The second week of the E-learning and Digital Cultures course still centres on utopian and dystopian accounts of technology. Where last week looked at past accounts of our existing relationship with technology, the films this week explore ideas of the future of digital culture.
The first two films are video adverts setting out visions from Corning and Microsoft of how they see their products evolving and how daily life will change accordingly.
A Day Made of Glass 2
Productivity Future Vision
Countering popular complaints
The prompt questions provided by the course were around visualisations of education, learning and teaching in these films. But what struck me more was the way in which both companies appear to be going to great lengths to show their technology bringing people (particularly families) together. The impact of technology on face-to-face interaction and family togetherness is often lamented these days. We hear stories of siblings texting one another from different floors of the same house (this phenomenon is acknowledged in Inbox), of family meals round the table being replaced by TV dinners, of spouses struggling to win attention in favour of the work email account on the BlackBerry.
Both Corning and Microsoft appear to be actively pushing back against this and describing a vision of the future where technology, and particularly mobile devices, will draw families back together. The girl at the centre of A Day Made of Glass 2 has her glass tablet at her fingertips throughout the day but the focus of the advert is on the interactions facilitated by or mediated through the tablet – interactions with siblings, parents, classmates and teachers. Likewise, Productivity Future Vision shows characters in diverse situations and locations coming together via the technology (the mother and daughter searching for interesting recipes together, but from different locations rather than huddled round a kitchen table, for instance).
There is one message here about technology (paper-thin, frameless, caseless, transparent devices) seamlessly integrating into our lives, but the real significance of the focus on people rather than tech is in its rebuttal against one of the most popular criticisms of the rapid pace of development.
Everywhere, immersive, immediate
Both films share a vision of information and education becoming portable, scalable and shareable with the help of their future products. Sadly, though, the changes and developments are somewhat superficial.
In A Day Made of Glass 2, the pupils all have personal tablets connected to the teacher’s larger-scale wall model. It looks very nice – high quality, flexible visuals which are displayed simultaneously on all screens. But in reality the school education model remains unchanged. By and large, the students sit in rows at desks while a teacher stands up front and presents information. Even when the children are experimenting with colours on a fancy interactive glass surface, it’s not fundamentally any different from kids mixing paint colours on an activity table.
While we all, as parents or educators or leaders, have a responsibility to find the best way to use new technologies, I feel slightly disappointed that the visionaries at Corning and Microsoft haven’t invested energy in imagining what more radical changes and improvements could be made to existing conventions as a result of their developing and future products.
It also struck me that there’s a real emphasis on convenience and immediacy. Real-time capture and transfer of information, intelligent syncing between devices, and augmented reality: it’s all about receiving and moving information. There’s very little focus on creativity or creation. Again, I find this a bit disappointing. I also find it strange, given that certain devices on the market today (I’m thinking of Samsung specifically) push their creativity potential as the key selling point.
A slightly hollow utopia
Both films are clearly designed to present a utopian ideal of technology: they’re selling a product and a brand. There’s an element of technological determinism here, I think, in the total adoption of the technology portrayed in both visions of the future. But, initial ‘wow’ factor aside, both visions ring slightly hollow for me – as visions of the future, particularly with regards to technology in and for learning, I don’t think they push it far enough.