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Utopias and Dystopias – Looking to the past


I created this blog to document the E-Learning and Digital Culture course from Edinburgh University. My first MOOC. As part of the pre course activities I chose WordPress and chose a simple them that I thought I could work with.

Some of this post is copied form the course material so that I can see everything in one place.

Utopias and Dystopias.

Block 1.

Hand and Sandywell

Utopian claims Dystopian claims
Information technologies based on electronic computation possess intrinsically democratizingproperties (the Internet and/or worldwide web is an autonomous formation with ‘in-built’ democratic properties or dispositions). Information technologies possess intrinsically de-democratizing properties (the Internet and/or worldwide web is an autonomous formation with ‘in-built’ anti-democratic properties or dispositions).
Information technologies are intrinsically neutral, but inevitably lend themselves to democratizing global forces of information creation, transfer and dissemination. Information technologies are intrinsically neutral, but inevitably lend themselves to control by de-democratizing forces (hardware and software ‘ownership’ equals anti-democratic control).
Cyber-politics is essentially a pragmatic or instrumental task of maximizing public access to the hardware and software thought to exhaustively define the technology in question. Cyber-politics is essentially one of resisting and perverting the anti- democratic effects of the technology in question.

Week one:  Looking to the past.


Film 1: Bendito Machine III (6:35)

This animated film tells the story of technological development in terms of ritual and worship – the characters in the film treat each new technology as god-like, appearing from the sky and causing the immediate substitution of the technology before it.

Summary of the film from my point of view.

The film opens with a figure climbing a hill. He struggles up the hill and then uses a musical box to communicate with something above – a god? There is a light beam and an object falls from the sky. The figure takes this object to a small society of figures who are worshipping a cow.

The society dump the cow. The heap on the dump suggests that this is one of many things that they have worshipped and then replaced with something new.

The object becomes a type of television on legs. The interact with it watching football and cheering, following it where ever it goes. The film is in small bites and suggests that the figures in the small society spend hours and hours watching this television. Eventually they worship it.

When they begin to worship the TV the original figure returns to the mountain. This time he throws a stone up to communicate with whatever is above. We only see the light beam and not what drops. We then return to the others worshipping the TV. This object falls from its pedestal and breaks killing some of the onlookers. The solitary man returns at that moment driving or guiding a larger machine with long thin legs and another screen. It looks more sophisticated as it has tubes and a face shape at the front.

The TV object is dumped. The larger machine moves towards the society. It shudders and pieces fall then it falls over crushing the figures. A light beam comes from the sky and another machine drops. This one has no screen. It has a circle on the front which rotates back and forth like an old fashioned telephone dial. The message ‘please hang up and try again’.

The closing scene is of the dump. The birds are picking over the abandoned machines. The TV like machine winks.


What is this film suggesting are the ecological and social implications of an obsession or fixation on technology?

One of the ecological implications of this film is that the society dump old technologies. The machines are wasted and left to rot. Although they seem to be being picked over by birds it is not clear what they are feeding on.We can’t see what effect these individuals have on the biological environment.

1. I think the film is suggesting  that the obsession with always having the newest technology causes waste and that it is harmful to the earth and the wildlife..

The society represented is not very sophisticated. It worships the newest thing that comes along and is memorised by it. Each new item is accepted as better without question and the old technology or subject of their worship (the cow) is dumped. They appear to be easily influenced and lead by firstly the person who brings the new item and secondly by that item. They quickly change their allegiance and being to worship the next thing.  Their obsession with technology leads them to do nothing but worship. This eventually leads to their death. We didn’t see them doing anything else in the film but worship.

2. The film suggests that obsession with technology leads to little social interaction and to a single mode of behaviour for all and at all times.

Do the film’s characters have any choice in relation to their technologies?

The solitary character takes the initiative on each occasion to change the object of worship. He chose to replace with cow and later the TV. He had no choice as to what was given to him. He controlled the second machine in that he drove it to the pedestal.

The crowd had the choice to accept or reject the latest item. The accepted it. As they are not a sophisticated society their relationship with the technology was limited to worship rather than any other use.  Once they had disposed of the cow their culture demanded another object for their worship. To this extent they had no choice.

What are the characteristics of various technologies as portrayed in this film?

The first machine, the TV is hypnotic and absorbing. It encourages the characters to do little other than watch and follow it. It feeds them bite sized pieces of easily absorbed information. No thought is required or action. The TV engages the senses of sight and vision. It entertains and informs with limited and controlled information.

The second machine at first appearance looks as though it will replace the first. It has a screen and sound. The machine is something newer, bigger an more sophisticated than the previous model. It doesn’t ever function it fails and destroys the  society.

The third machine is an older, simpler technology. It looks to have some organic parts represented by the tentacles on top.  Although it doesn’t threaten the spears suggest danger. The message ‘please hang up and try again’ is poignant.  Two machines haven’t worked so the society needs to hang up (throw it away) and redial (try the next thing).


  1. […] Utopias and Dystopias – Looking to the past January 28, 2013 […]

  2. […] The Film Bendito Machine III was the first film of the course. I looked at it on the post Utopias and Dystopias. […]

  3. […] part of my E-Learning and Digital Culture course we were given a model by Hand and Sandywell that defines utopia and dystopia using democracy as a […]

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