Is it time to drop the Digital?

Do you remember when digital photography appeared on the scene? Real photography buffs snickered about the idea of digital photography ever becoming mainstream… the images were too small, the number of megapixels was ridiculously low, and the images were, well, horrible. It’ll never take off, they said.

Sony MavicaI guess it was about 1995 or so that the school I at which I was teaching managed to get hold of our first digital camera. It was an Apple QuickTake 100 camera. It could hold eight images if you shot them at full quality (640 x 480!) although if you stepped down the resolution to 320 x 240 you could fit a whole 32 images. It was a novelty, and definitely a sign of things to come, but the images were pretty awful. A little after that, I recall I got the the school to buy a Sony Mavica digital camera.  I recall it clearly because I wrote the submission for a grant to buy it, such was the special, novel nature of ‘digital’ photography. The Mavica FD-5 didn’t use film. It used 3.5″ floppy disks! You inserted a floppy, and there was about a 10 second delay after each photo as it wrote the image data to the disk. If a disk filled up, you just popped a new one in and kept shooting. With a box of floppy disks you could just keep shooting! It was awesome.

As time went on, digital photography got better and better. The first digital camera I owned was a Kodak DX3600. It cost me about $800, shot at a whole 1 megapixel, and I thought it was the coolest thing ever. In hindsight it wasn’t. It took tiny little images that were largely useless for anything other than viewing on a low res computer screen. But at least it wasn’t that old-fashioned sort of photography that required a trip to a store to get a roll of film developed. How primitive! It was a digital camera, and I was doing digital photography. I’m hip.

Today, I have a camera in my phone that takes pretty awesome photos. My iPad has a camera. My computers have webcams. If I’m feeling a little serious about taking some photos I can use my Nikon D80 DSLR. Digital photography is everywhere.

In fact, digital photography is no longer a novelty. If you want to shoot ‘non-digital’ photography you’ll have trouble buying a camera, trouble buying film, and trouble getting it developed. Digital photography is now just normal.

What’s interesting is that I still hear people referring to ‘digital cameras’ and ‘digital photography’. It’s like we’ve been calling it ‘digital photography’ for so long now that, even when there are no realistic ‘non-digital’ options left, we still call it that.

Surely, by now it’s just a ‘camera’, and it’s ok to just call it ‘photography’?

It happens in other places too. Remember when the first analog mobile phones were around and we eventually started the move to digital mobile phones? For a while we called them ‘digital mobile phones’, until eventually we realised that since ALL phones were digital, we didn’t really need to call them that. We dropped the digital and now just call them mobile phones. (Give it a few more years and I guess we’ll just call them phones, since any phone that isn’t mobile will seem quaint and old-fashioned.)

Digital TV, digital radio, digital video recorders, even digital photo frames. Today, they are really just TV, radio, video recorders and photo frames. It’s 2012. Maybe it’s time to drop the ‘digital’ and accept that digital things are just a part of modern life.

But what about ‘Digital culture’? ‘Digital citizenship’? ‘Digital literacies’? ‘Digital storytelling’? These terms get thrown around in education circles with the same degree of novelty that ‘digital cameras’ had back in the mid 90s.

Am I wrong in thinking that ‘digital culture’ is really just ‘culture’ as practised by people living in the here and now? Isn’t ‘digital storytelling’ just storytelling using the tools of our current age? Unless you avoid all forms of technology, doesn’t being literate just assume that you are literate in digital things as well as analog things? And unless you’re living in a bubble of the past, isn’t ‘digital citizenship’ just ‘citizenship’?

As all these things moved into the digital realm over the last decade or two it may have been useful to note their ‘digital-ness’ as a way of reminding ourselves how they were different to what came before. But we are now 12 years into the 21st century. The Internet has been around for 44 years, the personal computer for over 37 years, and the World Wide Web for nearly 20. At what point will the digital nature of the world we live in stop being a novelty?

I wonder if it’s time to drop the ‘digital’ and start accepting that this is just the new normal.

CC BY-SA 4.0 Is it time to drop the Digital? by Chris Betcher is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

5 Replies to “Is it time to drop the Digital?”

  1. Good one Chris. In our analysis of the BYOT scene, we used the term “normalisation of the digital” (my co-author, Mal Lee, is very keen on the definite article). A little like Bob Johnstone’s book “Never mind the laptops” where he found that computers effectively disappeared in a normalised class such as the ones he observed at MLC in Melbourne all those years ago.

    For this reason, I’ve always objected to defining computers as tools.

    When people say “they’re just tools” I infer a very meagre use of something that is actually an environment: your work practices change, your thinking changes, your collaboration processes change, just to name a few.

  2. Yes, Mal certainly loves his definite articles. 🙂

    Yes, as our friend Chris Lehmann is fond of saying, “Technology should be like oxygen in our schools – Ubiquitous, necessary and invisible. Then we need to stop talking about it so much”

  3. I sort of agree with you here Chris, I think I dropped the digital like 6 years ago, maybe it is different up there in NSW.

    Digital will never do black and white as good as a B&W film SLR and yes, you can still get it developed if you don’t have the development kit at home. I loved the whole aspect of doing your own end-to-end photography at high school, creation with your hands, not clicks. You required skill and timing, not Instagram.

    People using iPads to take photo, most dorky looking activity ever holding one of those things up in front to take a photo and then having to jab the screen.

  4. Chris, I couldn’t agree with you more. This was essentially the focus of my Learning 2 sessions in Beijing: when it comes to citizenship, stop creating a false dichotomy between ‘digital’ and ‘real’.

    I’ve also begun to resent anything that starts with “e-” (e-portfolios, e-learning, e-commerce…) for similar reasons. 10 years ago these qualifiers may have increased the ‘sexiness’ of the thing (“Hey, check us out! We’re doing e-portfolios!”) but today it just seems to smack of ‘otherness’.

  5. I definitely agree with you. We don’t need to define things as ‘digital X’. My household rarely uses the term digital other than helping our 4 yr old understand why some clocks differ from others. We don’t have digital cameras – they are cameras. We don’t take digital photos, just photos.
    I think these terms are used by governments and advertisers to promote new products are being advanced technology.

That's all well and good, but what do YOU think?