The Nature of Technology: Dystopia vs. Utopia

E-Learning and Digital Cultures caught my eye right off on Coursera.  As both an EFL teacher at the secondary education level, and a newly published author, this material could not possibly be any closer to my current reality!  Try not to laugh but I have on occasion consulted my 7th -12th grade students (as well as my children) for social media pointers and they have often proven surprisingly astute!

There is a lot of debate as to whether or not technology actually connects or isolates us.  The question I would like to put to my fellow Courserians and social networkers at large is who developed the assumption that on an intellectual or emotional level proximity is a prerequisite for “meaningful” communication?  It is our choices and actions which facilitate our connection/isolation in relation to our environment, whether immediate or remote.  In that sense technology may act as a tool or a pretext, but I am not convinced it is a catalyst in and of itself.

As regards e-learning (formerly referred to as ‘correspondence courses’, distance or remote learning), so far as I have been able to observe the same basic principles apply as in any “conventional” teaching environment.  Information is made available, and each individual that has access to that information will glean from it personal growth and understanding directly proportionate to their level of interest and effort.

When we refer to digital cultures, human history is condensed to a depth of essentially 2 decades.  When I first arrived in Greece in 1989, in many areas you were still required to put your name on a waiting list of several months or even years just to get an analogue land-line installed, and the cost was prohibitive.  Five years later the cell phone boom began, though I admit I didn’t purchase my first cell phone until 1998 and didn’t have internet access at home until 2000.  (I guess I am a dinosaur!)

Technological Determinism…  hmmmm.  Let’s talk about this later.

My gut reaction was: “Which came first; imagination, or technology?”

As for the very interesting and engaging short films included in the syllabus I was a good girl and resisted my initial impulses, as such I viewed them in the order listed (on the wild chance that those intrepid souls who developed the syllabus wanted it that way).

Bendito Machine III (I intend to seek out versions I & II) its lead in allegory to the “techno cult” where gadgets are votive items of idolatry, reminded me straight away of the 1980 film The Gods must be Crazy, filmed in South Africa before Apartheid had mellowed. “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure” taken to the extreme.  At the end the thought that came to mind was “Skylab is falling!”.

The nadir of many a great civilization: the moment knowledge, recognized as a source of power, is “deified” and thus coveted – not for itself but for the “power” it represents.  The “Dog and Pony Show” will only pull a crowd so long as the audience is blissfully ignorant, yet maintains the illusion that they too wield power if they just “believe” in the show (…there’s no place like home Toto…). Is that a “Dystopian” or “Utopian” view point?

Inbox was a very tender rendering.  The impossible is the Deus ex machina…  An illustration of, no matter how disconnected (or even repulsed) you may feel with your immediate environment, an unexpected opening always exists if you are observant enough.  Is that a “Dystopian” or “Utopian” view point?

Thursday – The Natural vs. the Artificial World.  The birds – their freedom and disregard (aka ignorance of the roles of “things”) as a contrast to the ultimately structured regimen of the “humans” (was the lady always texting him???)  Or as Baloo said in “The Jungle Book” – what are the “bare” necessities?  At first glance this piece reminded me a lot of Madeleine D’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time.  The anomaly is the soul of the natural world.

For me (as always speaking for myself) the least impressive film was New Media.  It came across as the show reel of a young director interested in SFX.  The visuals were trite/taken from extant film.  The message? If you are a fatalist your canvas will be dark.

I admit that I have not yet read more than a fraction of the written materials included in this section of the course, and I haven’t the courage now to debate along with the founding fathers of the US as to whether any of the “Determinisms” can lead us to orgasm.  But as a sensual being I certainly hope so…

Victoria Andre King is a freelance writer and audiovisual professional her novel The Führer Must Die is available for pre-orders and will be released on November 8th 2016 with Yucca Publications, an imprint of Sky Horse Publishing NYC.

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