Narrative as a Tool for Thinking about Technology

Humans as the Technology(-Using?) Animal


Assignment 1

In considering Isaac Asimov's Caves of Steel, write three or four paragraphs considering some or all of the following questions. To what extent can we learn what it means to be human by examining our creation of and reactions to robots? What can we learn from Tank about what we need in human communication? For example, does Tank respond as a human being would?  Do you add emotive "pictures" (e.g. "happy" face) when you are sending email messages? Can we as humans communicate without indications of emotion or intention?  Could you work side by side with R. Daneel Olivaw?


Assignment 2

After finishing Isaac Asimov's Caves of Steel, write three or four paragraphs considering the following. what we can tolerate in a robot? Are we threatened by robots? Can we accept them if they look like what they are -- machines? If they look "human", do we respond to them as if they are human? If so, why? What do we read as "human" in a machine -- eyes? A mouth? Humor?  I am thinking, too, of how we respond to those primates closest to us -- chimpanzees, orangutans, gorillas -- don't we find their behavior reminiscent of human behavior? Do we just end up anthropomorphizing them rather than responding to them as what they are, non-human animal relatives?


Assignment 3

Bring in a photograph from your childhood that you would be willing to share with the whole class. We will handout during class photos to each other.

In-Class: Take the photo that has been given to you by a classmate. Spend 5 or 10 minutes writing a narrative about it, the kind your parents would tell about you. Tell the story of the event during which the photo was taken, making sure to include asides that indicate how much this story illustrates the child's future development and character.

Each student will present her peer's photo and her fabricated story; the student will then tell us the "real" story.


Assignment 4

In Philip Dick's Blade Runner, Rachel doesn't know she is an android because memories have been planted in her brain, complete with faked photographs. This is paradoxical: she is an android (a technological creation), but what makes her feel human is a photograph (a different kind of technological creation). The novel is so worried about how humans connect with technology: are we human because we are not technological or because we are? How does technology affect human memory in the novel? How does technology affect human memory in our current lives? Are we more or less human because of the devices we have for creating our past history, be they photographs or stories? (Remember as you answer this part of the question that narrative is a kind of technology as well.)