It is to ponder

Thought 1

Beginning this Graduate program has been a great experience so far. I feel as though I “fit in” to the discipline, and hopefully so with my fellow students even though I am GenX. I’m rather proud to have belonged in the generation with the best music, but it comes with certain technical deficits when entering a contemporary classroom.

When I was in public school, beginning in junior high, educators lumped students intoImage result for computer class 1988 “probably college bound” or “vocational”. There was a lot of snobbery about this, and my sociological mind zooms into the fact that most of the “votech” folks were working to lower middle class and pre-college included the less low middle class. I didn’t have much variety to go on- we went to a working-to-lower school in the district. This was a part of tracking, a practice that has changed in some ways but continues: students who score well by certain guidelines are put into a class together and given material that compliments and challenges their perceived abilities. It’s not effective, of course, because children learn in various ways and some lower performing students would benefit from adapted challenges and socialization with people out of their class (in all senses). But anyway… I was put into pre-college which meant taking algebra and advanced language courses. Those bussed to the Vocational Technical center learned computer programing for automation or designing. This was 1989. By 1992 computer language classes in my district were electives or you could play Jeopardy off a disk in the computer if you were finished with your work, which I never was.

Then came college. I began as an English major and went through several others in the humanities and liberal arts, but never took a computer class. Ever. They began having “foundations” courses a few years after I went through. I learned email in 1993 and telenet for talking to others online, and usenet for finding people outside of my college town who didn’t bore me to death. I was then absorbed into social media platforms of IRC, Yahoo boards, Livejournal, then Facebook and the other marks of the beast. But, no programming. I know absolute fundamental html but no java, no pascal, cobalt (?) etc. I always thought the tech would cater to me and I wouldn’t have to learn anything but how to be a savvy user.

Now, learning digital history, it was suggested in one reading that to present material on one platform you’d have to know Python. Wtf?

I know that when email arrived into homes and PC’s became the new TV’s that Boomers and beyond had some adjustments to make because this was completely new. But, the language necessary was shaped into icons. Save?- click the picture of the floppy disc. Before society started catering to Millennial preferences the market was selling to Gen X and boomers making use as easy as possible but schools were teaching not just how to use but how to program, how to make, and how to really understand. In college and on I would call one of my basement-dwelling tech friends to fix my machine in exchange for a beer. In college now, you not only self-diagnose but students create apps and hack authorities. They are participants in a dialectical relationship much different than the master/slave of the previous era.

Continuing with this deficit is daunting but not insurmountable. Having to do real research and real work after a few decades of narcissistic writing, essays and pondering out loud is equally nerve-wracking. It is just remarkable that in 40 years time, there is this digital explosion and some of us saw it fall, see the fallout, while others have the right suits and are able to go on about life, as usual, eschewing the debris and collecting what they can use for themselves.

 

Digital Divisions and Elevations

In reading the article “Interchange: The Promise of            Digital History “, Dr. Kirsten Sword mentioned avoiding another “digital divide” in a discussion about the use of advanced technology for public history when focused on specialized practitioners rather than generalists throughout the field. As someone trained in Sociology as well, this made my ears perk up like a fennec fox.

One reason history found itself in a paradigm shift in the mid 20th century was because there was a perception, not unfounded, that history was suited for an academic or intellectual, social elite. It was in museums and books away from accessible common spaces, save libraries. So the aim was to release history into a wider, farther reaching audience with more of a democratic sensibility. But yet I wonder if we now contend with the digital divide?

The Pew Research Center follows the use and dissemination of technology, breaking it into demographic ranges. Lee Rainie from the center presented on the current snapshot of the digital divide as it relates to age, income, and race in 2016 and there has been a great improvement in household access to the internet since the seeming “stone age” of 1999 and even 2010. Yet, some groups still have greater access than others. I think about the aim of public history to reach and engage, and I wonder about the dismally funded school systems who, without the deliberate consideration of their plight, could not provide educational tools to expose and educate children. The positive side of the report is that the 18 and younger crowd is the most “connected”. But, what they focus their eyeballs on is another issue altogether.

I firmly agree that all historians should now acquaint themselves, if not master, current and emerging technologies in order to study and interpret data while sharing and presenting research in farther reaching, more meaningful ways than the more elitist past. However, we really need to consider the most common or typical level of technical useage rather that can translate or be manipulated for more sophisticated innovation when it then becomes most accessible. Public spaces such as a well funded museum might be able to host a virtual-reality history exhibit, but that experience fulfills the goals of a humanist project by also providing a comparable experience in common technologies such as an app or 360-degree photography on a website.

I am relieved that the digital divide is closing, but we still have the hurdle of how sophisticated the experience can be, and how fruitful, once we’re on the highway.