Impact of New Information Resources:
Multimedia and Networks
ILS 604, Winter 1996
Class meets: F 1-4, room 409 plus
Weekly Working Group Meetings (to be arranged)
Dr. Howard Besser
Office Hours: Fridays 11-12 and by appointment
Note: No office hours on Feb 16
Assignments and Grading
Examples from last year's class [W95] (taught
at a distance)
Examples from other class versions (non-distance)
More details on assignments
Newspaper articles discussed in class
Follow up to discussion on cryptology
Information about HyperNews
As new technology makes the shift from broadcasting to narrowcasting more
feasible, how will people get their news, culture, and other information? This
course will examine past predictions (Goodbye Gutenberg), currently available
services (Prodigy, America Online, San Francisco Chronicle's The Gate,
Listservers and Newsgroups, Time Magazine, multimedia CD ROMs, etc.), and future delivery
mechanisms (Media Lab's Newspaper of Future, movie delivery to the home,
Over the course of the semester we will try to track the shifting alliances
between the networks, the telecommunications companies, newspapers, and the
entertainment industry. We will focus our attention on a wide variety of
aspects of the changing landscape: technological, public policy, indexing
& access, marketing of services, social, cultural, etc.
We will examine the structure and interaction promoted by the various new
information technologies. What kind of language and discourse are they
Though this course deals extensively with information technology, it is not a
technical course. It is essentially a communications course that examines new
multimedia and networking information systems from a variety of different
social science perspectives: sociology, critical theory, public policy,
communications theory, structuralism, political science, etc. Students will
learn a lot about the new technologies and how they operate, but from the
standpoint of a consumer, regulator, or social analyst rather than the
standpoint of a technician.
In the past this course has been accompanied by a weekly
lecture series where leading public figures and visionaries addressed the
fundamental issues raised in class. We will have few guest lectures this term,
but viewing of previous guest lectures may be assigned.
This is a graduate-level course that will present a wide range of
material within the course of the semester. Because such a wide variety of
perspectives will be presented, classroom time may not be devoted to delving
deeply into all the perspectives offered. The insturctor expects that students
will be motivated and self-directed, and will focus on and pursue the topics
and perspectives that interest them the most. We will form working groups that
will meet weekly to look at the material more intensively through a particular
set of lenses (such as critical theory).
The closest thing we will have to a text will be
Resisting the Virtual Life: The Culture and Politics of Information, edited
by Jim Brook and Iain Boal, City Lights Books, 1995. In addition, readings will
be selected from among the following. You will not be expected to read all of
the following, but you will be exposed to ideas from all of these in class.
In addition, the Working Groups will select readings appropriate to their focus
- American Civil Liberties Union not
- Anderson, Robert H. et. al. Universal
Access to Email: Feasibility and Societal Implications (Rand study sponsored
by Markle Foundation)
- Arbus, Steve. Free
Expression, Copyright, and Democracy, links and talk given at UC Berkeley
Ethics and the Internet
- Barthes, Roland. Mythologies. New York : Noonday Press, c1972 (1990
- Benton Foundation. Communication
Policy Project, (assorted public policy links)
- Besser, Howard. Assorted Papers
- The Changing Role of Photographic
Collections With the Advent of Digitization Discussion Paper for Working
Group for Digital Image in Curatorial Practice, George Eastman House,
June 4, 1994
- The Information SuperHighway:
Social and Cultural Impact Chapter from
Resisting the Virtual Life: The Culture and Politics of Information,
edited by Jim Brook and Iain Boal, City Lights Books, 1995
- A Clash of Cultures on the Internet
Op Ed piece appearing in San Francisco Chronicle August 25, 1994
- Movies-on-demand May Significantly
Change the Internet From the October 1994 ASIS Bulletin theme issue
on Entertainment Technology and Information Services
Information Highway must be a Two-Way Street: The Arts and Humanities
Communities Cannot be merely Consumers Presentation to the Convergence
Conference: Arts and Humanities and the NII
- Elements of Consciousness,
(unpublished excerpt from dissertation), Berkeley, 1988
- Besser, Howard. The Changing Museum, in Ching-chih Chen (ed), Information:
The Transformation of Society (Proceedings of the 50th Annual Meeting
of the American Society for Information Science), Medford, NJ: Learned Information,
Inc, 1987, pages 14-19
- Besser, Howard. Poland: the making and unmaking of the news, Berkeley:
Anti-Authoritarian Studies, 1983.
