Dystopian Tech Present: we can learn from movies #edcmooc

Theatrical release poster by Robert McCall

Tonight was Oscar’s night. The worldwide show about movies. A day to talk about films and remember how important is the film industry for all of us. Filmmakers show us a world of dreams, love, social fights and history. They show us our own nightmares too. And, in academia, movies are a great tool to introduce new creative perspectives to our discussions.

Like in literature, fiction is a key in building movie storylines. One of the most attractive kinds of fiction is the Sci-Fi. Stories that project possible futures based on what we know about science and technology and imagine possible future discoveries or uses of these technologies.

Dystopian projections of our near future are recurrent on sci-fi movies and TV series. We have famous examples in ‘1984’ or ‘2001’ to cite some classics.

As explained on the University of Edinburgh course I attended on eLearning and digital cultures: ‘Many strongly utopian or dystopian arguments seek to explain social, cultural or educational change in primarily technological terms. This is known as ‘technological determinism’ […]

This perspective says that technology is not a ‘tool’ – it actually drives change and creates society, not the other way around’

Hand and Sandywell E-topia paper (2002) describe three utopian claims about information technology, and three dystopian ones.

Utopian claims Dystopian claims
Information technologies based on electronic computation possess intrinsically democratizing properties (the Internet and/or worldwide web is an autonomous formation with ‘in-built’ democratic properties or dispositions). Information technologies possess intrinsically de-democratizing properties (the Internet and/or worldwide web is an autonomous formation with ‘in-built’ anti-democratic properties or dispositions).
Information technologies are intrinsically neutral, but inevitably lend themselves to democratizing global forces of information creation, transfer and dissemination. Information technologies are intrinsically neutral, but inevitably lend themselves to control by de-democratizing forces (hardware and software ‘ownership’ equals anti-democratic control).
Cyber-politics is essentially a pragmatic or instrumental task of maximizing public access to the hardware and software thought to exhaustively define the technology in question. Cyber-politics is essentially one of resisting and perverting the anti- democratic effects of the technology in question.
Hand, M. and B. Sandywell. 2002. E-topia as cosmopolis or citadel: On the democratizing and de-democratizing logics of the internet, or, toward a critique of the new technological fetishism. Theory, Culture & Society 19, no. 1-2: 197-225. (p.205-6)

Dystopias are often characterized by dehumanization, totalitarian governments, environmental disaster, or other characteristics associated with a cataclysmic decline in society. – Wikipedia

And is that ‘decline in society’ one of our trending topics on actual fiction.

How technology is changing our behavior. How some evil forces –the same evil forces that put us in this crisis- can use technologies to control us in a totalitarian way. There are our fears and filmmakers are aware of that. That’s why movies and TV series are talking about how technology works and facing us to a possible present-futures we are going to.

In fiction it is a growing dystopian projection of our nearly future and a scary fear of our technological present.

I like the expression Dystopian-Present to describe these unreal projections of possible missuses of the technology we already know.

But they are missuses or are where we are going all together?

We can find a great example of this new fiction contribution to the technological dystopian-present debate on Charlie Brooker’s ‘Black Mirror’ where every chapter try to explore the ‘side-effects’ of technology in our life.

If technology is a drug – and it does feel like a drug – then what, precisely, are the side-effects? This area – between delight and discomfort – is where Black Mirror is set. The “black mirror” of the title is the one you’ll find on every wall, on every desk, in the palm of every hand: the cold, shiny screen of a TV, a monitor, a smartphone. – Charlie Brooker

This fears about technological dystopian present are not conspiracy theories. Fears are born from the gap between who offers the technology and who uses it. The lack of transparency of the information needed to build trustiness is the key to change that scary story of us.

Cross-posting with #LibTechNotes