You can find the syllabus here.
The readings for this course are made up a wide array of articles (mostly available online) and Kevin Kelly’s The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 technological forces that will shape our future.
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.
The modules for this course
- Module 1 Introduction: what’s the problem?
- Module 2 From 1984 to 2022
- Module 3 Social Media
- Module 4 Algorithms of inequality
- Module 5 Authenticity
- Module 6 Digital Divides
- Module 7 Artificial Intelligence
- Module 8 Misinformation & Conspiracy
- Module 9 Privacy
- Module 10 Surveillance
- Module 11 Digital Labor
- Module 12 Our Robots & Ourselves
- Module 13 Cryptocurrency, Blockchain, NFTs
- Module 14 Web3.0
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 Tarnoff (2022) Wallets & Eyeballs: how eBay turned the internet into a marketplace & Kevin Kelly’s chapters 3 (Flowing) & 4 (Screening).
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 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?” and Kevin Kelly’s chapter 5 Accessing.
Julien Hopkins: How to Define Social Media – An Academic Summary.
Joseph Bernstein: Alienated, Alone, & Angry: What the Digital Revolution Really Did To Us.
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 O’Shea (2019) Technology Is as Biased as Its Makers “From exploding Ford Pintos to racist algorithms, all harmful technologies are a product of unethical design. Yet, like car companies in the ’70s, today’s tech companies would rather blame the user.” And Kelly Chapter 1 Becoming.
Two excellent videos about predictive policing
Algorithmic Policing by VSauce2
Excellent videos on the dangers of predictive policing
Machine Bias: There’s software used across the country to predict future criminals. And it’s biased against blacks. https://www.propublica.org/article/machine-bias-risk-assessments-in-criminal-sentencing
Module 5 Authenticity
The reading for this module will be
Bishop (2021) The Safety Dance “Automated tools that try to calculate “brand safety” reproduce the whiteness of mainstream content” and Kelly Chapter 7 Filtering.
Module 6 Digital Divides
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 Kelly chapter 12 Beginning.
Depending on where you live, the internet AT&T offers you may be faster or slower. https://themarkup.org/still-loading/2022/10/19/dollars-to-megabits-you-may-be-paying-400-times-as-much-as-your-neighbor-for-internet-service
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
The readings are Popowich (2020) Lawful Neutral, O’Gieblyn (2021) A dog’s inner life: what a robot pet taught me about consciousness and Kelly chapter 2 (Cognifying).
Module 8 Misinformation and Conspiracy
LaFrance (2020) The Prophecies of Q
Module 9 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 10 Surveillance
Module 11 Digital Labor
Module 12 Our Robots & Ourselves
Module 13 Cryptocurrency, Blockchain, NFTs
Module 14 Web3.0