Thursday, 31 January 2013

Dystopia on the big screen — How man closes his own circle

So… I have signed up for this online course at the University of Edinburgh, on eLearning and digital cultures. It is the second Internet-based academic course I am attending, although this one at Edinburgh is rather different from the first one, a master degree in European Union studies, which is more like a classic academic course, just using the Internet as the main communication means.

Already after reading the course description and all the ‘how to’ stuff, checking a few of the fora, and watching the first of four videos that constitute the core of the first course week, I see chaos installing itself. Students who are lost in the microcosmic cyberspace of the course website and all the subsites and websites it refers to.

What strikes me as well is that whereas the language used by the course managers (I am not allowed to quote from it, so I won’t) is very abstract and what I call ‘unnecessarily over-academised’, the instructions are pretty straight-foward, perhaps even too simplified to be comprehensible. Er, I mean understandable.

The clear question we, the (six-digit number of) students have been asked in the first week, is to think of an example of utopian and dystopian stories about technology told in popular films, and describe or share it, for example on one’s blog. Well, I have thought. And now I will share. And describe. A little.

In fact, two of my favourite films come to mind, and they both tell rather dystopian stories.

Pink Floyd The Wall has sequences of how mankind is becoming so inhuman that everything we love about being human is destroyed. Any artistic creativity, any feeling is not only taboo but also forbidden. A quote from one of the final scenes (and thus songs, as Pink Floyd The Wall is in a way one long music video) is:
The prisoner who now stands before you
Was caught red-handed showing feelings
Showing feelings of an almost human nature
This will not do!
Alien — The 8th Passenger needs little further presentation. It is a little more ambiguous than Pink Floyd The Wall in its dystopian message, but one thing that I would like to point out is how The Company — which in this first part of what is by now a pentalogy, if one counts the recently released prequel Prometheus in, is not known by any other name than simply The Company — has powers that seem to reach beyond that of a nation state as we know it today. As The Company wants to capture the alien lifeform in order to use and possibly develop it for its weapons division, a creature of nature actually becomes, or is intended to become, technology.

Last but not least, a recommendation for those who like to watch something alternative: Try to get hold of the Belgian film Thomas Est Amoureux. The whole film is seen through the eyes of a man who lives his life through his computer screen. In other words, we only see the screen. While this may sound unbearably boring, the film is actually a fantastic attempt to show how human can become a slave of its own creation: the machine. Watch it! (pun intended)

Oh, I almost forgot: Of the four videos that we students are supposed to watch this first week, I rather liked this one. Watch it too…


1 comment:

Mind Traveller said...
Since you are a communication expert...
I consider silence as one of the most unstudied processes of communication, although many deny there is communication in that.

While many words may look like expressive, they turn into that kind of dystopic communication that makes sense to nobody at all, not even to those who are in the middle of that process. Silence may be the utopic solution when communicators fail to deliver an understanding of any kind.
What I wonder about in this post of yours, is whether or not one really needs courses on digital cultures considering that digital is now global, and therefore all digital cultures have come to speak in one 'language'. Perhaps I am one of those old-school supporters where commercialism didn't affect the whole system of education.
But I am not referring to 'old-school' in terms of those archaic and orthodox methods of learning and teaching. But perhaps we really live in a dystopic world where utopia is a kill and therefore we have to know how to translate dystopism (does such word exist?). (You may not want to post this comment because it is too long)