The Summer DS106 course theme is “The Prisoner.” There is a blog and a twitter feed on the “class.” I have a long relationship with The Prisoner. I watched the series on Public Television in the mid Seventies when I was a teenager. The series, starring Patrick McGoohan, is about a secret agent who resigns. He is then kidnapped and taken to an island where he is expected to not leave and provide information about why he resigned. The island is a prison disguised as a holiday resort, much like our modern internet. This series has everything: secret agents, key punch computers, surveillance, mistrust, paranoia, anti-authoritarianism, a vicious weather balloon, and lava lamps. The political metaphors and the personal anarcho-libertarianism represented by The Prisoner resonated well for teenagers in the 70s fresh out of the Nixon years and Vietnam. Bill Liddle taught a class on the Prisoner at Texas State University and he describes the series as an examination of “the struggles between society’s need to organize and control individuals, and the individual’s need to understand his or her environment to exercise personal autonomy.” I think these issues are particularly pertinent to our time because of all the questions that come up over the control of information in the internet era. In fact, I met my best friend, another catastrophically bored teenager, over a few games of chess. I noticed after a few weeks that he ended conversations abruptly with “Be seeing you!” We found that we shared a love for chess and the rebellious spirit and the metaphorical world of the Prisoner. We thought of our selves as fellow prisoners ever after.
My blog generally focuses on education and technology, but also wanders into the humanities because I find most of those specialist distinctions less useful in discovering how things became what they are today. In my experience, scientists and social scientists who lack the historical or a broad humanities background get a lot of things wrong. Looking at psychology, epistemology, or pedagogy through the lens of art can provide an accuracy that more literal approaches can miss. And The Prisoner, leaps head first into a sea of metaphor, and depending on your perspective, may or may not ever come up for air. I find the series a great companion to Marcuse (how to co-opt revolutions) and McLuhan (technology shaping us and the power of sloganeering).
So now for a few happy accidents: a few months back, my wife, knowing that I am a huge fan, insisted that I buy the box set of The Prisoner at a used book store. It is A&E’s The Complete Prisoner DVD Mega-Set (not the best video quality but it was inexpensive). Some months later, I found out that the Summer DS106 was going to be based on the Prisoner. DS 106 is the University of Mary Washington’s Digital Storytelling 106 inaugurated by Jim Groom (who also recently mysteriously resigned!). So this summer, I am hoping to connect with others as I go through the series, and connect the series to current thinking on technology and psychology.