Punk, Queen & New Romantics in digital scholarship

It may be tired after the whole edupunk thing (curses to you Groom!), and has more than a whiff of old men reliving their youth about it, but nevertheless I'd like to revisit punk music as an analogy for current changes in ed tech. This time it is nothing to do with the approach or the values, but rather the lesson of what a revolution actually look like.

In his book From Gutenberg to Zuckerberg, John Naughton makes the point that we are living through the midst of a revolution, and it's very difficult to see what the outcome will be. While I think that digital, networked and open approaches to scholarship do represent a revolution, I think we also tend to over simplify what this means. John makes this point also.

There is a tendency to think of revolutions as absolutes: pre and post. Everything that has gone before is swept away and everything that happens since is cast in the new light.

But for many revolutions this isn't the case. The actual picture is far more subtle, and interesting. I was reflecting on this the other day with regards to my own musical tastes and history. My musical tastes really started emerging in the immediate post-punk era, and this coloured everything for me. So my early album purchases were The Jam, Clash and later Echo and the Bunnymen, The Teardrop Explodes. I inherited a completely dismissive attitude towards anything pre-1976. I scoffed at prog rock, folk and metal.

This wasn't actually a bad attitude to have as a teenager, you're meant to have strong tastes. But it did mean it took me longer than it should have done to come round to bands like Led Zeppelin, or Nick Drake.

But the lesson is, for many people my age punk was a defining revolution in music. But it wasn't as all encompassing as history may have painted it. I had plenty of friends whose musical tastes remained largely untouched. Queen, Iron Maiden, Luther Vandross – punk had no impact here.

And I had yet other friends who didn't think they liked punk, but went on to become new romantics (it was a confused time). And while that music had different values, it was a 'scene' that was undoubtedly influenced by the possibilities that punk had awoken in people.

Now this isn't just a nostalgia trip – there is an analogy here with digital scholarship, and what revolutions feel like. There are scholars for whom the digital aspect is nearly all consuming – I'm one of them, I simply can't imagine what it's like without working in a networked manner. There are those for whom it is largely irrelevant. Think of them as the Queen fans of scholarship – they have been successful and have a preference for an established way of working. Then there is probably a middle group, whose tastes and practices are touched by the existence of digital scholarship, even if they are not particularly strong advocates. These are the new romantics.

I guess the point is, a revolution changes some things completely, alters some, and has no impact on others, but we tend to focus only on the first of these.

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