#edcmooc Utopia v Dystopia: Where does technology come into this?

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:

Suzanne Hardy




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.

Ethics of online coaching

Recently, I gave a presentation on the ethics of online coaching at Oxford Brookes University The question I wanted to ask was, what happens to ethics when we go into a digital environment?

Arguably, ethically, online coaching has the same issues as  face to face coaching. In that a coach will seek to create an environment where their client can trust them to help them to think well for themselves in order that they can move forward from their present situation.

However, the nature of contracting for any service online requires us to be much clearer about what is going on at any point in the contract. A friendly lawyer, who works for one of the many organisations who audits websites for a “trusted” status, handed to me a booklet filled with legal, regulatory, technical based criteria I needed to provide beyond the essential information that described my service. I can not deny that I was a little alarmed by the volume and variety of obligations I had to declare.

In summary, from my current understanding, an ethical policy for any online service will need to include:

  • A clear description of what the service is with the key aims, objectives and outcomes
  • An easily understood description of the choice(s) of communications via the Internet
  • Tutorials on how the communications technology works
  • A guarantee that all information, shared online, will be kept secure and remain confidential
  • A demonstration of compliance to legal, regulatory and insurance issues such as consumer protection
  • A demonstration of skill, competence, qualifications and accreditation of a recognised coaching model
  • A discussion to agree the contract. Times, process, potential conflict of interests etc.
  • A procedure for the payment process with an “acknowledgement of order” and  “right to cancel policy”
  • A code of ethics accessible for review online

This seems like a lot to do to be an online coach. So I decided to ask a few people to see what they do. How do you manage your ethical obligations in the digital ether?

To help me to gather some data I created two surveys using Survey Monkey. The questions were based on a number of sources as well as what I have learned from running my coaching sessions online.

The first survey asked a series of questions about what you do to create an ethical coaching practice as a coach.

The second survey set out to find out what the client thinks! What would they want to see their coach doing on the ethical front?

If you would like learn more about how to complete your own ethical audit on your coaching practice and/or you would like to see the results, send in your contact details with a request via the Strong Enterprises contact page.