deconstructing human-ism


Week 4 already… how did that happen? Such a variable, this human perception of time.

Anyway, in this final week of guidance-by-resources-and-good-questions, before the final week of somehow-making-sense-of-it-all-in-less-than-5-minutes-or-800-words…. we’ve seen a few more interesting short films, and read some (to me) very interesting stuff.

Robbie is an amusing short sci fi fantasy about a robot sent into orbit to maintain whatever techno junk is up there by the decades into the future this film portrays… and who, on last legs or gasping breath of battery life, is recording a personal history in the hope that someday someone might find the recording and be able to bring him back to ‘life’, because he kinda misses all his remembered human friends back on earth (sorry Rob, I think they might actually be long dead by now)…. it’s a cute take on the sorts of discussions we’ve been hearing and reading of late in this course – especially on social sites, where a plethora of stuff in addition gets posted – suggesting that robots might become as human as humans (and humans as robotic as machines). The film maker says he didn’t intend any particular message with this film, but was just curious to ponder how we face death, transposing very human thoughts and feelings onto the robot, that we might better notice them, and appreciate the living we have.


The next this week was Gumdrop – another short about a very humanised robot, this time a female one on earth, who is remarkably good at house cleaning… I guess that’s what’s meant to make her seem just like a real woman? (I laughed more at the references in the film to both Bulgaria and Alabama, as that will speak to two of my quadblogging team!)

I found this one less thoughtful than Robbie – high ‘production values’ as they say, but less point to it. The vacuum robot is applying for an acting job, talks banalities in warm up interview and reads a few lines of meaningless script in a different accent, which she finds ‘exhausting’… why? I really have no idea what that was about…


Moving right along, then we have True Skin (which I still have only seen half a minute of because it just won’t download in any reasonable timeframe and I keep giving up and moving on to some more important task)…. clearly a play around with the idea of us perhaps being able, in the unspecified future, to replace body parts – in this fantasy, like fashion accessories – and extend functionality and life…. there was something going on in the voice over about “who would want to be like them?”…. referring to ‘fully organic’ people who are too poor to afford new parts and walk around the streets being sick and old and heading for death…

true skin

One thing that immediately struck me in this one is the use of colour – every other ad or art film about the techno future has been so grey-blue and creepy clean, this one makes a striking contrast, but the storyline is radically dystopian, so that juxtaposition of bright lights and abject misery of the have nots is really unsettling… a bit like real life in capitalism… ooo

Finally, we had Avatar Days.. unlike the others, not about humanised robots or technological transformation of human bodies, but about the second lives of ‘regular guys’…. we see bizarre characters from game worlds walking about the streets and hear the voice of the ‘real person’ behind the avatars and what they think of the character they inhabit online..

avatar days

Then in the end we see the characters at home, looking in the mirror, where we see the real person reflected….. It’s a really cute concept for a short film and very well put together…. but not being a gamsey person, and not being a bloke, well…. you know..

Really enjoyed the readings this week…

Bostrom’s text here on so-called transhumanism aligned well I guess with the Fukuyama utterances of week 3’s listing…. all about bodily enhancements (or dystopian modifications and impositions by big pharma). This is the territory of good and evil resulting from technology implants into human bodies, and mind altering drugs to achieve greater social conformity, as well as the ‘we’ll soon be able to download your mind onto a silicon chip’ brigade…. (I really can’t quite fathom how or why anyone takes that AI kind of nonsense seriously… each to their own, but I have yet to read anything in that domain that is based on any understanding of how language works and why the brain = computer analogy is rather ridiculous.. I just deal with the irritations by making fun of the discourse… and collect classic statements as I come upon them into casual scoops that I might mine later for more serious purposes…. like my thesis – ah yes, I must make some time for that this week too!)

On a more philosophical note, Cary Wolfe’s blog was a pleasure to read, locating arguments on a metaphorical terrain bounded by such divergent extremities as Fukuyama and Harraway represent….. she gives a nice overview, and articulation of the current challenge of the ‘posthumanism’ crossroad we find ourselves at, where, as she puts it, “the disciplinary formation we call the humanities” meets an ’emergent and more inter-disciplinary range of possible meanings and practices’ (such as what we are exploring and experiencing in this mooc no doubt).

Haven’t had time yet to read through the ‘system upgrade’ report on education, but will get there!

I think in short, this past week and a half, I’ve really enjoyed perusing the humanist and posthumanist material, seeing more short films, and thinking about how they align with these larger narratives…. but I’m definitely most interested in the philosophical and historical discussions of how humanist discourses construct a certain vision of personhood. I think it was Egbert’s blog last week make some really good points about the politics of defining a ‘person’ and citizen… and Giada posted something about ‘the illusion of presence’ or ‘non-mediation’ afforded by technologies that I wanted to follow up on (but haven’t had time yet)…. what’s on my mind, as ever, because I seem to have a one track mind (like most folks I guess) is the illusion of presence that language construes… I don’t tend to think whatever technology is as material in the illusion of presence as is language itself…. but that’s food for another day’s thought…

what did you make of it all?

meanwhile, I have a hangout to attend now! see ya


defending human nature


There seems to have been a real outpouring of commentary this past couple of weeks about ’emotion’ and the perils of technology…. I guess because the theme of ‘humanity’ coincided with the ‘competition’ and playing with new tools going on in week 3.

