Yesterday at Blast Theory’s ACT Otherwise workshop I dropped the term post-digital in the middle of a set of deliberate provocations. It’s a term that has drifted occasionally around the DCRC over the last year, and seems to be in the process of Arriving. My arguments have been that digital cultural research (which the centre does) should all now be contextualised as post-digital research.
So what do I mean by post-digital? Because just like post-structuralism and post-modernism it is easy to get caught up in the concept of it being reactionary or negative as opposed to developmental. I’m also not entirely sure I mean one thing by it myself.
My simplest explanation however, now that I’ve had a little time to think about it, is that post-digital is when the categories of digital and non-digital become meaningless. There is a point where the two so thoroughly infuse each other that they are not two separate domains. I.e. that there is no sense in talking about digital media and non-digital media when they are all now just media. Digital production techniques so thoroughly infuse what might be seen as traditional media, that it is not the same anymore. The digital is now already there, not becoming, and false binaries keep us in the past, if they even ever existed as clear dualities. And this extends to cover synonymous debates such as virtual vs real or online vs physical. These are all already hybridised.
When I dropped this concept of the post-digital yesterday Andy Field did a nice little example/summary of post-digital when talking about how the nature of reading a book has changed. And I’m paraphrasing his words in my language, because it is not that books have physically changed, but that they’ve managed to stay a (meta)stable form in a network of changing production and consumption technologies. But I think some of the reaction to the concept of going post-digital are common in foregrounding the digital as a simple transformational force. People get stuck and struck with the sheer wonder of the changes “Did you know that digital/technology has fundamentally changed X?” And the answer is yes and…? How do we get on with stopping marvelling at the fact that it is changing things and work out what we do with that?
Matt Locke’s talk after mine was about post-digital attention. It wonderfully charted that pre to post trajectory and did end up asking that question of “what next?” His central argument is that contemporary technologies now allow content producers to experience the attention of their audiences. But he doesn’t end there, he asks, in a beautifully embodied way, “What does that feel like?” and “How does that change the practice of producing worK?”
I co-opted and twisted Matt Adam’s metaphor (or maybe it was a challenge) about technology development as an explosion that has already happened, and said that I thought technology had exploded, taking it beyond the sense of explosion as growth to explosion as blown apart. And I still like that, it has exploded and the little pieces are everywhere, embedded in the quotidian. It is time to stop being awed by the explosion and look at the fragments.