- Besser, Howard. Fast Forward: The Future of Moving Image Collections,
in Gary Handman (ed), Video Collection Management and Development: A Multi-type
Library Perspective, Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1994, pages 411-426
- Besser, Howard. Adding an Image Database to an Existing Library and
Computer Environment: Design and Technical Considerations, in Susan Stone
and Michael Buckland (eds.), Studies in Multimedia (Proceedings of
the 1991 Mid-Year Meeting of the American Society for Information Science),
Medford, NJ: Learned Information, Inc, 1992, pages 31-45
- Besser, Howard. Education as Marketplace, in Robert Muffoletto and
Nancy Knupfer (eds), Computers in Education: Social, Political, and Historical
Perspectives Cresskill, NY: Hampton Press, 1993, pages 37-69
- Birkerts, Sven. The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic
Age. New York: Faber and Faber, 1994.
- Brook, Jim and Iain Boal. Resisting the Virtual Life: The Culture and Politics
of Information, San Francisco: City Lights Books, 1995.
- Brand, Stewart. The Media Lab: inventing the future at MIT. New
York: Penguin, 1988.
- Burnett, Ron. Critical
Approaches to Cultural Studies
- Carlsson, Chris. Bad attitude: the Processed World anthology. New
York : Verso, 1990.
- Copyright writings, assorted papers and
- Coyle, Karen. assorted papers
- Debord, Guy. Society of the spectacle, Detroit : Black & Red,
- Electronic Frontier Foundation, various
- FC [Freedom Club?], Unabomber
Manifesto (Time-Warner version) and other Unabomber
- Ethics and the Internet,
readings from 11/95 conference
- Gibson, William. Neuromancer, New York: Ace Books, 1984.
- New York
Times online discussion of the future of newspapers.
- Poster, Mark. CyberDemocracy:
Internet and the Public Sphere, 1995
- Postman, Neil. Technopoly: the surrender of Culture to Technology,
New York: Knopf, 1992.
- Kroker, Arthur and Michael A. Weinstein. Data Trash: The Theory of the
Virtual Class. New York: St. Martin's, 1994.
- Prichard, Peter. The making of McPaper: the inside story of USA today.
Kansas City : Andrews, McMeel & Parker, 1987.
- Rezmierski, Virginia E. Ethics
and Values Dilemmas in Use of Information Technology: Policy Implications
for Institutions of Higher Learning, (class taught at University of Michigan)
- Ronell, Avital. The telephone book: technology--schizophrenia--electric
speech, Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1989.
- Sclove, Richard E. Democracy and Technology, New York: Guilford
- Sheff, David. Game Over: How Nintendo has enslaved your children, captured
your dollars & zapped the competition & why it has Apple, Sony, &
IBM running scared, New York: Random House,1993.
- Smith, Anthony. Goodbye, Gutenberg: the newspaper revolution of the
1980s, New York : Oxford University Press, 1980.
- Sterling, Bruce. Hacker Crackdown: Law and disorder on the electronic
frontier, New York: Bantam, 1992.
- Twitchell, James B. Adcult USA: The Triumph of Advertising in American
Culture, New York: Columbia Univ Press, 1995. (publicity)
- Turkle, Sherry. Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet,
New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995.
- Zerzan, John and Alice Carnes (eds). Questioning technology : tool,
toy or tyrant?, Philadelphia: New Society Publishers, 1991.