The short films of week 3 gave another mixture of advertising and artistic critique …

The ‘real deal’ ad for Toyota plays with ‘virtual reality’ and the gamification of life, presenting the experience of driving a new car as ‘more real’ and the way to ‘break through’ the bullshit of socially and corporate controlled life into ‘freedom’… a virtual man in a greyish simulation of life scenario finds and drives a ‘real’ red sports car (strangely in the middle of his office, like a dream), and he suddenly no longer wants to inhabit virtual reality, jumps in the car and smashes through the screen to drive on ‘real’ (well, full colour cinematography) roads in lovely landscape…. yes well, we’ll leave the ironies and insults of that representation to speak for themselves….

real deal

An equally sad and silly ad from British Telecom unconvincingly tries to persuade that landlines are more ‘real’ in relationship maintenance than other modes of communication…. why? because the couple thus tied are imagining hot sex in their scheduled rendezvous? So now they use sexy women not to sell red sports cars, but landlines? I wonder just how low, sad and pathetic advertisers and their corporate clients can get… and whether they’ll ever grow up…

Moving away from the mad men world of advertising to the whatever the hell it’s about of World builder… a strangely eery (and what the hell is it with all the creepy blueness of all the representations of so-called virtual reality? the uniformity of that look is oppressive and depressing) computer generated sci-fi fantasy about  – we discover at the end – a comatose woman being given some kind of virtual reality experience by her geeky man… I don’t get whether this is supposed to be suggesting that some sort of simulated second life can bring the half dead back into real life, or whether it’s implying that his elaborate attempts are in vain, but I don’t care, because jumping to the next film was much more fun…

world builder 2

The best is last – Made of Meat… what a gem! hilarious – witty even… visually quoting Edward Hopper, this is a clever little narrative of  two aliens dressed up as humans, so as not to be noticed, sitting in a ‘diner’ discussing research findings about the strange species on earth who have been trying to make contact with other sentient beings in space for decades via radio waves and yet who themselves don’t transmit the waves (they build machines to do that)… because they are entirely made of meat – even their brains! … The aliens find this incomprehensible to imagine how meat can think and communicate, but there it is….

made out of meat 2
made out of meat 3

made out of meat  made out of meat 4




Thank goodness for something that takes the piss…. I was getting bored and irritated by the relentless nonsense of advertising and ‘serious’ fantasy…. give me ridicule any day.

So the theme at the centre of all this messing about in videos is human nature, what is and isn’t ‘real’ and how technology-dependent or driven life might be threatening all we hold near and dear…

And as I began by saying, it seems there’s been a huge response along those lines in the image fair and in the various discussion spaces…. apparently lots of feeling the need to defend feelings, and argue the case of our unique individual identities amidst diversity, (or homogeneity)…. maybe people are just being playful, but I found myself getting increasingly confused and bemused as I browsed around this week, about how the ‘defending humanity’ topic is being interpreted… I’ve been feeling kind of alienated… the majority seem to be accepting the notion that humanity needs defending, because somehow everything we know and love really is under some kind of threat of annihilation.. but I don’t think that is what they meant at all (!) when they made these selections of videos and readings…. aren’t we just  being invited to consider this particular popular storyline… in order to critique it, not to swallow it undigested?…. or do we just hold off on that til next week?

In terms of what digital technologies mean for education, there’s been a lot of representation of children and babies playing with mobile phones, ipads and laptops, for example… lovely and amusing images, but with the suggestion that there is potentially something dangerous and ‘dehumanising’ about it that we should be protecting children from… messages that a a child using a range of relatively new technologies is somehow ‘redefining’ what it is to be human… that youth is being ‘led’ somewhere else, somewhere.. bad…. that brains are being ‘rewired’, or on the other hand, that ‘digital natives’ might have the answer…. but what was the question?

This kind of determinism makes no sense to me at all 😦  I just don’t see how or why playing with digital communication tools or developing ‘digital literacies’ makes anyone ‘different’… and I am quite sure I have no ‘wires’ in my brain to start with, so how would my brain be ‘rewired’? I used to get annoyed about that particular metaphor… now I just try to laugh. Of course it changes what we can do, and how quickly, and with whom… but the notion of changing our ‘nature’ that quickly is a little… well, silly, given how we’ve hardly changed at all in hundreds of thousands of years. This all reminds me of the sort of racist nonsense that gets spoken of ‘primitive’ people sometimes…. having grown up in Australia, and having taught a lot of Australian Studies in other countries, I have very frequently encountered the discourses that seek to represent indigenous peoples here as utterly transformed by contact with European culture, as though it’s somehow the change in technologies that effect change (for good or devastating ill), rather than the socio-political processes of colonisation…. widespread still is the view that you’re no longer a ‘real’ Aboriginal person once you start speaking English, using cars and cameras, and marrying whitefellas…. hmmm. I deal with this sort of racist rubbish by doing deconstructive discourse analysis – it’s the only weapon I have in my repertoire!

