The urgency of digital technology

the urgency of digital technology
Photo by Ashkan Forouzani on Unsplash

One of the many consequences of the increasingly digital world in which we live is the impending sense of urgency. Email, for example, has been long regarded as an additional source of work that can create pressures to respond outside of “regular” work hours particularly for matters that are “urgent.” It used to be that more immediate forms of digital communication, such as texting or instant messaging, were restricted to either one’s personal life or, at very least, a subset of curated colleagues with whom you could establish some sort of communication norms and expectations.

As a result of the global pandemic, however, more people are using affordances focused on instant messaging, such as MS Teams or Slack, in work environments. The privacy implications are significant as many people tend to either be more casual with instant messaging or to expect a faster reply than via email. There is also the risk, of course, of the chat message to alert someone to an email that is waiting for them. Double urgency!

I have been thinking a lot recently about how maker pedagogy might encourage us to be somewhat less urgent in our expectations–not only in our communications but in how we develop our ideas in relation to the demands of digital technologies. As I have mentioned elsewhere (in publication and in an interview), one of the most interesting findings of my research has been that participants report on the value of having time and space to engage in professional dialogue supported by the act of “making a thing.”

I was reminded of this result over the weekend when I began reading William Davies’ (2018) book. Early in the introduction, he contrasts the promise of digital computing with the promise of traditions of reason in the following way:

“The promise of digital computing, by contrast [to the promise of reason], is to maximize sensitivity to a changing environment. Timing becomes everything. Experts produce facts; Google and Twitter offer trends. As the objective view of the world recedes it is replaced by intuition as to which way things are heading now.”

(Davies, 2018, p. xvi)

Davies’ comments helped me to make some links between some of my concerns about social media and the expectations of urgency often created by technology, particularly digital technology. Although he uses a search engine and a social media network as examples, I think it is worth remembering that much of current digital technologies seem particularly focused on, to paraphrase Davies, maximum sensitivity to a changing environment. It is true that Google and Twitter offer trends, but it is also true that Amazon makes recommendations based on recent purchases, YouTube recommends based on videos you have watched, and so on. There are mysterious, opaque algorithms underpinning all of these trends and recommendations.

I have argued for putting hacking at the centre of maker pedagogy. It is difficult to hack–that is, to know a system really well–unless there is some way of critically examining what that system entails. One thing seems certain, though: Many technological affordances seem designed to increase our sense of the urgency of digital technology, with the possible result of making increasingly impulsive decisions. I believe we would do well to try to find ways to decrease the sense of urgency surrounding many digital technologies. Perhaps one way to do so might be to focus on what we might make as a result of engaging with digital technology. Focusing on creating an artefact (material or virtual) instead of just consuming a “trend” or the results of an “algorithm”, for example, may encourage a slower form of thinking that can act as a bulwark against increasing demands from digital technologies.


Davies, W. (2018). Nervous states: Democracy and the decline of reason. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.