Comparative Studies in Emerging Media, Fall 2009

Communication 6160/8770

In this decade, the expansion of the internet and the digitization of culture have vastly changed the way Americans, and people all over the world, share information. Libraries of data can now be accessed and exchanged instantaneously from terminals around the globe. Any blogger with a keyboard can weigh in on the issues of our times to an international audience, and hope to build a readership based on nothing other than strength of ideas. Digital production technologies make the tools of the Hollywood pros available to anybody with a Mac. And new models of “open source” software distribution challenge the inequities of the global capitalist economy.

But if new media technology today offers a host of utopian promises, it also inspires dystopian fears: of technology making jobs obsolete, of ubiquitous government and corporate surveillance, of the consequences of the pervasive digital divide between the info-haves and -have-nots.

Meanwhile, the American media landscape is in the midst of major transitions:

The once-separate realms of film, television, the internet are increasingly converging, as new digital delivery systems challenge the broadcast paradigm.
The cellphone and personal computer are converging as well, as the success of the “smart phones” such as the iPhone marks the beginning of the next phase in mobile computing.
The economic model of the newspaper business is collapsing, as readers turn to online sources. At the same time, traditional journalists are being  challenged by networks of independent bloggers, who, leveraging group knowledge, are often more informed than the high-powered journalists with the greatest insider “access.”
CD sales continue to plummet, as the music industry makes news deals with artists and tour companies to capture other forms of music revenue, including concerts tickets, t-shirts, and ringtones. Meanwhile, much of history of recorded music is available instantaneously online under a number of pricing models: free (via file sharing), buyer’s choice (Radiohead), subscription (Rhapsody and eMusic), or track-by-track purchase (iTunes).
Even as the public sphere grows more capacious, the ownership of production and distribution grows more concentrated, as a small number of multinational corporations more powerful than many nation-states continue to expand their mass media oligopolies.
Moore’s Law states that the pace of growth in computing power continuously accelerates. It’s not surprising, then, that the pace of technological change continues to pulse faster and faster.

In the thick of the moment, how can we gain perspective on the present, and insight into the future? One way is to turn to the past, to look at our circumstances in the light of earlier transitional moments. Examining the introduction of the telegraph can help us gain perspective on the rise of the internet. At the same time, studying our projections of the future can also help us understand our present obsessions. Thus, this class will begin in the present moment, turn to the past, then work our way back to the present and future.

These are the required books:

Ted Friedman, Electric Dreams
Langdon Winner, The Whale and the Reactor
Thomas Standage, The Victorian Internet
Friedrich Kittler, Gramophone, Film, Typewriter
Michael Schudson, Discovering the News
Scott Rosenberg, Say Everything
Ralph Koster, A Theory of Fun for Game Design
McKenzie Wark, Gamer Theory
Lisa Nakamura, Cybertypes
Bill Wasik, And Then There’s This
Clay Shirky, Here Comes Everybody
Jonathan Zittrain, The Future of the Internet – And How to Stop It

Students in 8770 will be required to read and present upon one additional book.



8/19    Introduction

8/26     Ted Friedman, Electric Dreams

9/2    Langdon Winner, The Whale and the Reactor

When Old Technologies Were New

9/9    Thomas Standage, The Victorian Internet

9/16    Friedrich Kittler, Gramophone, Film, Typewriter

9/23    Michael Schudson, Discovering the News

9/30    Scott Rosenberg, Say Everything

10/7    No class – download and play the free World of Warcraft trial:

10/14    Ralph Koster, A Theory of Fun for Game Design

10/21    McKenzie Wark, Gamer Theory

Today and Tomorrow

10/28    Lisa Nakamura, Cybertypes

11/4    Bill Wasik, And Then There’s This

11/11    Clay Shirky, Here Comes Everybody

11/18    Jonathan Zittrain, The Future of the Internet – and How to Stop It

11/25    Thanksgiving Break – no class

12/2    Research presentations at Ted’s house

Final projects due 12/9


Lead two book discussions – 15% of final grade each, 30% total
You will lead, with a group, discussions of two books. To prepare for the discussion of the reading, in addition to reading the week’s assignment, research these questions to put the reading in a broader context:

What is the author’s background? What discipline is the author trained in? What else has s/he written? In which journals has s/he published?

