Digital representation and realness. And Charlie and the chocolate factory.

Hearing the name “Foucault”  in the first DITA lecture gave me the warm fuzzies, as  a while ago I did a post grad diploma in post-structural feminist theory.  I still takes me forever to crack Foucault’s code and figure out what he’s on about (I finished that degree 12 years ago and haven’t picked up a text book since – apart from to shelve it of course), but it’s always a worthwhile process. The concept of the panopticon still frightens me, and I find it interesting that at Birkbeck where I work, they now use lecture capture technology called…panopto…

Ernesto commented in the first DITA lecture than when we digitise a thing it’s as though we atomise it, with the bits coming together as a digital representation of the “thing” on the computer screen. So one of the first things I found myself thinking about in DITA was Mike Teavee in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Desperate to get “on” the TV he is shrunk by a ray and “atomised”, before appearing on/in the television screen.  And of course when he is comes out of the TV, he remains tiny.

This explained a lot to me as a child, how else, after all, did things appear on TV? It was one of those taken-for-granted technologies, just like “the Cloud” is today. (Has anyone else noticed then when most people talk about the Cloud they seem always to look up at the sky and wave their hands about vaguely? If only Roald Dahl was still around to explain it all to us).

The concept of the “realness” of digital representation interests me.  At Birkbeck Library, for example, when we order an article as an inter-library loan from the British Library, it will come as a Secure Electronic Delivery (SED) which is a link that can only be opened once.  The life cycle of this SED is this: the British Library scans an article from the hard copy of one of their books.  They email it as an SED to Birkbeck Library. Birkbeck then opens the file and prints it out again, before re-scanning it, turning it once again into a digital file. The link to this file then gets added to a reading list in a Moodle module.  The student then, more often than not, clicks the link in Moodle and prints the article again, I suppose for ease of reading.  If the article was Mike Teavee it would be absolutely miniscule at the end of this process.

The reason for all the palavar, is, of course, copyright, wherein the restrictions don’t seem to have caught up with the digital age.  The BL doesn’t want Birkbeck to willy nilly distribute the article online, however, printed versions can be photocopied to death, as has been the case for years.  Somehow the digital is more dangerous? And for the student, the printed copy more tangible?

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Update to this post: the UK Government has actually made reforms to copyright low specifically to reflect the digital age: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/new-exceptions-to-copyright-reflect-digital-age.  Of particular interest to me is the way in which these changes have opened the options up for disabled students, as now any students with a disability are legally allowed to modify texts in order to improve accessiblity.