Kevin's E-learning and Digital Cultures Blog part of the MSc in E-learning at the University of Edinburgh Thu, 26 Jan 2012 14:55:39 +0000 en hourly 1 Lifestream Summary Sun, 11 Dec 2011 23:18:55 +0000 Kevin Shawn HUDSON Continue reading ]]> I started the course considering myself in tune with digital culture, but now have come to realize there is so much more than I had imagined.  A topic as deceptively simple as what is a cyborg and its relation to the post-human has been the focus of my learning for weeks.  While I have made strides in my understanding, I now know that I have only just scratched the surface of the depth of the various topics.

Creating a visual artifact was a challenging yet rewarding experience.  It was interesting to have so much feedback on aspects of my artifact that I had not thought of.  Doing a micro-ethnography caused me to question my idea of virtual community, as until that point I had just accepted the terms for their purely literal definitions.  In exploring the topic I forced myself to challenge the definition and came to realize that I don’t quite agree that true communities can exist completely in the virtual.  Finally in writing about a posthuman pedagogy I realized that learning cannot be a standardized static experience.  It must be fluid, adaptable, and transforming to the needs of the learner, or as Edwards (2010) says should be positioned “as a gathering of the human and non-human in responsible experimentation to establish matters of concern.”

One of the main aspects of this course has been this blog and the lifestream.  I had no idea what a lifestream was when I started, and although I understood that it was to be a track of my personal development through the course, it was clear that I didn’t know where it would take me.  When I initially set it up, I added feeds from Twitter, Delicious and Tumblr.  The Delicious feeds never worked for me, even after I deleted and reimported the feeds several times to no avail.  I played with Tumblr for the novelty of it, but I honestly felt that it was just another place to upload information, and I could serve the same purpose through a blog post.  The lifestream was also supposed to pull in my commentary on my classmate’s blog postings, but that aspect of it also is not working.  I liked having the Twitter feed being pulled in, but even then I found I sometimes struggled with what to tweet.  I have learned that I like posting full commentary to a blog more so than random limited length musings.

So what have I learned from the lifestream process?  I learned that I prefer to collect my thoughts and organize them into longer prose rather than provide a disaggregated look into my exploration of the web.  Did I miss the point?  Should I have challenged myself to work more outside of my comfort level?  Has my lack of inclination to post every step in my exploration hindered my learning?  In hindsight I would have shared more for the benefit of my classmates as I found that I gained valuable insights from their postings.  I spent time reading, and contemplating, and then eventually posting my collected thoughts.  The digital record of my learning may have seemed sporadic but I’d like to think that I gained just as much as others on the course, and it has been a truly novel and enjoyable experience.

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Block 3 Summary – Posthumanism Sun, 11 Dec 2011 05:06:29 +0000 Kevin Shawn HUDSON Continue reading ]]> I’ve been returning to the introduction to this block of the course and keep reading the line “…digital culture is to an extent a culture of the posthuman.”  What does that mean in relation to my thoughts on the readings and my recent blog postings?  I decided to have my wife read my blog and then have a discussion with her on what it meant to her to be post-human.

The thing that she said struck her was the description of the cyborg, and the thought that it was a new concept to add enhancements to the human body.  She mentioned how it seemed that we are focused on the idea that recent technological advances were allowing us to replace lost or damaged limbs, but that people had in fact been doing that for years (the first recorded use of a prosthesis has been traced back to ancient Egypt).  It seemed to her that the trend recently is not simply to replace functionality, but to hide the disability completely (artificial limbs can now be made to resemble real limbs,with freckles, hair, etc – Cosmesis).



She did not understand therefore the ties between the biological enhancements and the concepts of post-humanism.  Where was the line drawn as to when we became a cyborg?  Was it when we could replace a limb with a functional substitute, or was it when we could do so without anyone else knowing?  But then she asked what was the point of hiding the enhancement / replacement if not for our own vanity, or to fit in to the community standards of what is “normal.” If we are trying to fit in, then can we be considered enlightened, and truly have evolved?

