What if? Visions of the Future

Some intriguing and thought-provoking ideas from the BBC. A competition that invites people to submit ideas about what the future might hold for us.

This competition links in appropriately with the Coursera cMooc I recently completed when we looked at utopian and dystopian views of the world, past, present and future; the role that technology has played, plays and will play in the development of the world; the integral role and responsibility that we have in that development in terms of shaping society, societal values, the environment and the way that we live. There are some fascinating suggestions which I will explore in greater depth but one of the things the BBC did was to ask 6 artists to provide images that represented their ideas of the future.

I like Abdoulaye Konate‘s image which he suggests represents the idea that “the future of the world will depend on the attitude mankind decides to adopt. Above all what’s needed is total respect for the environment.”

image of a tapestry which shows strips of green fabric and a cut out silhouette of a person in the bottom right hand corner

Chema Madoz‘ vision is more bleak but a reminder too that we have to take responsibility for the world we live in and take measures to protect what is, after all, our lifeblood.

empty glass with the words "The End" imprinted on the bottom

#edcmooc Sight

Well, that was quite disturbing! Is life a game, or is the game life? How does one differentiate between what is real and what is not? I guess relationships are a game, a game of strategy, of manoevering, of compromise, of second guessing, of intuition… I am uncomfortable about this short and the ideas it suggests to me of mind control, of brain washing, of “Big Brother”.

For centuries men and women have counted the “notches on the bedpost”; in battle soldiers have kept a tally of the number of the enemy they have killed; how many fish have been caught, how much game has been bagged; competition is part and parcel of life and is what drives people forward to improve and develop. Is that why computer games which are based on accumulating points, conquests, trophies have been so successful?

Relationships are also often a power struggle and the protagonist who has most power is often the one who has the most information. In this short the male clearly has plenty of information and as the story develops, it is also clear that he thinks he has the upper hand. I am not so sure though; has he met his match? Has he taken control of her to re-configure her profile or will she resist? Maybe I just want to believe that she is not a victim?

In contrast to the sleek, pristine, clean backdrop of the first two films, this film seems outwardly more sinister. The atmosphere is darker and more menacing and the empty walls of the character’s apartment hide what is underneath.

In the future will we be able to use facial recognition and body language sensors to help us know what to do in any given situation? Will we be able to inbuild a sort of intuition that is sensitive to mood and circumstance? That could, of course, have a positive effect on society much like the robot seal that one poster mentioned that affords some comfort and healing to convalescing patients. Will the technology control us or will we control it? It comes back to the idea of what motivates people to invent and create? In this film, it felt to me quite negative, a dystopian vision rather than utopian.

#edcmooc experimenting…

Somebody suggested checkthis.com as another tool that could be used for creating a digital artefact so I thought I’d try it out.  I made it after watching the first two shorts and it only took me a few minutes so it is not greatly deep and meaningful – just a snapshot of soundbites really. Unfortunately you don’t seem to be able to embed the posters…

Utopia or Dystopia 



#edcmooc New Media

<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/33193443″>NEWMEDIA</a> from <a

I really like this film, not sure why since at first it seemd so bleak and definitely “end of the world-ish”.  Reminiscent of H G Wells’ War of the Worlds “walkers”, that lumber ominously across desolate landscape, these giant metal structures/creatures float in the sky like giant jellyfish.  They are machines that are animalistic rather then humanistic but there is a sense that they have some feeling, some soul.  They seem unhappy, ponderous, searching like lost souls. Can machines have a soul? Makes me think of Marvin the paranoid android from Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy!  Do we humanise machines?  I think we always have and there is certainly an element that we have either idolised or demonised technology and  new inventions throughout history.  We are either for new ideas or against new ideas, there is not always a middle road. Think of the Luddites for example; wreckers of machines and opposers of technological change.  And in schools there are those who are keen to embrace change and those who cling to the comfortable past ….

