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

charlie & the plural sight


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 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…

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?

sunday too far away….

I just made one of those Gloggy things…. an online poster – apart from wanting to learn the software and see if it’s something I would use in my teaching, I thought it might help me focus on the task at hand… so here is my first effort – let me know what you think!

Back to yesterday meanwhile…. my Sunday this week began, as they do in summers here, at the beach… because, apart from the beach being fabulous in every way, my daughter is basically a dolphin and hard to keep out of the water for any length of time… a keen surfer, and a trainee life guard… so there I was, turning snags on the surf club BBQ (that’s sausages to people who don’t speak Australian English) and I’m chatting away with another parent, and I ask her (because what else am I thinking about these days but my mooc) what she finds coming to mind when I say “science fiction”… I am asking because this course has made me realise how ignorant I am in matters sci-fi, and I need tips on what I should view next…), and she said what most people seem to be saying when I ask that question… Star Wars and 2001 a space odyssey… (and some other movie she couldn’t remember the name of with Robin Williams as a robot that becomes human)… so that just confirmed it, I really have to watch these things or I just won’t know what the significance of half the references in this course are….

So after duties at surf club, and picking up some art works my daughter had put into a local show (yay, she got second prize for a drawing and $15 – whoo hoo), we go to a video store to see if I can find a copy of 2001…

tree1 here’s an early draft of the drawing she scored a prize for – doodle art done to avoid paying attention in class no doubt, but hey, go girl I say…

well anyway, three video shops later I still haven’t found a copy of 2001… and I have encountered four young sales staff who have never heard of it…. I am feeling old 😦

So I come home not with any of the films I have started to think I ought to see, but instead with Solaris (how could I resist, it has George Clooney and it was only $9!) and a documentary about space travel called “In the shadow of the moon”..well the rest of Sunday was spent watching those and I dont’ regret either – the first because it has George Clooney in it, and the second because it’s a fabulous de-archive of footage and set of wonderful interviews with the American men who have been to the moon, and gave me lots of great quotes for my assignment here too, such as:

“I called the moon my home for three days and I’m here to tell you about it – that’s science fiction”
“I promise you, I’m human”
“Science and technology got me there, but what I was seeing and feeling – science and technology had no answers for”

I was intrigued to learn, or be reminded rather, (and hope it isn’t an omen for our impending course launch) that the first Apollo mission was a fail – a simulated launch countdown was staged on January 27, 1967, and it blew up….

and that just before the Eagle had landed, on the Apollo 11 mission, there’d been a “1202 alarm”… “computer problem… too much data”…

I was feeling there’s something very deja vue about our trip to the mooc….


just watching some of the shorts recommended in the EU version of the EDC course (the slightly more serious course framing the free fun short mooc we’re in)… will add comments as I go (when I find time! – just doing this for distractive fun)


one day this will all be history…

So here we are, about to be launched into a 5 week journey into who knows quite where… like most of us in this course I guess, I signed up for it months ago, and wait here patiently for take off… now just a few weeks away… everyone’s starting to be a twit and blogger about it in anticipation, so I’ve joined the ranks. May the force be with us (if that’s a good thing – I’ve never actually seen Star Wars, so I’ve no idea what that reference means… not really into Star Trek either – I’m more of a Dr Who and Life on Mars kind of girl…).

Anyway, so far the genre here seems clear. Ground control has posted some basic instructions, no detailed map yet, but some general directions:

This course will explore how digital cultures and learning cultures connect, and what this means for e-learning theory and practice

The ‘about the course’ blurb says (cut, paste, abbreviate):

“E-learning and Digital Cultures is about how popular narratives shape our ideas of online education. We’ll look at how learning and literacy is represented in popular digital-, (or cyber-) culture…. you create your own pictorial, filmic or graphic representation of themes encountered during the course, using digital spaces in new ways…”.

I went to a bit of an overview and debrief meeting yesterday at my workplace university, where a few people reported their experience doing MOOCs, and there are some clear pattern to these experiences, in terms of duration, design, delivery, collaborative assessment, joys & benefits, overwhelms & disgruntlements… so I know a bit of what to expect.

The first expectation on us is to create a blog (check), and to say hello on the course’s Google Plus page (check), and then create a semi coherent social media habitus, comprising Facebook, Twitter, Flickr etc… (to do)… thankfully I already have all those accounts, and this is hopefully a good reason to use them. So, off I go to do all that and complete task one…

Meanwhile, back to the beginning thought – that one day, this will all be history…. how better to begin a learning journey story than with a brief meditation on language?

In the beginning was the word…. I’m thinking here in terms of Halliday‘s conception of language history in 3 dimensions: how the language system evolves, how the language repertoire of an individual develops, and how specific instances of language unfold –  logogenesis – the semiotic dynamics of text and context changing together as we go with the flow…. to set the scene….

Throughout this journey into MOOCspace, I want to consider these three dimensions of language, as we endeavour to make sense of course materials and engage in conversation with one another… I’m interested to see how the course and the various blogs unfold, how my personal knowledge of the topic expands as I start saying new things, and how doing a course online with a squillion other people does or doesn’t change our sense of what it is to learn, and whether the technology is making significant changes to our collective capacity to interact and make meaning – or whether it’s not just a different mode of literate behaviour rather than a new form of life…