Audrey Watters - Attending to the Digital

The transcript from a presentation by Audrey Watters at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey, California. She was invited to talk about digital discourse as part of their launch of a domain-of-ones-own initiative. What a fantastic way to launch such a thing1. Read the entire thing.

Building on Postman, Chaucer, Caulfield. Nice.

In part, I find that those who want to dismiss such a thing as “digital distraction” tend to minimize the very real impact that new technologies do have on what we see, what we pay attention to. It’s right there in that phrase – “pay attention.” Attention has costs. It is a resource – one involving time and energy, a resource of which we only have a limited amount. Attention has become a commodity, with different companies and technologies bidding for a piece of it.

Audrey also touches on “reclaiming the web” - pointing out, rightly, that reclaiming isn’t about nostalgia or romanticizing a pristine past. It’s about reclaiming a voice. Restoring some of the individual control that has been so thoroughly trampled by large corporate platforms that have claimed to own so much of modern communication.

I want to turn here, to close, to the second part of my title - a phrase I haven’t referred to yet: “reclaiming the Web.” I want to invoke the speaker’s prerogative to change the title of my talk here as I come to its conclusion. I’ve used the word “reclaim” a lot in my work. I’ve done so in part because the word does mean to bring back. Reclamation is to reassert, to protest, to heal, to restore. But again, I don’t really believe the tale that the Web was once something pristine that we must rescue and convert from wasteland. Yes, we need to engage in a reclamation. But it’s not the Web per se that we must rebuild. It’s broader and deeper than that. Broader and deeper than technology. Broader and deeper than “the digital.”

If there’s something to reclaim – or for many voices, to get to claim for the very first time – it is public discourse. It is, I hope, one that rests on a technological commons. I think we start towards that commons by thinking very carefully, by thinking very slowly and deeply, by cultivating very lovingly our spaces and places and own domains.

Source: Attending to the Digital

  1. I’ve got to find a way to bring her to UCalgary… ↩︎

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