“Anyone who has lost track of time when using a computer knows the propensity to dream, the urge to make dreams come true and the tendency to miss lunch.”
Part of the Ragged project is to use available infrastructure (pubs, cafes, libraries) and common technology (internet, open source, open access) to reanimate the philanthropic movement of the Ragged Schools. Updating the concept, using the digital resources available is one way that learning opportunities can be enabled.
The focus on open source technologies is a particular theme which has emerged. As more and more of our social landscape is financialised and enclosed, the opensource movement offers people the finest chances to develop knowledge and skills which are tariff free and accessible in nature.
Just now the presentation on use of digital technologies is being updated to take into account the experiences of the constraints which come with technologies as well as the privacy and ethical issues.
The Story So Far…
As with all healthy living things, Ragged University has been involved in a process of evolution. The ideas which we started out with we have thought through, tried and experimented with to see what is suited to the context, what is appropriate for the people involved and what worked in supporting people achieve what they were trying to achieve.
A particular focus which the Ragged Uni project was excited by the prospect of was the use of digital technologies. This seemed to be the easiest reach in an age where computers and computing have become embedded in our daily lives, and arguably now controls aspects of everything we do. This field of activity has been an area where the greatest assumptions were made and the greatest failures of practice have occurred.
Across the UK and the US (owing to the research which is accessible), the notion of the digital divide and digital skills teaching has radically failed the aspirational statements which came as promises with the technology. Building from the Ragged Uni axiom to use available infrastructure and common technology – not create new infrastructure and seek cutting edge technology, at first it seemed simple to use computers in our landscape to create and teach with.
Via learning through doing, rather than creating digital teaching spaces which empowered people we came to discover that the field of International Development had more to teach us than the technologies. Just like the promise of the eradication of poverty and need was heralded as the industrial revolution took hold, the realities of the sociology of inequality became most evident as we tried to enact the simplistic notions we had in the community context.
In a world run by computers and where computers are a common feature of the landscape we started mapping the obstacles to using these resources in ways which enabled autonomous literacies. Thus, interestingly what has come of the digital aspects of the project has been inquiries into International Development, sustainability, exploitative economies, identity ethics and implementation of ideological politics through technocratic means.
All of this has forced Ragged University to adapt in the way it was behaving because the activities which were naively conceived of (by me, Alex Dunedin), followed a systematic pattern of failure. They were doing more harm by recreating and perpetuating the social realities which work towards an exclusive society.
All of this is being reconfigured and developed to move away from the dominant models of voluntarism and finance which serve industries not individuals and communities. A critical understanding of the way that our culture is structured and operates has been more helpful in identifying skills and knowledge which really are helpful to individuals beyond the agendas of those in positions of privilege than of the hopelessly flawed models of digital skills teaching which are being rolled out in the UK.
A culture of chasing outputs, perverse incentives, financial capture, and the market appropriation of peoples life skills (traditionally recognised as a part of inherently owned human capital) has emerged which coalesces with an economy which is being forcibly shifted to competitive destruction over the collaborative gains of public goods.
Generations of people are being taught technologies which create dependence, obsolescence, and financial indenture-ship on products which are inherently insecure (Microsoft) and which exploit people by reducing them to data which is brokered on the stockmarket. We are now dealing with an information age where privacy violations and the digital enclosure of life opportunities are epidemic.
An example of the drift of here homeless charities are begging for funding to continue and compromised by the displacement of significant teaching and enabling of autonomous living in favour for teaching individuals and only giving access sufficient for the bare minimum of digital engagement to process their benefits claims through the implementation of technocratic solutions to cost cutting – the ‘digital by default’ policy.
All this is a process of discovery, and the critical understandings can be viewed in the positive, appreciative light of Kintsugi philosophy. There are deep deep problems with our notions of technology, ownership and information which simply recreate the issues which dog progress. Until more of the thoughts and findings of Ragged Uni get shared in writing, there are a number of thinkers out there who have done powerful work which should inform any person working in the digital sphere:
Prof Virginia Eubanks
Prof Beverley Skeggs