We then began to discuss further my posting on transhuman and the idea of transplanting a head to a new body.  “What would be the point… to extend life,” she asked?  She could understand the idea of replacing parts, but not to replace an entire body.  “At what point would you stop being you?”  She mentioned how she had a scar on her shin from an accident she had as a teen.  If she replaced that limb, the scar would be gone, but the memories associated with it would remain (there is also the phantom limb pain, or proprioceptive memory, in which the body remembers the lost limb).  But in telling the story to others, she wouldn’t have a reference to show them, but might say, on my old leg, I had this…  At what point then does the physical reference stop being important and stop being necessary as a reference to who you are?

When we discussed transferring consciousness outside of your body she did not believe that it would truly be you.  Her belief is that you are the sum or your parts; your body, your mind; whatever you consider makes up your consciousness and your self are intrinsically linked.  If it were possible to transfer your “data” to a machine, it would not be you, as it was only raw data… it would be missing too much of the physical aspects that make you unique.

So what then of the post-human and digital culture? As Pickering (2005) suggests, the posthuman perspective is “seeing the human and the nonhuman at once, without trying to strip either away.”  So then can digital culture be examined without human interaction?  Can a modern day human be examined without reference to technology? “Through use of our minds, we change technology, and in return, technology changes our minds.” (wikipedia, nd)  The idea of digital culture then is one in which the technology pervades our lives, is part of it, part of us.  To understand what it means to be post-human then is to be able to see this connection…

When I think of digital culture, I think of it as a part of ourselves, and an extension of society. What it means to me is a step in mental evolution, and social responsibility. The phrase that explains the idea that technology connects us as humans which I coined is “Human Circuitry” (Pirillo, nd)

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Posthuman Pedagogy Thu, 08 Dec 2011 21:41:15 +0000 Kevin Shawn HUDSON Continue reading ]]> How do you educate the post-human?  First we must agree on what the definition of a post-human should be.  Is it as Hayles (1999) states, that the “defining characteristics (of a posthuman) involve the construction of subjectivity, not the presence of nonbiological components.”  Or should we equate the post-human with what some might view as the next step in our evolution, an integration of man and machine, or a type of cyborg?

If we take our cue from popular movies, there is a desire to assimilate knowledge quickly, and on demand.  How beneficial would it be to simply request knowledge on a subject and have it instantly uploaded to your brain?

Click here to view the embedded video.

But  is this the easy way out?  Is packing your head with data the same as learning?  Or as Edwards (2010) says “to learn, humans have to gather and experiment.”  If we can simply upload data to our brain, have we really learned it, or is it just data we can access?  Just because we can recite / remember information does not mean we can understand and think critically about it.

And what of all that data… can our brains handle it?  Or might the increased strain cause the brain to begin to malfunction?  Or as is a recurring theme, that with knowledge comes power, and the power corrupts…

Click here to view the embedded video.

Are we searching for the easy way out.  If there was a way for you to have the ability to see the world in a new way, to open your mind to new interactions, new connections, would you take it?  Would the consequences matter?

Click here to view the embedded video.

Is being post-human the ability to become something beyond a regular human?  Is it the development of the brain to its full potential… the opening of new abilities, knowledge and powers previously untapped?  Is it becoming the perfect version of ourselves?

Click here to view the embedded video.

If being post-human is all of these, then how do we develop a pedagogy to challenge them?  As Edwards (2010) says “a post-human condition could position learning as a gathering of the human and non-human in responsible experimentation to establish matters of concern.”  Therefore providing the raw data is simply not enough…

Click here to view the embedded video.

There must be discussion, experimentation, and interaction before there can be understanding…  In order to truly understand something we must experience it…

Click here to view the embedded video.

We may believe these to be Hollywood’s vision of the future, but instant access to data is already at your fingertips…

The challenge then is to combine the instant access to the data and unlimited breadth of knowledge, with the possibility of experiencing the concepts to develop understanding.  Despite the increasing ability to find the answer to everything through the internet, human or post-human, there is still no substitute for gaining insight and understanding through interactions with a mentor and your peers.


