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….


microsoft productivity


another ad for hypercapitalist utopia…. that struck me as a dystopian nightmare world devoid of real people and meaningful activity..

I think what I hate most about all this techno nonsense is the spectacle of billions invested in developing technologies to create more techno junk to sell to generate more profit… and nowhere do we see anyone using their smarts to solve real problems. For all the whizzbangery going on in this little advertisement, I couldn’t see one example of a real world problem being addressed let alone solved… what we see is a sterile environment where there are only rich people using technology to do things they can do perfectly well without technology…  just the sort of pathetic fantasy to a saccharine soundtrack that white businessmen apparently love to waste their time with while they destroy the planet and laugh all the way to the bank…

after the introductory techno revolution enabling white woman to manage the otherwise insurmountable challenges of navigating herself from airport exit door to taxi and hotel, thanks to augmenting reality glasses, we skip to the HK metro, and a Chinese businessman checking his schedule… in English…. and making a patronising donation to a ‘world music’ fundraising event for the token unspecified ‘poor’.. for that instant feel good factor enabled by the pseudo interactive hologram poster…

microsoft 1

then skip to sterile hotel room for a quick bit of faux text editing made easy by technology (because editing is after all simply a matter of shifting the position of the odd paragraph)… and the environmentalists should be pleased because there are a couple of trees out the window and some pictures of trees in the e-book/tablet thingy… but the focus is on paying attention to the bottom line, or “please ensure the maintenance costs” for all this greenery reflect the company’s ueber profit drive…

microsoft 2




then we skip to metrosexual modern man looking super excited by his large 3D display networked e-book/tablet thingy in his grotesquely sterile office where he gets to interact with both white and black ladies and exchange meaningless data in a ‘fun’ way, and HK man joins in the fun of exchanging meaningless but oh so important looking data (and the environmentalists are appeased again by a green wall inside the building… along with the pretence that anyone in such an office would be thinking about environmental matters as they consider how to max the profits by minimising the outlays)

then we skip to token young person doing homework in the new age… in another grotesquely sterile space devoid of other people, dogs, food or life as she ‘interacts’ with her e-book/tablet thingy’s cutsie bear tutor…

then dad comes in to add to the family e-schedule on the wall… and next activity??? little girlie and her at ‘work’ mommy are virtually planning a cake bake and the shopping – so daddy can focus on eating…

This is microsoft’s vision of a great ‘new’ future…. jesus, pass me the buckets and the razor blades….

or give me a parody!

corning’s day of glass


Corning gives us a capitalist’s utopia – advertising multiple new opportunities for expensive high tech glass-based materials in the big markets of domestic life, education and health care ‘industries’.

As the day dawns, we are invited to imagine “thin, lightweight, damage resistant, 3D projection” display glass for various handheld devices, and see how much better than curtains would be some “privacy enabling, color selectable, UV/thermal insulated, durable electrochromic glass”…

then we see waking child automaton using her tablet to activate a glass wall of her wardrobe which displays the day’s schedule as well as images of all the clothes inside the wardrobe, which she then makes simulated selections from before then opening the wardrobe and taking out the clothes….

Corning 1

I guess it would cost many thousands of dollars to be able to spend that extra bit of time doing a simulated clothes scan and select before the real action…. not clear why the representation before the action would improve, enhance or speed it up, or make it more enjoyable….

anyway, moving right along, to the endlessly repetitive soundtrack of mindless blandness, we see automaton children get into daddy’s car and excitedly use their very expensive transparent glass tablets to do another pointless simulation activity – ‘cheekily’ changing the car’s dashboard display to pink, so daddy can have a happy laugh when he gets in the car at his radical offspring… and privately get off on how he can afford “custom contoured, glare & smudge resistant, touch capable automotive display glass” and a ‘so-much better than a key’ visual activation device and “lightweight, durable, photosensititve automotive design glass” for the windows…

then all the happy little automaton children rush into a sterile elementary school with its “high efficiency, durable, lightweight, hermetically sealed” environment (which in a token gesture to environmental awareness, is at least powered by the sun through photovoltaic glass panels on the roof), where they can enjoy an extraordinarily sterile high tech learning environment where word and action of teachers and learners are visualised on the “durable, seamless wall-size coverage, touch sensitive wall-format display glass” – just because we can, not because it makes any difference to anyone’s comprehension of anything… and the children remain silent, compliant and separate, as they amaze at the technology…

then we shift to their ‘art’ class, where, saved from the horror of actually ever getting their hands dirty, they stand around a glass table like so many robots as their teachers wows them again with more “durable, multi-touch enabling, pressure differentiating work surface display glass” technology, which their interactions with are limited to a few meaningless movements of colour onto pre-conceived photo selections…

then we shift to a pseudo hospital environment to witness “anti-microbial, scratch & chemical resistant, thin & lightweight specialty tablet glass” being used to do simple administrative activities very expensively… and then to witness how “durable, seamless wall-sized coverage, touch sensitive wall-format display glass” might be used to do much more expensively some more complex analytic work that we can already do…. but with “highest bandwidth, wireless integration, bend insensitive glass optical fibre” (that of course never fails – unlike the display of the google doc I was just drafting these notes onto before blogging them!) the men in white coats (you know, the kind that no medical practitioner ever actually wears, just their TV representations) can pretend to be doing something important as they create simulations of diagnostic work, while the patient lies silent on a “multipurpose, anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-fungal slab of anti-microbial glass” and the radiologist/technical assistant interacts with a “thin, lightweight, damage resistant” display glass interface of a handheld device, in Chinese, to set up a virtual MRI, and the event data are automatically stored on the wall display, in English…. and the doctor finger flicks the brain scan visual data that instantly projects out from the patient’s head via “superior transmission, distortion free, thin 3D optimized glass components” onto the wall display, and noone actually has to egads ‘speak’ to anyone….

then we shift back the pseudo educational environment, where children are separated safely from nature, on a field trip to forest, by a multi million dollar “display enabling, damage resistant, touch sensitive all-weather surface glass” barrier between the walkway and the trees… on which they experience more simulated ‘fun’ listening to a wild ‘park ranger’ man (sporting a pony tail and goatee, so you know he’s a radical environmentalist) without a speck of anything resembling egads soil anywhere… until they venture daringly into the actual forest… in order to overlay what is really there with a simulated vision of what might have been there millions of years ago in someone saccharine fantasy gamified world of dinosaurs….

and no one learns anything about the actual natural environment under their feet and all around, if only they would look at that…. they learn instead how to use their expensive handheld device to ‘do the thinking for them’ and identify an animal footprint, and how to quickly get away from what is there and connect with the “augmented reality enabling, durable, lightweight transparent display glass” that seems omnipresent in the middle of the forest to see things that aren’t there instead…

and they record their ‘experience’ for fun later with ‘mom’ watching the “vivid & immersive, frameless design, next-gen high-definition 3D TV display glass” on the wall at home…. where they don’t of course discuss anything ‘real’, but relive the ‘much more exciting’ disney version of biological history, and merge their sense of what is ‘education’ and what is entertainment…. and they bothered to go to the forest itself because…?

then with “energy efficient, flexible, warm & relaxing fiber-optic lighting”, we see they have, at the end of the day, “learned more” because Corning has made their education so much more expensive, and everyone has successfully colluded in a fantasy world where anything real is airbrushed out of the picture – yay…

this was intended to be read as ‘utopia’?