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!

Bleekness & the braindead test

I took the Bleeker text downstairs with me between my moodle making tasks at work the other day, to read while I ordered a coffee…. I found myself sitting down with it and letting my coffee go cold… damn. I had to reheat it in a microwave when I eventually got back upstairs, and I left it in too long it splattered everywhere, so then I had to clean up the coffee mess…. don’t you just love the way solving simple problems in daily life turns them into bigger ones?

anyway, the point is I was so interested in the Bleeker text I read it straight through and forgot where I was and what I was meant to be doing…. all I do is think about blogjects now.. all day long.. and wishing all these bright young folks had the maturity and humanity to think of intelligent applications that help solve genuine problems….

but anyway, I also really enjoyed the Campbell lecture this past week… something resonated strongly when he was taking the piss out of that kind of ‘grading rubric’ we all know and love so well.. the one that specifies to the nth degree what the student is to do… and then icing on the stodge, orders them to ‘be creative’… yes, that is scary control freakish stuff alright… all of the creative goodness squeezed right out and all the while pretending that this is ‘helping’ students learn….

not what teachers want, yet what we all somehow end up doing a lot of the time… a double bind, Bateson said – two conflicting demands, have to choose but can’t… meeting one, means not meeting the other…. extreme anxiety and contradictory behaviour – in us and our students… golly, suddenly I don’t feel I quite want to be in education!

I found the thought worth throwing around inside my empty head a while though, that double binds are used as a form of “control without coercion”… creating confusion that can’t be resisted, or effectively responded to… I could feel myself totally identifying with the whole argument, so persuasive it was…. I was seeing my whole professional life as one big fat double bind…

things declared to be in the interests of ‘the learner’ being, probably, more in the interests of staff… causing students to feel both  deceived and unable to say so…

visions of ‘good’ learners and teachers playing along with the faux relationship, and silenced forever from actually ever talking about their experience… paranoid… suspicious.. defiant… cynical.. depressed, apathetic… silent.. withdrawn.. mute…. yep, I think anyone with half a still functioning brain knows what that’s like!

How can a teacher tell students stuff and at the same time encourage them not to take what is said as gospel or given? How are we supposed to both tell students what and how to think, and yet at the same time encourage them to think in ways we don’t specify – to think differently, independently, creatively?

I’m taking home some tricks from the design of this mooc, that I think are pulling that one off rather well… (but bearing in mind of course, that its success relies on an enormous degree of pre-existing high level engagement and linguistic creativity potential of the sort of student who willingly writes this kind of reflective blog….)

And thinking about technology, what else changes, when the medium does? Can we continue doing the ‘same’ activities in new media, or do we only pretend to? or are we missing the point, missing the meaning potential of new media as we try to stuff square pegs into round holes? yes I think we can all identify a bit of that going on in our workplaces….

And what do we mean by ‘open’ education, really? When, where and how often do we seriously consider the ‘systems’ we’re in – not as technologies, buildings, administrative processes and faceless executives counting beans, but as linguistic, discursive experiences, shaping how we read and write, or speak and listen?

Campbell considers ‘openness’ not in terms of easy access to ‘free’ information, but in terms of the possibility of shifting meaning and context… he said, the double bind might be a prison, or it might be a way out… depending on how it’s framed… well, that seems quite a pearl! It resonates with the sort of linguistics I knowthat openness is about contextual shifts that enable significant semantic shifts, and deep learning is about desire to make meaning, together…

that love is a philosophy… is simple

and then…. what does that mean for daily teaching practice?

And another little pearl slipped in…. fostering habits that are helpful to learners.. ‘practices laying rails for knowledge to run on’ (thankyou Jeff, for that lovely phrase you quoted there)

now like a mindless sheep following the latest thing I hear, I want to begin every class with Campbell’s mock Apgar test….

Blue or pink baby? Are you alive, can we proceed…. love that!

As I ponder the compatibilities of Bateson and SFL and semiotics, I wonder, do I help my students develop a meta-contextual perspective of sets of choices, where they’re willing to put self at risk and go there, into the questions that ‘blow the mind’? How many of them are, and how often am I, living with a sense of free agency?

I’m just thinking out loud to myself, but it’s bed time now, so I’ll sleep on it…. good night 🙂

the sci-fi future of social media


Annalee Newitz’s short talk about the hopeful and fearful fantasies of where social media might be taking us, as represented in science fiction, was interesting…. I don’t know most of the references, not being a sci-fi fan, but the way she put the stories in context makes me want to read/see them. I’ve seen her website before, and it’s nice to see the person behind it… (I love how this screenshot makes her look like she’s singing!)


