The syllabus is really long, so I’m going to highlight a few concepts and weeks I particularly liked.
I began the class by situating social media within a historical continuum.
While they could pick from ten, the students overwhelmingly picked one of these two: The “picture creeper” assignment came from a discussion we had in class about when it was acceptable to comment on people’s Facebook information.
(Being from a different generation than my students, I often learned about appropriate online etiquette and new apps from them.) The responses to this assignment were fascinating.
In general, Tumblr’s integration with other internet sites made it a good fit for the class, and the students posted lots of pictures, videos, and audio files in addition to plain old text posts.
I gave the class a blog assignment about once a week, which helped them apply the theoretical concepts to sites they knew and used, and gave them lots of practice using Tumblr.
The title of Standage’s book makes clear the parallel between the two technologies, and the colorful stories about cheaters and lonely hearts places social media within a much more understandable history of human interaction and emotion than stand-alone ‘cyberspace.’ I assigned two pieces: Donald Norman’s chapter on “The Psychopathy of Everyday Things,” which takes a very pragmatic, design-oriented standpoint to various poorly-designed objects with lots of pictures and illustrations.
Norman clearly explains the concept of an affordance, and we spent a lot of time in class talking about the difference between what an object or technological feature is intended to do, and what people use it for.
(I also assigned Latour’s “Where are the Missing Masses?
”, a classic piece of STS theory dealing with affordances, and it was way over the head of my undergrads.) The goal here was to give students a way to interpret technical functionality without falling into determinism, that is, being able to understand what Facebook’s privacy settings afford rather than presuming that the availability of a feature determines how it is used.