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The medium and the message Mon, 05 Dec 2011 19:45:12 +0000 Kevin Shawn HUDSON Continue reading ]]>

Click here to view the embedded video.

“If I’m not me… who the hell am I?”

How can information be disconnected from the body?  The message is tied to the medium…  the medium might change, but you can’t have one without the other.  The message must be conveyed by something… Does this tie into the idea of the posthuman?  That we are something beyond human… that our “message” has become more important than our “medium”… that our intellect, our consciousness can be transposed and become apart from our bodies?

If we break down the human consciousness into streams of information, then what does it mean to be a human? Are we the sum of our parts, or can we replace those parts without losing “ourselves?”  If we jack into the system and add new memories as in the Total Recall clip above, how will we know where we end and the new begins?

If we can transfer our consciousness into something beyond our bodies, what happens when the system fails?  If the machine breaks, do we die?  Does death then become akin to complete data loss, illness to corrupt files?  If the data is recovered, are we “reborn?”  Would we be aware of the “after-death” experience?  Will new religions emerge to try to explain what happens when the power goes out?

Or maybe we are too focused on our own lives, on the importance we have given to our own selves that we fail to see beyond our limited place in the world…  Most of us have, as Hayles (1999) puts it, an autopoietic view,  where “we do not see a world “out there” that exists apart from us.”  Is it our own egos then that is spurring our desire to move beyond the traditional human experience, to become something more, to be post human?

Or are we really all just fooling ourselves into thinking we understand our own importance in the grand scheme of things…

Click here to view the embedded video.



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Haraway and the Cyborg Manifesto Fri, 02 Dec 2011 20:56:31 +0000 Kevin Shawn HUDSON Continue reading ]]>

“(Cyborg) is not made of mud and cannot dream of returning to dust.” (Haraway, 2007)

I had such a hard time reading the piece by Haraway, as even the title itself and its reference to socialist-feminism tainted my attitude towards it.  I continued, but lines such as “Star Wars apocalypse,” “masculinist orgy of war,” “evil mother of masculinist fear” did nothing for my openness towards the writing.  I found the writing to be too focused on women and feminist attitudes, reflected in such lines as “many women’s lives have been structured around employment in electronics-dependent jobs, and their intimate realities include serial heterosexual monogamy, negotiating childcare, distance from extended kin or most other forms of traditional vulnerability as they age.”  Is this not a problem in modern society for everyone?  If feminism is equality for women, then women must take the good with the bad.  Men’s lives have always been structured around employment, but is that really how men want to lead their lives?  It is not a culturally accepted choice for a man to be anything but gainfully employed with life structured around work.

Click here to view the embedded video.

“The cyborg is a kind of disassembled and reassembled postmodern collective and personal self.” (Haraway, 2007)

I wonder what Haraway thinks about the Borg (introduced in the Star Trek: Next Generation (Q Who, 1996), and Voyager TV series) and subsequently the Borg Queen (introduced in the 1996 film, Star Trek: First Contact)?  She originally wrote the Cyborg Manifesto in 1985, and has since presumably updated it for republication in 2007.  Would she consider the Borg, pre – First Contact as better or worse than the Borg once the Queen had been introduced?  In other words, when the Borg were a collective consciousness without any type of visible command structure, were they ‘better cyborgs’ than after the introduction of the queen?  The queen brings “order to chaos” and is implied as being the avatar for the entire collective… the voice of it. (wikipedia)  The threat of the Borg is to deny individuality and assimilate all into their collective.  Are the Borg cyborgs then?  If as Haraway states in the above quote a cyborg is a combination of collective and personal self, then surely they cannot be.  But then is the Borg Queen, as the only unique member of the Borg, a cyborg as she refers to herself as “I” several times in the film? “I am the beginning… the end… the one who was many… I am the Borg”

Click here to view the embedded video.

