Course Syllabus

Assignments and Grading
Working Groups


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 and perspective.


    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 focus groups):

    • 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), *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)

Course Requirements

  • 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 production center. 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:
    Includes class 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.

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. 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 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, 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 dist opian 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 World?
  • 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
* 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
* 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
* 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

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