The MOOC I participated in over the past 6 weeks raised many key issues for me, making me reflect on questions such as: ‘what does it mean to be human within a digital culture, and what does that mean for education?’.
We tend not to question, in our everyday lives, where the boundaries of ‘the human’ lie; but developments within digital technology, bioscience, philosophy, ecology and popular culture are increasingly pushing at those boundaries and making them seem less secure. Examples of such developments include:
*biomedical developments in cloning, genetic and tissue engineering, transplantation and reproductive medicine
*advances in artificial intelligence and the promise of seamless brain-computer interfaces
*the increasingly mundane and unnoticed embeddedness of digital technology in our everyday lives
*’posthumanist’ and ‘anti-humanist’ philosophy which has challenged some of our often taken-for-granted assumptions about ‘human nature’ and the ways in which we define what it means to be human
*movements which question the ecological sustainability of human-centred ways of thinking.
In all of these and more, we are seeing a constant flow of new challenges to our definitions of what is ‘essentially’ human. Not all these challenges, of course, are simply ‘digital’ – they are technological in the broadest sense. However, they do help us understand how digital re- workings of ‘humanity’ are positioned within a broader cultural context where the constitution and boundaries of the human are very much ‘up for grabs’ (Hayles, 1999, 84-5).
As Elaine Graham expresses it:
What is at stake, supremely, in the debate about the implications of digital, genetic, cybernetic and biomedical technologies is precisely what (and who) will define authoritative notions of normative, exemplary, desirable humanity into the twenty-first century. (Graham, 2002, 11)
Who or what, in your view, will define what it means to be human in the future? Who or what defines it now? These are crucial questions for those of us engaged in education in all its forms, because how we define ‘desirable humanity’ will inform at the deepest level our understanding of how and why education might be conducted and why it matters. Paying attention to online education foregrounds these issues in a new way, helping us look at them afresh.
Any comments/questions/ideas welcome 🙂
Graham, E. L. (2002). Representations of the post/human: monsters, aliens and others in popular culture. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press
Hayles, N. K. (1999) How we became posthuman: virtual bodies in cybernetics, literature and informatics, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.