deconstructing human-ism

#edcmooc

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.

robbie

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…

gumdrop

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

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defending human nature

#edcmooc

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…

BT
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….

 

charlie & the plural sight

#edcmooc

Poor little Charlie, not exactly the chocolate factory he’s landed in… the next three films this week were disturbing indeed – we seem to have abandoned all sense of utopia and I’m getting depressed! there’s a distinctly grey blue to the week’s view…

when I first saw Sight, a while ago, before the course began, I read it as a pretty funny parody of geekworld – technically very clever, but representing a tired and sad male fantasy of what AI & AR might be good for… I thought, as I tend to do more and more the more I see of such things, what an obscene waste of brain… all that technological clever, for so little social gain… why don’t people use their smarts to solve the real problems of the world, rather than just spend their entire waking lives wan..ing? hmmm

it’s interesting to think about this film though, not only in relation to the idiot advertisements from glassware and software corporations (again, technically brilliant, but socially dysfunctional denial of reality fantasies), but also to articles like this which is exploring these technologies from a school educator’s perspective (thanks for posting this on G+,  Maha)… it’s genuinely troubling sometimes how potentially great applications are just sort of missed, and what is imagined is well, sort of … lame and the same old… and the metaphor of brain as machine just makes me despair..I found this article much more interesting, or perhaps just relevant to my immediate context and concerns…

I kind of skim read Plurality, but took it as a more serious take on the threats of surveillance technology run amok – every single move we might make being monitored by ‘the grid’, the powers that be, Orwellian style… very clever… think I’d definitely rather have crime reduced this way!

I REALLY like the film Charlie though – a kid on the cusp of turning 13 (ie entering the adult world) becomes aware of the reality he has been suspecting for some time when he sees a ‘deserter’ from the hyper-controlled adult world where everyone is micro-chipped, surveilled, and surveilling…. and he rebels, to try and run away and join his long lost father on ‘the other side’…. perhaps because of the realism, this film gave me the strongest sense of  yuk, creepy, and got me thinking most about what happens in educational contexts…

thinking about the Campbell lecture – I love his piss take of the habit of mind in higher education of quantifying what shall be learned and how it shall be learned and demonstrated that it has been learned… I am constantly up to my ears at work in ‘learning outcomes’ discourse and the circularity let alone plurality of policy that tries to prescribe how discrete bits of knowledge and skill shall be named and measured in all courses,  to the point of utterly destroying creativity and joy – it’s so painfully true !

academics are positioned to ‘comply’ with policy and represent their courses in these terms so the institution can tick box away and report itself accountably to its masters as having ‘assured quality’ by demonstrating exactly where and when in curricula cohort X will ‘acquire’ knowledge Y and skill Z… it’s sometimes well intentioned and often utterly absurd, removing all joy, precisely because, as Campbell says, the ‘what’ of student learning is being pre-determined and enforced.

Which is not of course, obviously, to suggest that I think it silly to define topics and resources involved in constructing knowledge in a particular domain, but rather that when the process is designed to curtail the joy of free, creative, agentive discovery learning, we have a problem, Houston

many teachers do feel coerced by management into adopting this mindset – because management have a bean counting mindset and universities have been overrun by corporate speak. It’s not that there’s NO legitimate role for managerialism in universities, it’s just that the balance seems out of whack at the moment, and the baby gets thrown out with the bathwater…

microsoft productivity

#edcmooc

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

#edcmooc

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’?

new media

#edcmooc New Media (2:21)

GC says this very short film, with visual echoes of “Bendito Machine III”, is a grim representation of the effects of technology on humanity, and want us to consider what similarities and differences we can you identify between the two films…

Like Bendito Machine, I found this visually very interesting (and similar in some ways). There are also some audio echoes in the ‘noise’ coming from the media, and the fact that there’s no clearly discernable language, but hints and static-type noise.

The narrative development here is minimal – we move from images of aged buildings with a rustic appeal in the vegetation overgrowing them,  but the initial peaceful image is disturbingly replaced by threatening metal objects, reminiscent of cogs from massive machinery, or perhaps even some form of landmine…. the cityscape becomes surreal as these objects seem to float along the street, and gradually we see tentacle-like swaying pipes, and then strange, threatening, grey unidentified flying objects hovering above the buildings… it seems a dystopian vision of an army of invading machines…

Screen Shot 2013-02-02 at 5.03.22 PM

As we see a close up of a remote control, and then a person’s face in the blue light of a TV screen, and that one of the floating tentacles is attached to his ear, we get a nightmare image of the invading force of machines either sucking human brains out to fuel themselves, or just rendering people mindless so they can take over the world… all the while to soundtrack of strange repetitive techno noise, devoid of language.

I started reading the academic discourse after I’d watched all the short films, on purpose – I didn’t want my readings of the films to be influenced by the literature before I’d had a chance to think about them.

