Warning – this post is a desperate attempt to combine all my interests in one posting.
I took part in my first half-marathon on Sunday (Cardiff, naturally). Like many runners I have come to it relatively late in life (I started last year in earnest). One of the many things I like about running is its very democratic nature. It really is a sport for everyone. All you need is a pair of trainers (in theory that is, I also find an ipod, GPS tracker and hi tech fabrics essential also, so I resemble some form of cyborg, but these are really just luxuries). It encompasses all manner of ability, ages, backgrounds and motivations.
It struck me that this notion of democratisation is something of an underlying theme in my interests, almost by accident. I work at the Open University, the aim of which was to democratise higher education. I was part of the team responsible for the OU course, T171 You your computer and the Net in 1999, which had around 15,000 students and arguably did a lot to open up understanding of the internet. Next week I am giving a keynote in Barcelona entitled ‘VLEs and the democratisation of e-learning’, in which I will argue that although VLEs are not the most exciting or innovative technology around, they have done a lot to democratise e-learning for many academics, in the same way that Microsoft products are often not the best, but the end-result is that they have brought computing to a much wider audience.
However, I think I am guilty of a lazy shorthand here, whereby I drop the word ‘democratisation’, with the assumption that it is necessarily a good thing. This is not so – one could view terrorism for example as the democratisation of warfare. Some things are not, or should not, be susceptible to democratisation – talent is a good example. The plethora of reality TV shows (such as X-Factor, Pop Idol, Big Brother etc) can be presented as a democratisation of talent, or celebrity. But they rarely produce anything of quality. Talent, is by its nature, exclusive and undemocratic.