A take on dystopia. Or is it utopia? A stream of consciousness blog for #edcmooc

Ok, then. #edcmooc has begun, and the first unit is about utopias and dystopias. Naturally enough, given the focus on digital culture and education, we are to look at the first assignment while contemplating education…

At first we are asked to watch 4 short films. They are

All of them have a different take on technology.

Bendito Machine is a fairly standard parable about the dangers of technology, specifically televion, telling us how it corrupts a society. The more subtle background is a commentary on how perhaps humans are dependent on something to worship, and whether it is a gold calf or high-tech dancing television beast is not important to us. Indeed, the people in the film are quick to discard their idols for the next impressive thing, as their overflowing landfill will attest to.

Inbox is more sweet, a fable about connections, showing how if we allow ourselves to connect based on content rather than appearances, suprises and even love may ensue. The "inbox", in this case, is a magical paper bag – or rather, two, connected paper bags. In this case communications technology becomes a magical force bringing unlikely lovers together.

Thursday is the most complex of the selection. We are introduced to an urban nightmare, a sterile, mechanised, soul-sucking cityscape. And yet, within this seemingly sterile enviornment, life seems to thrive. A bird feeds and raises her three chicks. A man and a woman find each other and love. A clever twist on the dystopian tale, where the victor seems to be life and hope.

NewMedia is mostly a nightmarish meditation, where machines seem to float around feeding on the brains/thoughts/souls of the few humans around.

And so?

Science fiction is full of dystopias; words that tell us about the dangers of science, technology and messing with nature. It has been that way since the dawn of recorded history, starting with the story of Prometheus and the theft of fire from the gods. Progress is dangerous, and for all the benefits it also brings disaster for both the giver and receiver. Frankenstein is another example, where grave consequences are the result of meddling with nature. In real life, the introduction of cane toads into the Australian fauna can be seen as an example of a similar hubris.

Don’t mess with nature. Science will lead us to disaster; one of the more common themes of science fiction, especially now that we all see so clearly how human "progress" is poisoning our very planet and endangering our future.

The list of films that paint a rather bleak picture of the future is long. Metropolis. Westworld. Blade Runner.

Even films that at the outset seem to have a more positive view of technology end up with a rather bleak view, with a prime example being 2001: A Space Odyssey. Even a film like Source Code, where the technological progress saves a city has a downbeat ending.

One of the few examples of an unconditionally positive view of technologial progress is the Star Trek universe, and even here there are plenty of warnings and the two most recent films seem to have abandoned techno-optimism altogether.

Ok, then. What about education and digital cultures? That is what we are supposed to be reflecting on, isn’t it?

I don’t know yet.

I love gadgets and the connections the internet allows me to explore.

I think networked education has a huge potential, one I have experienced myself through experiments with things like #etmooc, #moocmooc, #ooe13, and, more recently, the Norwegian #smartlæring.

But, at the same time, the potential of networks to be misused is frightening – and Edward Snowden is not the first to point this out. We have been warned about it for a long time. This is a dystopian view of the world as it is today, and it is chillingly convincing.

What does it mean to educate within digital cultures in the modern surveillance state? What should I, as an educator, think about. What should I teach my students about this.

I am reminded about the slogan sometimes used by supporters of the national rifle associaton in the the USA:

Guns don’t kill people. People [with guns] kill people.

To which the obvious retort is:

So keep the damned guns away from the people!

But we can’t do that.

Can we?

And, even if we could – do we want to?

These thoughts are not yet digested, but I seem to have been chewing on them for some time now. This block in #edcmooc has just brought them to the surface again…