After a Year, is it Time to Log Off?

Covid Anniversary Blog

In this morning’s tutorial with a postgraduate our conversation meandered here and there, touching on writing, juggling deadlines and inter-weaving theoretical ideas with the blessed Harvard referencing. It reminded me of the best things about being a university tutor – I was actually helping!

Except, I was sitting in my house with my laptop perched atop my knee and as I stretched my crumpled back, I thought how this was now normal.

Before the pandemic, tutorials would be prearranged on campus and less frequent.  Now, I’m constantly online, seemingly available and visibly accessible. In truth, I am troubled by this altered relationship with the digital world even with all its inherent affordances.  

Recently my research has been putting to work theories of new materialism (Albin-Clark 2020). Through this lens, we see the humans (me and my friendly postgraduate) in co-existence with a non-human world that we could trace from our laptops. Cables snake beneath my street, electrical wires stretch across rooftops powered from generators far away, flicking data along invisible networks. From this perspective, the material and social are in a complex assemblage when the human becomes displaced from the centre of the focus. This leads me to the question; what does the non-human world do?  

Without doubt our inter-relationship with the non-human digital world offers affordances, like convenience and accessibility. But there is more at work as using technology is embodied, your fingers tap at the keyboard and your heart rate spikes as you open your emails.

Yet what troubles are embedded in those affects? Our enticing, ever blinking devices blur personal and professional boundaries causing the working day to creep in earlier and slip later into the evening.  Our back and wrists ache, the reading glasses prescription no longer fit for purpose after a year of screen-bound life.

Now what I long to do is the simple act of switching off my computer and shift into an evening that is not a workplace.

I am missing those chance human encounters in my lockdown technologically entwined life, the material social assemblage of twinkly corridor tutorials. The students catches your eye, you gently touch their arm in greeting and the ensuing talk tunes you in, sparks your next teaching plan and eases troubles.  

So now I’m looking to re-entangle with natural world, so I just might refill those birdfeeders in my little back garden and stretch my legs in the Springtime air. I’m disentangling in stages from my non-human digital world, and so here I go – I’m logging off!

Dr Jo Albin-Clark is a senior lecturer in the Early Years Department, Faculty of Education at Edge Hill University.

This piece is written in response to a post originally published in the Covid-19 blog on 28th May 2020 by Jo which can be found here.

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