Coordinated by Dr Thomas Sutherland (University of Lincoln) and Dr Scott Wark (University of Warwick).
The world seems to change so rapidly, it often feels hard to keep up.
This increasingly hasty pace of change has become both an everyday reality and a moral imperative. We expect things to be done quickly, and others expect the same of us.
The virtual instantaneity afforded to us through the wirelessly connected digital media with which most of us interact on a daily basis can make any lag or delay in communication, however minor, seem positively torturous.
Such speed brings with it many benefits (from globally networked communication platforms to rapid development of vaccines), but it also introduces many problems.
Acceleration places more demands upon us as individuals. At work, at home – spaces that have, for many of us, become indistinguishable, if they weren’t already —and in various facets of our social lives, we find ourselves faced with more things to do and less time to do them.
It isn’t just a question of a changing pace in our individual lives, though, but of society more generally. Continual upheaval, one of the characteristic features of modernity from the Industrial Revolution onward, has intensified to the point where our societies are unable to adjust.
This inability to keep up manifests most strikingly in the realm of technology: the platforms, devices, apps, and other media forms that leave a mark on our everyday lives emerge and then obsolesce with dizzying rapidity.
So often, the anxieties – both personal and professional – that arise as a result are trivialized, individualized, or even pathologized.
We are exhorted to incessantly retrain and upskill ourselves in order to stay afloat amidst the ever-surging tide of technological ‘progress’, whilst simultaneously being encouraged to practise self-care and mindfulness in order to cope with the extra labour that these demands require. Our news feeds are filled with vapid hot takes and hastily devised ‘solutions’ to problems that have been imposed upon us.
But these are collective, structural problems. They do not just bear upon us as individuals; they are the products of a society in thrall to speed as an end in itself.
The accelerative injunctions of digital, networked media systems and the market-oriented watchwords of efficiency and productivity have worked their way into almost every aspect of our experience.
Media literacy – in a broad sense, the question of how we learn to navigate the fluctuations of our hyper-mediated world and how we share that skill and knowledge with others – is not an issue that can or indeed should be confined merely to the institutional setting of the university. It does not occur solely within the classroom.
It’s not just technologists – computer scientists, engineers, venture capitalists, etc. – who hold the fate of our media landscape in their hands. In a world saturated by media technologies, all of us must learn – have learned – to live with media’s accelerating pace of change.
Those of us who work with media and who are acutely affected by this acceleration have the resources for challenging its logics. Whether consciously or not, we have all likely devised and shared tactics for adapting to and managing the pressures that the high-speed society places upon us – ways of dealing with the fact that we cannot, and perhaps should not, keep up with the pace of change.
The aim of Pause for Thought is to create an interdisciplinary network of scholars, artists, writers, media practitioners, and creative professionals who are invested in the future of media literacy and who might both benefit from and contribute to the formulation of modes of analysis, creative practices, and teaching strategies appropriate for our rapidly shifting media landscape.
Should we look upon the unavoidable inability of our practice to keep up with technological change as some kind of failure?
Should we leave the question of how we live with technology to those who impose it upon us?
Or can we view our experience and our practices as points of departure for a more constructive critique of the high-speed society?
Structure of the project:
The Pause for Thought project is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council as part of their Research Networking Scheme grant, and is supported by the University of Lincoln and the University of Warwick. Its goal is to create an interdisciplinary network of principally UK-based scholars, writers, artists, and media practitioners who are invested in the future of media literacy and who might both benefit from and contribute to the formulation of modes of analysis, creative practices, and teaching strategies appropriate for our rapidly shifting media landscape.
This network will be constituted in two principal ways. Firstly, through multiple online workshops, involving both academic and non-academic participants (with a primary focus upon those who work in the media or creative industries) invited to discuss strategies for dealing with the hurdles and complications engendered by a high-speed society. Secondly, through a day-long academic symposium to be hosted at the University of Lincoln (circumstances permitting), involving an open call for papers, which will offer diverse scholarly reflections on the high-speed society, time, and media literacies.
This network provides as an opportunity to inspire provocative, creative proposals responding to the continuing importance of media theory, media practice (including, but not limited to, various forms of artistic practice), and media research methods, to raise awareness of the critical tools that media studies, and the humanities more generally, hold for understanding social acceleration, and to foster unexpected encounters between diverse participants.
9 September 2021