digital implications,  edtech

The Golden/Dark Age of what?

24/52 Dominoes (Explore)

One of the rewarding things about being in ed tech is that because it’s very fast moving you get to act all wise with very little experience. I mean, I started in this in 1995, I’ve been through interactive CD-ROM, electronic tutor groups, intelligent tutoring systems, elearning, VLEs, virtual worlds, elearning standards and metadata, learning objects, personalised learning, OER, blogging, web 2.0, PLEs, MOOCs, intelligent tutoring systems (again), open textbooks, personalised learning (again), learning analytics, and a whole bunch more. To do the same in another discipline I’d have to be approximately 250 years old.

When I reflect on this I’m struck by two sides of the same notion: we don’t realise often the implications of where we are currently (which is not to say people don’t like to try predictions, ed tech is full of futuroligists). An example is that, like many people, I passed my tenth anniversary on Twitter this year. Half jokingly, but also with a tone of regret we bemoan how friendly, open, exciting twitter was in those early days. Remember the first time you met someone face to face who you’d only known on twitter? Sava Singh rightly points out that being able to moan about how Twitter isn’t as good as it used to be is a form of privilege. But even accepting this, it is definitely a different type of place now. Similarly, people often talk about the ‘golden age of blogging’ as if was in the fifteenth century and not around 2006.

Which led me to think, what might we look back on in ten years time and consider 2017 the Golden Age of? Not much comes to mind, but perhaps it is the start of a social awareness around the power of online media, after the shitstorm of 2016, the acceptance that this is not peripheral anymore and thus a critical perspective that goes beyond “Use it/Don’t Use it”. Or maybe it’s just the Golden Age of Instagram, which I still kinda like as a social space.

The flip side of this is, what are the negative aspects that might spread out? There has always been unpleasant corners of the internet – some of these remain very unpleasant, but confined to those who seek them out. Others spread beyond their community of nastiness and infect society as a whole. The alt-right, gamergate, 4Chan pits are an example of this – people such as Audrey Watters warned us that this behaviour wasn’t confined to just a group of spiteful nerds, and she was right. Trump is the end game of all that behaviour and it doesn’t get much bigger at expanding beyond your chatroom than that. So if we are in an unrecognised Golden Age of something, we are also probably in the early phases of the next major social problem (although to be fair, most of them seem pretty much out in the open now). Islamic extremism, alt-right – these bubbled away in dark corners of the net for years and then spread into everyday life. What’s the next candidate?

Of course, I’m also wise enough now not to have any answers to these questions, but simply to pose them to you.


  • Alan Levine


    No, in ten years they will be talking about MOOCs being ready for prime time.

    Did I say MOOCs?

    Oh, good luck in 2027 even finding the photo you took today Instagram. Unless your old fingers are good at long scrolling.

    See ya in a decade…

  • Sheila MacNeill

    Good post Martin, got me thinking which is always dangerous. Maybe this isn’t a golden age at all and maybe we should be content with that and concentrate of the now, not the future maybes. History is almost instant now – and I fear we are losing sight of the need for history criticality and distance. I think “we” are a bit obsessed with creating our own history. I always think of Tony Blair and Iraq – he had his “historical” war situation room photos published as soon Saddam was caught. I know that history is “written by the winners” and that social media, web 2 etc is changing that to an extent – its still the WASPS that have the loudest voice. Maybe what we in the edtech community can do is just keep doing our research, do more ethnograhpy and share our findings so that in 10, 20, 50 and beyond the researchers of the future can decide if this was a golden age of anything

    • mweller

      I think you’ve gone deeper than I intended Sheila 🙂 I agree with this, particularly the who gets to write history part. It was more of a note to self, on an individual level to recognise things that are pretty good (or potentially very bad) right now.

  • Amber Dumbleton-Thomas

    Only just read this, late to the party.

    So I think we might be in the last days of the world wide wide web. Cross-browser and network-neutral access to websites is in its death throes.

    We will get what we subscribe to, so most of us will get appleworld, facebookworld or android/googleworld, or even cutpricebreitbartclickbaitworld.

    But even then the filter bubble will strongly skew what we find, however cleverly we search. Wikipedia will only be on Google/android world.

    Ultimately, knowledge will fracture again into ideological silos. The last centuries of mass literacy and easy access to libraries will be a blip and we’ll descend into post-knowledge relativism.

    Oh joy.

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