Attending a ‘moot’ (i.e. conference) organised by the Arts and Humanities Research Council on the theme of ‘Digital Transformations’. Some very interesting stuff so far, but also some curious silences. Understandably, perhaps, a lot of it focuses on the media and the process of informationalization: John Naughton’s very interesting keynote starting, quite appropriately, with the Gutenberg Bible. However, the definition of the ‘digital’ being discussed here seems incredibly narrow. Most importantly no-one seems to be theorising the ‘digital’ or looking to broaden its definition. The most significant absence so far (it may come later, of course) is money. Money is not only a digital medium in its own right – quite possibly the most powerful and ubiquitous we’ve ever seen – but it also serves as a ‘model’ of informationalized culture. A lot of what is being discussed might be ‘new’ in terms of content (shiny techy stuff and all it can do), but far less emphasis is being given to the very ‘old’ digital cultural structures that we’ve lived with for a very long time. Modern money in all its digital virtual glory was coeval with print technologies and thoroughly entwined with it as it developed and spread. In other words, whilst technologies like the internet are undoubtedly transforming the ways in which we do certain things – Naughton rightly alluded to Schumpeter’s notion of creative destruction in capitalism – they are doing things with a public already strongly encultured to respond to and act within ‘invisible’ digital systems and processes. Thus, fascinating though all this is, there is a more fundamental social history of the ‘digital’ that is not really being addressed. We all need to go and read Anthony Wilden.
Ironically, given that this is organised by a funding council, it is money that is the foundational digital technology that mankind has added to the world. Closely related to language, of course, but somethign we actively invented rather than evolved. Money, perhaps, is the meta-digital object that makes all the others possible. It is transformative, of course, but also strongly constraining.