Music & Photography: A Digital Renaissance
This century, the digital revolution in photography and music, has led to the democratisation and proliferation of human beings sharing images and sounds, experiences, knowledge and beauty.
How have these two industries, with entrenched interests and well-established systems, changed so rapidly that they little resemble their former selves of a mere decade ago? I do not ask ‘why’ they changed but ‘how’? The ‘why’ is obvious. Technology created faster, better, cheaper alternatives to what existed. Photographers and musicians, as well as the multitudes who enjoy or need images and sounds, for an infinite variety of reasons, just kept learning and updating.
Not only have analog film cameras been superseded by digital image sensors but the sharing and distribution of photographs and expertise has been transformed by the internet. The same can be said regarding the legal and illegal distribution of music online. Vested interests, with lineage and power, either adapted or were made irrelevant with huge financial implications.
This happened very quickly.
An example. Reading the ‘Wildlife Photographer of the Year‘ portfolios from the first years of the 21st century reveals photographers used film and there appeared to be no provision for digital images. In the 2010 competition no entries exhibited were shot using film. In 2004 the competition went digital and the challenges of online submission were overcome. Symbolically, in the same year, Kodak was removed from the Dow Jones Industrial Average index for the first time in their 74 year history.
How was it that Eastman Kodak ‘missed the digital photography revolution’ resulting in lost market share and 80% of its workforce as a result? This thesis resounds and has implications for education systems:
Kodak’s middle managers, culture and rigid, bureaucratic structure hindered a fast response to new technology which dramatically changed the process of capturing and sharing images. Film is a physical, chemical product, and despite a succession of new CEOs, Kodak’s middle managers were unable to make a transition to think digitally.
Angus & Robertson booksellers, established in 1886, six years after the Public Instruction Act 1880, have been unable to adapt to the new digital landscape and are now largely consigned to history. This did not need to be. It is certainly true that a large chain, with expensive stores in prime shopping locations and countless books not selling was a major reason behind the fall of the company but approaching the problem in this way rather than thinking innovatively about how to adapt in the era of digital books smacks of the ‘Kodak problem’ – that of not being able to ‘think digitally’.
Readings, for example, is supplying digital books via booki.sh and it will be interesting to hear about the outcomes in the coming year. I have found the service effective using my iPad and seeing the opportunities for Australian publishers to be involved uplifting. The thinking is digital and likely, one hopes, to sustain many publishers, authors and readers. The line:
Buy from your favourite local booksellers, not faceless robot armies.
suggests they know their audience.
Image credit: The front cover of School Work by JF Gladman, published in 1886, provided teaching guidelines and educational principles for teachers (sourced here).
‘Control and Teaching’
How can something similar to the digital democritisation of photography and music happen in education systems? To what extent is this already happening? Educators and politicians, parents and innovators need to reflect on what such a democratisation could mean for the future of learning and large educational systems.
We need to ‘think digitally’ to avoid the disasters that have befallen Kodak or Angus & Robertson. That means (actually) doing things differently, especially if you are in a leadership position.
The book cover image (1886) above shows how deeply embedded the reality that education is about ‘control and teaching’ rather than ‘autonomy or learning’. This is so deeply rooted in our factory structures that many cannot even begin to see how pervasive the paradigm is, and, how not conducive such rigid thinking is to the future of learning, our economy or individual freedoms.
Development of curriculum and policy is more important than ever before. We need our ‘managers’ to ‘think digitally’ but if not provided with clever policy and opportunities to innovate within curriculum, the challenge will be even more difficult. Political battles re: standardised testing and accountability are largely irrelevant, in an intellectual sense, as these methods are inadequate for the 21st century and lowest common denominator approaches.
I say again, we need savvy policy and curriculum to inform our directions with the past firmly in the rear vision mirror as we head into the future.
Education has a similar challenge to booksellers and music stores. The buildings that were once needed to house books, equipment and expertise, in the form of human beings trained in academies to disseminate knowledge and cultural values to children, are just not as essential any more for learning to take place. However, the timetable and movement of students and teachers around these structures in 40 minutes blocks is a huge part of what school is about.
A reader can download an ebook as long as they have internet access. A student has the same freedom if online. More importantly, they can connect to others who have expertise or friendship to offer. We are all free to find the networks we need or enjoy. The bookstore is just not essential anymore. Nice sometimes but not fundamental.
We have the issue, largely not discussed, of childminding, while every parent is at work, which is the most pressing of needs in our system. More importantly, there is the need for community and for young people to be together learning about civil society practically, by living in one. We need places to gather and learn. That is not different.
They must not be factories.
‘How’ to do this, not ‘why’ is the question and challenge. There are many lessons we have learned that will assist us to adapt. If we have the will.
A salient point about change is that the past travels with us. For example, the history of photography has been one of rapid innovation but the very fundamentals of the being a photographer are very similar. The metalanguage grows but without understanding the concepts of shutter speed, aperture, focal length and framing it is difficult to imagine becoming a good photographer. The reduction in prices and ‘auto’ features democratise the experience but one needs to understand the past to progress successfully in the future.
We know much about how people learn and research uncovers more every week. We know much about young people and their needs. We know much about economic realities and what makes civil society civil.
What are the lessons we must not forget on this journey?
‘How’ do we make these changes in our systems?
Your considered (and spontaneous) thoughts would be highly valued
Slider image credit: cc licensed ( BY NC SD ) flickr photo by FotoGraf-Zahl: http://flickr.com/photos/fotografzahl/4167239937/