UAlberta gets the world talking about digital culture
Geoffrey Rockwell, director of UAlberta's Kule Institute for Advanced Study, talks about the 24-hour Around the World Symposium the institute is hosting online.
(Edmonton) The Internet and digital technologies are driving some of the most profound changes in human history. That makes it hard for many people to imagine living without the Internet—but also makes it hard to keep up with the “digital culture” it breeds.
Today, a mirror is being held up to that culture through a non-stop, online Around the World Symposium on Technology and Culture, organized by the University of Alberta’s Kule Institute for Advanced Study. The symposium, which is being live-streamed over 24 hours and will be made available afterward, features speakers from countries including Brazil, Ireland and Japan, along with several Canadian scholars.
Institute director Geoffrey Rockwell says studying digital culture is also a study of ourselves and how we are changing—and that by questioning information technology and culture, we’re asking questions about what it means to be human in this century. These questions drive digital humanities, a new academic field that Rockwell says researchers at the U of A have been contributing to and leading for more than a decade.
“This symposium is part of a response to the question we’re asking here at the Kule Institute, which is how can we use new media to further excellence in research. We’re not just studying it, but also using it to further research,” Rockwell says. “The very design of the symposium is itself an aspect of digital culture. In some ways, we’re trying to model how people from around the world can interact. We’ve got some of the best computer and network support for a faculty of arts that I know of in the world. And we’re one of the best places in the world to study digital arts and humanities.”
Unlike traditional research efforts, the Around the World symposium creates a space for a much more interesting and broader global dialogue—an essential step if the world is to understand the profound changes to societies that are informed by technology, Rockwell says.
“We’re using digital culture as a coat-hanger and letting people address that subject however they wish. But it’s been the experience of many people that all sorts of aspects of their everyday life and culture have been transformed by computing and networking,” he says. “There’s this feeling not only that it is changing lives, but also that it keeps on changing faster and faster; just when I learn how to blog, here comes Twitter and blogs are so yesterday.”
The virtual conference is also a way of understanding the experiences of people who live in industrialized cities such as Tokyo, Japan, and those in villages in countries like Uganda. The digital culture is unlike subject-specific silo academic pursuits; it’s everywhere, but it is also different in different regions. Rockwell says it could be an environmentally sustainable forum for global dialogue.
“We really have to come up with alternative forms of dialogue that do not involve putting bodies in planes in order to have a conversation. There’s a place for face-to-face meetings, but we need alternatives. And here at the U of A, the Kule Institute intends to be one of the outfits that experiments with these alternatives. My hope is that this becomes a model that others can use.”