Digital Legacies: An introduction on digital cultures

Julius Wiedemann explores the idea of culture, seeking to find patterns that explain the influences and inspirations of technology and the digital era.

by Julius Wiedemann Published on : Aug 26, 2020

Put simply, culture could be described as a collective of legacies. It happens when a body of knowledge, technologies, ideas, or a movement of people leaves society with a wider collection of impressions that become the very fabric of societal behaviour. It is when all these forces transcend their initial objective, and its ownership cannot be attributed to a single source anymore. It can be a group of architects working within a similar philosophy (e.g. modernism, a group of thinkers aligning their thoughts (e.g. positive psychology), a group or artists challenging the status quo in painting and sculpture (e.g. impressionism), a group of people willing to change, share power with other people (e.g. democracy), businessmen and women willing to create wealth (e.g. industrial revolution), countries having an ideological dispute (e.g. the cold war), or a dispute for technological superiority (e.g. the race to space, that among other things created NASA. There are endless examples. We are always creating legacies, on bigger or smaller scale. Sometimes those legacies will reverberate within our family, sometimes in our company, in a city, and in some cases, in the whole world. Some will endure few generations, while others will belong forever to our very understanding of reality.

Bertie the Brain was one of the first early computer games, developed in 1950 | Digital Legacies | Julius Wiedemann | STIRworld
Bertie the Brain was one of the first early computer games, developed in 1950 Image: Courtesy of Julius Wiedemann

The pace of change imposed on us in the 20th century was probably unrivalled in history, at least for scientific advance, creation of wealth, innovation, change in lifestyle, knowledge about our planet and the space, and many other things. And we entered the 21st century with no less appetite to keep moving forward. Change became the constant. The internet as a viable and democratic tool exists now for roughly 20 years for the masses, but its ideas and initial trials date to decades before that. From the use of social media to location, from working from home on laptops to rapid prototyping, from emojis to e-commerce, we have created an unprecedented reliability on digital tools. This “digitalisation” is now influencing the way we create things, and runs deeper than we think in our perceptions of the mechanics of our understanding of nearly everything. It influences architecture, work space, art, language, education, learning, searching, communication, ownership, transparency, sharing, critique, accessibility, activism, and countless others. These and others are the subjects this column aims to portray in order to describe the phenomena of digital culture.

The first Apple icons designed for the Apple Macintosh 1.0 | Digital Legacies | Julius Wiedemann | STIRworld
The first Apple icons designed for the Apple Macintosh 1.0 Image: Courtesy of Julius Wiedemann

These digital influences should be analysed with depth and reason, so that we are able to understand a bit more on what the future may hold, and also to reflect on what we take for granted. This “digital toolkit” provided to nearly everyone has now left unparalleled legacies that are creating a new culture. Digital technologies are not only part of the social construct anymore, they are also part of our ideological construct. A recently built Maslow’s Pyramid for the 21st century is a way to understand on the surface, how many things we now rely on or take for granted have become an intimate part of our daily lives. No matter what these new “digital mediators” bring to the table, good or bad, they are here to stay for long. According to Pew Research, over five billion people have now access to mobile phones, with over a half of that being a smartphone. Even though with unequal access between countries, this fact shows how fast these devices have become the portal to a range of services that either didn’t exist until few years ago or had to be transformed because of it.

  • The iPod was launched in 2001, showing us that music was indeed, digital | Digital Legacies | Julius Wiedemann | STIRworld
    The iPod was launched in 2001, showing us that music was indeed, digital Image: Courtesy of Julius Wiedemann
  • The wireless telephone was a huge advancement in the communications industry | Digital Legacies | Julius Wiedemann | STIRworld
    The wireless telephone was a huge advancement in the communications industry Image: Courtesy of Julius Wiedemann

To conclude, this series will talk about how we might be more influenced than we think when it comes to digital technologies, how visceral these influences have become, and how much they are now part of our trivial thoughts. The idea that technology is only a tool, and therefore can be separated from our creativity is probably a reductionist framework. The main subject of the coming texts is not to defend a purely technological determinism, but to pursue a better understanding of the complexities of the experiences and influences we are subjected to. When our sketchbooks and vinyl records have been elevated to the status of our artistic expressions, it says a lot about how our collective consciousness is permeated by impressions through the technologies we have created.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs takes a digital turn | Digital Legacies | Julius Wiedemann | STIRworld
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs takes a digital turn Image: Courtesy of Julius Wiedemann

Read more from the series Digital Legacies where our columnist Julius Wiedemann investigates the many aspects of digital life.

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