Week 1: How Did We Get Here (And Where Exactly is Here?): A Brief History of the Internet
We revisit the advent of the electronic era. It is difficult to remember a world before smartphones, instant access to information and continual distraction. We explore the beginnings of the internet and remember the dramatic promise this new technology seemed to present. We discuss concerns voiced by some of the early critics of the internet, as well as its earliest and most vocal celebrants.
Week 2: Being in the Internet Age: Fluid Identity and the Promise of the Internet
Building on some of the writers and theorists presented in Week 1, we focus particularly on the opportunities the internet presents for self-creation and self-exploration. We examine the anonymity and possibilities for self-invention provided by on-line platforms such as FaceBook and Instagram, along with how notions of authenticity and “real life” have shifted in the internet age. In light of the infinite capacity to tailor the lives depicted on these sites, is it still possible to think about an authentic self? An authentic life?
Week 3: Lost in (Cyber)space: The Lure and Appeal of Online Spaces
The effect of internet spaces on individual identity was explored in Week 2; this week, we look at the sociological and psychological effects of these phenomena. We examine the persistent appeal of Massively Multiple Online Roleplaying Games (MMORPGs) such as World of Warcraft and SecondLife, and explore how the use of avatars in these games shifts not only our sense of identity but also our experience of what it means to inhabit social spaces. We look at the plethora of internet fora which provide opportunities for the like-minded to gather, and we discuss the benefits and challenges of such spaces.
Week 4: Technological Aids and the Quantified Self: Technologizing the Body
The line between human and machine is increasingly blurred through the use of ‘wearable tech’ (FitBits, for example) and scientific innovations that bring robotic solutions to physical disability.
One of the less celebrated aspects of the internet has been the increased opportunity offered by internet-enabled devices—iPhones, Siri and Google Home, for example—for surveillance and data collection, blurring private life and public property. This week we discuss how these devices are seen as simultaneously empowering and constraining the freedom of individuals.
Week 5: Alone Together: The Social Implications of Online Platforms
We explore and offer some answers to questions including: What does it mean to live a life of constant, instantaneous connection? How might we understand having hundreds of FaceBook ‘friends,’ using existing paradigms of friendship? Is what happens on internet message boards the same kind of civic engagement we experience at a local community event, and if not, what is different? In short, what is analogous about real life and digital life?
Week 6: Being our Best Selves: Who are We When We are Online?
Throughout its relatively short history, the internet and its associated technologies have consistently promised a better life for users. The terms of ‘better’ have certainly varied, including: promising democratic and instant access to information formerly restricted to libraries and elite academic institutions; libertarian cries that the internet ensures that information shall be free; and more self-directed strivings for self-invention on social media and gaming platforms. We explore the yearnings that are expressed by these initiatives and begin to critically assess how well the internet has delivered on its promises.