Media Ecologies

This class explores how media and communication have evolved in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. By emphasizing the ways that new media forms supplement, replace, and overtake preexisting forms of communication, students will learn how television, internet, and social media interact today. Additionally, students will negotiate the tensions among politics, identity, and technology, understanding the ways different media forms produce modal and communicative shifts that shape our ideas about ourselves as individuals, citizens, and collectives. By the end of the course students will have an understanding of the history of media, including how different media forms interact or displace one another, and the relation of these trends to the formation of personal identities and political categories.

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“Media Ecology looks into the matter of how media of communication affect human perception, understanding, feeling, and value; and how our interaction with media facilitates or impedes our chances of survival.”

Neil Postman

As part of this first-year writing course, students will read and write about media ecologies in multiple genres and forms using various compositional modes, encountering print, visual, oral, spatial and gestural texts to help them develop critical thinking and reading skills. By learning to analyze, synthesize, and evaluate the texts and ideas they encounter about media and culture, students will develop their writing skills and situate their written arguments in broader public and scholarly conversations by citing and summarizing the sources from which they draw. Over the course of the semester students will come to understand the written, oral, visual, electronic, and non-verbal work they do as part of a writing process that requires them to research, draft, revise, edit, and reflect on the practice of writing over time. Each assignment in the course will include a draft, revision, and reflection element, encouraging students to see their written work as part of a long-term process that will culminate in a final project.

Students will complete three major projects. The first project, asks students to to maintain a “media journal,” documenting and reflecting weekly on how they interact with news, social, and entertainment media forms. I will ask students to use the media journal as a way of expanding the scope of what they consume, prompting them to find new news and communication outlets to explore. This journal will be used in class to supplement discussions and will be collected at the end of the semester. The second project asks students to find a short video from a contemporary news show. The show may be satirical or serious, but must be produced by a major network. Possible networks include CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, CSPAN, HBO, Comedy Central, NBC, CBS, ESPN, and any other major outlet. Drawing on our first readings on television, students will be asked to analyze the ways that news shows negotiate the relations among entertainment, advertisement, and the news. Additionally, students will be asked to reflect on how the internet and social media, Facebook and YouTube specifically, have changed the format of the video segment. The final project asks students to work collaboratively to tackle the contemporary challenges and, seeming necessities, of social media. After carefully considering the different sides of the debate that frames social media use and its exigencies (fake news, loneliness, context collapse, privacy), students will propose research-based arguments about social media use.

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Learning Objectives

  1. Rhetorical Awareness. Students compose texts in multiple genres, using multiple modes with attention to rhetorical situations.
  2. Critical Thinking and Reading Resulting in Writing. As they undertake scholarly inquiry and produce their own arguments, students summarize, analyze, synthesize, and evaluate the ideas of others.
  3. Writing as Process. Students understand and practice writing as a process, recursively implementing strategies of research, drafting, revision, editing, and reflection.
  4. Students develop competence in major communication modalities (Written, Oral, Visual, Electronic, and Nonverbal) and understand that modalities work together.
  5. Perspective. Students learn that texts are not necessarily “biased,” but rather grounded in a rhetorical, cultural, and argumentative perspective.
  6. Media Ecologies. Students learn that media create a digital “eco-system” in which technology, ideas, forms of dissemination not only affect one another, but interact with how humans represent and perceive the world. (Links to an external site.)

Required Texts

Bridle, James. The New Dark Age. Verso Books, 2017.

Carr, Nicholas. The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains. Norton, 2010.

Forster, E.M. “The Machine Stops.”

Huxley, Aldous. Brave New World. Harper Perennial, 2014. 

Lainer, Jaron. Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now. Simon and Schuster, 2018.

Odell, Jenny. How to do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy. Melville House, 2019.

O’Neil, Cathy. Weapons of Math Destruction. Crown Books, 2016.

Postman, Neil. Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business. Penguin Books, 2005.