Last week I travelled to Braunschweig to deliver two conference papers at Participation and the Postdigital: Contemporary technologies and practices in education and urban life. These were on the subject of ‘The augmented reality of the postdigital city’ and ‘A short experiment exploring the train carriage as a postdigital learning space (Edinburgh Waverley to Braunschweig Hbf)’.
The ‘experiment’ in the latter paper took place as I travelled by train to the conference last Wednesday, setting off from Edinburgh Waverley, followed by connections in London, Brussels and Frankfurt, before arriving into Braunschweig around 17 hours later. I was interested to see whether and how digital technologies supported the train journey as a productive learning and working space.
At the same time, there was an environmental motivation behind the mode of transit. As universities and educators reckon with their responsibilities around climate crisis, there has emerged a need to re-evaluate whether it’s OK to travel by air to attend conferences, meetings and other events. We can make a case for doing so when an event doesn’t support online attendance, or the occasion is of sufficient importance that it demands being in the same physical setting as other delegates or colleagues (and it isn’t feasible to get there without travelling by air). I was interested to see whether the train offered a viable alternative to air travel.
Inevitably, this kind of journey isn’t feasible for everyone or suited to every occasion. My chosen mode of transit was made possible by university conference funding, not least as it was more expensive to travel by rail than by air. I am also fortunate to enjoy physical health and mobility that made a 17-hour hour journey a reasonable proposition. Tiring, but not out-of-the-question.
There’s also the issue of time. Considered alongside air travel, train was the slow route to Braunschweig. Even after factoring in the 2-hour international flight check-in time, and then connecting train journeys that would have taken me from Berlin airport to Braunschweig, it would have been twice as fast to go by plane. But then again, I would suggest that a series of three- and four-hour train journeys is more conducive to working than the stop-start experience of air travel.
I made these and other points when I reported on my experiment at the conference. I also explained that a range of digital technologies (laptop, software, streaming services, wifi...) contributed towards the train carriage being a productive writing and working space. However, these digital resources were always woven together with other human and material actors: that is, the train carriage existed as a postdigital space.
I am a Lecturer in Digital Education (Education Futures), within the Centre for Research in Digital Education at The University of Edinburgh.