Michael de Percy is that rare beast: an adult Australian who does not own a mobile phone. It’s all the more surprising when you realise what he does for a living. De Percy is a lecturer in political science at the University of Canberra, whose specialties include telecommunications, the internet and the national broadband network.
He runs a blog, Broadbanding the Nation [http://www.politicalscience.com.au], and owns an iPad and a netbook, so he’s clearly not a luddite, but the phone, he said, had to go, as did Twitter and Facebook.
“My blog enabled me to re-focus and I recently withdrew from all social networks except my blog. I use technology to provide efficiency where it is needed. If it is a case of using technology for technology’s sake, then I don’t use it,” he said.
De Percy began blogging in 1999, but took too it seriously in 2006, initially writing about politics and current events in Australia, after returning from a sabbatical in Jordan.
“But like many bloggers, I found that after I had whined about a few things, and solved all of the world’s problems, I ran out of things to say.” He then started blogging about his research into broadband policy, while at the same time using Facebook for teaching and community engagement, and later Twitter.
“When I was online with Twitter and Facebook I found I did nothing during student semesters,” he said. “The more I was available, the less work they [students] did, too. They could just ask me every couple of minutes when they had questions. It just became unbearable, and created stress and set an expectation that I couldn’t possibly meet.”
The phone went in 2009 and “my life has been better for it”, said de Percy, and Twitter and Facebook have recently followed. But the blog remains.
“Blogging about my experience with communications technologies has enabled me to focus and to articulate my thoughts. Diary writers would know how powerful this can be – the only difference with a blog is that everybody else gets to read my diary.”
His blog operates as a sort of portable CV, he is careful to link all his written work to it, and as a way to work through his thoughts. “Writing blog posts forces me to think deeply about my research and also consider how it might be perceived by anyone reading it,” said de Percy. “You don’t get that sort of instant feedback on other forms of writing and I have learnt a great deal from many of the comments I have received on my blog.”
De Percy said that it was still an “uphill battle” to have blogging and other electronic communications classed as legitimate forms of output for research, and that many people in academia were resisting the switch to the digital world.
“Some of the traditional institutions are barriers to innovation and many of our students are well behind their overseas peers in using technology for learning and research,” he said. “I’m hoping that the NBN will change things here but if not there will still be plenty to blog about as Australian communications policy is shackled to politics.”
He doesn’t expect the NBN to make a major difference to on-campus life, but for distance students it will be something else. “[It will change] the ability of students to study in an online environment, and in an equitable way as well.
“We could probably expect students to be on campus less, and they’d start demanding [that],” he said. “But many unis are not geared up for distance education … students will force that attitude change.”
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