Her story here is that there are four big stories told about the future of social media, across the field of sci-fi:

  • some kind of artificial intelligence, or collective ‘hive mind’, will rise up from all our user-generated data – which Larry Page, the co-founder of Google, hopes … but which may be a mind that’s super smart (as in Neuromancer or Rainbows End) …. but may be ‘dumb as a shark’ stupid
  • the proverbial privacy apocalypse cometh – social media will invade and spy on every part of our lives, infiltrating our minds on the back of entertainment and advertising (as per 1984, Minority Report and the Quantum Thief)
  • mind control – we will be completely taken over by corporations, and function to passively think what they want us to think, as we fuel their desires and profits (as in the Matrix), or we’ll catch ‘brain viruses’, which are plugged into online media (as in Snowcrash and Glasshouse), so that our brains might ‘crash’, or stop functioning correctly… media will control us to obey aliens who have taken over the world (well that certainly sounds like New Media, doesn’t it?)
  • instant social revolution – popular media like TV will get hijacked by socially subversive, anti-capitalist messages (as in Max Headroom, and Transmetropolitan), and social media vigilantes will appear (like Anonymous), and bloggers will be the only reporters talking about ‘the zombie apocalypse’ (as in Feed)

Golly. So I’m getting the distinct impression that sci-fi by definition takes an extreme view, one way or another. What a great overview – very helpful. Gives me a much better sense of where last week’s short films are coming from…

She winds up with the happy thought that ‘our’ hopes and fears about the future of social media are embodied by a phrase from the movie Serenity, “you can’t stop the signal” – which might be taken as either or both ‘you can’t stop revolutionary ideas getting out’… and ‘you won’t be able to stop the signal that controls your mind’

I think I like the absurdity of the extremes. makes a point, gives you something to think about. no grey. provocative. nice

but I also think it’s funny how the focus is always on the technology… as though computers are not being directed and used by people, but the other way round. Like the reading this week that talks of blogjects – as though wildly proliferating aggregations of digital noise can be marshalled by machines to not just shift ‘information’ around, but to actually make meaning and take social action… makes me laugh…

but it doesn’t make me identify – these are not ‘my’ hopes and fears! are they yours?

what’s a ‘meta’ for, miss?

a line from an Australian kids poet I used to listen to with my daughter in the car… just re-lived an old roadtrip to my aunt’s in the country as I typed that!

anyway, the ‘ancient text’ reading this week by Rebecca Johnston prompts us to ponder on metaphor.. I like pondering metaphor… ‘on the other hand’, I exhaust myself in everything I read, going off on too long tangents of related thoughts with equal measures of interest, amusement and irritation… (seeing too many sides at once is something my daughter absolutely hates about me – I never simply love or hate… every simple question she asks me gets answered with ‘well it depends’ and the beginnings of an extended discourse about the contingencies of history, perception, subjectivity and dynamic language – until she cuts me off with a roll of the eyes!)

anyway, what was that thought that prompted me to start writing a post, that point that I’ve now all but forgotten as I digress…? ah yes, metaphor. I’m interested in metaphor and read this text with care. I remember Lakoff and Johnson from my student days… actually come to think of it, I remember sitting in on a class of Lakoff’s in Berkley once, many years ago, on a very long way of getting home back from China via Germany, and visiting a friend who was studying there… anyway, I’ve always been interested in everything to do with language, so this approach was part of the picture….stop digressing for god’s sake and say what’s on your mind!

Well, given that my whole blog is a metaphor of travels through space, yes I clearly love thinking about the metaphors we think by… but I do get a tad bemused by the suggestion lurking here that it’s somehow optional – that we might do language without it… hmmm. Isn’t the whole language system one big fat metaphor? Perhaps the trick is to enjoy the dance for what it is, on its own terms.

