Glass Onion

I told you about strawberry fields,
You know the place where nothing is real
Well here’s another place you can go
Where everything flows.
Looking through the bent backed tulips
To see how the other half lives
Looking through a glass onion. (Glass Onion, Lennon McCartney)

I’m just starting to assimilate some of the week 2 #edcmooc resources starting with the two manufacturers’ visions of the future (aka corporate design fiction). As you might expect, they take a steadfastly technologically deterministic stance – they will make some cool tech and society will catch up eventually and figure out some clever uses for it. In the first movie A Day Made of Glass 2 (unpacked) by Corning – the scientific glass and ceramics manufacturer – the world of the near future is stuffed to the gunnels with smart glass and ceramic products (as you might expect). The film focuses on the working day of the father and schooling of the children.

From a teaching and learning point of view, it didn’t look like things had really changed much, kids still sat in rows listening to a teacher talk at them, oh sure they have binned the chalk and blackboard and got some 3d holographic whiteboard in that made the teacher’s PowerPoint slides look neat.

There was a nod towards active and exploratory learning when the children went on their field trip to see the massive interactive (glass) teaching wall – er, I mean the forest. Both Corning’s and Microsoft’s (in Productivity Future Vision) versions of the future seemed to be heavily ‘augmented’ allowing users to interact with their surroundings and extract data from the real world in the form of Minority Report style hallucinogenic bubbles or piped into compliant devices. In the Glass movie this augmented reality allows the children to imagine the forest filled with dinosaurs and examine plant specimens.

Without delving too deeply into the rights and wrongs of Prensky’s digital natives argument, let’s suppose that the children portrayed are second or third generation natives – how engaged are they really going to be with a few scraps from the Jurassic Park cutting room floor? Is this really going to impress the tech savvy pre-teen of the future? Where was the genuine interaction?

The Glass film showed a vision of highly interactive collaborative working, where the father (a neurosurgeon!) diagnoses a patient’s neurological problem with the assistance of colleagues in China – as if they were co-located. Similarly Microsoft’s Productivity Future Vision (2009) video shows cooperative learning between American and Indian school children and business problem solving by pan-global teams of designers, engineers and scientists seamlessly exchanging data in a device, platform and operating system agnostic environment – presumably everything is controlled by Microsoft in this vision!

Neither of these visions of the future thinks beyond the technology or attempts to speculate about wider societal changes (it isn’t really their place to do so). Both show an upper middle class, sanitised view of the future where connectivity equals power, they are a glimpse of a future only available to the wealthy and connected. These views of the future – as Noah Radford points out – are ripe for parody.

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