4 February 2013

Graveyards of technology

Utopian & Dystopian Views of Technology

I just started a new online MOOC, 'E-learning and Digital Cultures' offered through the University of Edinburgh and Coursera. I tried to say no, I really did. I 'pinned' the tab on Chrome and opened a new section in Netvibes for it, but had no time to look over the material other than the introduction in the first week. I decided therefore, that with my Flat Classroom Teacher Training starting this week, it would be better for me to accept that I cannot do the two courses plus my heavy work load at the moment. So I was a good girl and I 'unpinned' my tab.

But I gravitated back to it this morning because it interests me so. I accept that my engagement can only be limited but I also accept that I do need to engage with it, as it will inform my thinking not only as a educator operating in ever-increasing digital culture, but will also provide some great insight and resources for my actual teaching of this topic.

The first block of the course asks us to look at 'Utopian and Dystopian Views of Technology', which reminds me of one unit I have taught in the past that I wish to resurrect in the near future. It asks learners to explore the question, 'Can we handle our technology?' and asks them to think deeply about whether humanity is really ready for the technology it is creating in an attempt to get them to view technology as more than something that makes our lives 'better' or 'easier'.

Throughout the course of the unit, we examine texts such as 'iRobot', 'When the Wind Blows', 'Frankenstein', 'There Will Come Soft Rains', 'The Matrix: Reanimated' and 'Minority Report'; exploring how advances in technology may not always offer the fruitful future we aspire to. It explores the darker side of technological advances and makes learners consider the impact such advances may have on our futures as human beings.

The short films offered up for consideration for the E-learning and Digital Cultures course will make a welcome addition to this unit and in particular, I really enjoyed 'Bendito Machine III'.
I particularly like the contrasts portrayed in the film; the simplicity of the animation and colours contrasting with the technology and concepts it explores; the ritualistic nature of human response to technology that conjured up thoughts of advertising that evokes strong brand loyalty that has some of us devout Apple tarts whilst others holistically Android. I liked the primitive nature of the people and their surroundings over the technology that they worship and the exploration of how our need to believe has evolved. Science replaces faith and yet we still blindly follow; the yellow light of 'god' that presents each new 'icon' from its tumultuous storm cloud becomes later a 'searchlight', scouring the earth for some remnants of hope, with the klaxon warning reminding us to look for a truth rather than accept and follow what is offered up. It is about choice and about our desire to believe but also about our throwaway culture that sees us flit superficially about without substance.

In this film, technology is offered up at the behest of the people who always want more but who are never satisfied with the answer in front of them; they discard the old and replace with the new but never really search deeply. The pit of broken machinery is beneath our feet and suggests there are ecological and social implications from an obsession and fixation on technology; it is not buried but picked over like bones in a graveyard; forgotten but not gone; replaceable but not replaced.

In a world where technology advances steadily and massively it is hard to keep up and there is little time to truly get to grips with each new tool offered up to us. The shining beacon of each advance and each new exciting app is hard to resist but we must remember that we have choice and we have the ability to evaluate. We cannot use everything; we cannot possibly even try everything but we must accept with thought, shine the light over the bones of what we use and evaluate the remains or else it will all be thrown over the cliff and no one will have learned a thing.