Archive for July, 2015

Cyborg or Cyberpunk?

July 7, 2015

In a newspaper column carried in Fairfax newspapers in January 2015, the Fairfax technology writer, Blayne Slabbert, offers an analysis of why many people are afraid of technology. To sum up his case, he argues that Hollywood has promoted movies like Terminator and Robocop, where the antagonist is an evil machine predisposed to harming human beings. This has fixed in the public mind that technology is a scary prospect.
He goes on to asset that “People have always been afraid of technology. It started with trains, planes and automobiles and now it’s phones.” How does this assertion stand up to what we know and observe, our prior knowledge? Not very well. If people were afraid of these mechanical marvels why did they appear to be fascinated by them? Why do so many people own and regularly use cars, talk and read about them, complain about rising petrol prices and traffic jams? Surely this shows that people are fascinated by technology not afraid of it. The person who does not drive or who speaks out about the evil cars cause to the planet, is seen at best as eccentric. I can not agree with Slabbert’s main contention.
Further, in Terminator II both the villain and the hero are cyborgs making for a confusing claim that all the cyborgs are evil and the original Robocop was the hero. I hope Slabbert’s tech savvy is better than his movie knowledge!
He is really writing about people who do not use smart phones, who are not on Facebook and who are fearful Internet banking will mean they will be robbed. What percentage of the public hold these views? I don’t think it has been reliably measured. Instead we have pundits who assume that older people are digital immigrants or perhaps stay at homes. The media obligingly feed these fears with stories about people who do use these technologies and are bullied in cyberspace, have their privacy invaded by agents of the state and their life savings stolen at the stroke of a key by an anonymous thief in Moldova. Perhaps this is where this fear has its beginning.
The issue is worth exploring because industries where a detailed knowledge of ICT is required, are finding that some of their employees are reluctant to engage with the world of cyberspace. My experience though is that these employees either watched Robocop and Terminator to the extent they make Arnie jokes like “I’ll be back.” or they are blissfully ignorant of this aspect of our cultural space.
I also observe that, when the situation comes to compulsion, these employees either resign or learn the new technologies – and very few resign. What is really the case in my profession – teaching – is that some teachers limit their engagement with new technology, or do not initiate the use of technology in their practice. They use email and accept student work by email attachment but do not want to use Dropbox. They let students use word processors and spreadsheets but do not teach students how to use such technologies to their fullest extent. They make up text rich PowerPoints but do not experiment with transitions or adding sound effects and certainly have little knowledge of Prezi. Is this a problem of fear or just the same old problem that some people feel comfortable in their own space and see no need to extend their practice into new fields?
Curiously, I notice this is the same with students, the so called digital natives. Many of my students use Hotmail but feel no need to accept my invitation to move on to Gmail. They can use Facebook to chat or download pictures but not to assist in their studies. They can find ways to plagiarise their assignments but not set up a simple search using boolean logic. They can use a word processor but not the spell checker or formatting tools and have never used a spreadsheet.
Could it be that these people, adults and adolescents alike, do not suffer from a phobia but simply have no curiosity about what is over the next hill? Christopher Columbus wanted to know what was over the horizon. Most people in Europe at that time, never even considered there was something over the horizon. If adults have any fear about using technology, it is more a fear of seeming less than adequate, of appearing foolish in front of their managers and their peers.

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