Saturday, 6 April 2013

News From Everywhere

The #edcmchat hashtag was used tonight to discuss William Morris' novel "News From Nowhere". This book was Morris' vision of a socialist utopia where there are no institutions, authority, money, or class systems. People live egalitarian lives, where any work or education they do is done for pleasure and enrichment. Very loosely, society is emancipated from slavery to the machine. and everybody is content.

There is much more to the book than my crude summary above, and I recommend a read. You can read good reviews and summaries elsewhere online if you can't find a copy of the actual book itself. It was also nice to keep alive the #edcmchat hashtag, and to discuss one of the course themes - utopias.

We were speculating in the chat how Morris might have viewed our society today. In particular, how he would have viewed the internet. Good, because of its open and democratic nature? Or bad, because people are addicted and enslaved to it? It made me think that if he were writing today, he might have called the book "News from Everywhere", in the sense that we are bombarded with information online.

To take this further, I picked out two  main pleasures I got from reading this book,
1.) to indulge your imagination in a "what if?" exercise, "What if it was 100 years in the future and society was as perfect as you could imagine. What would this actually look like?"
2.) to view how Morris wrote his "what if" scenario with our historical hindsight. His utopia is a reaction against the industrial nineteenth century, the dark satanic mills, no worker's rights, child labour, and a society in mass transition. His utopia removes all those disparities between rich and poor, between the entitled and the dispossessed. It is a vision of mankind in harmony with itself and nature. The machines do not rule our lives or our minds any more. They do no dictate who is successful and happy, who lives and dies.

So what about us now? What would we react against to create our own utopia?

In terms of our digital selves, my concern is that for all the positives in it (I can chat with a dozen people from around the world about a book, for example), I am ignoring what is going on in front of me -in my own back yard. I think Morris would have seen this as a bad thing. In his novel, education happens outside in nature. It is not about acquiring knowledge, but about the experience of doing & finding out as you go.

For me, the internet gives me a long list of stuff to do. But none of the experience of actually doing any of it. What about you?

Garandson: "I can't believe people used to spend all day at their computers"
Grandad: "It's just what we all used to do back then"