Spring 2017

STS 3561 - Computing Cultures

InstructorsProf. Malte Ziewitz, TA Jeffrey Mathias
TimeTuesday/Thursday, 1.25-2.40pm
LocationMcGraw Hall 165
Cross-listed asINFO 3561, VISST 3560, COMM 3560, ANTH 3061
Photo of large-scale human tabulating operation
Large-scale tabulating operation (Source: Computer History Museum)

Computers are powerful tools for working, playing, thinking, and living. Laptops, PDAs, webcams, cell phones, and iPods surround us. They are not just devices. They also provide narratives, metaphors, and ways of seeing the world. Computers have a long history in the workplace but, in the last 20 years, they have also become inextricably bound up in all aspects of our everyday lives. This generation of college students is the first for whom instant messaging, mobile phones, and on-line networking are a normal and an essential part of social life. How are the lives of people in the United States and elsewhere changing, for better and for worse, with these technologies? What cultural trends and political forces do they embody? And how could we design, engage, use, or not use them in ways that improve our lives and our societies?

In this course, we critically examine how computing technology and culture shape each other. We identify how computers, networks, and information technologies reproduce, reinforce, and rework historical trends, norms, and values. We look at the values embodied in the cultures of computing and consider alternative ways to imagine, build, and work with information technologies.

Learning objectives

Upon completion of this course, you will be able to:
  1. Analyze how computing both reshapes and reinforces historical, cultural, political context,
  2. Use concepts and ideas from Science & Technology Studies (STS), Sociology, and Anthropology to do so,
  3. Challenge widespread assumptions about computing and develop fresh, alternative views,
  4. Construct compelling arguments in writing and conversation.
The course does not provide a comprehensive overview of every area of computing and culture. Instead, our goal is to hone our analytic skills by engaging with a small number of trends in depth.

Prerequisites

No specific coursework is required. Since this is a 3000-level course, you should be able to read challenging texts carefully and critically and to write effective, coherent arguments. No prior experience with computers is expected, aside from everyday use of consumer technologies.

Questions about this course

Please email the instructor, Prof. Malte Ziewitz, at mcz35@cornell.edu.