MS 51 // Introduction to Digital Media Studies // Spring 2009
MW 1.15-2.30 // Crookshank 10
F 1.15-4 // Digital Arts Lab, Rembrandt

Kathleen Fitzpatrick // Department of English // Pomona College
Crookshank 202 // x71496 // kfitzpatrick at pomona dot edu
Office hours: MW 4.15-5.30

Jason Brown // Digital Arts // Pomona College
contact info here

This course examines the digital media technologies that are at the center of much of our communication, entertainment, and social lives today, exploring both the uses of those technologies and the critical responses to them.  We’ll look at some early writing that predicts many of the technologies we take for granted today, at some of the early studies of the computer’s impact on individual identity and community, and at a number of issues surrounding the new networked communication structures we use heavily today.  Throughout the semester, you’ll both study these technologies from a critical perspective and explore them in a hands-on fashion, working both individually and in groups on a series of projects designed to further your understanding of contemporary digital technologies and their role in contemporary culture.

Please note: This is a paperless class; all of our work will be done digitally. This digital orientation will allow us the ability to take advantage of new technologies and texts as they arise throughout the semester. It also demands flexibility from all of us, in working with the changes that the technologies produce, requiring a more dynamic class experience than more established subjects do. All of which is to say that the syllabus below is of necessity a work in progress; please consult it frequently, and be sure to keep abreast of changes as they arise.


Attendance and participation (15%): See policies for more information.  Bear in mind that participation doesn’t mean simply doing the work, or simply speaking up in class, but actively working to make the class a positive learning experience for you and your fellow students.

Blogging (25%): We’re going to use a number of different technologies over the course of the semester, as a hands-on form of interaction with the computer-based communication structures we’re studying. The most important of these is our course blog, on which you’ll write frequently, using your posts to respond to our course readings, to think about the technologies we’re using, to draw your classmates’ attention to articles and artifacts you’ve found, and so forth. You are required to post at least two entries each week, one of which directly engages with the week’s readings, before the start of class on Monday; you are also required to read your classmates’ posts and leave at least two comments each week, before the start of class on Wednesday. (Note that you don’t have to post the two entries or leave the two comments at the same time; just make sure that week-to-week you get those two entries and comments in.) This weekly requirement is meant as a minimum acceptable level of participation; I hope that you’ll all contribute more, creating an ongoing, engaging dialogue.

Labs and projects (25%): Most Friday afternoons, we’ll meet in the Digital Arts lab in Rembrandt for some hands-on instruction and work with the kinds of technologies we’re studying this semester. These labs are not optional; if you must miss one, you are responsible for making up the work on your own time. (Note, too, that missing a lab counts as an absence.) Many of these labs will be devoted to working on a series of digital media projects. More information about these projects will be given over the course of the semester.

Final project (25%): Your final project in this class will ask you to work in a team of two or three to produce the meta-media object of your choice, demonstrating what you have learned both technologically and critically over the course of the semester.

Class facilitation (10%): Working in pairs, each of you will be responsible for facilitating our discussion during one class session. This should not be a long, formal presentation, though you may want to begin with a few minutes of background information to aid our discussion; rather, you should prepare questions and other materials that guide us through an engaging conversation about the day’s reading.


All policies under which my classes operate (including policies about attendance, late work, accommodations for students with documented disabilities, and the like) are available at  Please read those policies carefully, and let me know if you have any questions.


All required readings are linked below; some require a Sakai login.


Week 1: Introduction
W Jan 21 — General course introduction
F Jan 23 — Lab #1 — Introduction to the course website & other technologies

Week 2: Early theories of computer intelligence and interaction
M Jan 26 — Vannevar Bush, “As We May Think“; Alan Turing, “Computing Machinery and Intelligence
W Jan 28 — Theodor H. Nelson, “A File Structure for The Complex, The Changing, and the Indeterminate” (read and comment on the annotation system version)
F Jan 30 — Lab #2 — Introduction to web technologies

Week 3:  Early cyberculture studies
M Feb 2 — Howard Rheingold, “Daily Life in Cyberspace,” from The Virtual Community
W Feb 4 — Sherry Turkle, “Identity in the Age of the Internet” and “Aspects of the Self,” from Life on the Screen
F Feb 6 — Lab #3 — More on HTML & CSS

Week 4:  Community and governance
M Feb 9 — Julian Dibbell, “A Rape in Cyberspace
W Feb 11 — Lawrence Lessig, from Code 2.0
F Feb 13 — [no lab — family weekend]

