Blog Post

"Difference Is Our Operating System"--Fiona Barnett

"Difference Is Our Operating System"--Fiona Barnett

I've blogged before quoting HASTAC Scholars Director Fiona Barnett's brilliant, pithy mission statement for HASTAC:  "Difference is not our deficit; it's our operating system."   Fiona has a talent for getting to the heart of the matter.   Yesterday was our HASTAC retreat, where the core administrative team based at Duke had a chance to think about what might lie ahead, especially given that we now have a website/social network that actually can host the online community we have long envisioned.


What Fiona's defining quote states so well is that, if you begin from the conviction that everything that powers you--your operating system--is grounded in asking the question of "how are we different," then the answers themselves won't look ordinary.   That is our starting place:  "what makes this network unique?  what about this way of doing things is intrinsically and determinedly different than other ways of doing things?   what are we leaving out?  what are the range of differences by which we are defining ourselves--and against? what new ways of seeing the world are we espousing?  what blurs do we see as different and definition between a lot of binaries that have shaped academe--thinking v doing, imaging v building, form v content, disciplines, departments, fields, academe v non-academic, k-12 v higher ed, formal v informal learning, plus all the identity categories you can ever imagine in all combinations you've ever seen or heard of.   


So, three basic areas of interest, as always: 

(1) new media:   How do new media afford us different ways of interacting and motivating and connecting and network than do previous forms of communication and publication?   How can we envision and build new and different communities and connections as we design new media?   How can we develop new tools not for the sake of new tools but because they offer the possibilities of retooling, of powering different, important, creative new ways of thinking and acting in the world?

(2) critical thinking:   How can we make sure that, in our excitement to create new tools, new communities, new interactions, we always ask ourselves the why? how? who is included? who is excluded? what is the cost--human and material? what is the benefit--human and material?  what different contribution does this make?  how is it different?  does that difference matter?   

(3)  participatory or blended learning:   in or out of academe, in or out of school, in the classroom and in the streets, in the classroom and globally distributed across networks, HASTAC is dedicated to maximizing the affordances of new media to model new and different ways of learning together.   If all we do is produce the same hierarchical, traditional, rote forms of learning and measuring the content of whate we learn, then we have failed our principle that "difference is our operating system."   All of the possibilities of interactive learning, of "collaboration by difference," our methodology of electing difference as our key and defining principle, must be embodied by what we do.  And that means in projects, not just in ideas, that are carried out in real world settings.  


"Difference is not our deficit; it's our operating system":  when you have that mandate, you can make a difference in the world.   We're now over 7000 strong.   We finally have a site that can host multiple groups, forums, projects . . .    and, over the next weeks, we'll be communicating and modeling and helping everyone explore what possibilities are here.  Even better, go for it!   Some of you already are.  Explore the site.  Use the Feedback form to ask questions as you noodle.  "We" can only be as different as the 7000 of us committed to changing the rules, changing the game, changing the boundaries, changing the limits, changing the questions and therefore the answers.   



Cathy N. Davidson is co-founder of HASTAC, and author of The Future of Thinking:  Learning Institutions for a Digital Age (with HASTAC co-founder David Theo Goldberg), and the forthcoming Now You See It:  How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn (publication date, Viking Press, August 18, 2011).  below. For an early, prepublication review of Now You See It in Bloomberg BusinessWeek, click here.

A starred review in the May 30 Publisher's Weekly notes:  "Davidson has produced an exceptional and critically important book, one that is all-but-impossible to put down and likely to shape discussions for years to come." PW named it one of the "top 10 science books" of the Fall 2011 season.

For more information, visit or order on by clicking on the book below.

  [NYSI cover]


No comments