Digital Innovation

  • Sarah Kenderdine (Editor) and Fiona Cameron (Editor)
    Theorizing Digital Cultural Heritage: A Critical Discourse. MIT (purchase at
  • R. Douglas Francis (Author)
    The Technological Imperative in Canada: An Intellectual History. University of British Columbia Press (purchase at
  • Ted D. Naylor (Author) and E. Dianne Looker (Author)
    Digital Diversity: Youth, Equity, and Information Technology. Wilfrid Laurier University Press
Reviewed by Karl Jirgens

These three books offer valuable insights into technology as it applies to heritage institutions, a history of thought and culture in Canada, and the potential for information technology in present-day education.

Theorizing Digital Cultural Heritage: A Critical Discourse, edited by Fiona Cameron and Sarah Kenderdine, provides a range of critical and theoretical appraisals of digital media as used by cultural heritage institutions including archives, museums, art galleries, and scientific institutions. Both editors hail from Australia: Cameron is a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Cultural Research at the University of Western Sydney and Kenderdine is the Coordinator of Special Projects at the Victoria Museum in Melbourne. For those interested in the digital preservation and presentation of cultural artifacts, this book provides cutting-edge perspectives on the flexibility of digital innovations including websites, interactive technologies, holographics, and computerized audio-video. This book is tastefully designed and provides valuable case studies of progressive institutions around the globe. Well placed photos, charts, graphics, and tables serve to illustrate the range of perspectives. Providing balanced and remarkably well-researched cross-cultural perspectives that are inclusive even as they provide intelligent insights, these twenty-two essays illuminate topics such as virtual space, contextual information frameworks, spatial morphologies, tangible virtualities, hyper-documented archives, and automatic archaeologies. This book is outstanding in the range of thought it presents. Included are discussions of oral literary traditions, ecosystemic options, the ontologies of virtual reality, Indian spatial cosmogonies, epistemologies of cyber-space, algorithms of virtual memory, haptic interfaces, and nano-sciences. I could go on, but will say here that anyone interested in digital technology and its applications to the preservation or presentation of cultural expression will find a treasure-trove of stimulating perceptions included here. On surface, this book covers the uses of digital media in cultural heritage institutions, but it is much more than that, encompassing multi-racial and multi-cultural perceptions that resonate with fundamental worldviews as they interact with contemporary digital technologies. For layperson or expert, for archivist or artist, this book will provide a refreshingly unrestrained array of luminous ideas that will inspire even as they enlighten. Bravo!

The Technological Imperative in Canada: An Intellectual History by R. Douglas Francis offers an historical survey of Canadian views on emergent technologies. Francis, a professor of Canadian history at the University of Calgary, provides perspectives on the metaphysics of technology covering the late nineteenth and the entire twentieth century. Included are discussions of cultural imperialism, power politics, military endeavor, the emergence of communications technologies, and the volition of technology itself. This book features prominent Canadian thinkers who share an interest in what might be termed a moral imperative as it is affected by technological imperatives. Included are detailed accounts of early figures such as Sandford Fleming, Thomas Haliburton, and Alexander Graham Bell, as well as summations of later thinkers such as Marshall McLuhan. Francis forwards paired discussions of Mackenzie King and Frederick Philip Grove, Stephen Leacock and Archibald Lampman, Harold Innis and Eric Havelock, Northrop Frye and E.J. Pratt, as well as George Grant and Dennis Lee. This book examines the subservience of humans to machinery, connections between technology, myth, and the human psyche, as well as U.S. cultural imperialism and the impact of war. Perhaps more could have been said to contextualize the historical effects of technology and war. For example, Eisenhower’s 1960 warning concerning the “military industrial complex,” as an immoral technological force, might have lent an additional impetus to the discussion of war in the final chapter on George Grant and Dennis Lee’s Civil Elegies.

The analysis in this book is nuanced with perceptions on spirituality as it relates to techno-culture, thereby providing an over-arching theme throughout. Francis concedes several exclusions, noting there was insufficient room to include Francophones due to the overwhelming wealth of material within that cultural matrix. The focus here is largely on white Anglo-Saxon Protestant males. Arguably, in a genealogical study of a moral or technological imperative, exclusions in discourse serve to skew the perspective. When speaking of technologies and moral imperatives, thinkers and writers such as Basil Johnston, Jeanette Armstrong, Linda Hutcheon, Josef Skvorecky, Dave Godfrey, Barbara Godard, Nicole Brossard, Margaret Atwood, Joy Kogawa, Daphne Marlatt, and M. NourbeSe Philip come to mind. The exclusions here are perplexing and one is left wondering about alternate “intellectual histories.” Perhaps such writers will be included with the Francophones, in a sequel to this engaging study. And, such absences are compensated to a degree by the book’s conclusion, which provides commentary on Heather Menzies’ feminist critique of technology as well as Ursula Franklin’s recommendation that we initiate concerted discourse on justice and equity in the face of the burgeoning forces of technology. Overall, the wide-ranging philosophical, mythological, ideological, and historical connections in this book are impressive, providing thought-provoking perceptions that highlight the struggle between the will to power, and the moral will to freedom.

Digital Diversity: Youth, Equity, and Information Technology, edited by E. Dianne Looker and Ted D. Naylor, provides perspectives on the use of digital culture and information technology in education. Information and communications technologies (ICT) are investigated here in order to provide perspectives on pedagogical trends and modes of digital application. Included are perspectives on usages between genders, various racial groups, and geographic patterns such as urban as opposed to rural regions, including the Canadian far north. As a collection, these seven essays challenge conventional assumptions concerning the application of digital media in schools, while examining disparities between educational policies and practices, and highlighting equity issues as they are affected by information technologies. Looker serves as a Canada Research Chair in Equity and Technology, and Naylor specializes in interdisciplinary studies, bio-politics, and health policy at Dalhousie University. This book examines topics such as emergent cultural identities as revealed through computer Internet access, with attention to questions of equity, race, and cultural background. Of special interest to educators and sociologists will be the chapters on how ICT is integrated into our educational system. There is also a useful discussion of street youth and their relationship to social media. Convincing arguments are provided here involving ICT based pedagogies, how they are transforming our educational system, and how we need to re-think current approaches. Included are lucid and well-argued perspectives on the relative applicability of curriculum-based software and the increasing need for institutional support to better integrate accessible and interactive computer based technologies in the classroom, in order to generate improved student achievements. Wilfrid Laurier University Press is to be commended for its intelligent layout and design of this book. These seven essays include coherent presentations of salient facts and arguments, helpful visual charts and graphics, and detailed numerical tables, along with clearly stated conclusions and tightly worded summative notes. All of these are supported by comprehensive Works Cited pages, contributors’ notes, and a detailed and comprehensive index. This insightful set of essays successfully examines the importance of integrating information and communications technologies within our evolving educational system.

This review “Digital Innovation” originally appeared in Canadian Literature 214 (Autumn 2012): 142-45.

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