Paradigms and practice

Exemplars and work, not models and analysis

We don’t need a theory for disruptive innovation because paradigms are defined through practice.

Scientists work from models acquired through education and through subsequent exposure to the literature often without quite knowing or needing to know what characteristics have given these models the status of community paradigms. And because they do so, they need no full set of rules. The coherence displayed by the research tradition in which they participate may not imply even the existence of an underlying body of rules and assumptions that additional historical or philosophical investigation might uncover. […] Paradigms may be prior to, more binding, and more complete than any set of rules for research that could be unequivocally abstracted from them. (Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions)

You’ll never find the digital media worldview outlined neatly in a textbook. What you can get is a textbook presenting a series of statements and catechisms that look to believers like a neat and comprehensive definition of digital media. But to outsiders it will look like gobbledegook—arrant nonsense composed of random fragments and patent delusions. This is normal. To me, texts that outline the core values of print and its associated worldview look like wishful thinking, wrapped in denial, tied with a neat bow of nostalgia. You can’t teach a worldview. It can only be ingrained and defined through practice.

The only reliable way to adopt a particular worldview is to join the community of practice that defines it.

To see the world through the eyes of print you must work with print.

To see the world through digital you need to do the work and commit to the practice as it’s employed by the communities that surround it. Yes, communities, plural, because there is more than one.

To answer the question “what is digital media?” you have to resist the temptation of engaging in structural analysis or of constructing intricate theories. Instead you have two options, both of which are the same tactic but from two different angles.

  1. If you are interested in figuring out what digital media is to the audience, look at what the audience does.
  2. If, on the other hand, you need to define it from the creator’s perspective, look at what creators do when they create.

Both will vary depending on what cross-section of the practicing or experiencing community you are looking at. Good. This is a worldview, not an internally consistent mathematical model or a engine with tight tolerances.

“What is the web?” It’s linking, progressive enhancement, modularity, separation of form and content, dynamic, animated, and shareable.

“What are apps?” They are tightly integrated representations of structured data. They are databases and riffs on standard User Interface elements. They are a capsule definition of a particular developer’s understanding of a format or structure.

Digital media is how we make it.

Digital media is how it’s enjoyed.

Our actions are what define it, not our words, statements, or catechisms.

(Note: this is why the entire discourse on ‘millennials’ is utter nonsense spouted by morons. The worldview schism isn’t generational but practical. A millennial with a MA in Publishing who works for a traditional publisher will have a thoroughly print worldview. A sixty-five year old software developer who has been making websites and server-side software for twenty years will see things from the perspective of digital media. Everybody of a particular generation doesn’t behave in the same way or have the same opinions. Try not to be stupid about this. )

← Back