The power of three

Three boats

I’ve just finished the pre-semester reading (Critical Education and Digital Cultures, by Jeremy Knox, in Springer’s 2015 Encyclopaedia of Educational Philosophy and Theory).  It’s a short piece introducing the main themes of a ‘digital cultures’ approach. Knox proposes that these approaches provide a critical lens by which to view – I barely know how to describe it – the history of the Internet and Internet usage. So in this three-stage history, ‘cybercultures’ refer to the early days, when the Internet was other and radical; ‘community cultures’ concerns the social bit, communications and participation, and what back in the day we used to call Web 2.0; and ‘algorithmic cultures’ is where we are now, with powerful non-human algorithms influencing our behaviour and decisions and causing all kinds of ethical dilemmas.

My thoughts are jumbled, but I’m struck by several things. I’m wondering what digital cultures’ approaches think will happen next; I’m assuming (possibly wrongly) that it isn’t just a means of thinking critically about what happened in the past, or where we are now. How can digital cultures’ approaches drive our thinking forward? What can these approaches tell us about what might replace algorithmic cultures? Where will the ‘fourth stage’ stand between determinism and instrumentalism? I’m looking forward to finding out.

In addition, I’m excited about thinking critically about the digital cultures’ approaches themselves. The short encyclopaedia entry, understandably, doesn’t seem to get stuck into the nitty-gritty of it. At first glance, it struck me as a Western, privileged account of Internet adoption and usage, and even maybe a little nostalgic. And I was concerned by its problematic exclusion of those in our society (even in the West) without access and the benefits and challenges it affords. An old quote, but a goodie from Manuel Castells (2001, p. 247):

[t]he centrality of the Internet in many areas of social, economic and political activity is tantamount to marginality for those without, or with only limited, access to the Internet, as well as for those unable to use it properly

So, anyway, more questions than answers right now, but I’m really looking forward to this…


Castells, Manuel (2001), The Internet Galaxy: Reflections on Internet, Business and Society (Oxford: OUP)

Knox, Jeremy (2015), ‘Critical Education and Digital Cultures’, in Encyclopaedia of Educational Philosophy and Theory (Singapore: Springer)

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