There will be a weekly reading response writing activity due on Sundays at 5pm. For the most part, assignments are short answer responses to questions about the readings. There are some guidelines for writing responses from a past class class here. Responses are to be submitted via bSpace and are worth up to 3 points each. No late assignments will be accepted.  Your two lowest grades will be dropped!

Assignment 12- location – due 5pm April 24th via bSpace

In the reading, after looking at the “localization of industry,” Marshall writes “Every cheapening of the means of communication, every new facility for the free interchange of ideas … alters the action of the forces which tend to localize industries.”  How has this claim withstood the development of our “modern means of communication”?

Assignment 11- Dematerialization, disintermediation… – due 5pm April 17th via bSpace

Auletta writes: “Amazon seems to believe that in the digital world it might not even need publishers at all.” Twentieth-century publishers generally performed several tasks: they have been gatekeepers who selected the most authoritative or readable works; they have been editors who checked, edited, and corrected manuscripts; they have handled production and design of volumes and overseen printing; they have marketed books, helping them to find their appropriate audience; they have distributed books to bookstores; and they have handled publicity and advertising.

In a digital world, is it necessary to have a separate firm or organization to perform these functions? If so, do you see a continuing role for publishers in some of these functions, or can they be undertaken by someone else?  Be sure to make specific reference to the discussion in Auletta’s article of the roles of publishers and how they are now being questioned.

Exercise 2 – What does Google know about you?- due 11am April 14th via bSpace

While we are searching for information with Google, Google is searching for information on us–and using that information to feed results (and advertisements) to us.  It is generally argued that Google’s tabs on us are a good thing as they help improve our searches results.  Nonetheless, it is also good to get an idea of what Google’s has on us is and how it is likely to skew search (and ad) results. So this exercise asks you to find out what Google knows about you.

One way to do this is first to search for something with your cookies turned on, logged into Google docs or gmail, and using a university IP address and then to do the same search anonymously (with all the above turned off and from a machine outside the campus network).  You can also search with different browsers (and so different browsing histories), with different search engines–Bing, Yahoo–or from a different machine.  See how the search results (and ads) differ, and see what you can deduce from the difference.

For this, work in small groups or or work alone.  Consider a cross gender group, to see whether Google ‘knows’ whether you are male or female.  You might also consider asking someone across the state/country/world or of a different age to do the same search and see how results and advertisements differ.

Think about what would make a couple of good search enquiries.  Try the same search phrases out under different conditions, with different people, and on different machines.  Use search terms that might be ambiguous to force the search engine to ‘decide’ what you might have in mind.  It can also be revealing to use terms terms that reflect your past search history.  Consider, too, enquiries that are likely to produce gender or age-specific returns.  See whether Google ‘knows’ your age or gender.  See if it recognizes you are a student and how it responds when it does or does not.  See, from the ads, what it thinks you are likely to buy.  See if it sends you to Google ‘products’ (Google Books, Google Scholar, Google Images, Google News).  See how different the same search is with Bing or Yahoo.

We’ll be interested in hearing how you strategized, what you found, and whether the results strike you as significant.  And if they do not, whether Google seems to be throwing away the millions it is spending in keeping track of you.

Write up your results briefly and submit them on bSpace by 11am on Thus.  What search terms did you use?  How did your search results differ following your experiments with different identities in the eyes of your search engine?  Which configurations produced different results?  Based on your search results and the results of your experiments, what kind of information do you believe that Google keeps about you?  Attach any screen shots, charts, tables or whatever that help make your case so that, if we call on you in Thursday’s class (4/15), you will be able to talk us through your process and results.

Assignment 10 – Infrastructure – due 5pm April 10th via bSpace

We are going to have a debate about the following motion:
“Twitter was necessary for the overturn of Mubarak in Egypt.”
-If your last name starts with A-J, argue FOR this motion.
-If your last name starts with K-Z, argue AGAINST this motion.
Use the Jackson article about information infrastructure, and at least one  resource about Egypt (provide a full citation) to make your argument!  Remember to cite sources for all of the arguments you repeat.  Please feel free to use non-English sources.

Assignment 9 – Broadcast – due 5pm April 4th 2011

Czitrom writes on p. 88: Less than fifty years after the first wireless explorations, radio broadcasting stood at the very center of American society, an integral part of economic, political, and cultural processes. Radio succeeded not in filling the utopian visions first aroused by wireless technology but in appropriating those urges for commercial interests….Commercial broadcasting wedded the advertisers message to older popular cultural forms…”

Seventy years after this date, would you say that this characterization still holds of broadcasting — including both radio and televsion? In specific terms, how similar is the content of modern broadcasting to that described by Czitrom for the 1930’s and 1940’s and how is it different? On the whole which are more striking — the similarities or the differences?