 

week one wrap up

thursday

#edcmooc Thursday’s space waltz (7:34)

Ground control says Thursday depicts a tension between a natural and a technological world, with humans caught between the two. They want  us to consider what message the film is presenting about technology, what losses and gains are described, and who or what has agency in the film…

I find it the most difficult to interpret of the four short films in week one of our mooc.  The opening would seem to be introducing a story about twitter… but I’m never sure throughout whether it’s taking the piss and trying to say something critical, or whether it’s just a cheesy fun bit of fluff, a bit like Inbox. I’m guessing the latter, as the animator’s website I just looked up (http://www.matthiashoegg.co.uk/Thursday ) describes this as “an everyday love story set in the not so distant future” where we see blackbirds “battling with technology, automatic palm readers and power cuts”. It was made for Future Shorts, a global short film festival – like Tropfest in Sydney, but online (http://www.youtube.com/user/futureshorts/videos )

My plot recount: a birdie seeks food on the street and, threatened by a street sweeping truck, flies off into the traffic noise of a dull and endless cityscape where its voice is quickly lost…. merging with the alarm of a waking person, who goes straight to his computer to start the day. We see his ‘tweets’ seeking and finding a lady in a park somewhere in the depths of the grey cityscape…  who similarly spends her every waking moment managing messages on a phone or computer… in the park she traverses, the birdcall is clear, but that is soon drowned by a cacophony of noise emanating from the telecommunications towers around the city… She goes up to her characterless office on umteenth floor…. the bird enters into a shaft from the roof of the office building and starts pulling at wires that look like worms… communications are interfered with, the office block is short circuited, but the bird brings its bit of wire to add to its nest in a satellite dish…. workers in the office block go mad with boredom not knowing what to do without their power supply and digital activity…  except the young woman, who is on her phone to the man at his home computer… he tries to block out the irritating sunshine through the window that interferes with his view of the computer screen…  getting her message, he heads to where she is, and they go on a date to the highest structure in the world to see the view… hours later they reach their destination at the top of an elevator to space, where they float about marvelling at the distant electrical activity on earth and the sparking stars in outer space… for a brief few moments before being rushed back down the elevator. The next morning as she heads off for work and he makes his morning coffee, one of the baby birds from the nest smashes into his apartment window…lying stunned, its eyes and those of the man meet. The end.

thursday

If I had to categorise it as either utopian or dystopian I’d say the latter, simply because the cityscape depicted is so bland and bleak, and the relationships so apparently meaningless….

On the question of agency, the social structure we see human characters engaging with is predominantly digital, and we don’t see people or birds making ‘choices’ exactly, other than to tweet and go to ‘work’. Noone is portrayed as thoughtful or deliberative. the only stop and think moment is when the bird smashes into the window, and both bird and man stare at one another, and we see them reflected in one other’s eyes… but there is no indication of whether or what they may be thinking, whether or not they are affected by this event. The bird gets up and flies off. The man sort of shakes his head, and then the film ends. I find that irritating to be honest, I wish it went somewhere and said something. It’s beautifully done, and has received much acclaim, but has a visual animation style reminiscent of cheap mindless computer games that I don’t relate to well, so I didn’t enjoy watching this as much as the other films this week, to be honest. Some of Hoegg’s other work looks more interesting (to me)….

 

week one wrap-up

inbox

#edcmooc Inbox (8:37)

Ground control describes this is a quirky representation of the ways in which web-based technology connects people, the limitations of those connections, and the nature of communication in a mediated world. They want us to consider whether, and explain why, this is a utopian or dystopian account… how we interpret the relationship between the two main characters, and the ending.

It’s a great contrast to Benito Machine and New Media that’s for sure! It’s a very cutsie and banal take on the social benefits of social media, displaced onto the classic narrative device of strangers with the same type of bag in a shop taking home the wrong one and then finding each other to return the other person’s goods. It’s making social media like Facebook look very benign and beneficial. The much desired relationship is found through their carry bags, that seem to be old technology but have been ‘magically’ transformed into connected peer to peer teleporting machines.

It seems a pretty unambiguously utopian vision of how social media works to enable shy lonely but clearly very nice honest people to find each other and begin a relationship based on shared experience and mutual attraction. Unless you want to take the view that the relationship is superficial and the characters are pathetic and this is a condemnation of facebook…. but I don’t think it is meant to be mocking anyone. The young woman is portrayed as intelligent and focused, and irritated by the sort of people she normally encounters in a daily basis but can’t avoid. Through the magical technology, she can develop an agency that is more difficult to achieve offline. The connection she makes with the nice young man is not entirely random (the bags were somehow connected and placed where they in particular would find them necessary and useful at a particular moment), and the boy she is put in touch with seems compatible, sensitive, thoughtful, and just right for her, and they end up very happy to have met.

The main difference between this and the other videos is that there’s perhaps not so much to think about here – it’s just sweet, innocuous and positive fun. Except of course if it’s meant to be saying something about the personal freedom and social change that could be brought about by social networking technology, in that young people can develop agency and make choices and direct their lives in more positive ways than is perhaps is the case in traditional arranged relationships…. maybe the film resonates with and is felt to be quite empowering in some contexts. Or maybe just innocent fun. Either way, it’s a utopian message.

