Science fiction – Technology and society: a lesson plan.

The inspiration for my last blog post on my favourite sci-fi comes in part from one of my modules this year, Global Impacts. In this module we had to consider dystopian and utopian visions of the future in respect to 4 major themes: Transport; Creative and Cultural; Healthcare; and, Future Cities.

So, I have been thinking about Science Fiction a fair bit in recent weeks. So there

A few years ago, as part of a teaching and learning in digital humanities course as part of the MA in Digital Arts and Humanities (UCC).

I created a lesson plan for a 12 week ‘technology and society’ module that focused heavily on science fiction texts and lived experience. As this year has progressed I’ve started to see the problems in my plan and issue with positioning it as a ‘technology and society’ module.

As this was to be a Digital Humanities module the description of delivery focused on encouraging creativity (Churches’ Blooms Digital Taxonomy) and discussion through a community of practice developed from a blended learning experience.

So I have decided to dissect my lesson plan here and invite comments or perhaps a bit of participation if anyone feels inclined.

Lesson plan:

Intro

To start I wanted to echo a visual culture year 1 module I did as part of my undergraduate.  So I opted for suggesting I show part of John Berger’s Ways of Seeing (1972) videos online during class. This choice was to make students aware of the dynamics of viewing a cultural text. I also choose to show part of the video in class as a soft entry to the course. Students wouldn’t have to go away and watch the series or read the book.

In retrospect: I think would suggest a much more in-depth discussion on the act of viewing. The medium of expression (McLuhan’s The Medium is the Message) the technology –and society-  being represented and the society of reception.

I would add Derrida (/Saussure) and semiotics as well John Fiske and Codes of Television to the discussion. I’d also bring in Walter Benjamin earlier than lesson 5 and consider adding Adorno and Horkheimer’s ‘The Culture Industry’ to the lesson plan.

Lesson 1: Changing the way we look at how humanity and technology is merging.

Lesson 1 was to follow on from Ways of Seeing by looking at the English translation of Roland Barthes ‘Myth Today’ in Mythologies (1957) discussing socially constructed narratives and how meaning layered.

The second part of this lesson would look at Donna Haraway – ‘Cyborg Manifesto’ in, Simians, Cyborgs and Women (1984). Emphasising the merging of what is technology and what is human and the argument for diffuse understanding.

In retrospect: I would push Barthes into the previous discussion on semiotics and move Donna Haraway into lesson 3 with Baudrillard’s System of Objects in order to have a discussion on how and where technology is seen as an extension of humanity and where it is seen as merged with humanity.

Lesson 2: Power: Constructing and maintaining power in society.

Lesson 2 is all about bio-power, or the political constructions of power for population control. For this lesson I would discuss Michel Foucault’s ‘Method’ from The History of Sexuality Vol 1, and show clips from Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927).

Here I wanted to start a secondary discussion online as part of the blended learning element to the class. Asking participants to find 3 examples of early representations of robots/ Androids/ Cyborgs, like Maria in Metropolis, and share and discuss where they fit in the social dynamics.

In retrospect: I think this is still a good option for starter discussion on society and technology.

Lesson 3: Power: Who has the power to do what and why?

This lesson was to look at commodity as commodity the place of technology in society discussing extracts from Jean Baudrillard The System of Objects (1968). And recommending viewing Isaac Asimov – I, Robot.

As part of the online discussion participants would be asked to find representations of a-typical power dynamics between Humanity and technology.

In retrospect: Baudrillard would be moved to be with the discussion on Haraway and the merging of society and technology. Instead I would use I, Robot as a starting point to bridge lesson 2 and 4. I would add another Foucault reading, this time extracts from Discipline and Punish, and look at the police state and representations of policing through technology.  As part of the online discussion I would ask participants to either discuss Robocop and 1984 or to find other representations of technology used to police society.

Lesson 4: Power: The state of exception.

The state of exception carries on from Foucault’s discussion of Biopower and the police state. The reading would be Georgio Agamben – State of Exception (2005) and the discussion would be on narrative where the rights of a citizen are suspended temporarily or permanently. I suggested Terminator Salvation (2009) as the example.

The online discussion would as for 3 examples of the merging of human and technology existing in a state of exception.

In retrospect: I would divide the discussion into representations of where part or all of society are existing in a state of exception. I would now use Elysium (2013) or The Island (2005) as examples of where those modified through technology are denied the same rights as everyone else. As part of the discussion I would try and find examples of this in short fiction, like in William Gibson’s Burning Chrome.

