Communication 349 -- Media Technologies

(cross-listed as S&TS 349 and INFO 349)

Prof. Tarleton Gillespie
Spring 2007

Tues+Thurs 1:25 - 2:40pm
Rockefeller 104

office hours: Fri. 11:30-1:30pm, 315 Kennedy



From the first attempts at pressing symbols into clay, to the latest software available on the Net, our efforts to communicate, share our culture, and drive social agendas have depended on the tools we've developed for getting our ideas to others. However, our commonplace notions of communication and media regularly overlook the role of the material technologies that are so crucial to them. Yet our beliefs as to how and why we communicate have shaped the technologies we design; in turn, those technologies have shaped our efforts to communicate, and the consequences of those efforts. This course will consider the technologies of media (including printing, photography, film, telegraph, telephone, radio, television, and computer networks) as an opportunity to think about the intersection of technology and its social context.



The most important assignment is to complete all of the reading assigned. I cannot stress this enough; comprehension of the arguments is crucial to your success in this course. This is not graded directly, but will affect everything else you do in the class. Participation is also crucial. This course is designed to be a seminar, so I expect you to attend every class and help further the discussion. (10%) We will also develop an ongoing discussion in Blackboard; you will need to contribute to it regularly and thoughtfully. Part of your grade includes at least one substantive post every week. (10%)

There will be an exercise due in Week 3 in which you will take apart a media technology and write about your experience. (10%) There will also be two papers in the second half of the semester that require you to respond to a specific question, grapple with the course readings, and take a position on an issue relevant to the course. (20% each)

The final project requires you to comment on a particular media technology, using that technology. More details will be provided in class, and you will have plenty of opportunity with me and in class to brainstorm about how to accomplish this. A project proposal is due in the second-to-last week of classes; it is not graded, but your project grade will drop one full letter if this proposal does not come in. The project itself will be due during exam week. (30%)



One book is required for this course; it is available for purchase at the Cornell Bookstore, and is on reserve at Olin Library:

Paul Starr, The Creation of the Media (2004)
The remainder of the readings are available online or through Blackboard and the CU library.





From the Cornell "Code of Academic Integrity":

Absolute integrity is expected of every Cornell student in all academic undertakings. Integrity entails a firm adherence to a set of values, and the values most essential to an academic community are grounded on the concept of honesty with respect to the intellectual efforts of oneself and others. Academic integrity is expected not only in formal coursework situations, but in all University relationships and interactions connected to the educational process, including the use of University resources. While both students and faculty of Cornell assume the responsibility of maintaining and furthering these values, this document is concerned specifically with the conduct of students.

A Cornell student's submission of work for academic credit indicates that the work is the student's own. All outside assistance should be acknowledged, and the student's academic position truthfully reported at all times. In addition, Cornell students have a right to expect academic integrity from each of their peers.

The full text of the Code of Academic Integrity can be found online at





JAN 23: introduction to the class and its concerns

JAN 25: media technology and its relationship to society
Merritt Roe Smith, "Technological Determinism in American Culture" in Smith and Marx eds., Does Technology Drive History? The Dilemma of Technological Determinism, (1-35)
     [[ available through Cornell library catalog ]]
Roger Silverstone, Television and Everyday Life, Ch 4
     [[ focus on pages 78-88, 97-103 ]]


how to think about technology and society

JAN 30: print and culture
Elizabeth Eisenstein, The Printing Revolution in Early Modern Europe, Ch 3

FEB 1: print culture
Adrian Johns, The Nature of the Book, part of Chs 1 + 2 (1=6, 58-108)
     [[ available as an e-book through Cornell library catalog ]]

FEB 6: the material character of books
reminder: meet at Special Collections in Olin Library

Alberto Manguel, A History of Reading, Ch 9

FEB 8: inside technology... literally
"take it apart" assignment due


the history, constitution, and consequences of media technologies


colonial origins of U.S. media
how are technologies politically constituted?
how do technologies become infrastructure?

FEB 13
STARR: intro [1-22]
Weibe Bijker, "Social Construction of Technology"

FEB 15
STARR: Ch 2 and part of Ch 3 [47-94]


do technologies have politics?
how does the role of the user get established?

FEB 20
Langdon Winner, "Do Artifacts Have Politics?"
Richard Dyer, White, excerpt from Ch 3 (82-103)

FEB 22
Reese Jenkins, "Technology and the Market: George Eastman and the Origins of Mass Amateur Photography"


how must designers articulate their technologies?
how do media technologies struggle with "mass"ness?

FEB 27
STARR: Ch 9 [295-326]
W. Bernard Carlson, "Artifacts and Frames of Meaning: Thomas A. Edison, His Managers, and the Cultural Construction of Motion Pictures" in Bijker and Law, eds., Shaping Technology / Building Society
     [[ available as an e-book through Cornell library catalog ]]

and, explore ONE of the following websites:
     De Visualisering van Het Lichaam: Marey and Muybridge           [[ first picture in the series -- click the right arrow to proceed ]]
     Origin of American Animation
     Edison Motion Pictures

Lee Grieveson, Policing Cinema : Movies and Censorship in Early-Twentieth-Century America, Ch 1
     [[ available as an e-book through Cornell library catalog ]]


how do users shape technologies?
how do design decisions get entrenched?

