You can find the syllabus here.
Aside from weekly readings for each of the modules, during this course we will also read The Gentrification of the Internet: How to Reclaim Our Digital Freedom by Jessa Lingel and Infinite Distraction by Dominic Pettman
Before we begin…
It is useful for you to know how technology works. Unfortunately we will not be able to go through this in great detail in the course. Fortunately there are some excellent resources online. See for example: How does the Internet work?, How Internet Infrastructure Works, and McNamee et al, How the Internet Works: A guide for policy-makers. European Digital Rights.
Social media use in 2018. Pew Research Center http://www.pewinternet.org/2018/03/01/social-media-use-in-2018/
We will be watching Black Mirror episodes during this course. The idea is that the video should inspire you to think more broadly about the technological issues but the focus should be on the theory and readings. When you answer the questions you should not tell me the plot or details in the episode (more than necessary) but focus on the analysis. Here is a fun Black Mirror quiz which you can take without having seen the episodes yet: Our Surveillance Society or Black Mirror
This quiz asks if you can tell the difference between surveillance techniques which currently exist and techniques used in Black Mirror episodes. For each question select Surveillance Society or Black Mirror. This was inspired by @hypervisible’s thread on invasive surveillance.
Module 1 What’s the problem
In this module we will begin with housekeeping around the course. Much of this is in the syllabus (rules, deadlines etc) but some of it is more theoretical (what is the point of college, classrooms, and this course).
We shall also begin with Twenge: Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation? where the question we are trying explore is: Is she right about you? Is your generation destroyed? And should we blame the smartphone? The point here is to understand the role of technology in society.
Module 2 From 1984 to 2022
This module is intended as a background as to how we got to the technological society that we have today. It is not really about a list of technological innovations but the focus is more on the thinking before during and after these innovations. So, for example, this course will not teach you HOW the internet was invented but it will focus the discussion on what we thought the internet should become and what it became.
The article for this week is Paris Marx (2021) Reconnected: Decentralizing the internet alone won’t lift it above politics or save it from corporate co-optation.
Tim Wu, The Tyranny of Convenience, New York Times Opinion. Feb. 16, 2018. Convenience is the most underestimated and least understood force in the world today. As a driver of human decisions, it may not offer the illicit thrill of Freud’s unconscious sexual desires or the mathematical elegance of the economist’s incentives. Convenience is boring. But boring is not the same thing as trivial.
For an introduction to the nuts and bolts of the creation of the internet check-out Raphael Cohen-Almagor: Internet History
Module 3 Social Media
This week will define what social media is, and in particular focus on its purpose. For this we will read Adam Alter (2017) How technology gets us hooked “From a young age, humans love to press buttons that light up and make a noise. The thrill of positive feedback lies at the heart of addiction to gambling, games, and social media” and Richard Seymour (2019) The Machine Always Wins “Social media was supposed to liberate us, but for many people it has proved addictive, punishing and toxic. What keeps us hooked?”
For our discussion we will watch Black Mirror (S0103) The Entire History of You
Julien Hopkins: How to Define Social Media – An Academic Summary.
Joseph Bernstein: Alienated, Alone, & Angry: What the Digital Revolution Really Did To Us.
David Ehrlich: ‘The Social Dilemma’ Review: A Horrifyingly Good Doc About How Social Media Will Kill Us All and Jonathan Cook: Netflix’s ‘The Social Dilemma’ Tells Only Half the Story
The documentary Generation Like (Rushkoff 2014)
Module 4 Algorithms of Inequality
Technology may be inanimate but it is hardly neutral. In this module we will look at the ways in which algorithms create or sustain inequality. The reading is Peter Polack (2021) False Positivism: Why “planetary computation” and “data-driven governance” will not solve the world’s problems.
Module 5 Authenticity
Module 6 Digital Divides
Cerezo et al: Identity as Resistance: Identity Formation at the Intersection of Race, Gender Identity, and Sexual Orientation and Bates et al “Let Me Do What I Please With It . . . Don’t Decide My Identity For Me”: LGBTQ+ Youth Experiences of Social Media in Narrative Identity Development
Black Mirror (S05E01) Striking Vipers
We keep pretending that there is not a massive inequality in the access to the internet. This module will look at this inequality and what it means. The readings are Perrin (2021) Mobile Technology and Home Broadband 2021 and Deyton (2020) Black and rural students left behind as U.S. schools go online. But there is so much more interesting materials to study.
Andrew Marantz The Dark Side of Techno-Utopianism: Big technological shifts have always empowered reformers. They have also empowered bigots, hucksters, and propagandists.
Barbrook, Richard; Cameron, Andy. “The Californian Ideology”. Imaginary Futures. Retrieved April 27, 2014.
Caroline Levander and Peter Decherney The COVID-igital Divide
Module 7 Artificial Intelligence
Module 8 Misinformation and Conspiracy
de Zeeuw et al Tracing normiefication: A cross-platform analysis of the QAnon conspiracy theory
Module 9 Free Will
Module 10 Privacy
Heather Suzanne Woods Asking more of Siri and Alexa: feminine persona in service of surveillance capitalism
Forbrukerradet Report: Out of control In this report, we demonstrate how every time we use our phones, a large number of shadowy entities that are virtually unknown to consumers are receiving personal data about our interests, habits, and behaviour.
Module 11 Surveillance
Module 12 Digital Labor
ILO Report Digital labour platforms and the future of work
MacDonald & Giazitzoglu: Youth, enterprise and precarity
MacKenzie: Fear the Reaper
Watch Black Mirror (s01e02) 15 Million Merits
Module 13 Our Robots & Ourselves
Module 14 Cryptocurrency, Blockchain, NFTs
Module 15 Web3.0