that has been a feature both of the last government and this one; the job is not done, do not pass go, do not collect your OBE; it is not yet time to buy the hat. Understand that short term mitigation is not a long term solution; the policy choices appear to be driven by right wing tabloids, bankers and property developers.

I don’t share the current obsession with doing things like the Americans. The only time I look towards the United States is when I think about “We the people”; these three words should be the default starting point for policy and not we the industrialists, we the editors or we the financial institutions. In a world that is increasingly digital by default the democratising potential of ICT will not be realised unless the policy default become people based; everything else is just a means and not an end in itself.


One thought on “Big Digital Society, I Think Not

  1. I think the government people think big society is a good idea. The little people think big society is a good idea. It is a good idea.
    But that is as far as it goes.
    The government people are too tied into tickboxes and ‘procedures’ and rules and regulations to ever practice what they preach.
    The little people think, ‘o great, lets do something, we can get the help of local councils who want to build a big society’
    but when it comes down to it the councils don’t find the grassroots ideas fit the right tickboxes.
    If we want a big society all we need is a big dose of common sense, a bit more JFDI spirit, or Dunkirk spirit as it used to be known and we need to stop pratting about listening to the wrong people and listen to those on the forest floor.
    The monkeys at the top of the tree look down on us little monkeys at ground level.

    But we look up and what do we see?
    (starts with A.)

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