A Tale of Transhumanism

“Patterns of access and exclusion will simply map on to existing social hierarchies of inequality in what have become known as ‘digital divides’.”

Hand, Martin. 2008. Making digital cultures : access, interactivity, and authenticity. Aldershot: Ashgate, p.34.

As some might have observed, I produced a video some might be so kind to call a short movie. I will not talk about why I chose this particular format, but rather concentrate on the contents of the video.

What is the film about?

The video has a general and a concrete topic. It is about technology and how we use it and it is about the concept of Transhumanism. (Roughly outlined in Bayne 2015) The film takes a critical approach to both.

Ideas/ idealogies (like Transhumanism) and technology (like tech which would allow us to live forever) are both human inventions. It is my firm believe that every invention, no matter how small, should be framed by a possibly humane framework, i.e. ideology.

The film follows two characters, Rockabella and Dirkster, through episodes of their lives, illustratimg what might happen if technological inventions are not placed in a benevolent ideological framework.

(We might certainly see parallels to the invention of the atom bomb and its historic consequences. But also in the in ention and use of algorithms in social networks, which influence elections and shape the world.)

What’s the problem with Transhumanism?

I am not merely critical of Transhumanism, I strongly oppose it. Transhumanism, as I understand it, merges mankind with technology, leading to possibly inevitable dramatic consequences.

Fully merging mankind with technology shifts our focus away from our own species and diverts our attention. Our responsibility for ourselves is partly put in the hands of technology, as technology is intertwined with mankind. (This provocative tweet highlights possible implications.) Human agency is made dependent on the technology we created ourselves. So what ever the outcome of this intentional mix, we as humans are only partly to blame, while some portion of the blame is placed on tech. This is not only dangerous. It is also absolutely unneccessary, as it would be our own decision to do so by choosing a transhumanist perspective.

One concrete example would be the transhumansit dream of immortality, technology allowing us to live forever. If we think about what this would mean very practically, we will soon realize, that immortality by technological means will come at a price and this price will be measured in Dollars or Pounds or Euros and it is not going to be cheap. So who will be able to afford this new advancememt? Certainly not everyone, as already today expensive technological enhancements are not available for all who want or need them. (The current NHS crisis in the UK makes this just as obvious as any other situation around the world, where medical aid is dependent on money.)

So at first sight, immortality increases the already existing inequalities. But it gets even worse.

The new technology will be used by those, who already have the money and, consequently the power and texhnology will hence only increase their money and power. The elite who already no fails to help the poor out of their misery will keep pursuing their own agenda on a level of unprecedented consequences.

In the video, this is, rather bluntly, shown: Rockabella was already rich at school. Her wealth, which was not earned by herself as a schoolgirl but earned by her family, allows her to go to an elite university. This allows her to further ammass money and pursue a carreer inpolitics. Her privileged life gets more and more privileged the older she gets until finally she becomes even immortal.

She is supported by a doctor, who’s motivation is fame. And by a member of her staff, who’s motive is close approximity to power.

So who are the characters?

Dirkster is a smart guy, yet without the neccessary funds to pursue a prosperous career. One of the many ironie here is that he is excited about possible new technologies, which he would like to use for something good – everlasting love in this case. Yet our society does not work like this and we see him slip into poverty more and more.

Rockabella does not care about new technology. It makes her giggle and that’s about it. Yet it is her profiting from it. Oh the bitter irony.

Mr. Lamby is an educator. And I will talk about his name andappearamce first. The look of this character is prepacked in the app I used. And he reminded me of Jeremy Knox from the University of Edinburgh. I found this coincidence very funny, but as Mr. Lamby in the film is, contrary to Mr Knox, an indifferent passive guy, I chose a new name and, simply because I found it funny, based it on the name of the other professor of the course, James Lamb. Basically I hope this little inside joke will make my tutors and fellow students smile. (There is btw a Mr. Lamby on German television. He is a jury member in the German version of Dancing wit the stars and he is a very funny but also rather mean guy.)

Mr. Lamby sees his role as an educator only in the transmission of information, in the delivery of facts. Thereby he becomes a rolemodel of those professionals, who do not place technology in a philosophical framework. It is this character who highlights the challenges for everyone concerned with Digital Education. Do we want to be like Mr. Lamby? Or do we want to do what we can to avoid a scenario as it develops on this little film? It is a question of responsibility, of ethos, of moral.

What does the film ask people working in digital education to do?

Basically and primarily: Think. You might oppose the message of the film or you might embrace it, it is all good, as long as you think. Think about digital technology and digital education and its impact on the world. Ask yourself which role you want to play. Be aware of your position as an educator. In the film, Rockabella not only went to schools, she wentto great schools. What went wrong there, if she turns out to be the woman she is at the end? (In a nutshell, this tweet is about this.)

More precisely: When developping new philosophical ideas like Posthumanism, Critical Posthumanism or Transhumanism, always keep in mind that there are actual real people on this planet and the way we see and engage with and interpret texhnology and ourselves will have very concrete consequences for very concrete people. Our purely theoretical thinking is anything but. It is real, it creates facts and we who create them should be aware of our agency and responsibilty.

What is my -ism?

I am highly critical of Posthumanism, Critical Posthumanism and Transhumanism. And I am equally critical of traditional Humanism. Until I stumble across a philosophy which represents my ideals and thinking, I will keep working on developing one myself. (See a sketch here.)

A quick word on the actual production

I am an experienced senior TV professional. I produced top rating international formats and worked with professionals fromaround the world and all types of professions. So I am very well aware that the film I produced does by no means meet professional standards. It can not. Because I did it all myself. I wrote the script, used the Plotagon app to animate. I created additional footage and edited it all. I wrote and recorded the music and I voiced every character. And I did all this in the course of two days, as this MscDE has plenty other tasks to keep me busy.

But I did the whole thing nevertheless. In a discussion on Moodle elsewhere I talk about the issue of using media a bit. Here I simply want to state that I see this film as everything else I create during this course as an exercise and experiment. It all allows me to see whatI cando and what can be done, if it makes sense in a context of digital education or not.

Thus not only I can learn from my creative and intellectual process, but possibly others, too, may this be by being inspired to think or create themselves or by judging my work insufficient, which in itself is a valuable learning experience.

 

(And as I now see this post has become too long and I will keep those other details and hidden ideas of the film hidden.)


Bayne, Sian. 2015. What’s the matter with ‘technology-enhanced learning’?. Learning, Media and Technology 40: 5-20. doi: 10.1080/17439884.2014.915851. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/17439884.2014.915851

 

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