New Media’s Past and Future

August 26, 2012 § 1 Comment

I will be teaching at NYU for the 2012-2013 academic year. This is very exciting. My first class will focus on “new media,” at least what passed as “new” at the time. Although we will focus on the history and impact of several emerging communication technologies, the class is less about the technologies themselves and more about what people said as and after the technologies emerged. Nor will there be any hand wringing over WHAT’S SO NEW ABOUT NEW MEDIA. The answer is that the question is myopic! The following is my syllabus, it’s going to be fun I think.

Course Description

This course examines the stories we tell about emerging technologies, and the ways in which these conversations are informed by naturalized notions of progress. The first unit of the course will focus on the ideological significance of progress, specifically the West’s interest in and push for bigger, shiner and more advanced technologies. Building upon these conversations, we will then examine the stories surrounding a number of technological innovations, including the printing press, telegraph network, telephone and television. In the final unit of the class, we will consider the present media landscape, particularly the transition between Web 1.0 and 2.0. Using theoretical tools from the previous two units, we will consider the stories we’re currently telling, not just about our technological today, and not just about our technological tomorrow, but, just as importantly, about our technological yesterday.

Learning Outcomes

In this class, students will interrogate their understanding of “progress” in relation to emerging media technologies. Through reading reflections, class discussions and their final projects, students will analyze the various narratives surrounding specific technologies, as well as the ways in which these narratives connect to and replicate existing ideological systems.

Required Texts

  • Nisbet, Robert. A History of the Idea of Progress
  • Standage, Tom. The Victorian Internet: The Remarkable Story of the Telegraph and the Nineteenth Century’s Online Pioneers
  • Fischer, Claude. America Calling: A Social History of the Telephone to 1940
  • Postman, Neil. Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business
  • Rheingold, Howard. The Virtual Community: Homesteading on the Electronic Frontier
  • Morozov, Evgeny. The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom
  • Turkle, Sherry. Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other

Blackboard Readings

  • Anne Robert Jacques Turgot, “A Philosophical Review of the Successive Advances of the Human Mind”
  • Kirkpatrick Sale, “The Myth of Progress”
  • Vannevar Bush, “As We May Think”
  • S.D. Noam Cook, “Technological Revolution & the Gutenberg Myth”
  • John Perry Barlow, “A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace”


Artifact reflections

In weeks 2 and 5, students will apply class discussions and readings to a specific media artifact. The first artifact will be chosen by the student and presented to his or her small group; the second will be chosen by me and posted to Blackboard. Both assignments will be 2-3 pages in length.

Reading responses

In weeks 7, 9, 11, and 13, students will prepare a 2-3 page reading response in which they explicate the author’s main argument(s), and compare these arguments to their own experiences with the technologies in question. Responses will be posted to Blackboard by noon on Tuesday (the day before class). By classtime on Wednesday, each student will respond to at least one classmate’s post (this response is part of the assignment, and is included in the point total).


Midway through the term (week 8), students will be asked to demonstrate their knowledge of course readings. The exam will take place during class; students will be given one week to prepare.

Final project

For their final projects, students will analyze a twenty-first century communication platform or technology—ideally, something the student has had personal experience using (i.e. MySpace, Flickr, Facebook, Tor, etc). Pulling from course readings and discussions, and utilizing the “looking forward/looking backward” approach modeled throughout the course, students will examine the kinds of conversations the platform or technology has generated, as well as the ways in which these conversations fit into larger (and much more ideologically loaded) discussions of progress and the future.

Graded components of final project:

  • Abstracts: Students will turn in abstracts for their final projects on Wednesday of week 12. I will provide written feedback on each project by the end of that week.
  • Annotated bibliography: On the same day they turn in their abstracts, students will hand in an annotated bibliography of at least 10 sources.
  • Written component: By Wednesday of finals week, students will hand in a 7-9 page research paper using at least 10 sources. Early drafts are encouraged.
  • Project presentation: In addition to writing a paper on the subject, students will sign up for a specific 15-minute presentation slot during the last two weeks of the term. This presentation will include a summary of the student’s findings, including any and all relevant audio-visual components.

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