Friday, 7 November 2014

Utopias and Dystopias #edcmooc

In week one of the EDC MOOC, we've been given four short films to watch, under the theme Utopias and Dystopias. 

I'm not going to go into the films in depth as I imagine that pretty much anyone who finds their way to my blog is going to have come from the MOOC, but they were pretty deep and overall pretty dystopian. 

This was a real departure from the other MOOCs I've done so far - there was no 'taught' input as such, no video lectures, just the films and some readings. The learning goes on through the analysis of the films and readings, discussions in the forums and by reading and engaging with each other's blogs and online spaces. (Better hope nobody has come here with high expectations of learning much about technological determinism!)

Although I had to work a lot harder to learn from these videos than from the lectures in other MOOCs, I think there was a lot to get out of the films and it really made me think about the place of technology in our society and whether we've got the balance right. There's a moment in Thursday when a man pulls the blind down to block out the sun so he can see his screen better - it's such a simple action and one we've all done, but suddenly in the context of this film it somehow brought me up short.

We were then asked to think about utopian and dystopian stories about technology in film and television. This set me off on a chain of thought that went from The Matrix (although I fell asleep watching that particular film on more than one occasion, so not sure I ever really grasped what happens in it!) to Inception, The Island and finally Enemy of the State.

Enemy of the State seems a particularly interesting example to me. It's one of my favourite films, clearly showing the dangers of a surveillance society and the fact it's very hard to maintain one's privacy in today's digital world. Cameras are everywhere. Our online interactions are logged and monitored. Our cars can be tracked, as can our purchases. Telephone calls are logged, heck, our phones don't even need to be turned on for our location to be traced. And it's all down to technology.

But the thing about this film, as opposed to the others, is that it isn't set in some dystopian future. It's set right now (or actually some fifteen years ago now). It's real. It could happen. So, dystopian then? Well, that depends on which definition you use. It's not an imagined future, but it is an imagined state of things, and definitely a bad state of affairs for the main character in the film, if not for society as a whole. Or is it just that most citizens are oblivious to the state of affairs? 

But perhaps the most interesting thing this week hasn't been the input itself, but seeing how the films, readings, discussions and web chat have been used to deliver a unit of learning.


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