I’ve signed up for an already-in-progress MOOC course, “E-Learning and Digital Culture,” taught by a team of professors at the University of Edinburgh, which is encouraging students to use their blogs, Twitter accounts (@bobstep) and other online media as part of the discussion. So… greetings to any visiting classmates.
Since this blog’s usual topics are journalism, media studies, teaching and hypertext linkage, I don’t see much point in creating a new blog to go with the course. It should all fit together… including my habit of embedding YouTube videos in the blog. This is one of the “prompts” for discussion in the course, a charming exploration of “new media” networking called “Inbox” (although “Inbag” would be more literal):
Coincidentally, my last couple of blog posts were related to a previous MOOC, which I just completed a couple of weeks ago.
Other students are doing creative things already, including making a Google map where we can pin our locations — an amazing spread so far…
My first contribution to the already extensive discussion managed to stray far from digital — to some of H.G. Wells’ writings as far back as 1895, in a discussion of utopian and dystopian themes in a few short videos about contemporary media. Here’s a copy, with links to two films and the Wells information:
Apologies for joining the course so late and trying to catch up with a lot of discussions in one evening. In addition to the main themes of this course, I am interested in the culture and history of technology, pre-digital as well as digital.
The first short film, Bendito Machine III, has echoes of Javanese wayang shadow puppet plays — which also have to do with ritual, communication with powerful forces from above, and with storytelling. Perhaps our dystopic or utopian stories about technology have a deeper message about our feelings of powerlessness, and our hope to get more control of things through knowledge, ritual and flickering lights from above (or from behind a screen). For the worshippers of the machine in this little film, there was little control of the technology, no two-way communication, and the ultimate end was dystopia and destruction.
Inbox was charming — while not quite utopian, it showed another magical technology that, this time, made communication possible. It also showed how we are drawn to “new media” by accident, curiosity and trial-and-error. (As well as including a homage to the softer “technology” of the post-it note, a mainstay of communication on refrigerators everywhere.) And it was fascinating that the “user’s” exuberance over his connection with the other RedBag user led to his accidentally ripping the bag and extinguishing its magic — much like an exuberant Facebook user accidentally dumping a cup of tea into a laptop. Technology is fragile. (And, as for the RedBag, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic,” as Arthur C. Clarke said.)
I found it fascinating that spoken dialogue was not important in either film, partly because I just finished my first Coursera experience, Scott Higgins’ wonderful course on “The Language of Hollywood,” including the transition from silent to sound film:
On the topic of earlier utopias or dystopias, H.G. Wells gave us several examples — starting more than a century ago. His 1895 time traveler found a distant future where dependance on technology had degraded human nature. His War of the Worlds saw superior (Martian) military technology ultimately defeated by Earth’s biology. His 1933 The Shape of Things to Come (and the 1936 film, “Things to Come”) had an Anglocentric scientific/technological “benign dictatorship” put an end to war (and to most religions and diverse cultures) after a century of war. One person’s utopia may be another’s dystopia.