Week 5:  Critical cyberculture studies
M Feb 16 — Lisa Nakamura, “Cybertyping and the Work of Race in the Age of Digital Reproduction,” from Cybertypes
W Feb 18 — Mahdavi Mallapragada, “An Interdisciplinary Approach to the Study of Cybercultures,” and Frank Schaap, “Disaggregation, Technology, and Masculinity,” from Critical Cyberculture Studies
F Feb 20 — Lab #4 — Audio

Week 6: New media, old media, oldnew media
M Feb 23 — Michael Joyce, Afternoon (PC version / Mac version — note: must be run in Classic mode); Matt Kirschenbaum, “Save as: Michael Joyce’s Afternoons,” from Mechanisms
W Feb 25 — Lev Manovich, “What Is New Media?,” from The Language of New Media; Lisa Gitelman, “New Media </Body>,” from Always Already New
F Feb 27 — [no lab — faculty/trustee retreat]

Week 7: Interactive fiction and game studies
M Mar 2 — Nick Montfort, “The Pleasure of the Text Adventure,” from Twisty Little Passages
W Mar 4 — Ian Bogost, “Procedural Rhetoric,” from Persuasive Games
F Mar 6 — Lab #5 — Video

Week 8: Peer-to-peer networks
M Mar 9 — Chris Anderson, “The Long Tail” (see also his blog)
W Mar 11 — Yochai Benkler, “Peer Production and Sharing” from The Wealth of Networks
F Mar 13 — [no lab — spring break]

M Mar 16 – F Mar 20 — Spring break

Week 9:  Networked structures of authority
M Mar 23 — Andrew Sullivan, “Why I Blog“; Jay Rosen, “Audience Atomization Overcome: Why the Internet Weakens the Authority of the Press“; Clay Shirky, “Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable
W Mar 25 — Stacy Schiff, “Know It All“; Marshall Poe, “The Hive
F Mar 27 — [no lab — Cesar Chavez day]

Week 10:  Ownership
M Mar 30 — Shane Ham and Robert D. Atkinson, “Napster and Online Piracy,” Charles W. Bailey, Jr., “Strong Copyright + DRM + Weak Net Neutrality = Digital Dystopia?
W Apr 1 — Tim Wu, “Does YouTube Really Have Legal Problems?,” Matt Zoller Seitz, “Copy Rites: YouTube vs. Kevin B. Lee
F Apr 3 — [lab cancelled — JB & KF out of town]

Week 11:  Social networking systems
M Apr 6 — Pew Internet & American Life Project, “Social Networking Websites and Teens,” danah boyd, “Facebook’s Privacy Trainwreck,” and Clive Thompson, “Brave New World of Digital Intimacy
W Apr 8 — Pew Internet & American Life Project, “Adults and Social Network Websites,” Jarred Taylor, “Is FriendFeed Doomed?,” Michael Arrington, “FriendFeed, the Centralized Me, and Data Portability
F Apr 10 — Lab #6 — Sophie

Week 12:  Fan cultures and fan production
M Apr 13 — Henry Jenkins, “Quentin Tarantino’s Star Wars?: Digital Cinema, Media Convergence, and Participatory Culture” and “Why Heather Can Write
W Apr 15 — Sharon Cumberland, “Private Uses of Cyberspace: Women, Desire, and Fan Culture” ; also, read around in the journal Transformative Works and Cultures, Volume 1
F Apr 17 — Lab #7 — More Sophie; begin final project

Week 13:  New(ish) forms
M Apr 20 — Machinima: The Machinima FAQ, The X-Box Auteurs, This Spartan Life, Red vs. Blue
W Apr 22 — Second Life: deWinter and Vie, “Press Enter to ‘Say’: Using Second Life to Teach Critical Media Literacy“; Alexandra Alter, “Is This Man Cheating on His Wife?“; Steven E. Jones, “Second Life, Video Games, and the Social Text
F Apr 24 — Lab #8 — Final project work session

Week 14:  Your topics
M Apr 27 – W Apr 29 — your readings:
Memes — Bill Wasik, “My Crowd“; #amazonfail, reading 1, 2, 3, 4; Boyle-mania, reading 1, 2; monetizing memes: Farhad Manjoo, “I Can Has Internet Millions?
Evolution of web design — reading 1, 2
F May 1 — Lab #9 — Final project work session

Week 15:  Project presentations
M May 4 — Final project presentations
W May 6 — Final project presentations and conclusions