MAS 963  ·  Designing Sociable Media  ·  Spring 2007

05.10 utopia / dystopia

Many of the designs for mediated communication, new urban mobile ubiquity etc. are about making things - conversations, connection patterns - more visible.

There is both a utopic and dystopic vision of the future implied in these designs.

The utopic vision depicts a unprecedented world of connected humans, able to form groups of far greater size than before possible, the tools of emerging collective conscousness. With this ability to work together, think together, solve problems and socialize together, we can enter into a grand new era. On the personal level, this immense village means that we can find empathic souls and perfect matches, although they may be 10,000 miles away. The gigantic yard sale that is ebay demonstrates this at the practical level, far-flung support groups for rare disorders epitomize it at both the emotional and activist level.

The dystopic vision depicts a world of ubiquitous surveillance, where governments (or megacorporations) employ unprecedented control over the populace, whether through terror (Orwell's 1984) or by hedonistic distraction (Huxley's Brave New World). In this vision, the tools created by well meaning inventors hoping to achieve the dream of global human bonding, are instead transformed into instruments of social control.


Wellman, B. 1997. The road to utopia and dystopia on the information highway. Contemporary Sociology 26, no. 4: 445-449.
Howard Rheingold Smart Mobs



There is no assignment this week, but if you have thoughts or relevant links to add to this topic, please do add them here.