Metaphors for the Future?

I picked up a new word today. I like words. If I don’t know a word I need to look it up. I think that is why I have enjoyed reading Johnston’s (2009) article on “Salvation or Destruction: Metaphors of the Internet”.

This article helps put last week’s metaphors, to describe the future of technology as either dystopian or utopian, into context. Is the internet a “revolution” for the good of humanity or is social media turning us into “enslaved” cyborgs? We use metaphors to compare new things and ideas to something we already know therefore making it easier to understand. That is why the internet is called the “web” or the “information highway”. A metaphor I use often is “harvesting” – the harvesting of collective knowledge which we can reap so easily through our online connections. Isn’t that about food again? Better not mention the tasty smorgasbord of Web 2.0 tidbits.

So what is the new word? Commodification! This offers a dystopian view of the web and it reminded me instantly of a story I read a few years ago in which Lady Gaga and her vast army of marketing strategists were employing young teenagers to post interesting stories about the celebrity on their Facebook wall and twitter feeds. I found this distasteful in its manipulation but if these little marketeers were getting their freebies and it isn’t illegal then why should I be concerned? In fact aren’t we all commodities ourselves? The amount of data that companies and organisations collect about us, purely from our browsing habits, is quite shocking if we take time to really ponder over it. Perhaps the Facebook generation won’t feel this invasion of privacy so keenly as we do. They will be used to having all their information stored on one central database although I don’t believe the repercussions will be as chilling as this video Sight would have us believe.

I am not swayed by any of the videos I have seen for this week’s MOOCs. I find them all rather unappetising. I do not watch many films of the future because they often contain so much violence. Why is that? With all the developments in the world why are there so many books and movies portraying a more violent dystopian view of society. Perhaps they make better entertainment!

In relation to A Day Made of Glass 2 I cannot wait to show this to my 7 year old. He was intrigued by Bendito Machine 3 and uttered the words “worship” and “technology” in one sentence so he kind of hit the nail on the head. However, I think he will find A Day Made of Glass 2 amazing. He only has a Wii (no Xbox, PSP, DS, Kinnect, mobile, Ipad) and perhaps that explains why I found this vision of the future rather alarming. Everything squeaky clean, sterile and lifeless. Everyone connected to their personal devices to find out what to do next, where to go next, what to eat next, what to say next, what to experience next in Augmented Reality simulations. What about the here and now – living for the moment, experiencing friends and family and connecting in real-time?

A few other things I noted in A Day Made of Glass. Firstly, it is strange that all the kids are still going to school in the first place and secondly the teacher is at the front of the class and the kids are all sitting in rows watching in awe. Is this student-centred learning? I grant there were moments where the learners were working collaboratively but this scenario struck me as at odds with a utopian vision of education for the future. Same set up, just more gadgets. Perhaps all the research I have been doing today on flipped learning and the crisis that Higher Education could be in because of the MOOC movement (Carr, 2009) has skewed my thinking for today. Secondly, is this technology really so far into the future? It all worked much more elegantly and obviously gesture based technological communications were more enhanced but don’t we have some of these things already? Perhaps this video was showing a vision of equal access for all – a “democratisation” of technology.

I doubt it!

But that would be my vision.

A future where children from all over the world would have the same access to technology and poorer countries wouldn’t have to beg for defunct second hand computers just so their disadvantaged children could learn the basics of reading and writing (Computers4Africa).

Given Tablets but No Teachers, Ethiopian Children Teach Themselves

We have a long way to go. Even here in the UK, 8.12 million adults have never accessed the internet.

So what is my answer to Johnston’s question?

What other metaphors better convey the future and potential of the Internet?

It has to be Democratisation and Equity.


Johnston, R (2009) Salvation or destruction: metaphors of the internet. First Monday, 14(4).

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