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Posted by on Oct 2, 2010

Week 2 Review: A search for a brighter shade of dystopian presentation

The second week of my Lifestream is illustrative of my general predilections as a learner and film consumer. During this week #ededc explored the notion of posthuman through several films attempting to address the question of what it means to be human. A heady question indeed and one that I will not attempt to answer here. What I will attempt to do is address what I feel to be the dominant narratives found in these stories.

However, as a budding researcher and ethnographer of digital culture, I should come clean with my biases. I am not, nor have ever, been an incredibly enthusiastic science fiction fan. While I enjoy a creative take on what shape the future may take, I have never been completely enthralled by the conclusions, many of which seem formulaic to me. My Lifestream this week should serve to illustrate my resistance to dystopian presentations of the future, not due to their impossibility, but mostly due to their incompleteness (in my opinion). Generally, this resistance (however futile) falls under a few points, which I will outline below.

(I enjoy the above not only for the poetics, but also because Hamlet is the ultimate cyberpunk, simply desiring to tear the entire machine apart and then shuffle off this mortal coil, plagued by memories, acutely aware of the fragility of humanness, a good metaphor for the hacker narrative in digital culture.)

  • Dystopian needn’t always be dark- granted, this is more aesthetic than anything else, but the resistance that authors of dystopian future fiction tend to embrace goes to great lengths in presenting the technological future in negative terms, often as it is construed as being non-human (or at least non-individualistic and concerned with group dynamics). This translates aesthetically, especially in film, as dark, black, night, rain. An environment where humans themselves are the foreign agent, where life (of the human sort) finds it difficult to exist. This narrative naturally lends itself to a cyberpunk critique where the counter-culture resistance becomes the hero agent, the hacker becomes the savior. Like I said, it is indeed quite possible, but seems a bit tired in its execution in film.
  • Building on this, there is more potency and power in being benign rather than malignant. The network at the core of this dystopian discussion needs to have elements of attractiveness as participation in the network (at least for now) is a voluntary act. I need to want to do it, so it must represent a value-added paradigm for the individual. Therefore, I am drawn more towards presentations of the network that have elements of attractiveness in them, even if this attractiveness is masking a nefarious dystopian drive to control. I am thinking the Minority Report where control is rooted in a positive (precrime eliminates murder), a sedative towards furthering relinquishing of moral authority to the greater construct.
  • Posthuman is augmentation. At some point, we become the technology. Our whole human visage becomes the interface for the technology. Our mobile phones have extended digital cultures into our physical lives, augmented reality has layered additional facets of context over our sensory inputs channels (primarily eyes), and technology is not only embedded in our lives, it becomes an extension of every waking breath, every step, every glance. Dystopian or not, it seems like the path we are knowingly following as a culture.
  • Multimodality is neither good nor evil, lest thinking makes it so. Mutlimodality, presenting and interacting with content on a variety of layers, offers quite a bit of learning potential for contextualization. It allows learners the opportunity to present the complexity of perception and understanding, to explore knowing something in separate instances simultaneously. However, its contextualization is also a dystopian warning signal. It is complete, in that a “thing” can be contextualized for the individual to degrees that text alone cannot. This leads to greater mechanisms for control (the presenter as moral authority, as the control mechanism). It is hard to refute one’s own senses. Hence, all the videos we watched this week had a strong sense of multimodal context; they were fully encapsulating.

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