Commentary, Film and Media

A course syllabus for the digital age

As culture and technology find themselves increasingly intertwined—for better, or for worse—scholars like Christina Dunbar-Hester, professor of Journalism and Media Studies at Rutgers, are finding themselves at the forefront of some of the most complex, yet compelling, inquiry in the humanities today. In a recent article in the Atlantic, Dunbar-Hester has offered up a course syllabus for her PhD-level class on technology and media citing some of the best new books on the topic including several published by the University of Chicago Press. The following is a short list of the UCP titles that she deems required reading for her course:
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How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics by N. Katherine Hayles
In this age of DNA computers and artificial intelligence, information is becoming disembodied even as the “bodies” that once carried it vanish into virtuality. While some marvel at these changes, envisioning consciousness downloaded into a computer or humans “beamed” Star Trek-style, others view them with horror, seeing monsters brooding in the machines. In How We Became Posthuman, N. Katherine Hayles separates hype from fact, investigating the fate of embodiment in an information age.
jacket image From Counterculture to Cyberculture: Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Network, and the Rise of Digital Utopianism by Fred Turner
In the early 1960s, computers haunted the American popular imagination. Bleak tools of the cold war, they embodied the rigid organization and mechanical conformity that made the military-industrial complex possible. But by the 1990s—and the dawn of the Internet—computers started to represent a very different kind of world: a collaborative and digital utopia modeled on the communal ideals of the hippies who so vehemently rebelled against the cold war establishment in the first place.
From Counterculture to Cyberculture is the first book to explore this extraordinary and ironic transformation. Fred Turner here traces the previously untold story of a highly influential group of San Francisco Bay-area entrepreneurs: Stewart Brand and the Whole Earth network. Between 1968 and 1998, via such familiar venues as the National Book Award-winning Whole Earth Catalog, the computer conferencing system known as WELL, and, ultimately, the launch of the wildly successful Wired magazine, Brand and his colleagues brokered a long-running collaboration between San Francisco flower power and the emerging technological hub of Silicon Valley.
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The Whale and the Reactor: A Search for Limits in an Age of High Technology by Langdon Winner
Citing a variety of real-world case studies in The Whale and the Reactor Winner explores the intersection between politics and technology to answer the question of “how we can best limit technology to match our best sense of who we are and the kind of world we would like to build”—while recognizing that “technologies are not merely aids to human activity, but also powerful forces acting to reshape that activity and its meaning.”
For the complete syllabus navigate to the Atlantic or find more books in media studies on the University of Chicago Press website.