The Library of the Future (Part 4): A Dystopian Future?

The Library of the Future Series of Posts

In previous posts in this series I have asked whether the vision for The Library of the Future will be based on A Privatised Future or the provision of Services for the Self-Motivated Middle Classes. In a post entitled Because We’re Right! I also argued that there was a need to consider the assumptions which may be made when planning development of a hyperlinked library.

The aim of this series of posts is to encourage debate on alternative visions of the future of libraries which go beyond a technical deterministic utopian vision. Such considerations were addressed last year in  ‘eLearning and Digital Cultures’ MOOC organised by the University of Edinburgh (which will be repeated later this year).

A Dystopian Future?

David Hopkins took part on the MOOC and provided a useful summary of his experiences on his blog. The post on “Reflection on the ‘eLearning and Digital Cultures’ MOOC, Wk.1 #edcmooc” described the terms ‘utopian’ and dystopian’: “in relation to education and technology: ‘utopian’ (creating highly desirable social, educational, or cultural effects) or ‘dystopian’ (creating extremely negative effects for society, education or culture)” and summarised utopian and dystopian claims as show below.

Utopian vs dystopian characteristics

The MOOC provided a number of video clips which illustrated how popular films show how the dreams of a utopian future can founder.

David described how “One film I felt could be used to highlight the technology/natural divide is Bruce Willis’ ‘Surrogates‘, where “humans live in isolation and interact through surrogate robots”. A trailer for this film is shown below.

Beyond such mainstream films, a number of short films were used om the MOOC to illustrate dystopian visions of the future. A post on Utopia, Dystopia and Myopia : Are We Blind Followers of Technology? provided a number of examples including Bendito Machine III:

and Inbox:

Will Librarians Help to Build This Dystopian Future?

The  ‘eLearning and Digital Cultures’ MOOC  was aimed at the e-learning community and appeared to be particularly popular in the higher education elearning community in the UK. It was interesting, I felt, that this MOOC, one of the first MOOCs organised in the UK, began with such a challenging view of technological developments, This contrasted strongly with the resources which have been used so far in the Hyperlinked Library MOOC, which have typically provided an optimistic vision based on pioneering work of early adopters of networked technologies in libraries.

Are these contrasting approaches based on differing perspectives of the learning and library communities or does it reflect positive US attitudes versus UK cynicism and doubt? Such cultural differences were highlighted in an article entitled “The stoic, the upbeat and les misérables” republished last weekend in “FT Weekend: The Best of 2013”:

There was an aspect of American culture, the relentless desire to make things whole and happy, that crucially overwhelmed its attempts to say something lasting and serious. If the French have a tendency to problematise, the Americans do the opposite, cheerfully skirting over pain, ambiguity, nuance.


Do Americans skirt over the pain and ambiguities of the implications of pervasive social networks? Or do the Brits, along with the French. problematise? As a Brit I would warn of the dangers of a failure of those involved in developing visions for the library of the future to consider the dystopian implications of cheerfully embracing technological determinism!




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