Some notes on digital technologies, peripheries and temporalities in Argentina

During the last decade, the expansion of ed-tech policies has been embedded with a particular idea of time which seems to have gather consensus among scholars and decision makers alike. The “future” temporality which can be found in many ed-tech policy documents entails a promising, linear and homogeneous concept of time, leaving no place for a more complex and situated reflection about temporalities, digital technologies and schools. The over simplistic and celebratory ideas of change and the role that technologies get to play in it as “proxy signifier” for “the future” (Selwyn & Facer, 2013) have popularized a conception of modern educational institutions as old and obsolete, even irrelevant, while connected and continuously participative kids represent all that is to come regarding the always changing market and citizenship demands. In other words, the digital road implies adopting ways of doing according to the affordances of contemporary media and technologies, while leaving other ways behind (Gitelman, 2006)

This additive conception of temporality tends to locate the educational technology researcher in the role of a futurist who addresses worlds to come and as a designer of new scenarios, while disregarding the messy and thick reality that configures the present, its more tangible problems and its boundaries for action.

In the meantime, the myth of digital universalism and the future-oriented technological developments (Say Chan, 2014) continue to adopt particular expressions in each locality, sustained by particular policies and practices which remain largely understudied.

This is why we have chosen to ask ourselves some questions which intend to understand how the Argentinean ed-tech policy scenario has addressed temporality and particularly, in what ways linear temporality is linked to a main problem which, far from the optimistic and euphoric technological views, concerns our messy present: inequality. Our interests can be summed up in these two questions: How is temporality conceived in ed-tech policies in Argentina? What are the implications of dominant conceptualization of time regarding inequality?

1. The linear, the global and the distance: occidental constructs of time-space for the periphery

The postcolonial studies (Rufer, 2010) that have analyzed Western constructs of the relations between time and nation (Anderson, 1993) offer us a useful framework to approach temporality in public policies and its links to inequality. In the past centuries, the dominant Western theoretical subject adopted a particular space-time point of view to understand Latin America. More precisely, it spatialized in terms of a “global” phenomenon a very particular temporality: the linear time of evolving progress, homogeneous and empty, thrown out of history, and hence, uncontestable. From this perspective, the success of modernity was not only built upon the secularization of time, but also upon the configuration of a universal space for a specific cultural pattern.

According to this pattern, cultural difference is also envisaged in spatial terms, or, more precisely, as a distance. As Rufer points out (2010), “anthropology as an imperial tool involved the dominance of the other as a time-distance” (p.18). This idea of distance can also be productively located in different techno-pedagogical chronotopes[1] that operate defining space as time in public policies: the digital gap, the inclusion /exclusion of digital culture, the entrance to the 21st century society, among others. 

This global spatial condition of time has also contributed to the blurring of divergent cultural worlds and to the definition of the postcolonial citizen as an actor in transition, incomplete, in an ever-pending mission that is clearly expressed in international organizations’ documents. This citizen is always in the waiting room of development, subsumed to the time of the “not yet”, as Hegel conceived it (Dussel, E., 1995), inhabiting a temporality built upon asymmetries and based in a dynamic that has not been broken neither by the welfare state with its redistributive policies nor by the neoliberal state with its sustainable development goals. There is a peripheral time / space framework from which the global is approached.

2. Schools as time-space: a brief background of educational technology public policies

Some of the main traits of these peripheral time and space frameworks can be traced in the past decade´s discussions on the role that digital technologies should play in schools. Curricular policies dealing with ICT integration but, most of all, expectations regarding the centrality of digital technologies in education trigger discussions about space and time often showing an overenthusiastic and celebratory consideration of these media and technologies as devices that would take everybody to a connected globality and, eventually, put the country on a track to development.

At the beginning of the 21st century, the digital natives vs. digital migrants (Prensky, 2001) operated as a slogan that mandated that the schools should catch up with some youth cultural practices that contrasted with a supposedly obsolete educational proposal. Even though educational research and theoretical reflections eventually overcame this false dichotomy, media discourses as well as some educational programs still express strongly these ideas. Some examples of this are training for empathy or TED talks for schools, which reproduce the mission civilatrice 2.0 (Morozov, 2012) at the classroom level. Even some of the most important digital literacy projects of the past years have echoed these ideas by presenting reductive contrasts between a delayed and anachronic school and young people´s innovative practices.

