As a digital immigrant I am one of those arrivals who take the citizenship oath misty eyed and with a lump in their throat. I plunge myself into the yearly national celebrations with a patriotic fervour that leaves the natives far behind. I am a happy, secure and grateful immigrant who flies the flag in my front yard and tries to use the colloquialisms correctly.
I am an old Gen-Xer who can clearly remember growing up without the internet or mobile phones. My first (free) classes in how to use the internet were at the State Library of Victoria* and I remember being terrified that I would hit the wrong button and melt down the computer. My first email account was a Hotmail account opened in May 1999 just before I went to live and work in Japan for two years; this was also done on a free computer at the State Library as I didn’t have the internet on at home. My very first mobile phone was acquired in Japan shortly after. It was a gloriously stream lined pearl coloured affair and I felt very smug at owning it as I thought of a few affluent friends back in Australia who had started to equip themselves with devices shaped like bricks just before I left.**
A couple of years after I returned to Australia in the early 2000s I did a lot of project management work for a student services department at RMIT University***. At this stage we only used email and the odd web page to promote programs or events we were running. Even when the Great Myspace Craze swept our offices individuals were using it (covertly) for personal use only, not as a promotional, collaborative or community building tool. We used other – mostly offline – methods for these. I was introduced to an early unadorned Facebook by one of the students I knew at RMIT; I responded to his friend request and found myself looking at an arid blue and white site and thought “It’s all just bloody American college kids. This’ll never catch on.”
Prior to this, during the 90s, I worked as a freelance choreographer and dancer, independently devising and producing my own small performances. Back in those days I relied on mainly non-techonological means to promote – PR (mainly newspapers and radio), fliers, posters and promotional appearances. Much of my later work at RMIT involved planning and / or facilitating and / or promoting stuff for other creatives. During the years from 2009-2013 I worked in project management in the community sector and also managed a small not for profit business and watched how the growth and availability of technology such as social media and cloud based things like Dropbox or Google Docs changed the way we could do things, and the way these changed processes then impinged upon traditional strategies and models.
On the 24 October of this year I ran a small event (a workshop) for myself. I realised that it was probably the first event I had run since I left RMIT. What struck me forcibly were the changes that technology has wrought in event management, and more broadly in project and business management, over the last few years. Using a suite of resources such as Eventbrite****, Twitter, Facebook, Hootsuite, email, my blog, Surveymonkey, and Dropbox I slapped together, promoted, ticketed and evaluated my event for only the cost of the internet and my labour and in a fraction of the time it used to take me. The implementation stage was better coordinated and with less human error, leaving me more time to respond to other opportunities that popped up. Importantly it left me with more time and creative energy to devote to developing my workshop.
And this is what struck me: time was saved, but saved for what? A lot of the pesky administration that used to make me grind my teeth was gone and that’s great. But the time I had left over was not just filled with more administration. I was able to replace it with the things that will enable me to move my professional practice forward – more and better creative thinking, research, planning, and writing.
It makes me wonder what it would have been like working on some of my old projects and within some of my old teams (and I had some great colleagues) if we had had access to this technology back in the years prior to, say, 2009. I have no doubt that our approach to our work would have been radically different. We would have had the capacity to allow ourselves more time to plan more thoroughly and communicate more effectively, releasing ourselves from the pressure of ‘shaved monkey work’ to prioritise more creative and / or critical thinking around our task making. Who knows if this would have been the case, but the potential certainly would have been there.
I guess this is the (positive) challenge available to businesses these days. As you access more technology, how are you using it? What sorts of labour is it freeing up, and how are you replacing that labour? Are you taking the opportunity to come up with new ways of working, are you allowing shifts in the ways in which you work? Or are you cleaving to processes or structures that have always been in place, preferring the illusion of safety to the reality of the possibility for change and growth?
*God bless our public library system and all who sail in her!
**I must admit that I’ve always preferred using the term ‘skymail’ as was done in Japan in 1999 as opposed to the more prosaic ‘text message’ I found us Westerners using when I came back.
***Formerly known as RMIT Union Arts, a department of an independent student association called RMIT Union which has now been merged with RMIT University. Union Arts is now called RMIT Link.
****Oh WOW Eventbrite where have you been all my life. I used to have to do what Eventbrite does from scratch with no other resources than Excel spreadsheets and my poor tired brain.