This is the fifth in a series of posts reflecting on the E-learning and Digital Cultures massive open online course (MOOC). The course, offered through The University of Edinburgh and Coursera, explores “how digital cultures and learning cultures connect, and what this means for e-learning theory and practice.” To read more about the EDCMOOC experience, check out my posts tagged edcmooc or follow the #edcmooc hashtag on Twitter.
Each two-week block of EDCMOOC examines a key theme from popular and digital culture and how it relates to elearning. The theme for Weeks 3 and 4 is “Being Human”: what it means to be human in a digital culture and what this means for education. The resources in Week 3 look at being human from the perspective “that human nature and human ways of being are under threat by scientific and technological advances, and that this is dangerous for us because it undermines the basis of who we are and how we define an ethical and fair approach to living” (EDMOOC Coursera space).
This week, I chose to examine Heart to Heart, a 2010 British Telecom (BT) television ad.
For those who haven’t seen it, it’s part of an ongoing series of advertisements based around a couple (single man and divorced woman with two children) in a relationship and how the various BT products and services have improved their life and relationship. Currently they are living apart because he has taken a job some distance from their home. The latest ad opens with her son IMing with the man and asking if he’d spoken to the mother recently because she’s acting weird. He replies that they speak all the time, cue montage of them communicating via IM, facebook, email and text message. He then goes to send her a message via Facebook but stops uttering the fateful phrase “It’s hard to have a heart to heart when it’s screen to screen!” then calls her on the landline.
As the poster notes, “It’s hard to have a heart to heart when it’s screen to screen” is the pull quote here, along with a voiceover that says, “If you want to have a real conversation, use your BT landline.”
I have a great interest in assistive and accessible technologies. A couple of definitions, both from AccessIT at the University of Washington:
Assistive technology is technology used by individuals with disabilities in order to perform functions that might otherwise be difficult or impossible. Assistive technology can include mobility devices such as walkers and wheelchairs, as well as hardware, software, and peripherals that assist people with disabilities in accessing computers or other information technologies. For example, people with limited hand function may use a keyboard with large keys or a special mouse to operate a computer, people who are blind may use software that reads text on the screen in a computer-generated voice, people with low vision may use software that enlarges screen content, people who are deaf may use a TTY (text telephone), or people with speech impairments may use a device that speaks out loud as they enter text via a keyboard.
Accessible electronic and information technology is technology that can be used by people with a wide range of abilities and disabilities. It incorporates the principles of universal design. Each user is able to interact with the technology in ways that work best for him or her. Accessible technology is either directly accessible—in other words, it is usable without assistive technology—or it is compatible with standard assistive technology. Just as buildings that have ramps and elevators are accessible to wheelchair users, products that adhere to accessible design principles are usable by people with a wide range of abilities and disabilities.
When I heard Adam’s “It’s hard to have a heart to heart when it’s screen to screen” line, I immediately thought of assistive technology and technology accessibility. When examining the commercial from an assistive technology (AT) and accessibility perspective, I agree: it *is* hard for AT users to communicate effectively (“have a heart to heart”) when the electronic and information technology they encounter isn’t inaccessible (“when it’s screen to screen”). However, I bristle at the notion that only verbal communication is authentic: “If you want to have a real conversation, use your BT landline.”
While searching for more information about the ad, I found another YouTube video, Making of Heart to Heart.
In this behind the scenes look at the creation of Heart to Heart, several people involved in the making of the ad share their thoughts on “It’s hard to have a heart to heart when it’s screen to screen.” A couple of their comments:
We have fantastic communication skills. We’ve got emails, we’ve got texts, we’ve got iPads and iPhones. There’s virtually nowhere you can’t communicate with your nearest and dearest, but sometimes it’s nice to be reminded that actually the good old-fashioned phone call, where you can hear somebody’s tone and know how they’re feeling, is kind of irreplacable.
The script is a about a sort-of, not quite a breakdown in communication but reflects the way people communicate non-verbally a lot of the time now. These two start communicating purely by text message or by MSN or by email. And in the commercial we’re going to encourage them to use the phone, actually have a real conversation.
Does one have to “hear somebody’s tone” to “know how they’re feeling?” I don’t think so. Friends who don’t use speech to communicate make their feelings known through sign language, AAC devices, and other means. In the digital environment, emoticons, initialisms, and typography can effectively communicate tone and feeling.
I don’t intend to criticize BT or those involved in making the commercial. Their statements were in reference to people who choose whether to use the telephone, not assistive technology users. In a sense, the telephone *is* an assistive technology, allowing us to perform a function that would otherwise be difficult or impossible. I simply don’t believe the use of technologies, particularly those used to communicate or access information, undermine “the basis of who we are.” Some people use or need to use technology to communicate and learn: *that* is human nature and the human way of being.
My apologies for the non-captioned videos. I’ve submitted them to Amara so I and others can add subtitles. Access them here if you’d like to help:
Heart to Heart with subtitles on Amara
Making of Heart to Heart with subtitles on Amara