technology: utopia vs dystopia?

Back to blogging, as I need to write out my thoughts somewhere. I have just started my first MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) at Coursera with a course by University of Edinburgh. It’s titled E-learning and Digital Cultures. I may talk about the course, the structure, how it may work or may fail depending on what your expectations are, but for now: content.

The first week of the course is about technological determinism and the technological utopia and dystopia in popular culture. There are four short films to be viewed, and free discussion on feature films (think Metropolis, Blade Runner, etc.) One of the short films to view is called New Media and I embedded it here:

One of the earlier comments of the #edcmooc suggested that it was a very pessimistic depiction of a possible dystopian future (and I agree) and that humanity wouldn’t want to ever fall so low  and would not let this happen (I don’t agree). This made me think of  my recent literary interest in dystopian futures, and how some of the books have actually made me afraid of what our future could be. (I am not giving the books any justice with my short descriptions, and there may be spoilers, so beware if you haven’t read them)

1. Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451

In Fahrenheit 451, the city is ruled by technology. The TV has become larger scale, the entertainment programs have the smallest and least energy requiring participation, they make very little sense but to give housewives the feeling that they are being entertained. They take up entire walls, and the trend is to have all the walls of your living room turned into the entertainment complex. Attention spans have shortened, advertisement on highways are miles long so that you don’t miss them. Huge wars are going on, mentioned by one line in the news segments. Oh yeah, one more thing: books are banned.

Maybe we are still far from banning books, but for all others we are getting closer step by step. All possible empty space is being bought by advertisers, most of TV entertainment is getting stupider and shorter, to the point where most people complain about a film being 2 hours long. When I read Fahrenheit 451, I got scared. Not because I thought “wow this is so crazy it would never happen, right?” but because I think we are on our way there.

2. Hillary Jordan’s When She Woke

In Hillary Jordan’s dystopian future, several tragedies have happened (which unfortunately are not explored nearly enough in the book): There has been an atomic bomb on a Western state of the US, energy is hard to come by so in the South, universities close in Spring and Summer to save air-condition costs. Water is not easy to come by and rainier states sell water to other states. A plague has caused major fertility problems, to the point where abortion is a major offense. And a technology which safely chances the skin color has been invented and is being used to identify murderers, thieves and women who aborted their children. They are “free” (as in not imprisoned), but they can’t function in the society without being pointed at.

I don’t know where to start. Let’s go with the big one: women’s reproductive rights is the most popular global issue, which shouldn’t ever be an issue. I can definitely see a future like Jordan’s. Additionally, I am sure if a technology to change skin color was invented, it would be used for previous offenders or pedophiles or any other offense and make this dystopia come true.

3. Not literary, but, hey! Looper (2012)

Looper’s basic set-up is the following: In the future, time travel has been invented and subsequently banned. Only big criminal gangs use it -in secret- to get rid of bodies. (Also, the not so far future that is Looper’s present suffers from extreme income inequality.) This resonates with the #edcmooc’s focus on technological determinism. Time travel as such is not evil. But is banned in Looper’s future because (I assume) it can be used for evil. Yet the ban doesn’t stop evil people from using it.

There are many other examples of this, naturally. I focused on the three that have been hanging in my mind today. Other examples are Blade Runner, Akira, Metropolis, 1984, Brave New World and I suppose most of the cyberpunk genre. Let me know in the comments if you have any other examples or comments.


4 thoughts on “technology: utopia vs dystopia?

  1. Your mention of Loopers (which I have not yet seen) reminded me about one of my favorite films, La Jetee (the Jetty) by Chris Marker. The 30 minute film takes place in a post apocalyptic future and involves efforts to send someone to the past to prevent the earth-destroying war.

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