This will be the first of a series of blogs in affiliation with the Global Opportunities Team at my University, Goldsmiths, where I recently graduated with a 2:1 in English & Media. The summer school I am involved in is run by Cologne University. The subject of our study is ‘Visions and Perspectives of Digital Societies’. We will take a transdisciplinary approach to looking at aspects of digitalisation such as education, law and business, amongst many more.
The purpose of my blogging is to demonstrate that ‘global opportunities’ still have a place in our world when we are in lockdown. The legitimacy of this is something I also wish to explore. Two summers ago I was involved in another summer school, which I was awarded some funding for, also from Santander. I highly recommend any students considering applying for this funding to do so. Without it, I would have struggled to have bought my own plane tickets to China. Where I was two years ago, and where I was a teacher, rather than a student.
I have to admit, I’m entering this experience with my heart slightly broken. Sitting at the dinner table, in my student house, in London. If it were not for lockdown, I would be in Cologne. Two weeks before the summer school begins, we meet via Zoom for a tutorial on how to use Discord, the platform on which all interaction outside of lectures will take place. In the Cologne Summer School Discord channel, are private chat rooms that we, the students, can make use of to have discussions and ‘socialise’. There is a virtual ‘playground’, and even a digi bar which will act as a substitute for going to the pub together. I can’t help imagining the sweetness of German wheat beer on my tongue as the digi bar sits and awaits me.
Why did I apply for the Cologne Summer School?
I am pessimistic about digitalisation. The digitalisation of this course in particular, because I wanted to spend my summer in a new city. I am a technophobe. A digital pessimist. As it happens, this is the approach I took to apply for the course. Lots of the other participants’ backgrounds are law, business and economics. I just wrote my undergraduate dissertation on Simone de Beauvoir and the angle I am coming from is an ethical one.
I’m still trying to locate the point at which I might have started thinking pessimistically about digitalisation. I am born at the point where Gen Y and Gen Z kiss. I’m technically a nineties baby. But I’m not old enough to have impersonated Gwen Stefani or anything. Groovy Chick was my gal. Despite the lengthy reading lists that a degree in English provides, I have never bought a Kindle. I suppose I am slightly conservative when it comes to digitalisation. I like to think there are advantages to the tangibility of a real book. For example, being able to make notes on every page.
I am the msn generation. Perhaps that has something to do with it. Yes, it seems likely. I will never forget my first digital romance. A boy who belonged to the same hockey club as me. We became exclusive online. The romance consisted of after-school chats every day, in secret. Each separated by our distance, but joined by an intangible phenomenon that Microsoft is credited with. I was just 12. Needless to say, at hockey training that week, I became so dreadfully and unexpectedly ill, I had to leave before speaking to him. IN. REAL. LIFE.
Perhaps that’s it. I’ve unlocked the reason why, like so few of my friends, I have never been on a tinder date. I have developed an unspoken theory that, digitalisation, is changing us for the worse. Marc Prensky would deem me a digital native. I have grown up immersed in a technological environment. According to him, my brain is wired differently. Or at least he would argue that I process information differently than a digital immigrant – someone who did not grow up amongst the ubiquity of digitalisation.
It is my pre-summer school vision that Sophia the robot won’t solely develop the capability to take over the world. In my opinion, slowly but surely, we are neglecting traits of humanity too. The human characteristics that provide us with sweaty palms before first dates. First-encounter-nervousness is abandoned – because there is nothing preliminary about a date for my generation. A digital native already knows them. They’ve already spent an hour scrolling down their Instagram feed. Ciphering them out from a network of other potential soul mates. In lockdown, we can go on Zoom dates. The need for chewing gum to freshen the breath is eliminated. For better or worse, our behaviour is forced to keep up with technological advancement.
The dawn of ‘visions and perspectives of digital societies’
Fast forward to the beginning of the course. Racing to get my cup of tea before, the session started. My englishness hits home. Moritz, Marina and Victoria, the summer school organisers, have pulled out all the stops to make this experience as close as possible to if we were in Cologne. That means lots of Zoom breakout rooms and getting-to-know-each-other-sessions. I e-meet Anelise from Rio. I’m still sad that I don’t get to meet her in person. We share an interest in journalism. I e-meet Eric from Changsha, China; Joaquin from Argentina and Hana from Czech Republic. Myself and these three will meet separately through the course of the two weeks. Together we will present our findings from the course at the end.
Already I feel an attachment to the faces I see each day constructed of pixels. I didn’t expect myself to make tight knit friendships because of the format of this course. Yet I am spending four hours a day, for two weeks with these people. Scattered across the world, I am the only participant in the UK. The feeling is bittersweet. I am making friendships, but there is a visceral dissatisfaction. I want to be able to move beyond my screen…
Stay tuned to find out more.
To find out about Global Opportunities and Santander Universities, follow these links: