Tuesday 29 January 2013

Don't let the brown eyes fool you. Inbox: more than a love story. #edcmooc

Such a feelgood film to watch, pretty girl, awkward guy, paths cross, a twist of fate, simple, delicious visuals, uplifting music and a happy ending. This film has many layers, and I don't believe there is much about the production and storyline that is accidental. So it's safe to say that inferences can be made about almost every aspect, with the assumption that there is an underlying message embedded.

In Inbox, the utopian ideas are very much about the nature of relationships: that communication between people is complex and that spoken language is only one means by which we can come to know another person.  At the very simplest level, two people who have not met in person engage and connect through "technology" in the form of mysteriously connected red shopping carry bags through which they are able to send notes and small personal items. They grow their relationship by first exchanging personal external manifestations of their identities: the teddy (youth, immaturity, naivety), the makeup (female, sexual)), the underwear (male, mature, sexual). As time progresses, they explore each other's level of interest in short exchanges before participating in friendly, arm's length games and eventually committing to meet one on one.

Technology plays a supporting role in the very human centred interchange, and the visually appealing metaphor of the red bags and the post it notes represent the functional, spacial and temporal aspects of social media. It reminded me of those awkward early teenage relationships before sms and social media, where an intermediary was used to pass on little messages to gauge interest and facilitate that nerve racking first date. In the past, relationships were often "mediated" in written exchanges that preceded an introduction, and even this may have been orchestrated by others so that only "suitable" relationships were pursued. Letters were laced with perfume, adding another sensory layer, something depicted in the film as not necessarily always getting the desired result when the woman reacts badly to the scented objects she receives in her red bag.

In this respect, the film reminds us that in establishing relationships we feel vulnerable and those early exchanges are fraught with danger as we decide which aspects of our persona we will lay bare for another to either accept or reject. This is clearly depicted in the scenes where the man in his comfortable home environment is without clothes, his fundamental self, but puts on his glasses, as if through them he may gain insight of sorts. Into what we don't quite know at that moment. When the time comes when he realises the potential for some sort of relationship with a woman, there is a frenetic moment of dressing, creating a persona that is crafted to impress. In this representation of technology, we sense that "digital dualism", the separation of the"real and the virtual" in online identity plays no more significant a role now than it did in the past, and that contemporary technology may be intrinsically neutral in this regard. 

The dystopian ideas are embodied in the plethora of images of consumerism and financial transactions. The opening scene uses the apparel store as the setting for face to face opportunities for relationship building. This scene is a powerful representation of how consumerism is intertwined with relationships, technology, identity and social interaction. The couple holding hands are shopping together. The men who work in the store are highly attuned to the presence of unaccompanied women and either make unwelcome suggestions, or in the case of our awkward hero (a customer), see his attempts at quietly observing a woman in the store come unstuck as he knocks over the whole display of underpants. Fabulous images of packaged masculinity tumbling like dominoes. And a clear statement of the shortcomings of technology free human interactions. There is a sense that relationships may be purchased, and I am not sure if there is a suggestion of arranged marriage and dowry payment given the cultural context of the film, 

In that scene alone, we hear the sound of the receipt printer (above the music) and are bombarded with consumerist images of advertising, the computer, the printer (which is a repeated zoom image) and the processes of social and financial transactions enmeshed with technology. As the story unfolds, we see that the exchange of objects and messages through the "inbox" are still connected with economy as messages are written on the receipts. Finally, when the technology "fails" and the lines of communication are cut, we are presented with another powerful image of the man returning to the closed apparel store. I interpret this as meaning that technology will only be available when there is money to be made from it. No shop, no technology and dystopically, no relationship.  We are left with the idea that something else, even fate, will serve us better than technology which has one fundamental purpose in being a tool of capitalism.

OK, that sounded very much like Marxist technological determinism, and that's exactly how I see it being depicted in the film.

How does this translate to online learning?

I think that if we agree with the ideas in the film, then technology itself will be neutral in the social interactions required for social constructivist or connectivist pedagogy. The film suggests that the tool is immaterial. However the warning is clear, that technology will be a driver for the most economically beneficial model, which is a gloomy vision for the future. But this I will explore more fully in another post after I have reviewed all the films for this week.


  1. Thanks Angela for your thoughtful and interesting analysis. I hadn’t considered the public/private element, or the vulnerability that goes with initial contact of this kind and you describe it well.

    I think this is a clever film, done apparently without irony which makes it hard to interpret. Or is the music ironic? And the sound of the cash and receipt machines? I think the dystopian message is strong but subtle, and I really enjoyed the way you drew out the thread of commercialism and consumerism that runs through the film.

    The film left me with a bad taste in my mouth. This may well be some people’s utopia but the status quo prevails: nice boy meets nice girl, gender stereotypes prevail, transactions take place. The communication is superficial and conformist, all pre-packaged and reduced to post-it notes. The events that take part are a game of chance, a transaction, destiny or pure luck. Perhaps at the end the couple break out of their silent post-it world, or perhaps together they are all the better adapted to deal with it.

    Its great you ask what does this mean for online learning… I can’t answer that yet. I look forward to seeing you write next.

    Best wishes, Ruth

    1. Hi Ruth, thanks for your comment. This really is a film that you could write about for days, as I said, there are so many layers and you can only say so much in one post. I presume this is made in India, and I suspect that many of the references to mediated and superficial communication, gender sterotyping and the recurring transactional imagery are better understood in that cultural context. Perhaps this depiction of the boy meets girl is liberating in some cultures where arranged marriages are still common. I didn't understand the metaphor of the carrybags are the inbox when the girl had a laptop and was using facebook. I must check out the forums and see what others thought. I haven't had a good look yet, deliberately until I had sorted my own thoughts. Angela

  2. Hi Angela, thought provoking as always. First comment is a #factchecker. The young man rushing to get dressed was first done after the young lady sent her name. The timing makes it even more interesting because he didn't know what could happen from the virtual exchange.

    I'm having some troubles putting my thoughts together on my other comment so my apologies if this rambles a bit. Technology (represented by the red bags) is always neutral. Whether the outcomes from our use are predetermined is not something I feel competent to comment on. However, we do use the technology to meet different needs that range from utopian to dystopian (normally I just use good or bad). Earlier this week a young woman (18 years) was killed in DC because she had a desire to connect with someone much like Priya in the video. She arranged to meet a man trough a social networking site and he killed her. The details are still coming out but the family is branding the social app as bad. When in reality it was the decisions made by this young woman that caused her death. Not the technology.

    On a final comment, I have one more video to finish but I have found all of them tend toward a dystopian view of technology. I'll address that in a separate blog when I finish all of them but I wonder if asynchronous elearning, where we can't easily discuss together our thoughts and ask questions in real time, also dystopian in the ability to learn.

  3. Hi Kelcy, thanks for your feedback. I actually watched the film again with my daughter, and I realised my descriptions of the man dressing, whilst it still holds true for the sentiment, are not correct in the timing. I think it doesn't matter though, it is about him dressing in anticipation of the relationship, however that might play out. Many people start going to gym, buying new clothes etc if they think they are in line for meeting someone new!

    What do you think, should I edit the text in the post to correct it?

    I would liked to have watched the videos on synctube with someone, but I was at the beach for a couple of days with my family, our summer holidays finish tomorrow. And so missed the opportunity. There are some definite areas of disfuntion in asynchronous learning, communicating.

    I also realised I can't blog about everything every week, so time to adapt our blogging style! Point form next time maybe.

    1. Angela, I agree that your analysis of the sentiment was correct. I should have mentioned that but forgot until I had already logged off. I would edit the post but as I said the timing makes the action even more interesting since it was early in the connecting process. He did change to go meet her and even that change speaks to what he was hoping to portray. In the first instance, it's presentable (almost stuffy or traditional?) clothing whereas the second was more casually hip.

      I would love to have a synchtube to discuss all the videos together - perhaps a comparison where we can point to particular video sections instead of the whole video. They are short enough that it might be worth trying as an end of week activity this weekend if anyone is interested.

  4. HI Angela,I enjoyed your post as usual. I didn't analyze the clip enough. I'm glad you elaborated as I think I missed a few key points...The culturally arranged marriage, the emphasis on capitalism, the nuances of changes in behavior when meeting someone for the first time. That is what is so wonderful about connected learning.I agree that technology played more neutral role in this clip.

  5. Hi Angela!
    I just wanted to clarify a point about the perfumed powder that he used. Actually it is what we Indians call "Vibuthi" or Holy Ash and it is generally used to purify things. The guy was first apprehensive about what was happening. So he took the thing that his culture had taught him - sanctify stuff with the holy ash. If you remember, he was wearing it on his forehead too. This fits with your description of the make up objects as "female sexual". Anything like this, coming out of the blue and that too from a red bag would definitely freak someone out right? The girl, coming from the same culture would have identified it too. But I think her expression was more of "why is there holy ash?" than disgust.

    1. Thanks Nithya, it's so wonderful doing a course like this with people from all over the world, we can learn so much about each other's cultures.So you think perhaps he put the Vibuthi into the bag because he thought something kind of evil was going on at first?

      I love "art". The fact that the viewer can interpret from their own perspective or that we can read other things into it when we understand the context of where it was created. Both are valid, yet different.