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The Connected Cohort

The landscape of tertiary study has changed rapidly over the past decade. Social networking sites are where students are going to connect, message, and share information with each other.

They’re not using Blackboard; they’re not using official, institution-sanctioned spaces. They’re using Facebook, DropBox, and IM programs. They’re supporting–or supplanting–the learning management systems pushed by the Universities with their own student-run, ad-hoc learning platforms.

The information practices of students in these informal channels are unregulated and un-policed (most of the time) by academic staff. Students participating in off-the-reservation online groups are relying on improvised and convenient approaches to their tertiary study rather than the certainty and validity of a more closely controlled setting.

This is all great in theory: empowered, autonomous students creating and consuming learning material in informal communities. But, the reality of this is too uncertain, too fraught with difficulty.

Students don’t understand how to behave ethically. Students don’t understand how to handle copyright or restricted information. Students don’t understand how to handle assessable content. This is why they’re students. They need to be encouraged, taught, and shown how to build proper information practices. Social media gives them practical, useful channels to share and disseminate information, but none of the guidance or support they need to do it correctly.

Move fast and break things

Hackers is not really a great movie. It has a particular 90’s aesthetic that’s too bright, garish, and blunt. It plays fast and loose with computing and beats us over the head with inexcusably juvenile technobabble.

But goddamn if it isn’t cool.

The kind of cyberpunk and cyberculture that’s teased at in Hackers is more relevant than ever today. We’re on the cusp of these crazy new exchanges between corporate capitalism, human social existence, and this kind of prefigurative cultural theory. Sure, the material reality of the twenty-first century is both like and unlike the future projected by cyberpunk literature, but the persistence of these ideas in our cultural imagination has not dimmed.

Hackers is cool because it asks us what kind of society we’re living in, what kind of society we are building and rejects it. Hackers offers us a vision of our society that is being reshaped by the non-conformists, by the counter-culture punks, by the outliers who are moving with bewildering speed and purpose.

Hackers shows us that the dark side of technology is a corporate bludgeon to pummel us into submission. But importantly it also offers us a vision of technology used for personal expression; a tool providing opportunities for the daring to chisel out new arenas for cultural representation.

If we have to inhabit a world of exteriorised science fiction, I’ll take Hackers any day of the week. Hackers wasn’t showing us the economically devastated, commodified dystopian society that’s prevalent in so much of the genre. Instead, we get a technicolour sky filled with vivid colours. We get a devil-may-care hacker ethic of moving fast and breaking things.

Future Perfect

Time to reboot this junk pile after an extended hiatus due to post-graduation doldrums (and general apathy to blogging).

I’ve played with the idea of archiving all the old material and starting with a clean slate, but what’s the point? Nothing is every really crossed out or lost anymore online; so, the blog as it has existed during my studies at QUT will remain as a testament to that time and place.