Seamlessly integrated or disconnected and disrupted?

Conected to the network

Connected to the network?

At a provocative presentation about bionics and prosthetics a question was posed to the panel regarding human-machine symbiosis – ‘Could your brain be hacked when molecular scale RFID penetrates the skull?’  This simple question highlights our everyday experience of technologies being disrupted and breaking down. We are so familiar with stories of hacking and disconnection that we understandably question whether our minds are hackable; despite being part of a 21c hyperconnected society, our daily encounters with the network can be fractured and messy. We have become used to anticipating the possibility of rupture, hacking, and disconnection.

The ‘seamless integration’ of digital technologies, so often espoused by tech marketing teams, in practice fails to appear.  Yet the messiness can often lead to moments of insight and valuable reminders.

In a recent session with students, about exploring social media tools as part of their research, a number of everyday issues occurred, including:

  1. Forgotten passwords
  2. Wireless signal unavailable
  3. Aspect ratios of screen content differed hence some interfaces were only partially displayed.

Despite this  familiar disruption, by the end of the session the goals were achieved including all of the students becoming connected to the university’s blogging platform – helped, in part, by using their personal devices.

Facebook images

Series of Facebook images

However, this session also raised an issue worth noting:

A general assumption that ‘all students are on Facebook, so they are digitally literate’ is unfounded, and educators need to keep abreast of the evolving relationships that students have with, and through, digital technologies.  For example, one student has made a political decision not to engage with Facebook, so when the rest of the class were undertaking a group project and using Facebook as their shared communication tool, this student relied on one of her cohort to email ‘important information’.  Here we have a situation where one student is relying on another to make value judgements about what is, or is not, important.

As educators a key question we must ask ourselves is How do we ensure that students are not disconnected through the use of social media?

In addition, we should question what we really mean by students being ‘digitally literate’. There have been a number of research studies exploring young people’s use of digital technologies.  Frequently the supposition is rejected that students are digitally literate just because they regularly access websites and communicate online.

many young people are not careful, discerning users of the internet. They are unable to recognize bias and propaganda and will not go to a varied number of sources.

Bartlett, J. & Miller, C. 2011

There is ongoing discussion at the university about what digital literacy means within arts and design higher education, and ways for the university community be part of conversations are being explored. Contact Chris Follows to discuss how you can participate and help shape the understanding of digital literacy at the university.

Within the messy network we must remember that neither technologies nor people are ‘seamlessly integrated’.


UAL blogging platform

UAL DIAL project

Jamie Bartlett

Carl Miller