Posts Tagged ‘Bernard Stiegler’


Class 10: Warning!

December 9, 2020

We have reached the final week of teaching on the module and it seems to have flown by. John began by thanking you all for engaging with the content so well and for full attendance at every class for the first time since the module commenced!

We discussed the two addresses to the UN Climate Change Conference in Poland in 2018. The nonagenarian David Attenborough and the sixteen-year-old Greta Thunberg delivered what was essentially the same message but in very different ways: each in their own distinctive style. Overall, the message, echoing the warnings from world scientists, is not positive: in fact, the prognosis for our planet is a cause for grave concern brought about by the unsustainable manner in which we have been exploiting our natural resources. The term anthropocene has been proposed by scientists to describe the geological era in which humankind’s impact has changed the planet in ways that were previously only caused by geological forces. In trying to establish when the anthropocene might have begun you proposed the atomic era, or perhaps it was as far back as the industrial revolution, or even the dawn of humankind. emck1999 shared the conclusions of a recent project in which she considered the impact of our unsustainable use of the earth’s resources, making her feel old and cynical, she said.

Nevertheless, John suggested there may well be more positive indications recently. HannahSimoneNathalie referred to the Attenborough documentary A Life on our Planet, 2020 currently showing on Netflix; in an interview with the Radio Times (and in the context of the current pandemic) he says hope may emerge ‘from the whole world having experienced a shared threat and found a sense that we are all in it together’. He speaks of ‘encouraging signs’ of an increased trust in science, adding ‘the time for nationalism is over. ‘In the end,’ Attenborough says, ‘it’s not really about saving the planet. It’s about saving ourselves …. It’s simpler than you might think, a century from now, our planet can be a wild place again.’

The second cause for hope is in the very existence of Greta Thunberg. The sense of opportunity and potential that is natural in youth, but which tends to dissipate with age, should not be dismissed. The problems facing humanity are so grievous that the older generation simply may not have the imagination nor the stamina to conceive of a solution whereas those with less ‘experience’ can approach the future with the ingenuity and determination that is a hallmark of human beings at our best. This seemed to resonate with you as a reasonable expectation, from your own experience.

The third factor in providing hope is technology itself. Often demonised as the cause of our problems technology is, in fact, somewhat neutral. The French intellectual Bernard Stiegler, who died this year, proposed that technology should be understood as a pharmakon, a Greek word that means both ‘poison’ and ‘cure’. Technology is the poison that has brought our society to its sorry state but it could also be the cure by which it may be saved. Stiegler also believed in taking practical action and established many projects to prove that there are alternative ways of developing communities and society that does not result in the destruction of our environment. This understanding of technology is surely influenced somewhat by McLuhan’s belief that ‘we shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us’.

John attempted to tie together the threads of our weekly discussions suggesting that a core theme emerging is that of responsibility. Our personal responsibility was explored in the classes about McLuhan and the true nature of the ‘self’ and ‘being’. The importance of professional responsibility emerged during our discussions on blogging and community relationships. The Le Guin story about Omelas and concepts of digital citizenship considered last week, along with the discussion in this class, raised questions about communal responsibilities and the shape of our society. At the heart of all discussion on responsibility is the ethical dimension. Without an ethical framework there can be no sense of responsibility and life is forced to play out in a constant struggle for survival. The challenge for each one of us is to engage with our multiple responsibilities, consider what we can do and to play our parts with deliberation. Above all: do not simply follow the general flow of events blindly.

Before concluding the class John dispersed the princely sum of L$200 to each of you so that you can upload images and photos to SL for your presentations next week. He also warned you that the conversion rate meant this is equivalent to less than a singe US dollar. It was also agreed that the Red Team will present first with the Green Team following. John will be available if there are any issues with your projects between now and next Thursday.


Class 11: Warning!

April 30, 2020

The issues around bandwidth and connections continued this week as the class discussion moved between voice to chat but, we managed to get through the final class of the semester. John began by asking for your responses to the two videos you were asked to watch, both taken from the UN Climate Change Conference in Poland in 2018. The first was an address by David Attenborough on behalf of the world’s people, telling world leaders that the ‘continuation of civilisation is in your hands’. The second an address by Greta Thunberg telling them ‘you are stealing our future’ and condemning inaction on climate change.

Caoimhe referred to the Michael Moore produced documentary Planet of the Humans which she found very worrying because it suggested that many of the actions being taken to address our impact on the planet may not be working. Sitearm urged caution and told us that when he was doing postgraduate study many years ago he worked on the first climate model that predicted we would all be dead from starvation twenty years from then. The problem with this, and indeed all models, is that it is difficult to take all the relevant factors into account. He also worked on the second model which attempted to incorporate uncertainty suggesting that while not necessarily accurate such models are extremely useful, even if they don’t tell the whole story.

John proposed that three significant changes have occurred in the world since the conference in 2018. Firstly, US President Donald Trump pulled the country out of the 2016 Paris Agreement. The agreement, within the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change deals with greenhouse gas emissions and, historically, bound all signatories to reduce national emissions. For the first time such an agreement included most countries of the world and therefore carried significant weight as a very real ‘global’ agreement, bringing nations together in a planetary union. The withdrawal of one of the most influential players on the world stage is a significant blow to that unity of purpose.