So why are folks finding it seductive to seriously imagine that sitting here, as we are, typing or reading words, would somehow be utterly changing and radically transforming our entire sense of ‘self’?

One thing I’m quite sure of is that I am simply doing still what I’ve been doing since I was born – learning and using language, mainly, along with other modes of representation. Isn’t that what you’re doing? Did you or I ever exist anywhere or anyhow else? hmmm… next week

But Badmington’s paper is in week 3’s readings… and it’s a gem of a summary of 20th century critiques of ‘humanist’ discourse… in the forms of Marxism, psychoanalysis and poststructuralism, that simply aim to stop and look critically at how we imagine human nature – not in order to destroy everything we know and love, but to understand more of what the hell is going on in our lives in a way that is less blinded by the political and ideological control mechanisms we are governed by and most of the time unaware of….


visually learning, collectively yearning


what a blast the past week has been with all these lovely pictures to look at and ponder on!

and the google hangout by the course teaching team this week was just wonderful, from my point of view. As I’ve been saying in various comments online (such as), I’m finding the ‘openness’ of this online learning we’re doing within and beyond this mooc quite extraordinary and fabulous… I am acutely aware of the storyline that says moocs are a disaster for higher ed, and fully expected this one to be pretty crap, as I said to Angela when we first met before this course began – we happened to attend the same small group meeting at the uni where I work about moocs and eLearning and in introducing ourselves around the table as you do we found we were both enrolled in the same upcoming mooc.. Angela had a bit of experience already, and was clearly quite enamoured of the potential riches they offer (girl in candy store was the feeling she described having), while I was the sceptic, enrolling just to see if it was or wasn’t possible for students not yet particularly proficient in English (the sorts of students my work at uni focuses on helping), and fully expecting this kind of environment would evidence a hundred reasons why it’s not a great place for them to be… and after this past month I have come away with quite the opposite than expected experience.

Obviously I’m not in the linguistically vulnerable position here (I’ll experience that when I try to do a mooc in one of my ‘other’ languages), and I don’t pretend to speak on behalf of others, but what I am finding amazing is the amount I’ve learned and been freely able to consider in this environment about my own teaching practice and what else I could be doing with available technologies and task ideas and subject design…. I mean I’m pretty happy with what I do generally (or I was til I came here), but I have learned far more than I anticipated I would, and I am coming away with a very different conception of what ‘open’ education means…. which I’ll probably elaborate on in the final artyfact thingy I guess…

but meanwhile, I’m just enjoying thinking about what a great opportunity this is, not just to learn a few new technological tricks of the digital trade, but to learn by doing what effect networking on this scale and at this speed can do for a renewed sense of joy and value and potential in an eLearning environment. and best of all is the ability to see so much of what goes on not just in this course context, but also in others, so that we can compare, and we can also immediately see and hear what others with every possible level of experience and perspective think about it all… I mean, here we are, hearing the team who have designed and are managing the delivery of this course, talk openly and honestly about what they are thinking as it happens! How often have you experienced that as a student? How often do you, if you’re a teacher (which most of us here are) how often have you been that transparent with your students?

This is a kind of openness and connectedness to ‘the literature’ (which now includes various modes of representation and delivery) that I have NEVER experienced before – not this fast. I mean it normally takes literally years to get this level of juxtaposed information and opinion based on extensive observation and experience happening in this way… that’s the big impression I’m getting at present anyway, and I’m really impressed! I think because of the ease of sharing digitised material in these social networking spaces, we’re currently able to make comparisons and develop collective understanding of what does and does not work well in eLearning not only faster, but with far greater fun and joy than is the usual dragging of self through the academic treadmill of ethics approvals to ask your own students a few bloody questions and publishing and peer review and yawn yawn – here it’s all happening live and now and it’s fun. what? no this isn’t higher education as we know it, it’s a damn site better! And what is more, and better still, the community of learners is more diverse and is growing and diversifying all the time. Nothing gives me greater pleasure than to see the facebook and G+ pages being posted up with messages in languages other than English – this is how it should be. It’s real. and it’s human.

None of which is to say I am oblivious to the problems and limitations, and I’ve been tracking the growing great debate for some time, and reading with interest various other and no doubt better trackers of this debate (such as Ronald’s blog and scoopit pages)… but somehow the more diversity that appears in this debate about moocdom, the more interesting it becomes, and that’s of course the other great take home message – opening up discussion like this is what higher ed is all about, not limiting and pretending there is only one ‘correct’ way of looking at anything

Anyway, that’s enough for today, got to look at some more visuals and read more blogs by others, and get to the beach!