As 2020 kicks in, it’s not hard to find expressions of toxicity in the digital wonderland. Audrey Watters’s epic “100 Worst Ed-Tech Debacles of the Decade”, is a lot to digest even for longtime readers of her work. But if you haven’t read it… damn it, go. Now. And just yesterday, Google’s former Head of International Relations wrote the latest damning account, one which illustrates “‘Don’t be evil’ [is] no longer a true reflection of the company’s values.”
Even as this blog spiraled into grievous neglect, I managed to post my own accounts of just how dark things had gotten. And those talks generally found many agreeable listeners who were ready to accept that digital tech had gone off the rails. But people also quite reasonably wanted to discuss what could be done in response. That wasn’t so easy to answer, but amidst my stammering I usually pointed to (among other encouraging works) Middlebury’s excellent annual Digital Detoxes. I thought their 2018 focus on mostly practical approaches and 2019’s more critical investigations were both examples of ed tech practice at its best, and I never tired of pointing people to them, and to repeatedly diving into the deep pool of goodies myself.
So when our relatively new eLearning Coordinator Brenna Clarke Gray announced in a planning meeting a couple months back that she wanted to lead a Digital Detox at TRU, I recall that my reaction was an involuntary whoop of delight.
The goal of this Digital Detox is not abstinence — after all, we’re sending you emails and asking you to access a blog — but instead the goal is to think about how we can detoxify our relationship to the digital, especially in the context of education. Because for most of us, the relationship is a toxic one by design — inequities, failures of ethics, and exclusion are baked in to many of the technologies we reach for, whether as users, as teachers, as students, or as engaged citizens. Over the month of January, we’re going to lay out the a range of the problems and also offer meaningful solutions to them, or at least ask you to reconsider some of the assumptions you make about how our digital world works, both on campus and off.
All it takes to sign up is to post an email address on the form.
Speaking for myself, I intend to participate with the TRU Digital Detox here on the Abject, as well as amplify activity over on the OpenETC site (which we intend to make more bloggy in 2020).
And I intend to combine that with my own participation with Middlebury’s 2020 Digital Detox, on the theme of attention in the digital attention economy. From what I have seen of what Brenna is planning I expect that the two paths will converge beautifully.
I’m not quite ready to cash in my hard-earned Doommonger badge just yet, but I am ready to have some fun and pitch in to try to build something better.