History 182 - The Internet

Mark Poster - Office HH 340G

Spring 1999                                                     Tuesday/Thursday 2:00-3:20pm

Purpose of the Course:

The Internet -- the information superhighway, cyberspace, distributed information space -- has recently been an object of much discussion. It is variously depicted as the vehicle of global unification, a new marketing space, an alternative to the malls, a substitute for face-to-face conferences and meetings, a place for electronic conviviality and "virtual community," an efficient means of information exchange, and so forth. It is heralded as the leading edge of an information society or postmodern culture and berated as a threat to morality, trust and community.

However one understands its ultimate significance, the Internet is being used by millions in very different ways. This course analyses the various interpretations of the Internet and looks at the empirical studies of various features of it. It also asks students to explore the Internet and present their own conclusions about it.

Readings to Purchase:

Laura Gurak, Persuasion and Privacy in Cyberspace (Yale, 1997)
Sherry Turkle, Life on the Screen (Simon and Schuster 1995)
Course Packet

Each class students will present reports on Web pages or Internet experiences that explore the relation of technology to culture. You should plan to spend 2 to 3 hours each week exploring the relevant aspect of the Net. It is a good idea to keep a journal, diary or log of your "travels" in cyberspace. The log should note the time and place (URL or electronic address) of the event and a narrative of what happened. The log need not be comprehensive but should focus on interesting, unusual, surprising or catastrophic events. Try to link these experiences to the readings for the week or to other readings in the course and in this way develop an "interpretation" or "theory" of the Internet.

Examinations: There will be a mid-term and a final examination testing your comprehension of the readings and the lectures. As an alternative to the final examination and in consultation with and approval by the instructor a student may do research on and about the Internet. Here are some topics and research problems:

Politics of the Internet - Encryption, Censorship, Privacy
Economics of the Internet - copyright, commercialization, access
Internet Culture: Idenitity Construction
Gender and ethnicity in Cyberspace
Internet as Mass Media vs. Broadcast model
Virtual Communities -- bulletin Boards, MUDs, MOOs
Interface - human/machine assemblage
The World Wide Web
Scholarship and the Internet - issue of hypertext and authorship
Electronic Journals, Databases
Library Facilities and usage
Virtual Reality and the Internet

Select a topic and perform a search on the Internet. Develop a bibliography, draw up an outline and write a paper of 10 to 12 pages (typed or printed; doublespaced). This paper should attempt to analyze the problem selected but also to consider how doing research on the Net affected the results. If appropriate you may present your work as a hyper-text or hyper-media, in other words incorporating graphics, sound and moving images.

Class Session Topics and Reading Assignments:

April 6: Introduction to the Course: The Study of the Net and Postmodern Culture

April 8: Virtual Communities and Identity
        Reading: Lindsy Van Gelder, "The Strange Case of the Electronic Lover" (Packet)

April 13: Virtual Communities and Identity
        Reading:  Julian Dibbell, "Rape in Cyberspace" (Internet)

April 15: The Body Electric: Computers and Film
        Reading: Vivian Sobchack, "The Scene of the Screen" (Packet)

April 20: The Body Electric II
        Reading: Sandy Stone, "Will The Real Body Please Stand Up?" (Packet )
        Film: "Circuitry Man"

April 22: Doing Politics on the Net
        Reading: Laura Gurak, Persuasion and Privacy, pp. 1-43

April 27: Democracy and the Internet
        Reading: Mark Poster, CyberDemocracy (Internet)

April 29: Privacy on the Net
        Reading:  Laura Gurak, Persuasion and Privacy, pp. 44-84

May 4th: Databases as Surveillance, Copyright and Connectivity
        Reading: Mark Poster, The Second Media Age, Ch. 5 (Packet) and Video: "Shock Video"

May 6th: Mid-Term Examination

May 11: Electronic Space and Cultural Identity
        Reading: Sherry Turkle, Life on the Screen pp. 9-50

May 13: Electronic Space and Cultural Identity
        Reading: Sherry Turkle, Life on the Screen pp.  177-269

May 18: Electronic Life Forms
        Reading: Julian Dibbell, "Viruses Are Good For You," Wired, Feb. 1995 (Internet)

May 20: Gender on the Net
       Reading: Laura Gurak, Persuasion and Privacy, pp. 84-136

May 25: Ethnicity on the Net
        Reading: Lisa Nakamura, "Race In/For Cyberspace" (Internet)

May 27: Virtual Reality and the Internet
        Reading: Michael Heim, "Erotic Ontology of Cyberspace" (Packet)

June 1: Hypertext
        Marie-Laure Ryan, "Immersion and Interaction" (Internet)

June 3: The Truth of the Net
        Reading: N. Katherine Hayles, "Flickering Signifiers" (Packet)

June 8: The Net as Collective Intelligence
        Reading: Pierre Levy, "Toward Superlanguage" (Internet)

June 10: Study Guides for Final; Student Evaluations