- Economics of the New Information Infrastructure
- Additional readings from:
Examine Multimedia Programs
All students will examine at least one multimedia program. You may substitute
a paper on another subject for your multimedia programs paper,
but you must still examine a multimedia program and be prepared to discuss it
in class. If interested in such a substitution, please discuss with instructor.
During the course of the semester, all students will watch at least two science
fiction films and report back to the class (and/or discuss these within their
- One film from the past (1950s or before) to examine whether past visions
of future information technologies have come true:
Metropolis (1927), *Things to Come (1936), Just Imagine
(1930), *Wonderful World of Tomorrow (1939), Time Machine
(1960), War of the Worlds (1953), Charleston (1927, Renoir),
Transatlantic Tunnel (1935), *Woman in the Moon (Lang, 1929),
Aelita (1924), *You Can't Get There From Here: Ephemeral Films
1946-60 (1987), To New Horizons: Ephemeral Films 1931-45
(1987), Fantastic Planet (1973)
- One modern film that contains visions of future information technologies:
Emphasis on how collective memory/information will be handled, stored,
destroyed: The Net (1995), Total Recall (1990), Rollerball
(1975), *Farenheit 451 (1967), *1984 (1956, 1984), *Forbidden
Planet (1956), Solaris (1972), Dreamscape (1984),
Death Watch (1980), *Outer Limits (Robert Culp)
Emphasis on how major aspects of society will change due to new information
technologies: Johnny Mnemonic (1995), They Live (1988),
Wild Palms (1993), Until the End of the World (1991),
*Bladerunner (1982), Brazil (1985), Terminator (1984),
Examination of future societies and capabilities: The Jetsons (1990),
*THX-1138 (1971), *Star Wars Trilogy (1977, 1980, 1983),
*2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), Born in Flames (1982),
- 10% Multimedia Programs (Short) Paper:
Review a multimedia program and
analyze it from at least one of the following perspectives: its language and
structure, educational potential, user interface design, etc. Or you may
design a multimedia program. Or you may plan for the set-up of a multimedia
With permission of instructor, you may substitute a paper on another topic.
- 40% Term Paper/Project:
Do a term paper or project on some
aspect covered in class. This may be a follow-up to one of your earlier
exercises/papers/group discussions. Please check your proposed topic with the
instructor before the middle of the semester.
- 50% Class and Working Group Participation:
discussions, working groups, maintaining a group Web site, participation in online discussions, questions to
outside speakers, interaction with other student presentations, short assignments, science fiction
viewing reports, etc.
Students will divide into working groups to focus their studies during the
course of the semester. The instructor expects that many individual and group
projects will come out of these working groups. These groups will allow for
more in-depth discussions from particular perspectives, and should be especially
helpful in formulating ideas for the final projects. The groups will also periodically
report back to the class as a whole to encourage a cross-fertilization of perspectives.
Each group will consist of students from both campuses. Group members will hold
weekly meetings, and will continue online discussions between meetings. From
time to time, groups will be given class time for discussions.
Each group will start and manage its own Web site with summaries and pointers
to relevant resources. The group will also manage an electronic communications
forum to discuss relevant topics between face-to-face meetings. The group will
choose thread names (subject headings) within the forum, periodically purge
older messages, and perform all necessary management functions. Each forum will
be open to students in other groups and (to a limited extent) to the general
The following is a sample list of groups likely to form, and the topics they are
likely to discuss. Which of these are actually formed depends upon student interest,
and some of these groups might be combined.
- Creative Arts
Use of high technology and interactive media in the visual arts. Changing
physical media (film to video to digital media) and distribution channels
(theaters to the home) for media arts. The changing role of cultural institutions
(such as museums) in an age of widespread digital distribution. Effects of
a digital society on creativity (including writing).
- Virtual Communities
How does one-way communication differ from two-way communication? Is there
a difference in information produced for mass consumption from that produced
as part of a helping community? How can computer networks be used to help
bring people together who may not have met otherwise? What is the nature of
new online communities which develop without any sense of "place"? How will
commercialization of networked information affect virtual communities?
