One of the key questions posed this week is: what does it mean to be human within a digital culture, and what does that mean for education?
It is not often we contemplate the boundaries of being human but with developments in digital technology, bioscience, philosophy, ecology and popular culture they are becoming more and more blurred. The concept of being human is becoming less secure.
The Toyota advert emphasises, for me, the need humans have for the ‘human touch’, feeling alive and being ‘real’. These are things that technology alone cannot replicate. I doubt that it is Toyota’s intention to encourage a deep, moral vision and I took this advert very much at face value. The BT advert evokes feelings of guilt for me but the message doesn’t really make sense. It is saying that talking is the best way to have a heart-to-heart relationship with someone and screen-to-screen just doesn’t cut the mustard. I get that but my argument is that heart-to-heart is best in person, not by phone so BT are encouraging the second best option, not the best. I’m splitting hairs, I know but I find that sort of message annoying.
In the short film, World builder, a guy uses holographic technology to build the perfect world for a lady. I’m unsure if she’s his girlfriend/wife/partner or not. I wonder if she has mental health issues but that’s not clear either. This film blends human and technological interactions as he creates an old fashioned street with several human touches including a perfect flower. The scene then morphs back to nothing and he only has an image of his lady with that perfect flower. The lady ends up in a neuro holographic recovery unit in rather a sinister ending, hence my querying her mental state.
They’re Made Out Of Meat has a comic, sinister poke at humans being ‘made of meat’. The intonation used on the word ‘meat’ is very funny and the inference is that humans are a sub species comprised of ubiquitous, non-descript ‘meat’.
These films all concern being human, what that means and indeed whether we are now looking at a posthuman era where technology is increasingly important and humanism and the humanism project has become rather artificial and outdated.
Francis Fukuyama’s thesis on biotechnology creating more social evils than good is thought provoking as is his notion that humans assign themselves dignity which is linked to language, reason, moral choice, emotions and social interactions. He believes that technology cannot replicate consciousness, emotions and subjective feelings and these things will always determine what it is to be human. He concludes by suggesting that regulating biotechnology and directing technological developments to ensure that they enhance human values and human flourishing is necessary. That is easier said than done when you consider the pervasive nature of technology and its implications across humanity.
In contrast, Steve Fuller believes that humanity is artificial in that it goes beyond what is required to survive and reproduce. There is an overarching rejection of humanity in contemporary society personified by the growing divide between rich and poor, the continued persecution of ethnic minorities etc.
Posthumanism is a term used to describe the contemporary position embracing what it is to be human now compared to previously, through the lens of philosophers such as Freud and Marx. Badmington attributes Hollywood with influencing the posthumaist thesis.
In a much more accessible article, Kolowich makes a case for the inclusion of more video and audio in online teaching, in order to increase the sense of presence and ‘human-touch’ for distance learners.
Being human is about our consciousness, emotions, subjective feelings, relationships, engagements and making sense of things in a shared context. It is about having morals and choosing to do the right thing, even when no one is watching us. I think the analogy with guns works: technology doesn’t educate people, people do.
For me, being human in a technology-rich world is about choices and making the right choices. People learn in different ways, there is no one size fits all. The pedagogy should always come first and the technology be selected to best fit the pedagogy. Technology is a means and not an end in itself. I have seen many examples of technology being such a barrier to learning that I have to question its value, for example the webinar made by a novice faculty member that has zero personality, passion and therefore engagement. The plethora of online learning materials that don’t come to life without some kind of human to human engagement (either faculty-student or student-student) is astonishing.
As humans, we are responsible for making our own choices and one of those choices is not to use technology. That’s an important one to remember.
I think it’s really important to embrace technology when it facilitates us getting the job done better (whatever ‘the job’ is) but we need to protect humans against technology that could be used for disturbing, negative purposes. This short video is a brilliant reminder that in many ways the future is already here and technology is already an integral part of being human.