The Real Deal #edcmooc

Day 17

The first of this week’s films is an advertisement for Toyota.


Set in a sterile dystopic future, people live – separated from nature – beneath a giant glass dome. “Can you feel the thrill of being alive?” asks the digitised man as the ‘driver-assist’ function in his car guides him around dimly lit streets. “Neither can I.” Only by taking to the streets in a Toyota GT86 and using it to smash through the wall of the dome into the real world beyond does our hero experience the feeling of being “alive for the first time”.

The glass dome has become a familiar, perhaps even predictable, structure in visions of the future. It is interesting to me that the notion of communities of people living under a glass dome has become synonymous with visions of dystopia when the geodesic dome was promoted by Buckminster Fuller in the 1950s as the ultimate sustainable human shelter.

Rather than direct our attention to adverts produced by Toyota and BT, I propose that we look to the life and works of Buckminster ‘Bucky’ Fuller (1895 – 1983) [1] for a far more enlightening view of the relationship between technology and humanity.

Bucky was an inventor and visionary environmental activist who worked in the fields of architecture, design, geometry, engineering, science, cartography and education; applying his unique, multidisciplined approach to solve global problems surrounding housing, shelter, transportation, education, energy, ecological destruction, and poverty. He dedicated his life to “changing the world and benefiting all humanity.” His singular goal – the pursuit of a world that would work for 100% of humanity.

bucky_7

Fuller was a great believer in the benefits of technology. One of his lifelong interests was the use of technology to revolutionize construction and improve human housing. His personal maxim in life was “doing more with less” by which he meant using technological advancement to achieve more and more with less and less of the earth’s finite resources.

Returning to the course materials, the notes that accompany Film 1: Toyota GT86: The ‘real deal’ advert, ask us to consider how popular discussions about technology-mediated education reiterate the opposition created in the film between ‘unreal’ digital technology and the authentic ‘real life’ conditions in the natural world. This theme is also explored in one of this week’s papers: Monke’s ‘The Human Touch’ [2] where Monke writes about the dangers of replacing first hand experience with ‘abstract’ two dimensional representations on a computer screen.

Buckminster Fuller once again provides the perfect illustration for this debate. Hailed as one of the greatest minds of our times, Fuller lectured at MIT and Harvard, received many major architectural, scientific, industrial, and design awards in the United States and abroad, and was awarded 47 honorary doctorate degrees. He was indisputably a man of profound intelligence and innovation, and yet, as a boy, he struggled to grasp the basic rules of geometry because he could not achieve the abstraction necessary to imagine how a chalk dot on a blackboard could represent a mathematical point.

Instead, he would construct models using materials he brought home from the woods and sometimes made his own tools. He went on to gain a machinists certificate and became adept at operating the tools needed to manipulate sheet metal. This physical manipulation of the world around him is what Fuller believed fostered both his interest in design and his knowledge of the materials he used in his inventions. Clearly, the abstract learning offered by computer simulations would not have suited the young Bucky. Just think of the potential consequences for all the budding inventors in our schools today if we neglect the value of a full hands-on sensory exploration of the world we inhabit.

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