In Block 1, we are exploring how digital cultures are interpreted as being either utopian (highly desirable) or dystopian (negative). To illustrate this, four short films are referenced as course materials. The first of these, Bendito Machine III, has prompted some fascinating discussion on the course forum.
Bendito Machine III is a beautifully animated tale, which appears to draw parallels between technology and religion by echoing aspects of Exodus 32, The Golden Calf. In synopsis: while Moses is communing with God on Mount Sinai, the Israelites, believing they have been abandoned, commission Aaron to create an idol for them to worship – the Golden Calf. God becomes angry and wants to smite the Israelites, but Moses convinces him to hold his fire. Moses returns to the people with the tablets on which the ten commandments had been written, but when he sees them rejoicing over the Golden Calf, he smashes the tablets in anger and God sends down a plague upon the Israelites for their disobedience.
Take a look at the film for yourself and see what you think.
For me, Bendito Machine III has another subtext, which I find more interesting. After Moses disposes of the radio calf, the people are captivated by the television he replaces it with. At first, the images it transmits are charming. But as time passes, they become increasingly macabre. Brief, almost subliminal images of boys with toy guns are replaced by flashes of the victims of war.
Eventually, pictures provoking fear and terror dominate. The people feel helpless and afraid. They cluster around the television praying for deliverance from the doom it predicts. This brought to mind another commentary on the evils of television (or rather, the media’s manipulation of television) from Charlie Brooker’s popular Newswipe series. Brooker’s ‘Week in Bullshit’ sums up the dystopic potential of television perfectly and describes the events being expressed in Bendito Machine III far better than I ever could.
This very real phenomenon also illustrates the way that culture and technology move hand in hand. It begs the question: do we shape technology or does technology shape us? In the context of learning, the ‘Baldwin effect’ suggests that the behaviour of a species (our culture) can shape the way in which it evolves. Once controversial (Baldwin proposed his hypothesis in 1896), this theory became popular with evolutionary psychologists such as Daniel Dennett who applied the Baldwin effect to the search for a means by which social learning can achieve rapid evolution of brain, language and mind, so perhaps emerging technology and digital cultures hold the key to utopia after all.
I could write a whole thesis on this subject, so I will stop now, but this is definitely a theme I want to return to later.