Utopias, communication, education & #edcmooc

Our #edcmooc online course discussion topics include technological utopias and dystopias, coincidentally a theme in the Digital Culture program created by David Bogen and colleagues at Emerson College in Boston.

I joined the team in 2000.

Digital Cuture 2000 at Emerson College

Digital Cuture, 2000

My class was called Digital Culture: “Mediamorphosis,” using Roger Fidler‘s book by that name (and Steve Outing’s preview of the book), while other professors added their own themes from “Utopias/Dystopias” to cyborgs and cyberfeminism (with Katrien Jacobs) to digital art and world ecology.

My focus on communication history — in that particular year and city — was a perfect excuse to introduce students to Edward Bellamy’s  utopian novel, “Looking Backward,” written in the 1880s, but taking place in Bellamy’s imagined Boston of 2000.

The class met in a computer lab and included introductions to online resources and software applications (Photoshop, Dreamweaver, etc.). Bellamy gave us an excuse to explore Project Gutenberg, where students could read the book or search its text for keywords in our discussion.

Here it is:


(A Google search will find many more online editions of the book, including this one at the University of Virginia, but I prefer the simple searchable text version in one big file. )

To reach sections relevant to a discussion of technology, media and education, I would ask students to identify the major communication technology advances of the decade in which Bellamy was writing, the 1880s.

I am pleasantly surprised to see that my smartphone can open the full text of the novel and use its Android browser’s “search in page” feature to locate the words “telephone” and “newspaper.”

The surprise for most students (spoiler alert) is that Bellamy predicted the telephone would become a broadcast medium — bringing music,  lectures and genteel culture into the home.

We might also discuss my strange behaviour of opening an old book and immediately doing keyword searches instead of reading it in a linear fashion as intended by the author. That could be a bridge to an entire course on hypertext and postmodernism.

Another of my favorite searches in the book is for the word “umbrella” — which leads to a Bellamy form of socialist utopianism,  the communal street awning. And a search for “credit card” (yes, 1887) should prove surprising.

I wonder if Bellamy is on the radar of the course’s organizers at the University of Edinburgh? I am hoping that the course RSS pick up this short post and share it with them and my classmates.

image of his book, linked to his websiteToday, thanks to Google Books, we could try the same “search for keywords” trick with Fidler’s Mediamorphosis. At the time of its publication, Fidler had been a member of the Knight-Ridder videotex development team and Viewtron’s first director of design, developing a vision of “tablet” interfaces in the early 1980s.

Getting back to the turn-of-the-21st century, our 2000-2003 Emerson Digital Culture class included a film series on “digital culture” sub-themes including utopia/dystopia, cyborgs and virtual reality. It included some (*) of these, all made between 1982 and 2002:

(After the original posting, I added a few “did we show this…?” and “should we have…?” films to the list, put it in chronological order, and added IMDB links. The “*” films are the ones I’m pretty sure we did use at the time.)

Note: this post is also an experiment in creating a blog item for the mooc RSS aggregator using only my smartphone and to a great extent its voice to text feature. Apologies for any resultant misspellings.

mild-mannered reporter who sank into computers and the Web during graduate school in the 1980s and '90s, then taught journalism, media studies and Web production, retiring to write and play more music.

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Posted in communication, Digital Culture, Education, fiction, MOOCs, Newspapers, writing
2 comments on “Utopias, communication, education & #edcmooc
  1. What a fantastic topic – extremely timely for Hamish and myself (and I may well be back in touch about this). The link to Looking Backward is really tugging at me as I want to read the whole thing and can’t spare the time just now. But thank you for the glimpses from your valuable search suggestions.

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