“Why should our bodies end at the skin, or include at best other beings encapsulated by skin?” (Haraway, 2007)

As soon as I read the line I flashed back to the World Builder video of Week 2 of the course.  The woman’s body, perhaps damaged in some way, is being fed images by the machine… or perhaps her mind is feeding the images to it… in either case, she is connected to it.  The man, having created the environment has a glimpse into her memory, perhaps into her consciousness… he is accessing her through the machine.  Is she a cyborg… connected to the machine to share consciousness and experience?  Is she a combination of the collective and personal self?  Where does she begin and the machine end?  Does her implied medical condition mean that she can no longer be interacted with without the aid of the machine?  Does her personal self then cease to exist outside of the machine environment, or has the machine assimilated it into the collective?


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TransHuman Tue, 22 Nov 2011 23:10:25 +0000 Kevin Shawn HUDSON Continue reading ]]> Click here to view the embedded video.

I started watching this clip (it is long at 50 mins), and I have to say it blew me away.  In 1963 Dr. Robert White of Cleveland Medical Hospital performed the first experiment to keep the brain alive outside the body.  1963!  Almost 50 years ago!  I can’t imagine how far we have advanced… and where we will be in 50 years…

He successfully transplanted a monkey head, and according to the video the monkey lived for 7 days, until the creature rejected the head.  According to Wikipedia, “These operations were continued and perfected to the point where the transplanted head could have survived indefinitely on its new body, though the animals were in fact euthanized.”

Is the day coming where we will keep our heads and move on to new bodies when we wear out the old ones… or choose new designer bodies to fit the fashion of the day?  Or would we forgo the flesh and bone, and choose the mechanical?

Click here to view the embedded video.

An interesting side note from Dr. White’s biography was that he was a devout Roman Catholic, attended mass regularly and prayed before performing surgeries.  It struck me as a curious thing that someone who succeeded in a head transplant would be so religious.  I would have thought that the idea of creating a new creature with parts from others would clash with the ideologies of the Catholic church…

“But the Catholic Church, apparently, has no problem with the research.

Head transplantation does not violate any fundamental theological principle, says Dr. Helen Watt of the Catholic Lincare Centre for Medical Ethics.” (Orlando Sentinel)

“Pope John Paul II’s Address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences February 3-4, 2005 included, “It is well known that the moment of death for each person consists in the definitive loss of the constitutive unity of body and spirit. Each human being, in fact, is alive precisely insofar as he or she is ‘corpore et anima unus’ (Gaudium et Spes, 14) [body and soul united], and he or she remains so for as long as this substantial unity-in-totality subsists.” (

It would seem to me that removing one’s head could be construed as breaking the tie between body and soul… but then, what is the “soul”?  Is it consciousness, does it exist solely (no pun intended) in the brain?  Would one’s consciousness and soul move to the new body, or would the old you die and something else be born from the amalgamation of parts?

Wow… how did I get onto religious ethics again?

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Being human… Thu, 17 Nov 2011 20:24:35 +0000 Kevin Shawn HUDSON Continue reading ]]>

“…Being digital without being human…” I keep reading it over and over, and can’t decide if I like the statement or not, if I agree, or not.  What does it mean to be human?  Do we exist separately both in real-life and digital spaces at the same time, or is the digital an extension of our real life selves?  If so, is it even possible to separate them?

Both images are from quite an interesting site I just found… seems like it might be worth a closer look…

But now I can’t get this song out of my head…

Click here to view the embedded video.

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Block 2 Summary – Virtual Communities Thu, 17 Nov 2011 19:49:28 +0000 Kevin Shawn HUDSON Continue reading ]]> In preparation for the lifestream assessment, I have renamed this post from the original “Communities” to the summary for this block as I felt it more appropriate.  While I have left the original text as is, I have added some additional text to the end of the post (in blue).

I have been thinking a lot about what it means to be a part of a community, and in fact what a community is.  I asked the question at the beginning of my ethnography in relation to the Cayman New Service forums and whether or not posting responses online was enough to be a member.  Does the act of caring enough about the topic to post something give you higher status or more of a connection than someone who simply reads the website?

