Last week along with some colleagues I was shown this Microsoft promotional video of the, not too distant, future.
You’ll probably have seen several similar things. It’s full of lovely shiny, images and lots of swooshy-ness with images and “stuff” moving seamlessly from walls to watches to tablets to shared boards. Now whilst I put my hands up to liking a nice bit of shiny swooshy-ness as much as the next geek, these types of videos always make me slightly uneasy, and do bring out my inner dystopian fears about the role of technology in the future.
Although full of shiny, happy people I can’t help but want to scream “who is in control? how is this all paid for? ” They all seem to be working with – aka moving stuff around on various devices/surfaces – and contributing ( in very small ways) to just one set of data. Everything is coming from and going to the one place. And of course in this case, it’s Microsoft.
They are not alone, every technology company has a similar videos and visions. In terms of education shouldn’t we be creating videos that show our students and staff working with and contributing to multiple data sets? Making decisions about what data to use and how to analyse and present it? Ensuring that we are creating shiny, swooshy stuff that everyone can benefit from? This video and others like it seem to be alluding to a very digitally passive future.
The day after seeing the video I was still thinking about it as my day unfolded. I was going to Edinburgh to the Jisc Learning Analytics Network meeting. My day started with a Skype call which I took on my phone as I walked to the station. As I was buying my ticked, holding my bag, trying to get my card in and out of the machine whilst muting and un-muting my phone, I couldn’t help thinking that a few of those contactless, swooshy features would have been very handy.
Once on the train I thought I would check my slides for my presentation. Obviously I had them stored in the cloud. However the free wifi on the train was a bit slow to get onto and actually wouldn’t let me look at anything as image heavy as my Haiku deck slides. I had also forgotten my phone charger so after the Skype call my battery was a bit low so I didn’t want to use it all up on the train. Again in the future tech video power seems unlimtedless wherever you are, be that underwater, in the jungle, in Shiny Towers, power is limitless. Even if I had remembered my phone charger there weren’t any power points in my train carriage.
When I got to the Jisc meeting – the train was late but I tweeted I was on my way to the organisers – I got online instantly via eduroam, listened, tweeted, did my presentation (from the backup copy on my data stick), retweeted a link to it and by the end of the day over 200 people had viewed it.
After the meeting I met an old friend and had some posh cocktails in a swanky bar, so of course pictures were shared via Instagram. There were a few quite funny comments which I was able to respond to on my way home on the train as my phone battery slipped further and further into the red.
My day wasn’t quite as shiny as the video, but there were shiny elements to it. But more importantly to me, was it as passive? I hope not, but I am not so sure. As well as having very useful face to face conversations, which will be very helpful in terms of things we are planning to do at work, I also had several useful exchanges via twitter both with people in the room and further afield. The constant thing throughout the day though was connectivity (or lack of) and communication. Was I though just moving things around like in the video?
As we march to our seemingly inevitable digital future and developing digital strategies and universities (whatever ‘digital’ in those context actually means), I do fear we may be creating new forms of digital passivity disguised by seemingly meaningful connectivity and communication. Is digital passivity our future?