What was the reception of the book? How was book reviewed? What criticisms have been made of the author’s work? How has the author responded? Whom has the author influenced?

Then, meet with your group to prepare for a class discussion. Don’t bother summarizing the work. Rather, concentrate on how the work relates to the key questions we’ll be asking all semester. In addition to the research topics, other subjects for discussion should include:

Theoretical debates: In what debates does the work intervene? Where does the author stand? Whom does the author criticize? How does this work move the debate forward?
Methodology: What research methods does the author use? (Possibilities include textual analysis, ethnography, historical research, quantitative social science, etc.) How does the author approach and justify this methodology? What are the advantages and limitations of this methodology?
Example of Analysis: Pick one text, idea or issue that’s either directly addressed by the author, or that can be illuminated by applying the author’s perspective. Show a representative clip or demonstration, if appropriate. Discuss how the author would (or does) interpret the example. What are the strengths and limitations of this interpretation? What alternate interpretations are possible?

Outline the key topics of discussion in a short (1 page) handout for the class. There’s no need to include more detail, or to prepare a PowerPoint presentation – the focus should be on presenting material orally and facilitating a good class discussion.

Note: you don’t need to organize your discussion in the order listed above. It may help to present the example up front, to ground your discussion of methodology and theory. It’s often also a good icebreaker to begin discussion by going around the room, asking everybody to answer a specific question related to their response to the book.

New Media Text Presentation – 20% of grade for 6160 students, 10% for 8770
Pick an example of new media product you find innovative – it could be a game, a website, a cellphone, a movie, etc. Give a short (10-15 minute) presentation to the class, demonstrating the product and discussing what you find innovative.

Outside Reading Presentation – 8770 students only – 10% of grade
Pick one new media studies book not already assigned in class. Give a short (10-15 minute) presentation to the class, summarizing the book’s key arguments and the critical response to the book.

Espen Aarseth, Cybertext: Perspectives on Ergodic Literature
Janet Abbate, Inventing the Internet
William Aspray and Martin Campbell-Kelly, Computer
Ann Balsamo, Technologies of the Gendered Body
Nancy Baym, Tune In, Log On
Yochai Benkler, The Wealth of Networks
Ian Bogost, Persuasive Games: The Expressive Power of Videogames
Ian Bogost, Unit Operations: An Approach to Videogames
John Seely Brown, The Social Life of Information
Scott Bukatman, Matters of Gravity: Special Effects and Supermen in the Twentieth Century
Manuel Castells, The Internet Galaxy
Paul Ceruzzi, A History of Modern Computing
Douglas Coupland, Microserfs
Ruth Schwartz Cowan, A Social History of American Technology
Robert Cringely, Accidental Empires
Michael Dartnell, Insurgency Online
Julian Dibbell, Play Money
Thomas Disch, The Dreams Our Stuff Is Made Of
Cory Doctorow, Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom
Susan Douglas, Inventing American Broadcasting
Claude Fischer, America Calling: A Social History of the Telephone
Patrice Flichy, The Internet Imaginaire
Steve Fuller, Thomas Kuhn
Alex Galloway, Protocol
James Paul Gee, What Videogames Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy
James Paul Gee, Why Videogames Are Good for the Soul
William Gibson, Neuromancer
David Harvey, The Condition of Postmodernity
N. Katherine Hayles, How We Became Post-Human
Johan Huizenga, Homo Ludens
Pekka Himanen, The Hacker Ethic
Mizuko Ito, ed., Personal, Portable, Pedestrian: Mobile Phones in Japanese Life
Fredric Jameson, Archaeologies of the Future
Fredric Jameson, Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism
Henry Jenkins, Convergence Culture
Steven Johnson, Interface Culture
Jesper Juul, Half-Real
Thomas Kuhn, The Structures of Scientific Revolutions
Bruno Latour, Aramis, or the Love of Technology
Brenda Laurel, Utopian Entrepreneur
Laurence Lessig, Code 2.0
Laurence Lessig, Free Culture
Laurence Lessig, The Future of Ideas
Steven Levy, Hackers
Steven Levy, Insanely Great
Steven Levy, iPod
Jessice Littman, Digital Copyright
Peter Luncenfeld, Snap to Grid
Lev Manovich, The Language of New Media
Carolyn Marvyn, When Old Technologies Were New
Scott McCloud, Understanding Comics
Scott McCloud, Reinventing Comics
Nick Motfort, Twisty Little Passages
Peter Morville, Ambient Findability
Janet Murray, Hamlet on the Holodeck
Lisa Nakamura, Cybertypes
Nathan Newman, Net Loss
David Nye, Electrifying America
Lisa Parks, Cultures in Orbit: Satellites and the Televisional
Trevor Pinch and Frank Trocco, Analog Days: The Invention and Impact of the Moog Synthesizer
Howard Rheingold, Smart Mobs
Howard Rheingold, Virtual Community
Scott Rosenberg, Dreaming in Code
Andrew Ross, The Chicago Gangster Theory of Life
Andrew Ross, No-Collar
Andrew Ross, Strange Weather
Dan Schiller, Digital Capitalism
David Silver and Adrienne Massanari, eds., Critical Cybercultural Studies
Vivian Sobchack, Screening Space
Neal Stephenson, In the Beginning Was the Command Line
Bruce Sterling, The Hacker Crackdown
Michael Strangelove, The Empire of the Mind: Digital Piracy and the Anti-Capitalist Movement
James Suroweicki, The Wisdom of Crowds
Dan Tapscott, Wikinomics
TL Taylor, Play Between Worlds
Edward Tufte, The Visual Display of Quantitative Information
Sherry Turkle, Life on the Screen
Fred Turner, From Counterculture to Cyberculture
Ellen Ullman, Close to the Machine
Siva Vaidhyanathan, The Anarchist in the Library
Siva Vaidhyanathan, Coyprights and Copywrongs
Vernor Vinge, True Names
McKenzie Wark, Gamer Theory or A Hacker Manifesto
Fredric Wasser, Veni Vidi Video: The Hollywood Empire and the VCR
David Weinberger, Small Pieces Loosely Joined: A Unified Theory of the Web
D. B. Weiss, Lucky Wander Boy
Michele White, The Body and the Screen: Theories of Internet Spectatorship

