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From Cyberspace to Cyborgs

Ross Priory, Scotland.
The last ICE 3 speaker before lunch is Andrew Ravenscroft. He begins by discussing some of the traditional conceptualisations of cyberspace, such as the descriptions in William Gibson's Neuromancer, which saw cyberspace as a distinct space which one would enter; The Matrix is perhaps the most prominent visualisation of this idea (and Andrew shows a very funny Muppet version of the Matrix trailer which can be found on YouTube).

But in truth, we are all stakeholders of an emerging hyper-reality which is growing with and around us, and which is exemplified by developments like Web2.0 and the growth in mobile and wireless devices. This is not about cyberspace as a distinct location: it is about the development of new and pervasive digital practices which affect a great deal of experiences in a wide variety of contexts.

What, then, are futures for learning in this new environment which is not a distinct cyber-space, but pervades much of existing reality? What happens with the move from a text to a Net generation, to the digital natives Mark Prensky speaks of? How do we make sense of these changes? Most of all, perhaps, there is a need to find new, positive, and productive metaphors for thinking about these practices, and Andrew suggests the idea of the cyborg in hyper-reality as a useful concept here.

A new definition of the cyborg focusses especially on its capacity for powerful, pervasive, permanent, and personalised communication as enhanced by technological tools. Additionally, on the side of technology, the machine as embodied by social software and Web2.0 is also changing, and now incorporates more of the user's personality, acting as a strange digital glue that connects us all, supports new and enhanced behaviours and experiences, and is constantly changing. This opens up the potential for hyper-interactions which go beyond the limitations of unmediated reality and are far more profound, many, and varied than what would otherwise have been possible. (Andrew now shows a couple of examples for such potential interactions in learning contexts.)

In certain ways, there is a potential here to improve on natural interactions; it can connect people who are not co-present, and creates the intersubjective orientations where learning can happen. Here, Andrew found that players challenge the ideas which are in play, not the persons who are proposing them, and engage in a coordinated and structured multimedia dialogue. This also gives a voice to those previously unheard (inconfident speakers, for example), and also allows for the subsequent manipulation of content created in the process.

Beyond this, Andrew also highlights the potential of what is beginning to be called Web3.0 - a relatively permanently connected, personalised, ubiquitous, and intelligent network which especially relies on the use of mobile devices. This opens up further potential for hyper-interactions creating a hyper-reality - increasingly we will not be 'on' or 'in' the Web, but will be part of the Net...

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