Sunday, February 03, 2013

Utopias and dystopias – digital culture (#EDCMOOC)

First of all, I'd like to apologize for writing in English rather than in Portuguese. It's part of my first experience on participating in a MOOC (Massive Online Open Course). I've joined the community and for five weeks I'll be attending the “E-Learning and Digital Cultures MOOC”. We have five tutors from the University of Edinburgh, and an impressive amount of 40.000 classmates from all over the world (wowwwww!). I'm not quite sure if everyone will continue to participate since the dropout rates of online education are normally very high, but I can tell you that the engagement shown by so many students is already large enough to feel overwhelmed. Thousands of blogs, twitters, forum discussions, google +... I do feel I need a hug (and not a virtual one!).

Our first week of course ended with an hour of hangout session with the tutors. It was a live conference session and I was delighted to see and listen to the teachers, their accent, well, let's say the “human part” of a virtual course. Sian Bayne was drinking water, Jen Ross scratching her head once in a while, the students begging all of them to speak slowly... For them, it's also challenging to have so many students and essays to follow and provide guidance. We're all learning from each other in this massive type of education. Christine Sinclair talked about one student who said that all the texts are already very good and there's no need to add anything more, but the teacher insisted we can tell which parts we consider relevant and why. I'll try this way. And I'll try to check out others blogs and to interact as much I can. Because we really learn not just from the books but from interacting and exchanging ideas. This first week was already worthwhile, although I think we need more than 5 hours per week as mentioned on the course presentation. For me it's nice to learn the main subjects of the course and the whole e-learning process (what is the best "methodology", for instance).

To think about the binary utopia (desirable) and dystopia (undesirable) related to technology and its contribution for society development, we had a film festival on this first week. I really liked one animation called “Bendito Machine III”. It reflects how we worship technology. Isn't it crazy to realize nowadays that people stand in queue for 5 days (and nights!) to be able to be the first ones to buy a brand new model of Iphone? And later on, all this gadget will turn into garbage, like the piles and piles of e-waste mentioned on the film? Interesting that the story begins with someone climbing a mountain, like Moises did to receive the God's 10 commandments. The technology shapes our lives, creates extra needs and we don't realize anymore when we're acting like zumbis (non-critical people). You can see on this movie when the “digital-God” kills some characters on the way and no one seems to have tools or free will to try to “fight back” and protect their colleagues. I wonder how far we can see that the “digital-God” can be an enemy? On real life, however, I believe we can make decisions, analyzing what is good or bad on a digital culture (I will not buy a new cell phone to have more apps because of eletronic waste that prejudices the environment, for example).

I would like to share three interesting quotes from the web essay by Chandler, D. (2002) “Technological determinism”, that I consider related to “Bendito Machine III”.

(...) “'The Frankenstein Syndrome: One creates a machine for a particular and limited purpose. But once the machine is built, we discover, always to our surprise - that it has ideas of its own; that it is quite capable not only of changing our habits but... of changing our habits of mind' (Postman 1983, p. 23). Although Postman denies that that 'the effects of
technology' are always inevitable, he insists that they are 'always unpredictable'.”

"Postman insists that 'the printing press, the computer, and television are not therefore simply machines which convey information. They are metaphors through which we conceptualize reality in one way or another. They will classify the world for us, sequence it, frame it, enlarge it, reduce it, argue a case for what it is like. Through these media metaphors, we do not see the world as it is. We see it as our coding systems are. Such is the power of the form of information' (Postman 1979, p. 39)."

Carroll Purcell refers to a mystical, 'semi-religious faith in the inevitability of progress' (Purcell 1994, p. 38). As he puts it, 'the notion is that a kind of invisible hand guides technology ever onward and upward, using individuals and organizations as vessels for its purposes but guided by a sort of divine plan for bringing the greatest good to the greatest number. Technological improvement has been the best evidence for progress so far' (ibid., p. 39). This is a surprisingly widespread popular myth.”

I would like to invite you to watch this short film about the mobile evolution:

It lasts only two minutes, but it seemed extremely slow and endless for me. I felt the urge to “unpack” quicker and quicker a more modern version of the machine, that would be smaller, more efficient and more convenient.

How far goes our obsession for the technological progress?

How aware we are of the consequences of the information flood and devices that emerges apparently with no control into our daily lives?

Who controls who?

1 comment:

Diogo Alcobia said...

I guess the problem is that we don't have a critical attitude towards technology.

I have the Apple products in mind as I watched this film too and how ironic it's that people worship this devices, but throw them away so casually once a new version comes out. It makes you think how mad compulsive consumerism is.

Maybe it's a stampede effect or group behavior, but when enough people start doing something it compels other people to do the same. Like facebook. Some years ago everybody had an orkut account and facebook was an unknown. Then FB started to grow but it still was something of a hipster thing. And then most your friends were on facebook and stopped using orkut and you had to switch. I think this illustrates how we deal with technology today.

I think people are more aware now about the consequences of our way of life, socially and ecologically. There are those who denounce how the internet has changed the way we think and make it hard to focus on anything for long. But most people don't care enough to actually change their habits.

Apparently apathy reins.

I've reviewed the movies on my blog. If you're interested I'd very much like to have someone to discuss with.