Nelly Oudshoorn and Trevor Pinch, "Introduction: How Users and Non-Users Matter," How Users Matter
     [[ just read pages 1-16 ]]
STARR: Ch 10 + part of Ch 11 [327-363]
Susan Douglas, Inventing American Broadcasting, 1899-1922, Ch 6
     [[ available as an e-book through Cornell library catalog ]]

Susan Douglas, Inventing American Broadcasting, 1899-1922, Ch 8
     [[ available as an e-book through Cornell library catalog ]]


how are technologies shaped by how they''e sold?
how do technologies emerge from particular sociocultural contexts?

MAR 13
Ruth Schwartz Cowan, "The Consumption Junction: A Proposal for Research Strategies in the Sociology of Technology," in Bijker, Hughes, and Pinch, eds., The Social Construction of Technological Systems
     [[ available as an e-book through Cornell library catalog ]]
Lynn Spigel, Make Room for TV, Ch 2 (36-72)

MAR 15
paper due

Roger Silverstone, Television and Everyday Life, Ch 3


spring break



The Internet
how are technologies really always technological systems?
how do the politics of design shape the technology produced?
how are technologies governed, and how do they govern?
how does the way technologies get characterized affect the rules we impose on them?

MAR 27
Thomas Hughes, "The Evolution of Large Technological Systems" in Bijker, Hughes, and Pinch, eds., The Social Construction of Technological Systems
     [[ available as an e-book through Cornell library catalog ]]
National Research Council, The Digital Dilemma, Appendix C
Janet Abbate, Inventing the Internet, Ch 1
     [[ available as an e-book through Cornell library catalog ]]

MAR 29
Fred Turner, From Counterculture to Cyberculture, Introduction and Ch 7

reminder: meet outside 4145 Upson

Peter Lyman, "Information Superhighways, Virtual Communities, and Digital Libraries: Information Society Metaphors as Political Rhetoric" in Sturken, Thomas, and Ball-Rokeach, eds., Technological Visions: The Hopes and Fears That Shape New Technologies

Lawrence Lessig, Code v2.0, Ch 5: Regulating Code and Ch 7: What things Regulate
          (or download the whole book)
John Palfrey and Robert Rogoyski, "The Move to the Middle: The Enduring Threat of "Harmful" Speech to Network Neutrality"


cases: do (new) media technologies affect our representations of the world?

APR 10: digital cameras / cameraphones / Photoshop... living in a world of images?
Aaron Weiss, "Spying on Ourselves," netWorker
Dan Gillmor, "Picture This," CIO Insight
William J. Mitchell, "How to Do Things with Pictures"
Farhad Manjoo, "A Picture Is No Longer Worth a Thousand Words" Salon (April 22, 2004)

APR 12: online avatars / Facebook / MySpace... how do we represent ourselves online?
T. L. Taylor, "Living Digitally: Embodiment in Virtual Worlds"
Danah Boyd, "Identity Production in a Networked Culture: Why Youth Heart MySpace"

APR 17: animation / special effects / CGI... how is fantasy technologically shaped?
Stephen Prince, "True Lies: Perceptual Realism, Digital Images, and Film Theory"
Lev Manovich, "Image Future"


cases: do (new) media technologies change our participation in that world?

APR 19: blogs / YouTube / podcasting... who participates, and with what consequences?
paper due

Henry Jenkins, Convergence Culture, "Quentin Tarantino's Star Wars? Grassroots Creativity Meets the Media Industry"
J. D. Lasica, "When Webloggers Commit Journalism"
Cass Sunstein, "The Daily We," Boston Review (Summer 2001)

APR 24: Google / RSS / what appears, and according to what criteria?
Lucas Introna and Helen Nissenbaum, "Defining the Web: The Politics of Search Engines"
Ellyssa Kroski, "The Hive Mind: Folksonomies and User-Based Tagging"

APR 26: Wikipedia / open source / Slashdot... what if we design for collaboration?
project proposal due

Wikipedia, "Wikipedia" and "Criticism of Wikipedia"
Clay Shirky, "Social Software and the Politics of Groups"

MAY 1: digital music / MP3, Peer-to-peer / DC++... what if we design for circulation?
National Research Council, The Digital Dilemma, Ch 1 (23-75)
Jonathan Sterne, "MP3 as a Cultural Artifact"
Siva Vaidhyanathan, The Anarchist in the Library, Chs 2+4

MAY 3: digital rights management... what if we design for control?

Mark Stefik, "Trusted Systems" Scientific American (March 1997)
Pamela Samuelson, "DRM {and, or, vs.} the Law" Matt McKenzie, "Vista and More: Piecing Together Microsoft's DRM Puzzle," Computer World (November 15, 2006)


final projects due during exam week