- Critical Theory
Can information be a commodity? How can we extend an analysis of representation
to computer-based communication? What is the changing nature of discourse
in a mediated electronic environment? What is the relationship between communications,
information, and technology? Is there an ideology to the information age?
What is the likely result of the loss of community spaces (movie theaters,
museums, and even department stores) that is likely to accompany the new "information
age"? What is the likely impact of the disembodiment that will accompany
virtual reality and its descendants? Is the attraction to cutting-edge technologies
really a form of spectacle? How can we apply theories from Lyotard,
Baudrillard, Derrida, Freud, Lacan, Foucault, Habermas, Debord, etc. to answer
these and other questions arising from new information technology?
- Public Policy
What is the government's role in relation to telecommunications and high technology?
What kind of projects does (and should) the government fund? What are the
effects of licensing the air waves as the distinction between television,
telephones, and computers begins to blur? Can government regulation protect
the public interest in the battles between newspapers, broadcasters, the cable
companies, the telephone companies, computer companies and the entertainment
industry? What are the issues around privacy raised by the new information
technologies? What about the role of intellectual property? What issues are
raised in the flow of information into developing countries? What are the
pros and cons of privatizing the Internet? Should Internet access be free?
- Future of Publishing
Will electronic books, online newspapers,
and on-demand news (via phone, cable, or computer) become the major delivery
systems for information? What are the technical, economic, social, and cultural
issues involved in these coming into widespread use? How will these change
the nature of publishing, and how will people use these published materials
in new ways? What kind of legal and technical protections will be used for
intellectual property and what are the advantages and disadvantages of each?
What are the ethical, preservation, and copyright issues around digital photography?
- Information Retrieval
What are the issues in networked
multimedia information retrieval? How can one find the desired information
somewhere on the network? What does one need in order to find it (indexing,
standards), retrieve it (coordinating stream data, bandwidth), find the correct
portion of it (scene in a film or paragraph of text), play it (decompression,
storage standards, user interface)? What are the issues involved in creating
entities (such as knowbots) to search the networks for the information we
need? How can we filter through large bodies of information, and what are
the consequences of relying on filters?
- Media Views of New Technologies
How does the contemporary
mass media (television, newspapers, magazines) cover the Internet, electronic
communication and related issues? What framing devices are used, and why do
those frames shift between distopian and utopian views? What is the interplay
between the media and popular views (and which influences the other)? What
spurs the development of magazines like Wired and Internet
- Digital Commerce
What are the technical issues involved
in buying and selling through electronic communication? Can online transactions
be protected? What schemes will online vendors use to prevent reuse or misuse
of the information they sell? Will these schemes pose onerous barriers to
access to intellectual property? What are the advantages of giving some information
away for free and charging for other information? Do online marketing schemes
pose a threat to the culture and character of the Internet? How might online
vendors capture data detailing what a user looks at and for how long? What
kind of privacy issues are raised by the capture and use of this data?
Sample Class Subjects
- Personal Communication Devices
- Digital video/audio on Networks, Talk Radio
- Video on Demand to Home
- Electronic Publishing
- Interactive Video
- Video Conferencing/Image Telephones
- Motion Picture Browsing (Pickers)
- Networking Superhighway
- Future/Present of Newspapers
- Tailored information, knowbots, artificial intelligence
- Digital Production for Hollywood
- Standards for viewing and exchanging multimedia
- Electronic democracy
- Distance-Independent Learning
- New input devices (visualization, speech recognition)
- Virtual Reality
- Public Policy, Regulatory Issues
- Economics of Large Corporations
- The Changing Information Industry Workplace
- Environmental Impact
- Social Effects
- Media as social change or protest
- Technical Issues
- Standards Issues
- Changing Cinema
- Structure/Language of the interaction
- Recent Commercial Services
- Decentralized Information Sources
- Internet Resources
- Text encoding
- Electronic Art
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