Digital As Life

Photo by Evelyn Helminen

“What time is it?” Do you answer… “7:43,” or “It’s about quarter to eight.”

Depends whether you’re looking at a digital or analog clock. One enables you to immediately give the precise answer. The other encourages a round estimate.

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“How many visitors did we have this month?” Do you answer… “I think about 1,000,” or “956 total—but there were 644 unique visitors, from ten countries; the average visit time was 1:02.”

When you are counting physical bodies walking into your brick and mortar, you base your data off of what you can observe and the information the person gives you. When it involves hits to your website, there is a wealth of very specific information available to you, including length of stay, browser type, where they came from, and more.

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You’re coloring in an image. Do you color exactly within the lines, or are there a few messy scribbles that go beyond? If it’s a digital image, there is a distinct and clean border holding in the color. In a physical coloring book, you’re likely to cross the boundary of the black line a time or two.

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What is “digital?”

In these examples, it seems to be encapsulated by terms such as precise, measured, exact, and detailed. This is in contrast to “analog,” which is loose, estimated, chaotic.

But I don’t think we can put digital in this box alone. Let’s look at the digital world from another perspective.

“What page are you on?” Is it… “51,” or “Um, I’m not really sure. But I’m 20% of the way done.”

“How long is the lesson?” Do you answer… “One hour,” or “Well, there are three modules with two optional videos and a couple links I can click on if I want more information. I don’t know how long it will take me.”

“Was she happy with your work?” Would you say… “Yes! She said, “Good try!’ and she smiled,” or “I don’t think so. Her email said, ‘good try,’ with absolutely no explanation or punctuation.”

This time the digital is imperfect, fluid, and open to interpretation.

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What qualities best define digital?

Words like:

  • ordered
  • explicit
  • absolute

Or:

  • ambiguous
  • imprecise
  • flexible

I believe that “digital” is all of the above and more: it can be seen as clear, immediately understood, and simple, and as murky, confusing, and lacking.

How can this be?

Digital technologies provide us another way to interact—with ourselves, the world, and the people in it. They are integrated into life and give us unprecedented opportunities. The existence of the digital provides us with new ways to learn, think, and grow, and allows us to experience perspectives we would have never seen otherwise.

However, it’s important to remember that these technologies are informed by human input, which is inherent with human error, and human brilliance, and human thoughts, assumptions, and biases, and human foresight and human ignorance.

I see “digital” as another part of life, which means it takes on the qualities of life. Contradictions abound, and it’s constantly changing.

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Our Strategic Direction

How is it useful to think of digital as life when considering strategic directions for Middlebury?

As with life, the digital will continue whether or not we consciously participate. Also as with life, if we are strategic with how we use our time and spend our resources, we can utilize a lot more of its potential, further our understanding of what we are capable of, and influence others on a massive scale.

I think this is a compelling reason to be attentive to the digital as we set our strategic direction. The digital is already a transformative force. Let’s make it our transformative force.

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