Fall 2009, Tuesdays 6:00 PM - 8:30 PM
Smith Warehouse, Bay 12, Room 101

Timothy Lenoir
Kimberly J. Jenkins Chair in
New Technologies & Society
lenoir A-T duke D-O-T edu
Smith Warehouse Bay 11 Rm. A231
919-668-1952 (office)
Office hours: TBD
Course email list: TBD

Patrick Herron
Research Analyst/Technologist
Jenkins Collaboratory
patrick D-O-T h A-T duke D-O-T edu
Smith Warehouse Bay 11 Room A-232
919-668-0276 (office)
Office hours: By appointment


Coursework and Requirements

This class is intended for heavy reading and interaction with media. We will ask students to make presentations based on the course material. We would like you to bring in additional perspectives on the material listed in the syllabus, but aimed at focusing our discussion for the day. Ideally we would like this material to be developed into an interactive website available to the other members of the class. Presentations will begin at the fourth class meeting in order to give you time to work up something interesting.

Each student will also be required to produce a term project. The project can be in the form of a 15 page term paper, or a design sketch of a digital media piece, with commentary. You may work together with a partner on the course project. In the fifth week of the term, i.e. September 21, we'll ask you to turn in a one-page outline of your proposed term project so we can offer feedback. We'll expect you to meet with us during office hours so we can help shape your project into something you can complete in a reasonable time. The projects will be due at the end of the semester in time for us to host a "project fair" during finals week.

We will discuss possible term projects as we get into the semester, but below are a few ideas of the sorts of things you might contemplate.

Ideas for Term Projects

A. Study an artifact (traditional paper format is fine, but think about how to cite non-print artifacts) --

  1. Contrast the UNIX, LINUX or DOS shell with the Mac or Windows interfaces (of different vintages, such as Windows versus Windows XP, or Mac versus OS-X. What ontologies are implied? What is the status of the subject, the witness, the body?

  2. Examine an existing piece of VR, such as:

    • SecondLife (link)
    • The Sims, or Sims2--Nightlife (link)
    • Everquest (link)
    • America’s Army: Operations (link)

    Compare it with traditional virtualities (e.g., Crusoe, the debit card). How is it authored? How is it received, read, experienced?

  3. McLuhan says that the medium is the message, but maybe the message of online text is that the natural medium for large masses of text is paper. Current computer interfaces are not well-suited for intense readings of book-sized assemblies of text (but some readers, such as the Kindle are getting pretty good). But there are people (at The MIT Media Lab, for instance, or at the topological media lab in Montreal) who are playing with small fragments of dynamic text for poetic and other purposes. We see dynamic typography in TV ads. A topic for a creative or analytic project could be dynamic typography. Check out the work at the MIT Media Lab and several other projects at the Thought Shop.

B. Do a creative piece --

Using a computational authoring system of your choice, such as any HTML editor,

    • MoveableType
    • Macromedia Flash -- animation editor
    • Your iPod
    • MAX -- MIDI music composition
    • Machinimation - videogame editing/movie tool

create a piece of fiction, or a simulation, or a visualization. Compare it with more traditional writing technologies. How might your creation be different? One good way to do this project might be to create alternate treatments of a given theme in different "media," e.g. a photo essay vs. a hypertext.

C. Write an analytic work (traditional paper format is fine) --

  1. Does a nonlinear system of writing shape the way we think about or experience the world differently than linear systems of writing? What does linearity mean to you in this context? Choose some examples from recent technologies (e.g., word processor or musical score editor) and pre-computer technologies.

  2. Trace the evolution of the notion, role and locus of the subject in some recent technologies. Consider, for example, what ubiquitous computing, or embedded cognition might imply.

  3. Read Jaron Lanier's comments about post-symbolic communication. Is it possible? What are some reasons to believe or disbelieve his claims?

  4. Compare a pictographic/ideographic writing system (like Egyptian hieroglyphics, or Chinese) with a phonetic writing system like English. Speculate on the evolution of graphical user interfaces. Why are computer interfaces so ocularcentric? (See A1.)