Image: “Clouds” by Mattias
Cyberspace consists of transactions, relationships, and thought itself, arrayed like a standing wave in the web of our communications. Ours is a world that is both everywhere and nowhere, but it is not where bodies live.
We are creating a world that all may enter without privilege or prejudice accorded by race, economic power, military force, or station of birth.
We are creating a world where anyone, anywhere may express his or her beliefs, no matter how singular, without fear of being coerced into silence or conformity.
Your legal concepts of property, expression, identity, movement, and context do not apply to us. They are all based on matter, and there is no matter here.
— John Perry Barlow, “A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace” (1996)
There is no matter in cyberspace. Because the Internet is without body, matter, or place, we can start afresh in a world unmarked by race, sex, or class. There is no limit on Internet space or time, so we need not concern ourselves with the distribution of its resources. The Internet is everywhere and nowhere, its denizens liberated from the identities that confine them in meatspace.
Or so the story goes. In fact, digital information exists in very real time and space, and rhetoric like John Perry Barlow’s, which evokes a placeless and timeless immateriality, masks some distressing ground truths about the allocation of space, property, and labor. Just out of our sight, hulking server farms eat up mammoth amounts of power, huge satellite arrays feed our information addiction, and ropes of wire coil under the streets and beneath the ocean. Farther afield, people comb through our discarded technology to reclaim precious metals even as workers in great factory-cities churn out new iPhones.
As a corrective to Barlow’s placeless Internet, we will plot the transmission and storage of information in space and time, showing how its material manifestations can be seen, touched, and felt by real people in real places. We will use Los Angeles as a critical node, showing how the tendrils of the Internet converge here in physical space. We will see that, far from the utopian non-space of Barlow’s vision, the Internet and its attendant technology are very physical phenomena that manifest themselves in real space and time.
Policies and Assignments
Weekly blog posts: 20%
Device narrative: 40%
Final exam: 25%
Weekly blog posts
You are required to post 400-word weekly blog posts by classtime on Tuesday. Your posts should adhere to the following format:
- An image or link to a primary source (defined as a document that “provide[s] first-hand testimony or direct evidence concerning a topic under investigation”) related to the readings for the week.
- An explanation of what the source is and how it relates to the reading. Does it illuminate the phenomenon described in the reading, extend the argument of the reading, or challenge the argument? Why?
In addition to your blog post, you will post two comments in response to your classmates’ blog posts by classtime on Thursday.
Using techniques and technology that we will explore together, you will work in groups to create a multimedia essay that tells the story of an electronic device, including its
- Cultural importance
- Corporate ownership
- Supply chain
The details of this assignment are available here.
In order to help you focus your reading and to serve as a mnemonic device, I have provided key terms for each week of class. Your final exam will consist of a selection of these terms, which you will be asked to define. Please note that the definition I will request is not the dictionary definition of the term, but an elucidation of the term as we have used it in the context of the class: in our discussions, in our readings, and in our project work. You will be expected to cite relevant authors (though not exact quotes or page numbers) as well as class discussions.
In order to help you to share ideas on these terms, I have created a group Google doc, called “Class Glossary,” on which I invite you to gather your notes, thoughts, and links on each of these terms. This is your document, and you’re welcome to use it as you wish.
- Late work is not accepted without prior written permission from me.
- You are permitted two absences, for whatever reason. After that, your participation grade will be docked by 10% per absence.
- You are always welcome to meet with me to discuss any aspect of the class. Please book an appointment here.
In the spirit of Universal Design for Learning, I will strive to provide an environment that is equitable and conducive to achievement and learning for all students. I ask that we all be respectful of diverse opinions and of all class members, regardless of personal attribute. I encourage persons with disabilities or particular needs that impact on performance to meet with me to co-design accommodations, if necessary. I ask that we all use inclusive language in written and oral work. Students with disabilities should also register with the Office for Students with Disabilities (http://www.osd.ucla.edu).
A Note on Email
I enjoy corresponding with you, and I strive to respond to emails within 48 hours. However, I regret that I cannot answer email after 5:00 p.m. or on weekends. Please plan accordingly. This class has many moving parts, and from time to time, I’ll need to get in touch with you about assignments or due dates. Thus, I expect you to check the email account associated with your MyUCLA profile each weekday.