humanities and technology

Identity in a Virtual World?

Can you imagine a world where you wake up in the morning, and you go to your doctor’s office without ever leaving your house? Instead, you plug your blood pressure cuff into your computer and you insert your saliva sample into an analytical drive. The analysis is sent to a virtual physician who lives a thousand miles away. He diagnoses an illness that requires surgery. Lucky for you, the surgeon drone is not terribly busy that morning, and you are able to have your gallbladder removed early in the afternoon. The drone arrives, gives you anesthesia, and by employing ultrasound technology, your doctor can operate by remote control. Without interacting with a human at any point in the process, you have an organ removed in your own home.

Photo Credit: Microsoft Corporation. (Producer). MP900401793 [photo of doctor in scrubs with stethoscope]. Retrieved February 6, 2014 from…

For many people, the idea that a university could appear in your living room was equally hard to imagine. What wonderful uses of technology! Yet there can be a dark side to technology and the virtual world. Texting while driving isn’t the only thing that can cause an injury. Many people get news of an end to a relationship via a text message, cry about an ex’s post on Facebook, or find out about an affair by cyber sleuthing. We must learn to navigate the positive aspects of technology (1 in 3 marriage licenses in New York City were to couples who met online) while dealing with the perversion rampant online.

In this week’s you will use the Week 1 Notes and Readings to explore what it means to be human in a virtual world. Reference the resources in your post and response. If you are relating an idea or building upon the readings, poems, or videos, please identify the source.

To prepare:

  • Read and reflect upon the Week 1 Notes and Readings.
  • Think about interactions you have had in a virtual space such as a help line/call center, Skype, Amazon shopping cart, or your communications with a University.
  • Think about whether you’ve had emotional reactions to material online.

Post a paragraph response (about 500+ words in length) to the following questions:

  • Do you behave and communicate differently online than you do face-to-face? How so? Give specific examples.
  • What does it mean to be “fully human”? In light of your definition, do you think we can be “fully human” while interacting with others in a virtual space? Why or why not?

Required Readings

Notes and Readings

What are the Humanities?

Since this is a Humanities course, we should begin by understanding what the Humanities are. Humanities courses generally include arts, literature, philosophy, languages, and similar courses. What these all have in common is their focus on human expression and experience. According to the Ohio Humanities Council:

The humanities are the stories, the ideas, and the words that help us make sense of our lives and our world. The humanities introduce us to people we have never met, places we have never visited, and ideas that may have never crossed our minds. By showing how others have lived and thought about life, the humanities help us decide what is important in our own lives and what we can do to make them better. By connecting us with other people, they point the way to answers about what is right or wrong, or what is true to our heritage and our history. The humanities help us address the challenges we face together in our families, our communities, and as a nation. (Ohio Humanities Council, 2014)

One way of understanding the humanities is that they are various attempts to explore the question: What does it mean to be human?

What do the Humanities have to do with Technology?

Humans have been intrigued by machines, and as we will see throughout this course, humans depend on their machines, sometimes too much. Many science fiction stories, such as in the film I Robot, have explored the possibility of machines taking over and controlling humans. But ultimately, the machines depend on humans. Technology is something we use to make our lives better, and we should not forget that, even when it seems to make life more difficult.

In The Green Hills of Earth, Robert Heinlein wrote a “future history” in which he speculated about what it might be like to be human in the distant future, when humans have moved into outer space. As you read the story, consider how Heinlein’s basic idea of humanity could have been set in any number of historical periods and in any number of places on Earth. Wherever and whenever humans exist, we have heroes, we sing songs, we work hard, and we sometimes have to face difficult choices.

Read: The Green Hills of Earth by Robert Heinlein, then listen to the Radio Drama version which aired July 21, 1957.

Text: Heinlein, R. (1966). The green hills of earth. In The Saturday Evening Post Reader of Fantasy and Science Fiction (pp. 29–38). New York, NY: Doubleday. Retrieved March 23, 2014, from

Podcast: Heinlein, R. (Producer). (1957, July 21). The green hills of earth [Audio podcast]. Retrieved from

Although none of us are likely to venture into outer space in our own lifetimes, we are likely to encounter a future changed and dominated by new technologies. As you read these poems by Richard Brautigan and Tracy K. Smith, think about what kind of future you would like to encounter, and how the new technologies of today and tomorrow might fit into it.

Read the poem All Watched Over By Machines Of Loving Grace

Brautigan R. (n.d.). All watched over by machines of loving grace. All Poetry. Retrieved March 23, 2014, from…

Then, read Sci-Fi, a poem by Tracy K. Smith

Smith, T. K. (2011). Sci-Fi. Retrieved from…

Then, read Tool-Using Animals, an online slide show by Rachel VanCott

VanCott, R. (2010). Tool-Using Animals. Public Broadcasting Service (PBS). Retrieved from…

Now that you have looked at some ideas about humans and technology, it is time to work with these ideas by writing about them and discussing them. You probably know how easy it is to forget what you have read. But through writing and discussing the readings, and applying them to your own experience and ideas, you will remember and understand how you can use these in your own life.

Required Media

Laureate Education (Producer). (2014b). Messages from graduates. [Media file]. Retrieved from
Note: This media piece is in the Week 1 Introduction. The approximate length of this media piece is 8 minutes and 30 seconds.

Laureate Education (Producer). (2014d). Technology back-up plan. [Video file]. Retrieved from
Note: This media piece located in Module 3 of the Student Readiness Orientation.

Laureate Education (Producer). (2014f). With one click you become… [Video file]. Retrieved from
Note: This media piece is in the Course Introduction. The approximate length of this media piece is 1 minute.

Optional Resources

Note: Optional resources are not required, but are made available for those wanting to explore the topic more. If a link is not provided for a resource, you must locate the resource yourself through the Walden Library or other resources.

Document: eCommunication: Harnessing Cyber Civility (PDF)

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