Characteristics of digital technologies


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I am doing a talk here at Bath Spa University to the librarians tomorrow morning and have been working on my slides. I plan to give an overview of digital technologies before describing my research around three phases of the evolution of technologies over the last thirty years or so: multimedia and the Internet, no rx social media and Learning Design. It got me thinking about the characteristics of digital technologies. I brainstormed some ideas, put them together as a diagram and posted on fb and Twitter and invited others to add to. I was surprised by the amount of responses.

The positive characteristics of digital technologies include:

  • Across devices – now it is possible to access content across multiple devices, particularly through cloud services
  • Mobile – the emergence of mobile devices in recent years means it is now possible to be online anywhere, anytime
  • Dynamic – we constantly co-evolve with technologies, as we start to incorporate particular tools into our daily practices, a recent example for me was the use of the curation tool, pearltrees, which I am finding invaluable
  • Personalised – each of us has a different set of tools we use on a regular basis, making up our own personalised digital environment, for me this includes email (of course), fb, Twitter, Skype, etc.
  • Connected – we are now part of a global community of peers, through social networking sites such as fb, Twitter and LinkedIn
  • Ubiquitous  - now more than ever almost everywhere has wifi, so we can be constantly online, even the number 38 bus to Bristol has wifi!
  • Global – there are no longer national boundaries, it is possible to easily connect with people around the globe
  • Robust – most devices are pretty robust and reliable these days, it is rare for them to go wrong
  • Interactive – a key characteristic of social media in particular is that they are interactive, the web is no longer a passive consumption space, but an interactive two-way space
  • Intuitive – it is rare for a site to be badly design, most sites and Apps these days are pretty intuitive, if they are not then people will not use them
  • Free – there are now many free resources and Apps online, such as Open Educational Resources and Massive Open Online Courses, although it is worth pointing out that nothing is entirely free, they may for example have irritating adverts associated with them, or you may need to pay for a premium version of the service
  • Open – a key characteristic of social and participatory media is that they are open, making interactions more visible and promoting digital scholarship.

The negative aspects or challenges of digital technologies include:

  • Battery life – whilst iPads tend to have a good battery life, some smart phones, such as the iPhone 5 have dreadful batteries, meaning that you are constantly searching for a plug socket
  • Insecure – many sites and Apps are not secure and may even sell on your data
  • Privacy – adopting more open practice comes with a price and raises significant privacy issues
  • Accessibility – many sites are not well designed and take no account of the needs of those users with accessibility issues, for example by making alternative text available for images or videos
  • Quantity – the Internet now has a vast amount of information, however the sheer size means it can be difficult to find things
  • Intrusive – communication via the variety of channels available online, means that we are connected 24/7, many are calling for the concept of ‘slow learning’ the equivalent of the ‘slow cooking’ movement
  • Quality – the quality of resources varies enormously, learners and teachers need appropriate digital literacy skills to assess the validity and relevance of different resources
  • Time consuming – participating in social media has many benefits, but is also very time consuming
  • Trivial – whilst there is a lot of valuable information on the Internet there is also a lot of trivia and noise, filtering these out to get to relevant information is a challenge
  • Training – navigating digital technologies and harnessing their affordances is a skill, learners and teachers need training and support on how to use them most effectively
  • Cost – whilst many resources and tools appear ‘free’ there is usually a cost, whether that is in advertising or via the device used to access them
  • Unreliable – sometimes Apps or websites crash or get hacked
  • Transitory – sites are constantly developing and adapting, you just get used to a site or interface and suddenly it changes
  • Connectivity – whilst it is true that we have near ubiquitous access, this means that when we are not connected there are problems. I was in India a few years ago and the wifi wasn’t very good, a colleague texted me and said ‘Are you dead? You haven’t been online for three days!’

So there you have it, an interesting list, no doubt there are more things I could add. As always there are two sides to everything, digital technologies offer us access to rich multimedia and provide us with a variety of channels to communicate and collaborate with others, they have many advantages, but also have associated risks and challenges.







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