An Example of a Dystopian Techno Future

the-borg#EDCMOOC

We have been asked to think of an example of a film in which technology is presented, either with a utopian or dystopian slant.

The Star Trek (STNG) franchise would seem to cover the whole spectrum of utopia to dystopia. Heavily techie in its focus, set on the utopian, highly democratic, accessible Enterprise against the backdrop of the Federation, the series (and the films) presents the possibility also of a technological horror: the Borg. Their message: you will be assimilated, and of course resistance is futile because the Borg do not care how much damage they sustain in pursuing their goals. There is always more tech and more resources to call on. The only thing the Enterprise crew have to fall back on is their humanity and courage in the end. (Though they do get a lot of help from Data, who is an android, craving humanity).

Poetry of Dystopia

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http://hellopoetry.com/poem/dystopian-children/

I came across this poem during a class I was teaching this morning. My A level students are researching dystopias as part of their coursework assignment, which is in the form of a 3000 word essay, based on 3 texts. One of the girls had found this poem, and it seemed absolutely appropriate to a reading of Bendito Machine and New Media.

I’m including the text as well as the link:

 Tanya Ward · Nov 26, 2012
Dystopian children

We are the people that you created.
A generation going nowhere.
We are the kids that you hate.
Brought up by fear and paranoia.
The technology era,
distinguished by guns and violence.
Raised and spoiled;
aggression and hate the new emotions.
Alienated from each other.
Passion and empathy completely diminished.
A dystopian world,
ruled by liars and thieves.
Pain is coupled with pleasure.
Angst and depression consuming the minds.
Break away from the hate.
Become a better generation.
We are not the nowhere kids.

InBox: some thoughts

The film signals its interest in human communication and relationships early on (hand-holding etc) and the desire for benign communication (cuddly toys). The imagery is quite simplistic, but its a simple film, and sweet.

Elements of fairy tale and magic realism, but most important is the sense of instant gratification being paramount to the correspondents – that produces an enormous amount of data to cope with (bed strewn with post its) – and the attendant danger of meaninglessness – throw away comments / smileys etc – is this real communication? Ultimately there is a reliance on the bag, which  is where the dystopian/utopian opposition is really felt.

ImageThe bag itself is benign – its shiny surface, happy colour scheme – but the correspondents’ dependence makes it passively dangerous – they bestow power on it so that when it breaks, unhappiness and disjunction ensue. The ending signals the importance of human communication, breaking out of the box that they have allowed the bag to create for themselves. They were ‘in box’ ie boxed in by their dependence on the magic form of communication. To maintain their humanity they have to meet in person. E.M. Forster has a similar theme going in his short story “The Machine Stops”.

What sort of educational debate does this provoke? I guess the importance of human interaction in the learning process – lots of subtlety is missed through online/telephone communication – also a lot of spontaneity. In the film, it is only when they meet face to face that one suspects they are really going to know each other, and learn from and with each other.

Bendito Machine: some thoughts

The film makes no bones about which side of the utopian/dystopian debate it aligns itself with. In Hand and Sandywell’s (2002) terms, the film sees technology as anti-democratic, shovelling aside individuals. It also clearly involves high and low culture in its discourse.

The effects of the technology are desensitising and dehumanising (there are echoes of Anthony Burgess’s Clockwork Orange in the violence on screen with a super-imposed happy soundtrack) – and no-one seems at all bothered about the casualties! The people are passive consumers for the most part (very like the girl and boy in InBox) – they have thin little arms which seem incapable of much – and although the tech becomes dysfunctional and toxic (gasmasks!), the people are dependent and worship.

The bit I liked the most was when one of the people goes back to the mountain (a little like Simon in Lord of the Flies, for whom there is nothing else to do but confront the horror). I thought he was going to challenge the techno-gods, by hurling his little rock, but in the end he simply buys in and brings on the next, more powerful and dangerous piece of tech. Technological determinism very much in evidence. The society is a direct product of its tech – unfeeling, desensitised and insignificant.

The Dalek image at the start of Chandler’s (2002) web-essay is highly relevant.Image

Utopias and Dystopias

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Chandler (2002) implies a highly negative view of technology from the outset by including the Dalek as an icon of the future. The machine is depicted as overcoming any positive human qualities of understanding, justice, compassion etcetera, as it seeks to impose its anti-humanistic control over the world/galaxy/universe.

Most people would recognise this as an extreme view of a technological future, and not necessarily valid except as a means of producing thrills in an audience.   Does the icon have value as a term in our discourse?

Transforming Education

@skarabrae_comm tweeted this link

The main premise of the article is that there has seldom been “a true paradigm shift. This isn’t surprising, considering that innovation, responsible risk-taking, and teacher leadership are rarely encouraged, valued, or supported in education.”

It goes on to argue that in order to achieve a paradigm shift for education in the C21, 3 major elements must be promoted:

1. A culture of learning
2. Teacher leadership
3. Technology and innovation

And here is a link to a very interesting graphical representation of what 21st Century Learning could look like.