Taking cyberpunks out of the dystopia

umwdtlt – Jim Groom as Edupunk
CC BY 2.0 Created: 28 May 2008

Block 1 concentrated on the big picture of digital culture through the lens of the sci-fi film and fiction genre and introduced us, through our together tube sessions to the concept of the cyberpunk, although we never referenced them directly, only saw them in action.

So what is cyberpunk? Well, cyberpunks are the underground rebellion against the big capitalist corporations controlling the technology in the not too distant dystopian future of the sci-fi genre. They scavenge technology, much like Hector in Memory 2.0, as the megacorporations control access to and use of clean, safe and costly “official versions” of the same technology.

In Memory 2.0, Henry begins by visiting the business selling the virtual memory experience but ends up visiting the seedy world of the cyberpunk and specifically Hector, when the corporation can’t or won’t meet his needs.  Due to the unregulated and amateur set up of the cyberpunk provider, this has consequences. A moral tale to the viewer that we shouldn’t be involved in the underground and disreputable world of the rebellion perhaps.

Cole (2005, pp. 259) describes the power struggle between the cyberpunk and the megacorporations where “power is imposed by a system of social domination”,  the rebellion against this power and authority being the source of the moniker of punk for this community relating to the punk subculture of the 1970s where common punk community goals included anti-authoritarianism, a DIY ethic, non-conformity and direct action (Wikipedia 2017). The cyberpunks DIY ethis being in their technology use.

Fast forward to 2008 and the punk subculture influence is seen again in a movement which was to be named “EDUPUNK”, a movement defined by Tom Kultz (2008) as “an approach to teaching that avoids mainstream tools like PowerPoint and Blackboard, and instead aims to bring the rebellious attitude and DIY ethos of ’70s bands like The Clash to the classroom. EDUPUNK sees teachers react against the rapid implementation of course-management systems, which provide “cookie-cutter” tools that promote uniformity at the expense of pedagogy.  Jim Groom, an instructional-technology specialist and adjunct professor at the University of Mary Washington, is credited for coining the term and declared himself a poster boy for the movement and “ds106” was the course which launched Jim Groom into the public consciousness as an EDUPUNK. He took all the essential elements of teaching for his course and put made them open and online, choosing to use an array of available web tools instead of relying on the institutionally provided VLE, which he claims waters down the elements of web 2.0 and dilutes the social aspect of learning.  Again we see the anti-authoritarian approach matched with the DIY ethic. The moniker this time focussing on the educational focus of the punk attitude rather than focusing on the technology element, which is also strong.

Listen to Jim Groom talk about ds106: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9EFMMghmp8U


Cole, D.R., 2005. Education and the Politics of Cyberpunk. Review of Education, Pedagogy, and Cultural Studies, 27(2), pp.159–170.

Escapist Movies, 2014. Memory 2.0 – Dugan O’Neal/Wilson Bethel (Prototype), Youtube. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cd2ka3-hvKA 

Kultz, T., 2008. The Buzz for “EDUPUNK.” The New York Times. Available at: https://ideas.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/10/17/the-buzz-for-edupunk/

TEDx Talks, 2012. TEDxNYED – April 28, 2012 – Jim Groom, Youtube. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9EFMMghmp8U

Wikipedia contributors, 2017. Punk subculture. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Punk_subculture&oldid=767545516

Wikipedia contributors, 2017.EDUPUNK. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Edupunk&oldid=771717086 

Revisiting culture in week 11

What is the definition of culture?

Having a bit of breathing space over the next week to go back and look over my blog is a good thing. Mostly, I have forgotten the blog posts I published and I get a chance to review them with fresh eyes, but there is also regret in the ones which I deleted without ever publishing as I have now lost those chains of thought.

One post which caught my attention was my early definition of culture.

My thoughts then were very much with the sci-fi movie genre of digital culture and computing, the dark dystopian tales of the computer geek subculture trying to take down the corporations in control of the “big” computers or of the experimentation of technology enhanced humans going too far, Miller (2011) describing unexpected and ramshackle results which I associate with the subculture underdogs trying to make do with a lot of knowledge but not a lot of access to the high-grade technology of the corporations, much like the edupunk. The opposite is true of the access to technology of the big corporations in this dystopia, where the opposite effect has occurred, one where the results are much more cyborg, where this technology human hybrid becomes almost unrecognisable as human.  This I associate with films such as terminator, depictions of the cyborg which we fear. It is perhaps this view, the cyborg, almost human, but not quite and somehow more, which leads me to a new thought on culture, not culture as in a group who share similar goals, practices and outlooks as I had originally defined culture, but now I can relate these cyborgs to another possible definition of culture and that is from biology, where to culture is to grow and harvest organic cells.


Miller, V. (2011) Chapter 9: The Body and Information Technology, in Understanding Digital Culture. London: Sage.



Finding gems on classmates twitter and blog feeds

Don’t talk in front of robots? 5-min drama from @guardian, worth a watch: https://t.co/P3tw4dgUYz Probing re. ethics, us & the end. #mscedc

A really enjoyable short video Matthew shared which gave a brilliant take on the duality of the sci-fi culture block we have just left. In this video, humans argue around a table about the prospect of the AI, also sat at the table, becoming self-sufficient and sentient and seeking to destroy humans. Various arguments have given with an ethics researcher trying to talk the AI out of using human beings as an example of humanity.

Eventually, the AI decides humans aren’t worth the effort or its superior intelligence and finds a way to leave the planet and go off in search of more worthy lifeforms.

All this worry of AI being a threat to humanity is centred around humanism and the importance of humans over everything else. We are blinded by our self worth.


weekly roundup

Block 1 – week 1
This week I have been challenged in my thinking of digital culture and I’ve been genuinely scared by AI.
The challenges have been two-fold, challenging my perceptions and memory and in making me reconsider technology for teaching. Making me relive my eighties childhood by remembering the counter-culture around the early web, the excitement of a new group of people challenging the status quo in a whole new way, a group of people who had a superpower, the superpower of being able to control computers.
In all my time working with technology for teaching and learning I have never thought back to those early perceptions of computers or the belief that they would somehow “bring down” the government.  I have merely accepted the technology we have as a tool to assist. Now I’m considering the counter culture and the rocking of the status quo again and thinking of MOOCs and the media hype that launched them into public consciousness, the promise that they were the technology that would “bring down” traditional education.

And then there was a genuine shake-up, google translate’s AI taught itself something that it hadn’t been programmed to do which massively improved its translations, but… was this the first step of an AI becoming sentient? Is twitterbot going to steal our jobs?

What was good about our twitter feed where the interactions of classmates sharing the google news articles with me and joining in my fear of Skynet’s birth.

TWEET! – is a digital culture changing us for the better

I have to ask, is this a good thing? Is a digital culture changing our behaviour for the better or worse?

This urge to photograph and film so many things which we would never have before, all for the sake of sharing. Is it a good thing or are we too busy recording things to “live” them and missing the moment?


What is culture?

I thought a good place to start this week would be to define what exactly culture is, and it took me on a much more exciting journey than I had expected. I began, as I suspect many of us will, with the idea of culture as some sort of society, a group of people with similar practices, outlooks and goals, much like the depiction of computer culture in the early 90s movies I grew up with.  The depiction of the dystopian world is a regular in sci-fi movies and books which feature computer technology, where there is always an underground culture fighting “the man”. The man usually being the group who are in charge of the computers (a corporation or the government).

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