Machines as Media

Letter or Credit/No Credit

Technological change has always been surrounded by two competing narratives: that of opportunity and human flourishing, versus that of displacement and alienation. This course explores the idea that machines themselves are media in terms of which people - to use the words of James Carey - represent, maintain, adapt, and share their hopes and fears about the world. By the end of the course, students will have developed a vocabulary for thinking about technology's role in the ways that people have made sense of utopia and dystopia. Readings will include a mix of theory and historical case studies. From the first category, possible authors include Jacques Ellul, Leo Marx, Norman O. Brown, Martin Heidegger, Walter Benjamin, and Jessica Riskin. From the second category, possible topics include 18th-century automata, the English and French Luddite movements, the American Machine Breakers movement, Taylorism and technocracy. Note: preparation and participation in discussion are the primary course requirements. Enrollment at 3 units requires a short final paper, while a more substantial paper is required at 4 units.