It’s Week Two of EDCMOOC and we’ve been asked to think about future visions of technology and education, exploring how utopian and dystopian stories are shaping our understanding of what is happening in the sphere of e-learning. We’ve also been asked to focus on the underlying, and in many cases, explicit, ‘metaphors’ that are used when talking about the impact of e-learning on traditional education, on human beings, and on society, looking again for examples of technological determinism and the like. There’s so much to unpack here that I’m not sure where to start, but here’s my take:
Films One and Two
Both of these films are advertisements, the first by Corning, the second by Intel, that hyper-idealize the use of technology in all realms of life with the underlying implication that technology will make everything you already do better — your commute to school will be more fun, school will be more engaging, diagnoses will occur in real-time, medical experts will be accessible remotely, et al. Interestingly, the films didn’t depict technology as game-changing in any way: kids still sat in classrooms in rows with a teacher and a “board” in the front of the room, families still had a Mom and a Dad, doctors were still in a hospital, Dad still drove the kids to school in a car. In the words of Corning and Intel, respectively, technology was merely “enabling” or “bridging.” No one got replicated. Instead you have clean, sleek, light-infused traditional spaces filled with shiny, happy people, and the requisite upbeat soundtrack. Awwww…they forgot to show the family dog.
As for the use of metaphor, it’s so well integrated into each film that it’s hard to tease it out — I’d argue that every choice made by the filmmakers — of setting, situation (family, education and health are cross-cultural fundamental values for just about everyone), the use of light and music — literally everything operates as an elaborate metaphor. Add to that Intel’s on-the-nose metaphor of bridge building.
Films Three and Four
If I had to put a label on Films Three and Four I’d say both are dystopian, but not to the same degree. But I’d also argue that labeling Film Three dystopian is an overstatement, and labeling Film Four as dystopian ignores the utopian elements also depicted in the story.
In the case of Film Three, “dystopian” seems like too strong a label – perhaps because it was quirky and not bleak like several of Week One’s films. To me, it seemed more like a lighthearted commentary on what it’s really like to use technology…technology is supposed to make things easier and faster, but in truth it’s often a nuisance that borders on the inane and laughable. If you want to look for deeper meaning, I suppose you could argue that the message is that technology is not just unreliable, but utterly useless, but I personally wasn’t compelled to attribute that much meaning to this short.
Film Four was more interesting to me because it had both utopian and dystopian elements. On the one hand, you see Mr. Creepy Guy using technology to exercise, make healthy food choices, et al. But his life seems lonely, his surroundings cold and austere with a complete absence of the natural world. Even the fridge is empty of fresh fruits and veggies. But the real dystopian clincher is when he crosses an invisible line by using technology to manipulate his date into liking him, and depending on how you interpret the ending, to control her. So ultimately, I view Film Four as a strong cautionary tale that’s saying, “technology can be good at the individual level, but be careful when it’s used to mediate human relationships.”
On a side note, I thought it was interesting that the date who appeared equally at home with the use of her electronic eye, was nevertheless seeking an authentic relationship unaided by technology. I found it particularly disturbing that she so easily cast aside her initial innate sense that the match was a bad fit, and that it was only because of her electonic eye that she discovered that Mr. Creepy was using a dating app to sway her feelings in his favor. If my take is correct, then the film implies that technology negates your senses, and makes you more susceptible to the influence of others.
As for the use of metaphor — Film Four plays with the idea that the eye is a window to the soul — so the inverse would be electronic eye = soulless. I’d say that’s bad. The fact that the notion of eyes being windows to the soul appears in the New Testament (Matthew 6:22), in Shakespeare, and even in science and medicine (jaundiced eyes, for instance, are often a sign of an underlying illness) makes the metaphor that much more potent. Does that mean that technology is EVIL?