Lakoff and Johnson describe the effect of metaphors as giving us “ways of viewing events, activities, emotions, ideas etc as entities and substances”…. and make the point that “viewing ideas as objects allows us to quantify them, point to a particular aspect, see in terms of a single cause…”, etc and to “deal rationally with our experiences”…. yes…. and isn’t this the same definition we might make of reification, reductionism, and nominalisation? Is this not just how language works? What it does? (note irony of imagining language as an ‘it’ – a single, comprehensible, locatable, containable entity).Can anyone point me to a discourse that isn’t metaphoric? And what’s the difference between a metaphor, a concept, an idea and a keyword or ‘idiom’? I don’t think everyone just ‘agrees’ on what a metaphor is or isn’t…

but ok, the so-called world wide web is not ‘actually’ a spider web (even if we imagine a giant evil googley-eyed aracnid lurking in its middle, trapping all our data, ready to devour us alive), and sure, it’s a fair and interesting point being made here, that there seems to be a pattern in the culture, of representing the Internet as a space, a place, where everything happens very ‘fast’, and where what’s going on is either dystopian destruction or utopian liberation….

I enjoyed reading Johnston’s story – even if it’s just a bit of fluffy comment with no new knowledge or lasting significance, it relates to ground control’s choice of the utopia/dystopia theme, and it’s clear that metaphors of ‘space’ and speed are widespread in our imaginings of the Internet – and apart from influencing my choice of blog theme for this course on digital cultures, I no doubt imagine too sometimes that I’m in a ‘fast’ environment here (when in fact I, like everyone else, am evidently wasting a hell of a lot of time in this ‘space’! because I have so much choice, and opportunity to browse, consider, compare…. and be reduced to indecision and incapacity to say anything!)

Anyway, Johnston’s paper has stimulated my thinking and got me asking lots of questions, such as:

  • How influential are metaphors, and how ‘deterministic’ is this reading of them?
  • What does it really matter whether we refer to the WWW as a web, or an info superhighway, or an invading alien monster from outer space – or managerial rhetoric?
  • How much choice do we have, or need, in naming (and ‘norming’) phenomena?
  • What do I think of the claim repeated here that it’s difficult or impossible to understand something as dynamic and abstract as the WWW without the aid of a metaphor?
  • Do I think it’s the metaphors we live by that free up or get in the way of our using the Internet well in educational and political arenas…. or mainly other factors?

And I’ve enjoyed thinking about these questions…. and being reminded of what was for me one of the most influential papers I read as an undergraduate – Michael Reddy (1979) on the ‘conduit’ metaphor (published again in 1993 in the 2nd ed of Metaphor and Thought, CUP).

On the less than impressed side, I don’t find that the categorisation of metaphors here is helpful… I mean, if I refer to discourse as ‘dance’, who cares if that’s a structural, orientational or ontological metaphor? Maybe I’m using  physical experience to refer to linguistic experience… or maybe I’m using the idea of dance as a way of viewing writing events as ‘things’? Do these categories ‘hold any water’?

More importantly though, I just wouldn’t call this paper ‘analysis’ at all, because the ‘method’ is pretty dodgy. It’s really interesting commentary… but ‘analysis’? Getting down to brass tacks’…. how does this constitute analysis, if:

– the identification of a metaphor is a matter of ‘making free associations’
– the ‘general’ analysis of a metaphor is a matter of IT ‘suggesting’ it role, dimensions and ‘related concepts and idioms’
– ‘uncovering the conceptual metaphors for each expression’ is a matter of deduction and ‘informed intuition’
– conducting a ‘text immanent analysis’ is a matter of documenting recurrent patterns across discourse in different contexts and categorising metaphors by ‘drawing on surrounding text, narrative, context’ to find ‘evidence of deep-rooted cultural beliefs and values’….

I mean, how can ‘associations and interpretations’ be ‘suggested by the text’, rather than by an interpreter? (according to a theoretical framework they may just be unaware of)…

but what does it matter? I only care about this because the topic of metaphor, keywords, and clashes of discourse in the academy around teaching practice are the stuff of my own thesis.. so if I’m going to latch onto anything in this course, it’s likely to be this one!

On the whole, I thought it was worth spending a bit of my time reading and pondering upon.

wk 1: threads to pattern


well, now I’ve been to the movies and read all the theory, it’s time for the weekly digest…

guided by the thought dichotomy of utopia and dystopia, it’s been fun to explore a few short films and several readings around the topics of digital culture and eLearning

my favourite films this week were New Media and Inbox, as a contrasting pair. I love the visual style of Benito Machine, it stays in the mind, but the eery misery of New Media created the most dramatic contrast with the upbeat Inbox, so they’re at the forefront of my thinking this week.

my favourite readings were Dahlberg, Daniel and Noble, because they resonated most strongly with my experience and concerns in my current teaching and research… I was much less impressed by the papers of Chandler and Prensky – light on evidence, big on questionable metaphor and/or just sloppy and boring (and I’m sure few will agree with me there, but I dare to say what I think in this space, it’s my blog and I’ll cry if I want to…!)… as for the sketch video by Wesch, well… I absolutely love the animation, but the ‘argument’ strikes me as specious nonsense, and it annoys me because it’s potentially very influential – the seductive visuals cover a very problematic sleight of hand… should I elaborate?

