Open Thinkering


The Pre-Digital and the Post-Digital.


Sometimes two pieces of writing from very different sources complement each other so well that quoting from each in the right order tells the story without superfluous words from the person doing the juxtaposition. These quotations are taken from Seth Godin’s Pre Digital (2011) and the 52 Group’s Preparing for the postdigital era (2009). All emphases are mine.

The intersection of technology and the social has often been a driver of social change. The mainstreaming and mass production of powerful digital tools has had a profound effect on the way that we live and learn. These digital tools have allowed us to speed up communication, publish our thoughts in any number of ways and allowed for new complex forms of collaboration. The speed and reach of this transition has had a profound effect on what it means to be a participant in society. The speed of the change, however, has left us with the mistaken belief that social change was somehow ‘created’ by the digital rather than simply played out on a the canvas of the digital; that the digital itself is the main driver of change. We would argue the opposite. (52 Group)

School is pre-digital. Elections. Most of what you do in your job. Even shopping. The vestiges of a reliance on geography, lack of information, poor interpersonal connections and group connection (all hallmarks of the pre-digital age) are everywhere.

Perhaps the most critical thing you can say of a typical institution: “That place is pre-digital.”

All a way of saying that this is just the beginning, the very beginning, of the transformation of our lives. (Seth Godin)

The transition to a postdigital way of thinking allows for that previously coded as ‘digital’ to be woven into the wider discussion of social dialects that people bring to their acts of collaboration… Texts have been recorded in spaces like Facebook and MySpace that have previously been the content of private conversation and casual face-to-face interaction. We have the (mis)fortune of having a record of the social grooming of our time, which, sadly, is often misinterpreted as a degrading our our social intellect. It is a manifest record of the facile “Hi how are you? Fine thank you”s of the older generation, which, when recorded 6 billion times might appear facile, but is, in reality, simply a confirmation of social connectedness worn smooth in repetition. (52 Group)

Postdigital aims to throw off the yoke of digital dogma, where the language of a perceived digital elite drives not only development, but also skews innovation, where innovation is only seen as being that associated with the “latest” technology… Innovation in a postdigital era is more effectively articulated as being associated with the human condition and the aspiration toward new or enhanced connectedness with others. (52 Group)

The 52 Group were/are made up of Dave Cormier, Richard Hall and Lawrie Phipps, amongst others.

Update: Also Dave White, Ian Truelove and Mark Childs (thanks to Dave Cormier in the comments)

Image CC BY gcbb

14 thoughts on “The Pre-Digital and the Post-Digital.

  1. Dave White, Ian Truelove and Mark Childs would round out that group. I just don’t see it as transformational as Seth Godin describes. We are all still human… and driven by this. It’s grooming that brings us to social media… and wether we are cleaning lice, saying ‘hi how are you?’ or re-tweeting… it’s still just grooming.

  2.  I remember when we came up with the sentence “Postdigital aims to throw off the yoke of digital dogma…” I think we had to go and have a large scotch.

  3. I really don’t buy this pre-digital/ post-digital stuff.  Maybe post-digital is a concept that can be usefully applied to some things eg like our use of a portable music player but not, I think to the ‘world’ or to a complex organisation like a hospital where pre-digital is used to capture where it’s going wrong Why concentrate on digital – what about funding model?
      I have just re-read my and others’ comments on Dave White’s previous post Scott Leslie’s reference to Roger’s theory of Diffusion has crystallised it for me.  I prefer the domestication/ appropriation interactive model of innovation as outlined in The Wrong Trousers (paper not vid) at
    I guess I am just encouraging the boys from the 52 club to go and look at Science and Technology Studies and that paper might be a good starting place;)

    1. Hi Frances, and thanks for the comment. I agree that pre/post digital is being used as a form of shorthand to a kind of mindset here. To my mind, the pre-digital stands for a bureaucratised, formal, stand-offish and heirarchical system. The post-digital is kind of the inverse of that, using embedded digital technologies to mediate interactions rather than outdated social norms.

      Does that make more sense? :-)

      1. No it doesn’t really.  Why use those terms for shorthand?  Bureaucracy loves the digital – digital (even once post-) is not guaranteed to be some sort of ‘cure’ for bureaucracy. (I think) I’m all for ‘throwing off the yoke of digital dogma’ but I what I am saying is that there are existing (and more mature, and better underpinned) models of innovation that can make a better job of explaining what’s going on.  The concept of postdigital would IMHO benefit from reference to these.

        1. I suppose I’m a fan of making a strong point and then deconstructing it. Yes, there needs to be a whole bunch of more subtle (and possibly useful) stuff behind these ideas but I think it’s a strong starting point. At the time (2009) we were trying to fight back against the ‘shiny-shiny’ culture of the Edtech evangelists. – Top 10 tips for using (insert  latest expensive tech) for leaning etc.

          1. I am curious to know what the status of Google Wave was when you mentioned it in your post.  Was it already declining.  Google communication tools (iterative development of them) could be a good case for testing and refining post-digital concept.

          2. Wave was new. I was considering updating the diagram with a ‘exit’ arrow on it. There are plenty of technologies which never make it through top of the pyramid.

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