So lets start with what I think I am talking about here. I want to ponder on the issue of whether the onward march of technology is a good thing or a bad thing in our daily lives. Whether technology is creating a Utopia or a Dystopia?
This pondering was prompted by a brilliant new Massive Open On-line course, or MOOC, organised by Edinburgh University. This is a collaborative learning course where many thousands of people can participate through a range of communications and learning technology platforms. I am not sure how many there are participating in this one but I do know 40,000 learners has been mentioned a few times. Yes, it is a lot of learners on one course! It feels like jumping down a waterfall into a VERY large pool of fresh water.
So, on with the task in hand. In this blog I am going to focus on four short films. Each film represents a different reflection of technology Utopia v technology Dystopia.
But what do I mean by technology Utopia v technology Dystopia? I was invited to study articles and resources including Daniel Chandler (2002) and Hand and Sandywell (2002). The latter argues that an Utopian view of digital culture and digital education is one where I can choose either to see technology as an enabler towards a better world in all its forms. A neutral and widely available force that is “intrinsically democratizing”. Alternatively, I can choose Dystopia where technology is harmful, providing at best a sharp, cruel instrument designed to ‘manage’ or control all online conversation and thereby ‘manipulate’ opinion, Hand and Sandywell (2002).
In the first film, Bendito Machine III, this eye-catching animation tells the story of what Caroll Purcell might identify as ‘the semi-religious faith in the inevitability of progress’ (Purcell: 1994, p38). Loaded with familiar symbolism of climbing mountains, lights from the sky and present alien-like-machines silhouetted against a sinister orange. It tells a simple story of a community’s lurch through an evolution of deities that mirror an evolution through a series of technologies. Each new arrival is worshiped and, when it dangerously malfunctions, it is dumped . As one of my fellow MOOC learners pointed out it was important to see the one of the deitie was a TV, while limited in it functions was a important innovation that had a significant global impact on society and learning. As each deity gets larger and more impressive, the shorter its period of usefulness – another parallel. Well, I suppose my saucepans have lasted a lot longer than any of my computers! The mystification of this techno-evolution is unaltered by the incidental “accidents” made by each new technological deity. Do the worshipers have a choice? I think they do from my safe observational place. They think they do within the confines of their understanding of how the world works. Perhaps a Dystopian film with Utopian characters.
In film 2 called “Inbox” we are told a delightful story of two young people who are clearly shy and uncomfortable with other people. Synchronicity connects them through two red carrier bags. The magical powers of these two bags introduces them to each other and allows them to transport messages and objects to each other. We are clearly told that this b-mail is more than just a social network because we were invited to notice one of the characters did not want to use Facebook. It reminded me of the personal pleasure of writing and receiving a letter in the post…. except this appears to be gratifyingly faster. Yes, there was a Utopian theme as it demonstrated how this magical technology allowed two young people to dance on the edge of that scary place of being vulnerable with another.
In film 3, Thursday, we are pulled into a angular patterned world of digital productivity in which a small bird, representing nature, is looking for food. Our feathery friends are curious and resilient in their digital urban landscape. They are noticed only when they interfere with the digital world. It is our little bird who has the agency The digital natives are uninterested and inert without the continuity of technology. In fact, its is Daniel Chandler’s ‘technological determinism‘, the technology lead theory of social change (Chandler, D: 2002), that is demonstrated clearly with all aspects of the human workers world defined by a well thought through technological world.
I have to say it threw into sharp focus how much I am connected to my technology!
The dark portrayal and overwhelming technological force in the final and fourth short film New Media is suitably depressing. There is dull light and cold colours in this augmented film. A deserted landscape with overbearing machines sucking/maintaining (?) life in the name of the technological imperative. Parallel themes with which I identified with the first short film Bendito Machine III were the shape of the machines, the use of menacing colours and the bland landscape. The Dystopian and reductionist imagery where the inevitable irrelevance of life leave an city empty an desolate.
Other blogs I enjoyed include:
Hand, M. and B. Sandywell. 2002. E-topia as cosmopolis or citadel: On the democratizing and de-democratizing logics of the internet, or, toward a critique of the new technological fetishism. Theory, Culture & Society 19, no. 1-2: 197-225. (p.205-6)
Chandler, D. 2002. Technological determinism. Web essay, Media and Communications Studies, University of Aberystwyth.