Final Project: 50% of final grade

You have two options for your final project:

Write an essay on a subject relating to culture and technology. 6160 essays should be 12-15 pages, 8770 essays 18-25 pages. Doctoral work will be expected to meet a higher standard of theoretical sophistication.


Produce a multimedia project which experiments with new media forms. The project should incorporate a short commentary relating the work to ideas from the class. 6160 commentaries should be 3-5 pages, 8770 commentaries 8-10 pages. Doctoral work will be expected to meet a higher standard of theoretical sophistication.

For either option, the deadlines are the same:

A one-page proposal is due October 14. I will schedule individual meetings with you to discuss your proposal.
The final version of the paper or project is due December 9.
Attendance Adjustment
As Woody Allen put it, “80 percent of success is showing up.” It’s less than that in this formula, but the bottom line is that you can’t contribute to the class if you’re not there. You’re allowed one unexcused absence for the semester. After that, each unexcused absence subtracts one point from your grade total. Excused absences include medical and family emergencies. You will be expected to schedule any employment responsibilities around this class, or accept the consequences of missed classes for your grade. If you do need to miss a class, please contact me ahead of time, and make arrangements to catch up on missed material.


Academic Honesty
The university’s policy on academic honesty is published in On Campus: The Undergraduate Co-Curricular Affairs Handbook, available online at The policy prohibits plagiarism, cheating on examinations, unauthorized collaboration, falsification, and multiple submissions. Violation of the policy will result in failing the class, in addition to possible disciplinary sanctions.

Students withdrawing on or before the mid-semester point will receive a W provided they are passing the course. Students who withdraw after the mid-semester point will not be eligible for a W except in cases of hardship. If you withdraw after the mid-semester point, you will be assigned a WF, except in those cases in which (1) hardship status is determined by the office of the dean of students because of emergency, employment, or health reasons, and (2) you are passing the course.

Incompletes may be given only in special hardship cases. Incompletes will not be used merely for extending the time for completion of course requirements.

Changes to the Syllabus
This syllabus provides a general plan for the course. Deviations may be necessary.

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