Utopian & Dystopian Literature – Toward a New Type of Digital Litearcy

Anthem, Utopia, The Republic, Out of the Silent Planet, Animal Farm, Lord of the Flies, Fahrenheit 451, A Clockwork Orange, The Running Man, Ender’s Game, The Giver, The Diamond Age, Hunger Games

Utopian and especially dystopian literature is fascinating!

I cut my teeth on thinking about life in a technological world by comparing and contrasting visions of 1984 and A Brave New World.  Such literature continues to inform my thinking about emerging and future models of life and learning in an increasingly technological world.  So, I felt quite at home when I started reviewing the resources for Week 1 of the E-learning and Digital Cultures MOOC (#EDCMOOC).  Among other things, the designers of the MOOC invited participants to reflect upon both utopian and dystopian perspectives on digital culture.

I see great value in starting such a course with this broad perspective.  Dystpoian literature is  good at provoking thought and discussion about the future.  From a pedagogical perspective, I am interested in the potential of using such literature as a way to help us think about the affordances and limitations of current and emerging technologies in education.

There is the danger of applying a purely dystopian or utopian perspective on a given technology. In reality, I suspect that Neil Postman is correct when he notes that there is always a Faustian bargain at play with technology-related decisions. If this is true, it calls for educational leaders and individual learners to develop a different type of technology literacy.  I am not referring to a technology literacy that is measured by one’s ability to use technology as much as a growing ability to understand how technology uses and influences us, our communities and relationships, and our learning organizations.  This calls for a relentless commitment to ask and seek answers to difficult and diverse questions.  As one place to start, I turn back to some of the questions posed by Neil Postman in various books over the years. I’ve also added some of my own.  Feel free to add additional questions in the comment section.

“What is the problem to which this technology is a solution?” – NP

“Whose problem is it actually?” – NP

“If there is a legitimate problem that is solved by the technology?” – NP

“What is the Faustian bargain?” – NP Who wins? Who loses? What do we gain? What do we lose?

To what extent are we actively shaping or passively being shaped by this technology?

What are the affordances?

What are the limitations?

Are there ethical implications?

Is it fashion, comfort, fear, data, research, or something else that is informing my/our decisions about a given technology or digital tool?

Given the distinct personal values or core values of our organization, how can we shape or influence the use of this technology? 


Posted in edcmooc

About Bernard Bull

Dr. Bernard Bull is a President of Goddard College, author, podcast host, and blogger. Some of his books include Missional Moonshots: Insights and Inspiration for Educational Innovation, What Really Matters: Ten Critical Issues in Contemporary Education, and Adventures in Self-Directed Learning. He is passionate about futures in education; leaner agency, educational innovation, and social entrepreneurship in education.

3 Replies to “Utopian & Dystopian Literature – Toward a New Type of Digital Litearcy”

  1. marce7a

    Interesting that you mention Lord of the Flies. As far as I recall there was no technology involved, though it definitively was distopian.

    Have you read Onyx and Crake, by Margaret Atwood?

    • Bernard Bull Post author

      Thank you for the comment. I was just listing various dystopian texts at the beginning, not thinking about technology as much at that point. However, now that you mention it, I do see technology at play in Lord of the Flies. It seems to me that Piggy was persistently seeking to apply “technique” to various situations. Also, in terms of more traditional technologies, we have the fire at the beginning as well as the conch (used as communication technologies of sorts). We also have Piggy’s spectacles and his reliance upon them to see. Then, near the end, when they steal the spectacles, it is for yet another purpose…to start a fire.

      I have not read Onyx and Crake, but I’ll be sure to look it up now.

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