I guess, because of my immediate interests and concerns in what I’m writing at the moment, I tend to go straight for what theorists of communication say about language – whether they even mention the word, and if so, what they say. I keep finding a lack of language theory, and while that doesn’t surprise me, it does still disappoint me (decades after ‘the linguistic turn’).

Chandler’s section of deterministic ‘language’ for example seems to be using the word as a synonym for a few recurring phrases or keywords, leaving the impression that somehow everything else going on in a linguistic representation (ie his and every text he’s referred to) is NOT language…. which is rather odd. There are of course important patterns he is picking up on, and much of interest in the paper as a whole, it just seemed a great shame to me that there’s no sense of need indicated here for a more sophisticated kind of analysis of  ‘the language’.

I found Dahlberg’s account much more thoughtful, well researched and engaging – even though he didn’t mention the L word either…

Prensky’s argument irritated me a lot I guess because it just takes the ‘accent’ metaphor too far, and his  generalisations and exaggerations throughout do the opposite of persuade for me. It’s simply not the case that all or even most people under the age of whatever are ‘fluent in ICT’ and heavily into computer games – and that leads me to the second gripe, his motivation for such absurd generalisation… Prensky’s argument is just the sort of bias Daniel warns us to beware of (he is after all in the business of selling an educational ‘gamification’ instructional design service!)

Wesch’s ‘argument’ (she said in inverted commas, given that there is no evidence or logic holding it together, just a cool animation), so irritated me I started writing a much longer response (that I won’t bore readers with here and now, but will no doubt emerge somewhere soon)… probably my ‘visual artefact’…

BUT anyway, what I REALLY enjoyed in the material selected for us this week is the quality of the selection itself – it struck me as a very well considered set of films and readings, in relation to each other and to the questions being asked. I also thought the guiding advice was very good – to consider the material in relation to specific patterns of thought; such as the claims identified by Hand and Sandywell, the ‘technological determinism’ stance in various readings of what’s going on with digital culture and eLearning, and whether and how each ‘text’ represents a relationship between utopian/dystopian-ism, technological determinism and a stance towards issues of democracy, access and resistance…. I’m trying to digest all that as I think about the ‘visual response’ we’re tasked to create

I enjoyed considering how these utopian, dystopian and determinist ways of thinking may affect how we / I think about and practice online education, and was amazed to see, particularly in Noble, how current debates were so alive and well articulated in 1998’s educational discourse – absolutely nothing has changed there, I could see echoes of his points everywhere in the debate I’ve been collating over the past month or so

in the discussion forum


I don’t think I can deal with the discussion threads in the course website, they’re just too massive and chaotic and I get lost and overwhelmed because users are not following the basic rules of replying to questions (they are creating new threads on the same topic), and where they are replying there are hundreds of responses, too many to possibly read… so I’m just going there to pick up Jeremy’s questions and answer them here!