Lesson 5: Identity: Originality

Moving away from the political lesson 5 would look at identity and authenticity.  The reading for this would be Walter Benjamin’s  ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’. And I would ask participants to watch the ‘Arrhythmia’ episode of Almost Human (2013) and show clips from A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2002).

 As part of the online discussion I would ask for 3 examples of similar narratives of authenticity in popular culture.

In retrospect I would change the online discussion from examples of Pinocchio tropes to one on clones and androids. Using Orphan Black and The 6th Day (2000) Blade Runner etc to look at authenticity and individual identity.

 Lesson 6: Identity: Hyperreality

Lesson 6 moves the discussion from the physical representation of technology to the virtual. The reading would be extracts from Jean Baudrillard’s Simulacra and Simulations and the discussion will be on avatars and the development of virtual spaces.  The cultural references would be The Matrix (1999), William Gibson’s ‘Burning Chrome’ and Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash.

The online discussion would ask participants to discuss their understanding of Hyperreality.

In retrospect: I’d probably take a reading from more recent web studies (Gauntlett, Poster, or, Featherstone) and ask for participants to consider more playful narratives like The Guild web series. I would also bring in games and games studies and look at The Sims and Second life.

Lesson 7: Identity: The Uncanny     

Lesson 7 continues on the discussion of representation and authenticity from lesson 5, the discussion will be on Sigmund Freud’s Das Unheimlich. And the references would be Surrogates (2009) and Blade Runner (1982) /Philip K Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

The online discussion would ask participants to consider the Uncanny Valley, and find examples from it from pop culture.

In retrospect: I would tie the uncanny closer to lesson 5 and originality. I would perhaps swap lesson 6 and 7 and have the discussions of clones and replicas lead from one week to the next. I would also ask participants to consider the differences in narratives where the clones /replicas are striving to be human and where they are set to purposefully make the viewer uncomfortable.

Lesson 8: Gender: Representation

Lesson 8 returns to the start of the lesson plan and looks at ways of seeing and reading the text. I would discuss the male gaze and Laura Mulvey’s  ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’.  And show William O’Barr’s ‘Representations of Masculinity and Femininity in Advertisements’ as an illustration of how men and women are positioned in society.

For the online discussion I would ask participants to find a visual example of male and female robots. And discuss. I would ask participants to be playful, maybe consider examples from Futurama or classic cartoons.

In retrospect: I’d add a discussion on advertising and propaganda, looking at Edward Bernays and the art of crowd psychology.

Lesson 9: Gender: gendered use of technology

Lesson 9 takes lesson 8’s representation of gendered roles and discusses gender as a performance. The readings would be Judith Butler’s ‘Performative Acts and Gender Constitution: An Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory’, and looking at Donna Haraway’s ‘Cyborg Manifesto’ from it’s feminist position.

In retrospect: I’d probably add a discussion of women using technology and the roles of gendered technology. Looking at how the male androids in Almost Human are used by the police and the female androids are service bots etc.. As part of the online discussion I would ask participants go back and look at the previous discussions and consider the position of gender in what was discussed.

Lesson 10 Gender: Abject sexuality and body horror

The final lesson combines the uncanny with body horror, taking extracts Julie Kristeva’s  Powers of Horror and using  Masamune Shirow’s Kōkaku Kidōtai  (Ghost in the Shell) as an example I would look at the possible sexualised nature of the merging of technology and humanity and question whether there are any examples (other than Rocky Horror) where the male body becomes more sexualised through technological manipulation.

The online discussion would ask participants to find an example in pop culture of an abject gendered merging of human and technology.

In retrospect: I would tie the abject closer to the discussions in lesson 5 and lesson 7 and look at the state of exception and the uncanny and ask participants to consider the potential reasons for dehumanisation through abjection.

To conclude I would probably reconsider the gender aspect of this lesson plan and remove the last 3 lessons in favour of expanding the introduction and lesson 1. And including a lesson on power and hyperreality looking at the power of the individual over the state in cyberpunk fiction and the power of information e.g. Serenity (2005).

 

 

And there was my lesson plan.

I realise now that it is firmly in the realm of media and cultural studies, and that it could significantly benefit from me bringing in elements of HCI studies.

 

(Links to references to be added later)

 

 

What’s your favourite Sci-fi? A blog post with no conclusion.

As a self proclaimed science fiction fan I have surprising difficulty answering the question ‘What is your favourite Sci-Fi?’