In the last years in Argentina and other Latin American countries an array of national ICT programs and policies that intend to shape some sort of school for the digital era have been developed, not only following ICT integration, but also with the aim of improving equality. In Argentina and Uruguay, for example, research shows that ICT programs have had an egalitarian impact over different social groups (Benitez Larghi, Lemus & Welschinger Lascano , 2014); and unfolded a narrative of change and social improvement (Dussel, Sefton Green & Ferrante, 2013). But besides the organized integration, the rapid and massive expansion of mobile phones (with a 139% penetration rate in Argentina) have driven to other sort of ICT integration problems at schools. The pre pandemic school stablished a conflictive relation with mobile devices, which were regulated by specific norms, forbidden and also used with pedagogical purposes with diverse outcomes, but the not yet post pandemic school offers us a different dynamic in which apps like Whatsapp or Instagram have specific school uses. The challenge to coordinate school times —chronometrically established, with a clear beginning and end moment— with the flow of social media, where instantaneity is the only time possible, repeats itself.

Beyond the institutionalization of ICT integration plans through public policies, the massive introduction of digital technologies is redesigning the classroom (Dussel, 2017) as well as having radically transformed everyday life, now mediated by one or more screens, every time, everywhere, including schools. The world becomes a 24/7 flux of consumption, unstoppable, with no switch off (Crary, 2015). The ways of being in the world, spending more time connected than unconnected, also raise questions about the ontology of presence (Aranzueque, 2010) and the intimate bubbles we create and enable particular experiences of inhabiting public spaces: immersed in personal screens, the physical place decouples, affecting our ways of sensing the world (Meyrowitz, 2005).

Which is the time and place of school in this world? What kind of cultural discourses can school and actors from the educational field formulate to contemplate school´s own time, within its own agenda? What forms of intervention can schools develop to disengage itself from the impositions of other social actors and engage them productively, in a relevant way regarding cultural and technological transformations?

3. The pause and the past: alternative temporalities for schools’ digital challenges

The tension between school and social media temporalities constitutes an interesting research and policy challenge. Masschelein and Simmons (2014) push forward the idea that schools can constitute a space of pause /suspension, different from the market, the social representations and the productive time. This suspension serves the purpose of detaching practices and skills form their regular use, in order to turn them into something available for reflection and study; something, as they call it “prophane”.

At the same time, it is also clear that the mere possibility of existence of this paused school temporality is permanently being disputed by techno pedagogical discourses, expressed in public policy documents, that project educational institutions to a global future, aligned with the modern idea of an evolving, linear and homogenous progress. The long-standing promises and expectations at the end of the road (Selwyn, 2010) are the successful settlement into the 21st century society, the automatic improvement of education, a democratic life with no conflicts and a model of productive development able to place or keep countries in the so called first world. The means to achieve those promises is the acquisition a number of digital competencies and abilities which not only seem to be the same for every context, but also disregard other school agenda items which are less promising but make sense to school actors.

For those lagged countries, all these expectations and promises emulate the Tantalus myth. They are placed in the future, but they always remain unachievable. A different perspective on the matter, a suspended gaze capable of looking at a past time and school´s historical processes, could let us detect the ruptures and continuities that, along with unresolved disputes, blur the promises of recent techno-pedagogical discourses and their temporalities.   


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[1] The notion of “chronotope” used by Bajtin (1981) in his analysis of literary genres allows us to conceptualize temporality in relation with space. In narrative studies, chronotopes have been used to locate and pinpoint the forms adopted by the intrinsic and indivisible correlations of time and space, placing time as its fundamental principle. It is a set of temporal and spatial features that exist within a genre. It has served the purpose, for example, of marking the thematic importance that “the road” has in the history of the novel: not only is it visible in the old customs and travel novels, but also the heroes of the medieval chivalry novels undertake a “path” along which the adventures of the story unfold.  Beyond its use in literary studies, the chronotope has been productively appropriated for the analysis of a wide set of discursive genres.

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