Secondly, the UK withdrew from the European Union. The EU arose in response to the Second World War: to ensure that the almost continual state or warfare in Europe over the centuries, that eventually led to two world wars, would never happen again. The importance of the various treaties establishing the coming together of so may nations for the greater good of the people can be seen in the relative peace and prosperity since 1945.

While neither of the agreements was perfect they did signify the capacity of humans to negotiate a better approach to social development and the care of our environment. The deliberate withdrawal from such institutions by significant participants places the world on an even more unstable footing than it was in 2018. We now find ourselves in a completely different political and social context. The return to national boundaries, protectionism and inward looking societies may well bring about the destruction of our planet.

The third significant change is, of course, the coronavirus pandemic that has changed our world utterly.

Nevertheless, the darkest hour is before the dawn. We may be on the cusp of a change in our behaviour that is forced on us by external forces over which our control is limited. Clearly, it is only through collaboration that the threat to our planet and our continued ability to survive here can be addressed.

And so John asked ‘how do you feel, as young people about to take your place in society and who will determine the future development of our world? Are you optimistic or pessimistic?

Scientists have proposed that the current era be named the Anthropocene because for the first time humans are having an impact on the planet that previously was made only by geological phenomena. There are arguments about when this started, ranging from the beginning of the industrial age to the development of nuclear power but, the key point is that our impact as a species, on our home, is irreversible. John recommended that in this context you consider the approach of individuals like the French intellectual Bernard Stiegler. He proposes that technology is a ‘pharmacon’, in other words it is both the root of our ills and the cure for them. This echos the proposition of Marshall McLuhan (who we considered in Class 5) that we build tools that end up shaping our society. Stiegler is actually developing approaches to redress the imbalance in society that results in exploitation without sustenance. If you haven’t already done so it is worth viewing Welcome to the Anthropocene featuring Stiegler explaining his unique approach. This should be a cause for optimism in the future and provides a pathway for the development of society the does not ‘cost the earth’.


Class 5: McLuhan and Stiegler

October 24, 2018

The discussion this week began with the question of some of the things that make us, as human beings, different from other inhabitants of the planet. Starting with the suggestion of opposable thumbs we eventually landed the human facility to develop sophisticated tools as the key differentiator.

Writing in the second half of the 20th century Marshall McLuhan suggested that tools are an extension of what we can do and, ultimately, an extension of ourselves. John referred to the reading from the previous week where the example was offered that if you pick up a hammer you don’t simply have a hammer in your hand you have a ‘hammerhead’ You’ve changed both the hammer and your hand. You have created a new functionality that neither object had before. While this gives you an ability to do things you couldn’t previously it also limits your perspective: you are now predisposed to hammering nails into things! Tools change the the way we interact with the world – they change us – they change society – they have an effect on our environment.

To understand the power of our tools McLuhan asked us to consider how we perceive the world around us; how is information coming to us: through our eyes, ears, finger tips? We talked about the nature of painting versus photography; radio versus tv and live interaction versus virtual reality. For example, listening to the radio is often done in conjunction with other tasks such as cooking, tidying or driving whereas tv tends to absorb all our attention (using tv as an example required some imagination on your part as none of you actually looks at tv the way my generation does but, the analogy was clear). This is a simple demonstration of how the medium, while somewhat invisible, shapes our behaviour.

Bernard Stiegler proposes the use of the Greek word Pharmakon in relation to tools, to acknowledge they are both the cure and the illness. He is thinking particularly of media technology. While tv absorbed the viewer’s attention fully there has been a distinct shift in our consumption of contemporary digital media (particularly social media). The result is a move from deep attention and engagement to a fragmentation of attention in short bursts, across a range of platforms.

The danger, as McLuhan put it, is that we are ‘shuffling towards the 21st century in the shackles of 19th century perceptions’. He urged us to try and be aware of the impact the tools we use repeatedly is having on our perception and understanding of our reality. This becomes increasingly important once we realise that our way of living is bringing about the demise of the planet’s ability to sustain our civilisation.

These are some of the concepts you should engage with in developing your project.


  1. Read: Digital Identity Development is a Process. [accessed 25 October 2018].
  2. Read: Syrian lesbian blogger is revealed conclusively to be a married man. [accessed 25 October 2018].
  3. Look at: the infographic Personal Branding: 10 Steps to a New Professional You. [accessed 25 October 2018].
  4. Write the fifth post: to your blog describing and reflecting on the progress of your group towards developing an approach to the project.


  1. The Medium is the Massage is Marshall McLuhan’s best known work, written in partnership with graphic designer Quentin Fiore [accessed 25 October 2018].
  2. The other well-known concept developed by McLuhan is the Global Village [accessed 25 October 2018].
  3. Extrapolating on McLuhan: How Media Environments of the Given, the Represented, and the Induced Shape and Reshape Our Sensorium provides a deeper analysis of McLuhan. [accessed 25 October 2018].
  4. Reading Bernard Stiegler is a useful introduction to Stiegler’s work by academic and blog writer Sam Kinsley.
  5. Dive right into Stiegler and read Escaping the Anthropocene if enjoyed the theme of the discussion in class [accessed 25 October 2018].
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