Realistically I position myself as a fair-weather fan. I like science fiction and fantasy, but I can’t lay claim to having just one favourite book or film or TV show. My preferences seem to be fluid, and often depend on the context of when I’m being asked. So, perhaps, it’s more accurate to say that I am a fan of consuming [the] genre as a whole.

Part of my difficulty in answering the question is that I over think it.

For me I see the ‘What is your favourite ?’ as part of a social dance where people can position you as more or less knowledgeable than them. This is a bleed over from my academic interests into fan studies and popular cultural capital (Fiske) / distinction (Bourdieu).

My other difficulties are:

  • what do you mean by Science fiction?
  • What medium are you referring to?
  • How do I want to present myself with my answer?
  • What if my favourite is a niche text and you’ve never heard of it?
  • Do I have to explain why I like it?

All this combines to a point where when someone innocently asks me ‘What is your favourite sci-fi?’ my mind goes blank and I randomly declare that the first thing I can think of.

So, having being contemplating this for a few months I have come up with a list of my go-to ‘favourites’ that may or may not actually be my favourites, but are the first things that come to mind and titles that I would most likely recommend to other people.

Judge them as you will.

 

Film:

Disney’s The Black Hole (1979) – Vincent and Bob.

The Ice Pirates (1984) reason – SPACE PIRATES!

Star Wars – Episode 7 (2015)

Jurassic Park (1993) –

District 9 (2009)

The Fifth Element (1997

Krull (1983) reason – Nostalgia!

Alien Nation (1988)

 

TV shows:

Space: Above and Beyond (1995) reason – I’ve a love of space based war narratives BSG, Starship Troopers, The Last Starfighter, Battle Beyond the Stars, Star Wars.

Prey (1998)  reason – short lived but memorable use of ‘next stage in human evolution’ trope

Star Trek: TNG (1987 – 1994)

Earth: Final Conflict (1997)

Almost Human (2013)

Space Precinct (1994)

The Killjoys (2015 – )

The Expanse (2015 – )

SeaQuest DSV (1993 – 1996)

Lexx (1997) reason– It’s bizarre and perverse yet I always found it strangely watchable.

Firefly (2002)

 

Anime:

Gundam Wing (1997)

Dominion Tank Police (1988)

Ghost in the Shell (1995)

Metropolis (2001) reason – lovely reimagining of the idea of ‘Maria’.

 

Books:

The Diamond Age- Neal Stephenson

The Coming Race – Baron Edward Bulwer-Lytton (He of the ‘It was a dark and stormy night…’ fame)

E Pluribus Unicorn – Theodore Sturgeon

Tinker – Wen Spencer

Deathstalker series – Simon R Green

Burning Chrome – William Gibson

Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams

Bill the Galactic Hero – Harry Harrison

 

 

Cartoons:

My love of cartoons and the influence they’ve had on me is something for another post.

 

 

 

 

Karen Practice Led Project

©BlastTheory

Karen App,

A practice led project for the Horizon Centre for Doctoral Training

Researching the Karen app, by Blast Theory

This project was an interdisciplinary research project that combines my background in media and cultural studies with the new skills I’m learning in Horizon CDT and the department of computer science. It was supervised by Stuart Reeves.

 

Back home in Cork there’s a famous church spire that’s affectionately known in the city as the ‘four liars’. It is called the four liars because each side of the spire has a clock face and each clock face tells a slightly different time, none of them being the actual time. I mention this because part of my project was establishing ‘what is Karen’, and from what I’ve found there are 3 façades to Karen and all of them slightly different and none of them quite right.

In my report I suggest that the 3 sides to Karen are:

  • Karen the App
  • Karen the interactive drama/ cultural text*.
  • And, ‘Karen’ the character.

Karen, the app, integrates a questionnaire that compiles a psychometric report on you at the end of the experience.

Karen the cultural text challenges its audience to be active participants in its interpretation.

While, ‘Karen’ the character is a life coach, but is also is a fragile construct waiting to break and expose the rusty wiring within.

There was however something that those three parts to Karen all have in common that, for me, pushed through ambiguity of what Karen is. And that is: Time.

One of the primary parts of the Karen user data I have been analysing are the timestamps. One of the dominating features of the delivery of Karen is time. And one of the themes (though I think I forgot to mention it explicitly in my report) that drives ‘Karen’ the character is time, or more precisely the temporal paralysis** of the character. Karen is stuck and, in a way, it is the players’ job to get her moving again.