  • Jeremy said Benito Machine is one of their favourite films back at ground control, and asked what we think it’s saying about our relationships with technology, and how this  might relate to the ideas of technological determinism… What are the characteristics of the various technologies portrayed in this film, and how might they relate to the ways that technology has been depicted in educational literature?
    I blogged about the film before I’d read the educational literature, so I didn’t comment then about how the technology representation in the film relates to the representation of technology in educational literature (apart from a brief reference to Wesch)…. Thinking about it now that I’ve read the theory (and pseudo theory) recommended, I’d say this film represents mass communications technologies as the opposite of meaningful ‘communication’, as a colonising force and a social and environmental threat. In terms of the literature, it’s easy to classify it as an example of one of the common claims about IT identified by Hand & Sandywell, namely, that while the technology itself may be banal, meaningless and inherently neutral, it is controlled by anti-democratic forces and is therefore dangerous, when people don’t think and resist. I noted as I was reading Dahlberg that it’s example of what he refers to as technological determinism and media reification (as is New Media)
  • then he asked how we think Inbox might suggest utopian or dystopian ideas about the nature of communication in a mediated world, and what kind of educational debates can we draw associations with here…
    as I posted, I find this an entirely utopian view of what can be achieved with social media, by those who use it carefully and for their own purposes. It doesn’t deal with issues of democracy and resistance, but certainly with human agency. In relation to the literature, I found myself noting in the margins as I was reading Dahlberg that we could read Inbox as an example of ‘cyber liberarianism’… but I did find it very interesting, as Angela noted in her post, that the action is very deliberately located within a commercial context, which I was thinking about when I was reading Dahlberg’s comments about social deterministic accounts that inadequately account for how media technologies involve multiple interests, unintended consequences…. and possibilities for alternative uses, as I thought the film was deliberately if subtlely alluding to these things
  • about Thursday he asked what we think it’s saying about technology, what people seem to lose and gain, and whether we “perceive similar themes of deficiency or enhancement in discussions of technology use in education”… I blogged about it a bit, and on reflection now, having read more, I still find it saying least of all four films… it seems to me a benign view of technology, even though the life of people and birds depicted strikes me as a nightmare of mindless conformity and emptiness, and I can’t see anything ‘gained’…. have to admit that this one irritated and bored me a bit, I guess because I couldn’t determine a clear message and because I don’t personally find the cutsie computer gamesy look appealing
  • I couldn’t see a discussion thread specifically about New Media, but I blogged about it here
  • I noted in my reading of the literature that New Media not only does some of what Benito Machine does (reifying media in a depressing dystopian vision), but also seems to represent, perhaps, something of the ‘naturalising’ tendency in some of the discourse ‘out there’, as the sequence moves from a close focus on vegetation covering the built environment smoothly into the more and more threatening images – which don’t seem to disturb the only human we see in the film, who calmly accepts what’s going on as though normal and inevitable. Like Inbox on the other side of the utopian/dystopian fence, this one seems to “encourage mystification” and also (unlike Inbox) passivity.

anyway in terms of the ‘learning objectives’ of the week, I feel that engaging with this material has helped me develop a  greater familiarity with typical utopian & dystopian modes of representation, and confidence to classify material and justify my interpretations.

I’m not yet sure whether I’ve developed better understanding of how such “common constructions of the web, technology and online learning” might be influencing my  understanding of what’s possible and desirable in my own practices as a learner and teacher…. but I’m very much in a reflective process about that at this point in time…

I don’t think I’ve ever been ‘swept up’ one way or the other (into believing that educational technologies are either perfectly wonderful or dangerously disastrous for educational access quality or cost), but I’ve certainly been exposed over the past decade to arguments on both sides of that fence… I’ve been an early adopter of all new ed techs I encounter (and actively seek them out), from the early 90s to now, but at the same time I think (hope) I consider them carefully before inflicting them on my students… at the same time, there are some I have no choice about. I work at a university that is very heavily into ‘blended’ learning, and all subjects have websites, and we’re currently transitioning from WebCT to Moodle… I’ve been involved in part of the evaluation of various platforms and in the peer learning about the one we selected…. I’m happy with some aspects of it and hate others, and so continue to seek out other options, so as to be able to give my students a good set of options to suit their needs rather than enforce a corporatised experience on them….

I learn new stuff every day in this ed tech field, and experience and consider a fairly balanced range of ups and downs with it all… whatever the ups and downs, I rather enjoy thinking about it and striving to improve my own practice, but I don’t adopt a deterministic stance – I think I quite consciously maintain a sense of agency and encourage my students to also, and basically see any technology as an extension of literacy, and therefore a central element of education… not in a simplistic instrumentalist way (as if it makes no difference what ‘tools’ we use, we still ‘think’ the same) – of course we make different meanings as we make meaning differently, but we also maintain much more than we perhaps realise….

the biggest change going on as I see it is simply that so much more of our conversational language is now in writing, and being visible and on the record, this modal shift is in itself jolting people into noticing things that have been rather invisible in spoken conversation… whatever names they might currently be giving it

the end of week ‘hangout‘ run by the teaching team was great!


#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 ( ) 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 ( )

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.


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


#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 (, a whole ‘campaign’  project funded by Kickstarter ( 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 ( just our of curiosity to see where they go with this work

week one wrap-up


btw loved the scottish version 🙂