Dr Ilana Snyder from Monash University, Australia writes “Enthusiasts openly embrace the technologies, claiming they offer a panacea for educational problems, enhance communication, empower users, and democratise classrooms. At the opposite extreme, ‘demonisers’ exude cynicism about the technologies’ apparent powers. Some dismiss them simply as new instructional and communication tools. Others reject them outright as yet a further form of social control or enforced consumption, which promotes the interests of state and corporate sectors. Clearly, extreme responses are of limited use, and the need to move beyond them increasingly urgent in education.”

Men have tended over the years to feminise their cars; I know my Dad had names for his cars, not always female, it is true, but I remember the “Green Goddess”, and “Maggie May” along with the “White Wonder”!  Cars, boats and planes are referred to as “she” by their (usually) male owners.  Languages  have different genders for their nouns – in French, how did the word for car “la voiture” become feminine, but “le bateau” or “l’avion” masculine? And how is it that in German a car is masculine – “der Wagen”, or even neuter “das Auto” and in Spanish (“el coche”) it is masculine? Does giving objects a gender humanise them, give them a soul?

Coming back to the film we see a dystopian landscape; desolate, abandoned, ivy covered buildings; overturned , rusting cars, with bits of machines rolling down the streets like tumbleweed in a mid-west cowboy movie.  There is a connection here of nature with machines – a recurring theme of the shorts that we have seen.

Nature has been an inspiration for man’s machines – helicopters, aeroplanes, amphibious craft – we have taken the wonder of nature and tried to re-create it (and make it better?) Is our downfall the fact that we are overreaching ourselves, that we have tried to make something better and that it is going to come back and bite us?  In seeking our Utopia we actually find Dystopia?  What a bleak and epressing thought!

The snake-like tentacles reach out of the buildings – or are they reaching in? Is it defense or attack?  Despair or hope? Is the “tumbleweed” being pulled towards the floating machines against its will or is it a willing journeyman, heading towards hope?  Dystopia or Utopia?

And then the abandoned phone, the disconnected voice – how many times do we try to connect to find that nobody is there?  Leaving messages hanging in the ether….  Finally we see the tentacles as wires connected to headphones attached to man.  Are we being brain washed? Are we becoming slaves to machines?  Have we always been slaves to technology? Are machines our gods as in Bendito Machine III, easily cast away as the next new, bright, shiny thing comes along? Do we control machines or do they control us? Do we give them voice?  Do we give them soul?

Still not sure that New Media is dystopian.  I like to think that those machines do have a soul, that they are searching.  Searching for something better, searching for home…..

machines with long tentacle like legs invading a 1930s street. Tall buildings linked by an arched bridge.  Cars and people dwarfed by the buidlings, the buildings in turn dwarfed by the machines.

#edcmooc Thursday

Just trying out an application suggested in a tweet – still needs a lot of work but looks like it could be an interesting tool to use….


and I wonder if pechaflickr could be a way to go – quite random but certainly an option!  Why not have a play! 

I found “Thursday” an interesting short. My first thought was how similar the street grid system seen from above like the grids on the old computer games but I agree with some of the comments on the discussion board that the street grid system is like a computer motherboard.  Are we all living in a huge game? Where do reality and make-believe merge? Can we escape the automation of daily life and choose our own destiny? Maybe that is what the couple were doing when they went on their outing on Thursday?

I think that the way that the bird mimics the sounds around it is like the way that we have copied nature’s designs to build machines. It is ironic, but also we adapt the way we act and speak to fit in with our surroundings especially when we are in unfamiliar or challenging situations so as not to stand out and as a way to survive. Maybe this is a dystopian struggle for survival? But then if their day of escapism is hope for the future maybe it has a utopian element?

Other people have commented on the sadness of the people’s dependence and absorption in their gadgets, their machines and how when the power went out they found themselves bereft of anything to do.  Is that dependence stripping us of the ability to be creative, to think for ourselves?