I was reading the Bell (2001) chapter on community and cyberculture, and what really struck me in his references to Gemeinschaft like communities in which everyone knows everyone and everyone helps everyone, etc, was that I would hate to live there!  I understand how it can be appealing for some, to feel like you belong, to be able to go anywhere and see someone you know, to be a fully appreciated member of the group.  Maybe its just me, but I rebel against that.  I don’t want people to know my business.  I don’t share personal information easily, and often I don’t share important things with those closest to me.  For example, I did not tell anyone aside from my wife that I had applied to join the MSc program.  I’m not sure if it was because I wanted to keep it to myself or if I feared I would disappoint them if I had not been accepted.

So if I rebel against a real life community, do I take part in any online communities?  If as Bell and Rheingold state that “community arises from shared interests” (Bell, p 100), I could loosely accept that I might belong to several.  I participate in the discussion boards that make up the community of students within the various MSc courses; I post to this blog, and the Holyrood Park Hub, but beyond that?

Do members of a community need to be willing participants?  If they are members because they are being forced to be, or in order to reach some objective, should they be given the same status as those who seek membership for the sake of it?  I am participating in the places I listed before because I need to as part of my courses… does that devalue my membership status? Should prisoners be considered part of a prison community if they really don’t want to be there?  Or do we need to look at the smaller groups which form inside the prison as the true micro-communities of shared interests?  When and how do we make the distinction?

I read a lot of websites for my own personal interest, mostly tech related such as Engadget, Gizmodo, LifeHacker, Tom’s Hardware, etc, but am I a member of a specific community because I share that interest with many others who read the sites?  Kozinet (2010) might call me a Newbie or a Lurker because I maintain only a superficial interest.  I reject his idea however that a Newbie may be limited due to having weak abilities or skills, because I would argue that my superficiality is because of my lack of strong feelings for the content, not my ability to contribute.

Do I need to move beyond the Newbie stage, and become a Mingler, Devotee, or Insider in order to validate my membership in the community?  Or is being a Newbie enough?  As Bell referring to Sardar states: these online groups might not be communities because they aren’t social enough, but are in fact as Wilbur calls them, “a culture of compatible consumption.”  I read these sites for the content, not to interact with other people that also read them…I’m not reading to build social ties… I am happy with my status as a lurker, as I would assume are most readers of the websites.  So then, can the sites be considered a community at all, if the majority of ‘members’ have no strong social connections to it, or to others within it?  Are they even trying to be?  Are the readers who post comments regularly trying to find an attachment to the site, or to others through it, or are they just passionate about the subjects?

If the sites I listed are the ones I visit the most, and have the most interaction with, and they aren’t in fact ‘real’ communities… are there any online communities that I can truly say that I belong to?  It seems my feelings on this keep going back and forth.  No man is an island as they say…  I sometimes feel like I want to completely remove myself from the outside world, to “bunker in” as the Krokers say.  But I interact with my family and friends, my students, my colleagues on a daily basis…  I don’t think I could live in a completely digital bubble… But if real communities don’t really exist online, and real-life communities are dying… what’s left?

(To continue, and to touch on the some of the comments made by Jeremy)

“Haven’t we always been connected anyway – in a posthuman sense of interdependence?”

But what of these connections in respect to the virtual community?  If I am a lurker on a website, do I feel any connection to the other lurkers?  Am I dependent on them in any way, or am I simply reliant on the content?  If the content is removed, will any connection I may have felt to the others disappear?

Many years ago I participated in a MOO for a short while.  I would log in and spend time creating text environments with objects that the user could interact with.  I met a lot of people in the common rooms, and through various activities.  It was touted as a virtual community but for me it was only a game and I did not make any “real” (valid?) connections with the other participants until I met some of them in real life.  It may have been a running joke at the time, but I met people through the MOO who later became close friends, roommates, and even a girlfriend.  The initial meetings may have been in the virtual, but for me the true connection was not made until the experiences began to involve the physical world.

But what of those other connections I made on the MOO, those that I did not meet later in real life?  When my real life commitments forced me to begin to limit my use of the MOO, and then to stop visiting it completely, those connections disappeared.  I can say that anyone that I may have had contact with in the virtual world simply vanished from my life.  I would be hard pressed to even remember them, they weren’t “real” to me… there was no “real” connection.  As Geraldine also says in her blog,the lack of social costs for leaving make these more associations than communities.

