Archive for the ‘Being Human’ Category

Utopia v Dystopia

Wednesday, March 6th, 2013

Utopia v Dystopia

From the day he was born, my iToddler enjoyed watching Baby Einstein DVDs about colours and shapes, enjoyed the ‘Talking Tom’ cat Android app repeating his parents’ voices back in a high-pitched manner, and now loves dancing along to Nursery Rhymes streaming on YouTube. Is he being raised in a ‘digital culture’? Without a doubt.

The most interesting issue raised for me by the EDC MOOC was that of utopia versus dystopia: Francis Fukuyama’s ideology, that human nature and human ways of being are under threat by scientific and technological advances, is one that I have enjoyed debating via Twitter over recent weeks.
Fukuyama is best known as the author of The End of History and the Last Man (1992), in which he argued that the progression of human history as a struggle between ideologies is largely at an end, with the world settling on liberal democracy after the end of the Cold War and the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Fukuyama predicted the eventual global triumph of political and economic liberalism, warning that our human ways of being are threatened by technology as it undermines the basis of our commitment to humanist ideas which underlie many educational philosophies and approaches to practice, such as equality, freedom and autonomy.

Is the ever-embeddedness of technology in our lives really such a bad thing? Is it as ‘dangerous’ as Fukuyama fears? I don’t believe that technology undermines who we are, but in fact enhances us and allows us to explain and express ourselves in ways never before possible, connecting us to others and making our everyday lives.

I do not yet know how my son’s iChildhood will turn out. No doubt the iPads and laptops at his future nursery will equip him with IT skills that people of my generation fought to learn in the first years of Secondary school. But these IT skills will, in my opinion, prepare him for a future in an ever-evolving digital world, where his future job will no doubt involve some- if not all- digital input.

Isn’t achieving ‘equality, freedom and autonomy’ easier with these skills and devices? I would dispute Fukuyama’s dystopian ideas with those of a utopian, united future where technology provides access to information, enabling us, and re-asserting who we are- being human is using technology. If we are fortunate to live in a society where such digital delights are available, should we not share them and introduce them to our young? Perhaps many technologies now do go ‘unnoticed’ in our everyday lives, but wouldn’t you let your toddler play on your iPhone if it made them laugh…?

Personally, I see nothing but positive changes ahead in Education as we continue to enhance our teaching and learning with digital devices, and I very much look forward to watching my toddler grow up in our digital utopian world.

Reference:
Fukuyama, F. (1992) The End of History and the Last Man. London: Harper Collins Publishers

Being Human in a Digital Age

Tuesday, March 5th, 2013

Being Human in a Digital Age

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 🙂

References:

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.