It is certainly the cry of lots of parents, and I hear myself saying it to my children too!  When we turn off the internet or tell them that their time is up on their computers or tablets they mope around for half an hour until they remember (or are reminded) that there are other things to do!  We try to play family games but I am frustrated by how infrequently we do that now since my husband and I too are often to be found with our heads staring at a computer screen.  It is also easy to let our kids play on computers – a cheap babysitter, just as the TV has been the baby sitter in previous years – so that we can get on with what we need to do.

boys playing computer games sitting next to each other on sofa in living room

Interestingly, I have observed that my boys communicate more through the medium of computer games than face to face. Of course, they still have the rough and tumble of brotherly play, they are both keen sports players and we spend a reasonable amount of time outdoors. But the games they play require them to play as a team against another team, so they have to discuss strategy, make decisions, build things and interact. Sometimes they do this sitting next to each other as in the photo, sometimes they are in separate rooms, and it maybe that when the older brother goes away later this month they will play across continents. I think that the skills they are learning and developing during this play time will help them to grow as adults and help them in their lives.

Prince Harry said recently of his role in Afghanistan working as a helicopter gunner “It’s a joy for me. I am one of those people who loves playing Playstation and XBox and so I am good with my thumbs, I like to think that I am quite useful.”   Those comments have caused quite a stir but I think that he is right – I have read research (but can’t quite find sources just now) that suggests that parts of the brain are stimulated when playing computer games which help in quick decision making and manual reflexes.

The interactive nature of computer games now is, I believe,  far preferable to one on one games that require interaction only between the computer and the player.  A friend of mine remarked on that the other day when I went to pick up my 13 year old from his friends’ house.  They are twins and when I arrived, my son was playing an interactive game with one of them, they were in separate spaces in an open plan area so we could see both of them and they spent the whole time talking to each other, deciding who was going to do what, which bounty to collect, how to attack, counter-attack, defend etc.  The other twin was playing on a handheld device, completely self-absorbed and seemingly isolated.   That is not to say that there isn’t a place for one to one time, but a healthy balance is needed.

Which brings me to the idea in the film that people are so governed by their machines that they no longer notice the world around them.  It is easy to see how this can happen – computer games are addictive and it is for that reason that I avoid them; I know I will get sucked in, I know because it has happened to me!  Fortunately, I don’t think I have a particularly addictive personality and I usually get bored after the mania has run its course and I move onto the next thing.  But I do have a busy and demanding job, one that I love, but the demands of the job mean that I often come home from work and then immediately sit down at the computer and start again because I have stuff that I have to do for the next day.  I find myself missing out on the things I really love doing like spending time with my family, being outdoors in the hills or by the sea.

I am doing this course because the subject interests me but it too means that I am focussed on the computer.  Fortunately, it is summer here and I am sitting in the garden with cicadas chirruping, birds singing and the smell of the roses all around me.

As a family we do get out and about and it is always refreshing to leave the gadgets behind and play cards or boards games actually using a pack of cards and a board rather than on the gadgets!  However, we did find that this year on holiday we were still slaves to our gadgets; we used them to check the weather forecast,  Google maps helped us find the way, (better than an in-car Sat Nav), we could find out what to do in different places, Google Goggle was a great for identifting the names of landmarks and giving us additional information on the hoof and then I am hooked on Instagram at the moment so photos were edited and uploaded as I took them, and my husband and I had a mini competition going on as to who could check in to 4square first whenever we went to a cafe!  Gadgets in cars to keep kids amused are great too and stop the incessant refrain of “Are we nearly there?”

Father and son sitting on rocks by the ocean looking at hand held computers

But did we miss out on the world around us by having our gadgets on us the whole time?  I don’t think we did; I think that in many ways they helped us to look at the world in a different way.  I enjoy photography and using instagram has encouraged me to  look at what is around me from a different perspective – I like to upload photos that say something to me, they are contextual, they also reflect who I am as a person.  I still use my SLR camera for more planned shots but the immediacy of a camera on my mobile phone fulfils my need for instant gratification and feedback from my followers!

Keeping a balance is important and I know there are times when, as a family, we fail.  However, I think on the whole we do a pretty good job and hopefully the boys will maintain that when they no longer have us as guardians of cyberspace.

On that note, I am taking a break.  Going for a coffee with my husband who is also engaged in a Mooc and needs dragging away!