Assignment 8 – Photography – due 9am 29 March 2011

Newhall, originally writing in 1937, and Sontag, writing in 1977 seem to make a similar point about the “reality” of photographic images:

“Garner’s dead sharpshooter, his long rifle gleaming by his side, is not imagined. This man lived; this is the spot where he fell; this is how he looked in death. There lies the great psychological difference between photography and the other graphic arts… The camera records what is focussed upon the ground glass. If we had been there, we would have seen it so…. We have been shown again and again that this is pure illusion. Subjects can be misrepresented, distorted, faked… but this knowledge cannot shake our implicit faith in the truth of a photographic record.” Newhall, p. 71

A photograph passes for incontrovertible proof that a given thing happened. A picture may distort; but there is always a presumption that  something exists, or did exist, which is like what’s in the picture. Sontag, p.  5

Do you think this generalization still holds, in the age of Photoshop? Do people still have “an implicit faith in the truth of the photographic record”?  Discuss with reference to one or more of the following (sets of) images:

Assignment 7 – Narrowcast due 7 March at 2pm via bSpace

The telegraph raised a long battle over government control of communication systems.  Using the telegraph as your example, argue whether the government is or is not justified in intervening in the operation of communication systems.  Provide evidence from Morse himself and one other document.  The document you select should best support your argument.  Responses should be about 250 words.

Assignment 6 – maps due 27 Feb at 5pm via bSpace

Wood argues that a map “is never ‘the real thing’ we walk on or smell or see with our eyes” (12).  Look at a BART map of the Bay Area or a national weather map from a newspaper.  Both maps are distinct in scale, function, and subject: how does each enable us to “link” a territory to something else?  Please use the readings to respond to the question and *limit your response to 200 words*!

Assignment 5 – Encyclopédie due 21 Feb at 5pm via bSpace

Read the discussion of Diderot’s Encyclopédie in McArthur and the selections from the Preliminary Discourse to the Encyclopédie by Jean Le Rond d’Alembert. Then describe two ways in which the Encyclopédie is similar to Wikipedia and two ways in which it seems different. Cite McArthur or d’Alembert or any other resources you use where appropriate. Remember to cite when you are paraphrasing.  (Please limit your response to 200-250 words!)

Assignment 4 – Science due 13 Feb at 5pm via bSpace

Is there anything in the guidelines laid down by Spratt for a scientific society that protects the public against the claims of Quacks and frauds described in the Spectator?

Assignment 3 – Printing due 6 Feb at 5pm via bSpace
Eisenstein  argues that “The impact of printing, experienced first by literate groups in early modern Europe, changed the character of the Italian Renaissance and ought to be considered among the causes of both the Protestant Reformation and the rise of modern science.”
– Does Eisenstein strike you here as a technological determinist?
– Are you convinced by Eisenstein’s argument?
— What evidence does she give to support her argument?
— Does anything in The History of Printing challenge it?
– How does what you learned at the Bancroft support or challenge  Eisenstein’s argument?

Assignment 2 – due 30 Jan 11 at 5pm via bSpace

Havelock writes: “The invention of the Greek alphabet… constituted an event in the history of human culture, the importance of which has not as yet been fully grasped. Its appearance divides all pre-Greek civilizations from those that are post-Greek. … On this facility were built the foundations of those twin forms of knowledge: literature in the post-Greek sense, and science, also in the post-Greek sense.” Consider just one aspect or element of this broad claim. On the basis of the specific evidence presented by Havelock and Gough, would you say it is largely true, largely false, or true in some respects?

Assignment 1 – due 23 Jan 11 at 5pm via bSpace
On pp 11-12 Williams gives 9 examples of how we can think of television as changing society, before dismissing them all.
  • If we use the internet, instead of television, do any of the arguments become more convincing and thus prove Williams wrong?
    • If you think Williams is wrong, does Heilbronner help make your case?
    • If you think Williams right, what does that say about Heilbronner?

Exercise 1 – due 20 Jan 11 via bSpace

Pick one of the following and explain how it might be serve as an “information technology.”
Try to make your answers ingenious without being implausible.
a bicycle!
a necktie!
a blanket!
a piece of string!
a dishrack!

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