Spring Class -- LS 296A:
Impact of New Information Resources: Multimedia and Networks

Spring 1994
F 10-12, 205 South Hall
Outside Speakers:

Weekly Working Group Meetings:
by arrangement

Howard Besser
311 South Hall
RA: Eva Garcelon
howard@info.berkeley.edu OR l200-co@garnet.berkeley.edu

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 Guttenberg), currently available services (Prodigy, Compuserve, Chronicle Cityline Information Service, Listservers and Newsgroups, Newsweek CD ROM, etc.), and future delivery mechanisms (Media Lab's Newspaper of Future, movie delivery to the home, etc.).

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 composed of?

Though this course deals heavily 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.

The course will be accompanied by a lecture series where leading public figures and visionaries will address the fundamental issues raised in class. These lectures will not occur every single week, but attendance is mandatory.

This is an experimental 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).


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 and perspective.

Barthes, Roland. Mythologies. New York : Noonday Press, c1972 (1990 printing).

Brand, Stewart. The Media Lab : inventing the future at MIT. New York: Penguin, 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. Elements of Consciousness, (unpublished excerpt from dissertation), Berkeley, 1988.

Besser, Howard. Poland: the making and unmaking of the news, Berkeley: Anti-Authoritarian Studies, 1983.

Carlsson, Chris. Bad attitude : the Processed World anthology. New York : Verso, 1990.

Debord, Guy. Society of the spectacle, Detroit : Black & Red, 1983.

Gibson, William. Neuromancer, New York: Ace Books, 1984.

Postman, Neil. Technopoly: the surrender of Culture to Technology, New York: Knopf, 1992.

Prichard, Peter. The making of McPaper: the inside story of USA today. Kansas City : Andrews, McMeel & Parker, 1987.

Ronell, Avital. The telephone book : technology--schizophrenia--electric speech, Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1989.

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.

Zerzan, John and Alice Carnes (eds). Questioning technology : tool, toy or tyrant?, Philadelphia: New Society Publishers, 1991.

Wired (magazine), Mondo 2000 (magazine), FringeWare Review (magazine)


Examine Multimedia Programs All students will examine at least one multimedia program.

Online Information Sources Students will explore various types of online information resources. All students must follow a news group and/or listserver for 2 months and be prepared to discuss their observations with the class. In addition, all students must spend at least ten hours working with an online service (such as America Online or MindVox), and be prepared to discuss these in class as well.

Viewings During the course of the semester, all students will watch at least two science fiction films and report back to the class on their observations:

* 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:

Empahsis on how collective memory/information will be handled, stored, destroyed: 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)

Empahsis on how major aspects of society will change due to new information technologies: They Live (1988), Wild Palms (1993), Until the End of the World (1991), *Bladerunner (1982), Brazil (1985), Terminator (1984), *T-2 (1991)

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), Tron (1982)

*Available in Moffitt Media Resources Center

Course Requirements

20% Midterm Paper: Choose one of the following and write a medium-length paper:

* Multimedia Programs 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 production center.

* Online Information Sources Paper: Discuss your observations of the online services, listservers, and/or news groups. Compare the news group and/or listserver as an information source versus the online service. Consider such aspects as: question-answering, general learning, one-way versus two-way communication, the building of virtual communities, etc.

40% Term Paper: Do a term paper on some aspect covered in class. This may be a follow-up to one of your earlier exercises/papers. Please check your proposed topic with the instructor before the middle of the semester.

40% Class & Working Group Participation: Includes class discussions, working groups, participation in online discussions, questions to outside speakers, interaction with other student presentations, science fiction viewing reports, etc.

Working Groups

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. Groups will hold weekly meetings, and will, form time to time, be given class time for discussions.

Each group will start and manage its own electronic communications forum to discuss relevant topics between face-to-face meetings. The group will choose 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 public.

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, 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 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?

Multimedia Class Subjects

* Personal Communication Devices
* Digital video/audio on Networks, Talk Radio
* Video on Demand to Home
* Infotainment
* Interactive Video
* Video Conferencing/Image Telephones
* Motion Picture Browsing (Pickers)
* Networking Superhighway
* Future/Present of Newspapers
* Tailored information, knowbots, artificial intelligence
* Privacy
* Privacy--Cryptology
* Digital Production for Hollywood
* Standards for viewing and exchanging multimedia
* Electronic democracy
* 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
* Education
* Technical Issues
* Standards Issues
* Changing Cinema
* Hackers/Crime
* Copyright
* Structure/Language of the interaction
* Recent Commercial Services
* Decentralized Information Sources
* Internet Resources
* Text encoding
* Electronic Art