Engaging the Generation of Thumbelina and Tom Thumb

Published: 24 January 2022

Due to the proliferation of new technology, there is a new generation that thinks in new and unique ways. According to philosopher Michel Serres, we need to teach them differently. To do this, we need to understand how they experience the world, and what they may lose and gain through their digital interactions.

At the start of each semester, when Prof Tim Barker looks out from the front of a lecture hall, increasingly he sees students that think differently to him  - and perhaps from any generation that has come before. This generation has grown up thinking not just with their heads, nor just in seminar rooms or libraries, but with a collection of external devices connected to the internet.  

According to the philosopher Michel Serres, this is the generation of “Thumbelina and Tom Thumb”; figures engaged in typing on screens with their thumbs, able to access vast swathes of information, and  capable of multitasking and shifting their attention at break-neck speeds. This new generation thinks in new and unique ways, and so we need to teach them differently. We need to understand how they experience the world, and what they may lose and gain through their digital interactions.  

In his research Prof Barker has been asking two questions about this group, through the perspective of philosophy of technology. The first is related to the impact of digital technology on the representation of memory, history, and temporality. This has led him to consider the way stories, artworks, and objects have been re-imagined within the digital context and resulted in his first book Time and the Digital.  The second relates to the way technologies interrupt older communicative flows, and might provide obstacles to what we usually think of as a narrative of events and historical consciousness. This led to his second book Against Transmission and his most recent edited collection Miscommunications 

How might this research apply in the world out side of the University of Glasgow? That is something Prof Barker is keen to explore. This research could bridge the gap between what Cultural Heritage organisations do now and how they might maintain an attraction to this new generation. By understanding how they perceive the world through technology we can ensure that provisions meet with expectations. 

To find out more about Prof Barker's work or how you might collaborate with him please get in touch

First published: 24 January 2022