Digital habits

You would have had to been living under a rock for a long time to have missed the ongoing and ever accelerating improvements in all things digital. How we deal with these developments can be tricky. The use of the Internet to promote and share ideas, data and analyses is now commonplace. There are now many who share the view expressed by Joi Ito1 in an interview2 for Wired:

In the old days, being relevant was writing academic papers. Today, if people can't find you on the internet, if they're not talking about you in Rwanda, you're irrelevant.

Being visible or drawing attention to your work is one aspect of making use of the digital in academic practice. All up there are probably four broad categories of work: searching, curating, producing and attracting attention.

In these practices, it is easy to assume that all we are doing is doing what we have always done but doing it more efficiently and faster. To a point that is the case, but the moment a digital anything is introduced into a practice, the practice changes. While it is reassuring to do as McLuhan suggests and march backwards into the future, using analogies of the past3 to think about the new medium in which we now work in this way is both dangerous and limiting.

The other aspect of the impact of the digital is the emergence of new methods of doing research in the social sciences. These practices go under various labels like computational social science, the adjective digital attached to the label of a field, i.e. digital anthropology. What this can mean varies considerably.

A useful essay by Michael Nielsen maps the rise of computer supported explanation.

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