It can be easy to think that technology is just impersonal nuts and bolts or ones and zeroes—that it is disconnected from the “real” world of human beings. But this class will explore the ways that our technologies—from bicycles to highways to computers—are intimately connected to human dynamics and social systems. Scholars in a variety of academic fields have investigated how technologies influence society, and how society influences technology. In this class, we will think about how people create communities around particular technologies, how using technologies influences how we see ourselves, and how we experience our social lives. The course will draw from both popular and scholarly articles, podcasts, and film/video content. Students will complete assignments that draw on the possibilities of new communications technologies. In addition, students will gain a greater appreciation for the ways that social values and dynamics shape the technologies they use every day.

This course is designed for upper-division undergraduates, at the 300 or 400-level.

Header image description: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg walks up the aisle of a conference audience, all of whom are wearing virtual reality headsets.

Sample Course Schedule:

WeekTopicSample Reading
1IntroductionLe Guin, “A Rant about ‘technology’”
Williams “Technology” in Keywords: A Vocabulary of Society and Culture
2Identity: makersSubramanian, Ghost Stories for Darwin (excerpt)
Harrison, “Five Years of Diversity Reports – and little Progress
The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley
3Identity: usersNakamura, Digitizing Race (excerpt)
Hallenbeck, Claiming the Bicycle (excerpt)
4Relationships: IntimateLedbetter, “Communication Technology and Interpersonal Relationships
Schwartz Cowen, “The Industrial Revolution in the Home
5Relationships: ImpersonalTurkle, Alone Together (excerpt)
Zuckerman, “New Media, New Civics?
6Infrastructure(s)Winner, “Do Artifacts Have Politics?
Noble, Algorithms of Oppression (excerpt)
7Work and LaborSuchman, “Working Relations of Technology Production and Use
Benenav, Automation and the Future of Work (excerpt)
8Midterm Check-InReview, Topics TBD based on student interest
Final Project Assignment Overview: “Starting your podcast: A Guide for Students
9EntertainmentHandlin, “Science, Technology, and Popular Culture” 
Sims, “Silicon Valley’s Brutally Funny Indictment of the Tech Industry
Raferty, “How The Matrix Built a Bullet-Proof Legacy
10CultureGreenfield, Radical Technologies (excerpt)
Coleman. “Hacker Politics and Publics
Haraway, “A Cyborg Manifesto
11Ethics: makersCostanza-Chock, “Notes on Design Justice
Hill, Molitor, & Ortiz, “Equity Design Collaborative
12Ethics: usersBerry, “Why I’m not going to buy a computer
O’Shea,Future Histories (excerpt)
13PolicyDevich-Cyril “Defund Facial Recognition
Cozzens, “Distributive Justice in Science and Technology Policies.”
14ActivismWhat can Civic Tech Learn from Social Movements?” (Omidyar Network)
Curb Cuts” (99% Invisible podcast)
15-16Final Project: Podcast EpisodeStudents will create a 15-minute podcast episode that explains the social context and social impact(s) of a current or historic technology. We will use similar podcasts such as The Anthropocene Reviewed, 99% Invisible, and Reply All as exemplars.

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