Adaptive, digital or digitally adaptive?
The Kings new clothes?
1.serving or able to adapt; showing or contributing to adaptation :
verb (used with object)
1.to make suitable to requirements or conditions; adjust or modify fittingly:
They adapted themselves to the change quickly. He adapted the novel for movies.
verb (used without object)
2.to adjust oneself to different conditions, environment, etc.:
to adapt easily to all circumstances.
As with any 'new thing' , or renamed 'old thing' (depending upon your point of view) a body of jargon very soon begins to develop. This is usually a confusing but potentially exciting time in the evolution of a new thing. It is a time when words about things can be given meaning, definitions, context and all that good stuff. It is also a time when it is not quite clear if people are using words literally or metaphorically which gives rise to further opportunities for ground to be gained by those who want the jargon to become linked to their particular meaning,agenda or emphasis. This is pretty much where we are with digital' at the present time. Obviously this statement will be challenged by those who believe that they already have the meaning tied down or at least they have given it the meaning they want and will fight that particular corner....
So there is a company called 'digitallyadaptive' which is no more than an advertising and marketing agency that is advocating the use of social media in campaigns. However, it is a fact that social media as a very serious social force has come from virtually nowhere in under 10 years and, in our sector we see many people still just 'not getting it'. But, strictly speaking the company name is certainly accurate given the definitions of adaptive and adapt and the fact that 'social media' is viewed by the majority of people 'in the know' to be a 'digital' phenomenon.
Here, with the adjective 'digital', we hit a series of million dollar questions.
- What does it mean?
- How does the context change the meaning - or does it not?
- Is it starting to be used as a metaphor for something very different to any of its standard definitions?
So let's look at the evolution of its definition :
1. displaying a readout in numerical digits rather than by a pointer or hands on a dial: a digital speedometer; a digital watch.
2.of, pertaining to, or using numerical calculations.
3.of, pertaining to, or using data in the form of numerical digits: a digital image;
4.involving or using numerical digits expressed in a scale of notation, usually in the binary system, to represent discretely all variables occurring in a problem.
5.available in electronic form; readable and manipulable by computer:
6.pertaining to, noting, or making use of computers and computerized technologies, including the Internet:
"We are living in an increasingly digital world."
"Digital activism uses social media to achieve political reform."
"His blog is a great example of digital journalism."
"Digital technology has revolutionized the music industry."
The final, or current, stage of this evolution does approach the outer perimeters of how digital is being used by many 'leading thinkers' but not really close enough for the practitioners, the pragmatists and the pedants to think it worth devoting much time to...
It is undeniable that there is a very significant social change, with momentum and observable results happening. It is equally undeniable that digital technology (using definition 6) is inextricably linked to this social change and drive. However it was similarly linked in the days it was called 'e' or 'i' or 't', so what has changed?
Is the digital part of the equation no more than a rebrand of previous 'initiatives' driven by people who want to sell you, or persuade you about, the same old same old?
I think not. It is at this point we need to consider that interesting linguistic change from literal to metaphorical.
1.A figure of speech in which a word or phrase is applied to an object or action to which it is not literally applicable:
when we speak of gene maps and gene mapping, we use a cartographic metaphor
1.1.A thing regarded as representative or symbolic of something else
That is easy enough to understand unless the word 'digital' is being taken beyond that of simple 'metaphor' into the realms of the 'cultural metaphor'......
Any (ordinary) metaphor is only as good as the value in creates in providing new insights and increased understanding, but a cultural metaphor is even more complex, as it involves aggregations of individuals.
"A cultural metaphor is any activity, phenomenon, or institution with which members of a given culture emotionally and/or cognitively identify. As such, the metaphor represents the underlying values expressive of the culture itself. Frequently, outsiders have a difficult time relating to and/or understanding the underlying values of a culture..."
(Understanding Global Cultures: Metaphorical Journeys Through 23 Nations (Gannon, 2001a) Emphasis mine.
If 'digital' is being taken, or taking us, into the realms of cultural metaphor, what does it signify, (note we stop using the word 'mean' at this point)
This is a difficult area as there is currently no widely accepted 'right answer', which is probably significant as we consider some of the characteristics of what we think 'digital' is coming to signify.
Cultures don't develop overnight and the cultural metaphor 'digital' (yes, I've decided that's what it is....) is, i believe, the result of the cultural phenomenon of 'digital natives' ( a term coined by Marc Prensky in his work "Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants" published in 2001)
Generally the term 'digital native' refers to changes in which the digital era has transformed the way people born into that era lead their lives. It refers to how they relate to one another, to technology and how it shapes expectations of what can be achieved and how. So now we start to make inroads into the metaphor as we are introduced to cultural elements. These are thought and behaviour shaping elements that actually have demonstrable effects on the way people expect and choose to live their lives, to transact business and to manage relationships. It is certainly a step change from the literal definitions 1 through 5 above.
As a 'digital settler' (well, I think I am) this chimes with me and I find it both helpful and illuminating.
In case you were wondering, although settlers grew up in an analog-only world, they have helped to create and shape the digital worlds contours. They can be quite sophisticated in their use of these technologies, but also rely on traditional forms of analog interaction, (if you can't be a digital native, this is the place to be)
Escaping the tyranny of literalism in the quest to understand cultural shifts is akin to using imaginary numbers to produce very real results from otherwise insoluble mathematical problems.... The results are real, but the mechanisms used to get there may be seen as pretty esoteric.
There is a lot more really interesting stuff on this, but enough is enough, suffice to say that I think the word 'adaptive' is the one to which we must turn our attention.
Digital, both literally and metaphorically, is where we are. This is the name given, the metaphor currently in use, to describe a very tangible and observable cultural movement, born of technology and innovation, with life shaping influence. However, it is those with the inclination, capability, mindset and prescience who will not only identify the opportunities but will also drive forward the required changes to maximise the benefits afforded by the new opportunities. In short, those who see the need for, and are prepared to invest themselves in, adapting to the new circumstances.
These will be the disruptive innovators, the vanguards who enable others to see the future by making some of it happen now. It was the case with the wheel, with smelting, with steam power, electricity, flight, medicine and 'digital'. It will also be the case with whatever comes along next - be it literal, metaphorical or , most likely, both.
But there will be those who just say 'bollocks to all that, I just want to do me something digital'