Coming from the humanities I needed a theoretical framework to start my analysis. As there is very little research (nothing really) done yet on Karen taking a historiographic (big word to say ‘look at what everyone else has being a saying about it’) approach. I did not really have the word count to allow for a modernist (Paralysis!) or post-modernist (Micronarratives!) analysis of the text in relation to the data***.  Eventually I put a very loose cultural materialism / new historicism frame work on it and look at Karen from the cultural context of its conception and production.

So, essentially, my Practice Led Project uses Blast Theory’s digital archive for Karen, interviews with the artists and 17000+ user logs to look at whether there is any evidence to support that interruption and/or disruption are essential parts to the experience of Karen.

This chart (sort of) shows that not everyone engages with the app at the prescribed time, thus allowing users to interrupt and undermine the interruptive nature of Karen.
↵

This report will hopefully be followed up further research by the MRL (Mixed Reality Lab, Nottingham), possibly including:

  • a user trial of the app to establish a first person experience of interaction
  • a deeper analysis of the text and user data to explore the micro-narratives created by the subtle branching videos that make up Karen
  • (a short modernist critique of disruption and paralysis in Karen)****
  • User retrospective user survey – could possibly be used to inform a participation and performativity based analysis of Karen
  • an analysis of the psychometric element of the user data

 

 

 

Footnotes

*I suppose I really should have referred to Karen as a cultural ‘object’ rather than a text, but for me text is the most suitable word. Karen the cultural object straddles the definitions of film/ game/ interactive drama etc. and yet I can easily apply a media / cultural or textual analysis to it.

** That entire semester of studying James Joyce is finally finding a purpose.

*** Who am I kidding, I abandoned post-modernism because I was scared to get into debate about ontologies with my new colleagues in computer science.

**** I may do this. Maybe.

.

First Post:

In September, 2016, I started a PhD.

It still feels strange writing that: I am doing a PhD. I am a PhD Candidate. I am studying… well yes, my point is made.

I set up this blog in the hopes that I could somehow find a space that would sit outside of academia, or at least far enough on the edge that I could write about my thoughts and research tangents in a discursive (i.e. rambling) and more accessible way. It is mostly a personal log to remind myself to keep moving forward.

So here I am:

Starting a multidisciplinary/ interdisciplinary PhD is both exciting and daunting.  For very similar reasons.

The scope of the digital economy is vast; allowing for multiple disciplines to look at a whole host of topics from different perspectives.

One of the biggest challenges I’m finding in working in an interdisciplinary school is the successful integration of disciplines.

Luckily the CDT I am part of is set up in such a way that you don’t have to face this challenge on your own. You have a support from the supervisory team, mentoring from people who have done similar work, and the opportunity to engage with multiple fields of study within the university.

You also get a chance to up-skill in the first year to help you develop the skills necessary to get a start on your own novel interdisciplinary research.

So where do I fit in? I come from a humanities background. I’ve a degree, and two Masters in Arts and I in the coming months I really want to learn how to apply robust methodologies to my research.

The bibliographies to my MA theses read like a Verso Books catalogue. Not only are they heavily influenced by classic cultural studies texts, they also come from a Marxist foundation.

Which isn’t a bad thing when the Frankfurt school and later French theorists like Bourdieu, Baudrillard and Lefebvre look at issues of Art in society/culture.

But it is relatively harder to start to question the digital in relation to these established discourses that predate our digital reality by 20 or more years

As the title of this blog suggests my own position within the research is going to be looking at the artistic explorations of personal data +/or digital identity.

Currently I’m at the ‘What is?’ stage. What is ‘art’? What is ‘personal data’? what is ‘digital identity’? What is my PhD about? The answer is: I don’t know yet. But, fortunately I have just over three and a half more years to find out.

What I would love is to see if I can produce a piece of art that challenges people’s perceptions of their relationship with technology and the Digital economy. And then critically explore its conception, production and reception.

My lack of experience as an artist makes me wonder if my object d’art will end up being no-more novel than a (hopefully subversive) picture book.*

However, I will persevere in my hopes of creating something engaging and novel, and, perhaps, if I remember, chronicle here the trials, tribulations and random thoughts I have along the way.

There is no guarantee on the frequency of the posts I make, I will not hold myself to a weekly word-count, as to do so may engender disappointment.

 

 

 

 

*I will reluctantly admit to studying Art for the Leaving and having studied, for 2 years, foundation level classical animation. But that was a lifetime ago and I apologise for the quality of any and all doodles I share in the future.