What are some bad futures for teaching, learning, and campuses? With this post I’m continuing my series of educational dystopias.
2: Cyberpunk world
This is close to the future imagined by cyberpunk science fiction writers back in the 1980s and 1990s. Looked at creatively and from the perspective of 2014, these stories don’t look too fantastic. They described a world saturated by technology, hyper-globalized, economically split between the super-wealthy and the poor, and politically chaotic. Distributed, often networked technology is ubiquitous. Surveillance is the norm, both corporate and governmental.
Let’s take this a little further. In such a dystopia nation-states are relatively destabilized, their powers sapped by corporations and other non-state actors. Companies have achieved a great deal of regulatory capture, wielding extensive influence on public policy. Political resistance is rare, so we see more dissent, rebellion, and subversion expressed through technological means.
This world experiences more rapid technological and cultural development than we’re accustomed to in 2014, leading to a condition resembling continuous future shock. Workers experience a chaotic, disorganized, non-unionized labor market, including conditions approaching forced labor. Unemployment is higher than historical norms, due to the growth of automation.
Colleges and universities exist in this cyberpunk dystopia, but with some changes. Tuition is entirely privatized, as state funding is a relic of the 20th century. Many institutions seek private support for campus functions, with companies and wealthy donors quite visibly funding academic departments, residence halls, and lab space. Among academic programs these win the greatest amount of students, staffing, and funding, based on external support and student interest: business, most STEM fields, political science, and Homeland Security.
Campuses rely on micropayments for many transactions, from checking out ebooks to signing into a course management system. Campuses also use business metrics for a great deal of administration, such as rating departmental success by the estimated lifetime earnings of its majors. Colleges and universities see a greater military presence on site, including significant numbers of veterans on campus and expanded military science programs.
Information literacy is vital to education in this world, since the information world is as unsettled as the political one. It’s axiomatic to distrust content.
What does it mean to be an eighteen-year-old in the cyberpunk world, having grown up among separated, discrete information verticals?
These students emotionally identified with multinational company by age 15. One half of their social network is not from their own nation. And they usually took serious technology training in middle school.
Next up in our dystopia series: Gilded Age 2.0.