 

week one wrap-up

bendito machine

#edcmooc bendito machine (Episode 3 – Obey His Commands) – 6:46

According to ground control, this short film tells the story of technological development in terms of ritual and worship – the characters in the film treat each new technology as god-like, appearing from the sky and causing the immediate substitution of the technology before it, and it suggests there are ecological and social implications of an obsession or fixation on technology… they want us to consider the characteristics of technologies portrayed in the film and whether the characters have any choice in relation to their technologies…

I read it as a dystopian vision of waves of techno-led mass communication colonisations, and ‘progress’ that goes nowhere good. I found it very visually interesting – and amusing. The opening image reminds me of sisyphus, as a figure struggles up a mountain pushing not a rock but his own enormous head… but as he arrives at the top I’m reminded more of Moses receiving the commandments from god (and later of Abraham sacrificing Isaac).

The visual style of the whole film is reminiscent of paper cut-out shadow puppetry you might see in many Asian cultures, and the figures seem deliberately styled to evoke an ‘ethnographic’ scene of ‘tribal culture’ studied (constructed) in anthropological discourse, so in the context of media studies, there seem to be some ironic references going on to not only the social behaviour being examined but also the ways in which we study social behaviour…

Then the juxtaposition of the traditional culture construct with the spaceship beaming down a new technology is unexpected and funny, and perhaps linking more to the sort of anthropology currently influential in this media studies space through the work of Michael Wesch (given that the figures and topography is reminiscent of New Guinea)… but it’s all deliberately non-specific, with various references and distortions, so maybe it’s mocking the way the west constructs ‘exotic’ cultures in academic discourse?

Anyway the story is clearly one of technology worship, and suggests that the mass global media coming to the social group (invading and invited) do drive their behaviour, so this is a good example of the ‘determinist’ view. The people depicted haven’t created the technology themselves, they’re represented as ‘passive recipients’ and mindless worshippers of the latest new shiny thing, and unable or unwilling to think about how it might negatively (predictably) affect them…

The most striking aspects of the overall style to me are dramatic colour, shadow puppet animation per se, and the absurdity of juxtaposing the utter banalities coming out of the tv screen with the constructed naive ‘primitive’ culture into which it is beamed… their mindless consumption of it all, as though it were meaningful and important, is both funny (especially when the village people start bopping along to the 1950s style nonsense pop music on the TV ads) and disturbing. What is coming out of the TV is an uninterpretable cacophony of noise and random imagery, but it is influencing the behaviour of the ‘tribe’.

It’s clearly mocking mindless consumption of new media, making fun of the technologies (by presenting them as relentlessly banal and beaming de-contextualised and potentially dangerous nonsense) but especially of the social ignorance of how they work and what effects they might have. It isn’t clear whether the critique is more aimed at the colonising force of the media, or at the ignorant who worship it to the point of giving it total power over their lives… both I guess… but the displacement of this whole critique onto some unspecified ‘other’ culture is presumably an indirect way of critiquing ‘us’ – the digital culture most enmeshed in the kind of mindless behaviour represented.

The TV is clearly carrying ill intent (there’s a subliminal face of evil that keeps popping up between the banal TV snippets, and then the TV starts attacking people and becoming increasingly threatening), but it’s not clear why the people’s response is simply to enslave themselves utterly to the new would-be dictator… they’re not portrayed as making choices about that, and we aren’t really pushed towards feeling they’re innocent and to be pitied, or feeling they’re fools refusing to learn from their experience and take better control of the invading, potentially threatening forces coming from above.. it’s just ambiguous.

I’m tending to read it as more a critique of ignorance, and a plea for education I guess – a critique of the  idiotic desire for infotainment represented in the story, that leads to wastage, environmental and social. The one who initially climbed the mountain top to receive the new technology seems to try at one point to ‘save his people’ by returning to the mountain top and, David vs Goliath style, attempting to fight back at the cloud-based invader, but then he returns to the community in command of a shiny new TV that’s integrated into a war machine with hidden guns… and on the story seems to go forever, with new technologies rapidly becoming old and dumped onto the rubbish pile in favour of the latest new shiny thing, that bodes even greater danger…

Whatever the message of this production, it is itself part of a rapidly growing commercial media empire (http://benditomachine.com/en), a whole ‘campaign’  project funded by Kickstarter (http://www.kickstarter.com/help/faq/kickstarter%20basics?ref=nav). I’m not clear from my very brielf google search just now whether it’s some kind of social-political campaign or a campaign in the advertising sense, promoting and expanding the creative work for its own sake, but they are certainly a growing phenomenon and I’m now following their blog (http://www.zumbakamera.com/blog/) just our of curiosity to see where they go with this work

week one wrap-up

 

btw loved the scottish version 🙂