Surely looking at communities (simply people that we interact with) is rather superficial way of understanding the broader processes and flows in which we operate? It is perhaps the less obvious, invisible, connections between people, systems and non-humans that may be more important in understanding knowledge production.”

So how then can a virtual community equate to a “real” community if virtual connections can be severed so quickly and easily?  If the only connection you have to the community is through your mouse a keyboard, is it possible to truly feel like you belong to it?  I can’t imagine trying to build the same types of friendships I built playing team sports or being part of my fraternity while exploring Second Life.  There is still so much of a disconnect that I can just turn off the virtual, and it no longer exists.  So while many different sites and games may tout their virtual communities, for me they wont be real until I can feel truly immersed in them, perhaps develop an emotional connection, and the virtual becomes more real.

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My ethnography Tue, 15 Nov 2011 23:02:24 +0000 Kevin Shawn HUDSON Continue reading ]]> When tasked with doing a micro-ethnography I tossed around many ideas… blogging the study, PowerPoint, etc, but I finally settled on using Prezi… honestly because I had never used it, and I wanted to try it.  Hopefully the final project makes sense to the viewer.

I chose to look at the Cayman News Service (CNS) as it is a site which I visit on a daily basis.  I originally only read the news articles, but then began to read the comments section more than the news items themselves.  I found that I could often learn more about the story from the attitudes of other readers.  Unfortunately, a lot of comments began to take the path towards racism and anti-expat sentiments, etc.  Now I find myself skimming them and trying to find the few interesting (coherent) posts among the sea of garbage.

I have lived in the Cayman Islands for 6 years, but there is a sometimes overwhelming attitude towards and resentment of the expatriates who have chosen to move here.  I work at the university, and several times I have been taken aback by student comments during my lectures in which they point blank ask me why I am here.  They are not simply curious, it is asked with the attitude of “you don’t belong… why are you here… taking a job away from me?”

My thought was to look at the CNS website and specifically the idea of a community.  My idea of a community is one in which you feel you belong, where you are made to feel welcome, safe, wanted…  If people don’t feel this in the real life Cayman Islands, can they feel part of a virtual community created about the Cayman Islands?

I chose to take one specific news story in which the premier of the Cayman Islands attacks the media for their requesting documents available through the Freedom of Information Act.  The premier is noted for his outbursts and attacks on the media and bloggers, specifically the CNS website, and has likened them to devil worshipers.  Despite the fact that he is being investigated for corruption, lacks a completed high school education, and has a complete disregard for the rule of law, he remains in power.

This is one of, if not the most commented upon story on the website, and it received 335 comments.  Of those, 184 were posted as anonymous, 127 from pseudonyms, and only 26 comments were from potentially real names.  However since the CNS comment system allows you to create a name and not verify it as factual, it can be argued that all 335 comments were posted anonymously.

If a community is meant to provide a sense of belonging, how can one belong to it anonymously?  Is simply posting a comment, anonymously or not, acceptable for validating your presence in the community?  If everyone is anonymous, how do you become an insider/regular?  Or is it required that you use a pseudonym to gain that level, and join the ranks?

If we accept Block’s sentiments in Community: The Structure of Belonging, in order to be part of a community, a citizen must “hold oneself accountable.”  But is this possible if we are not just anonymous, but afraid to post who we really are?  Does this anonymity negate the possibility of growing the community through acknowledging it is not built by it’s “… great leadership, or improved services; it is built by great citizens.”

I am still not certain of how I feel about the CNS website, comments and forums as a virtual community.  While it may meet some of the definitions, I argue that to belong, one must be willing to open oneself a little to exposure of your ‘true self.’  I understand the need to remain anonymous in the current political environment in the Cayman Islands, but I also feel that if people were courageous enough to post as themselves perhaps people would feel empowered to demand change.

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Ethnography… Tue, 15 Nov 2011 21:34:41 +0000 Kevin Shawn HUDSON Continue reading ]]>

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