Media, Technology, and Society
This course will introduce you to a range of theories, and approaches pertaining to the study of technology, drawing on disciplines including anthropology, history, sociology, philosophy, and media studies. Through readings, class discussion, films, and written projects, we will think critically and creatively about the ways in which technology and technological change shapes, mediates, and transforms cultural values, political systems of power, and our experiences of time, work, personhood, and embodiment.
Data and the Self
From the NSA scandal to Facebook’s controversial “mood experiment,” the past decade has seen heated debate over the ways that governments and corporations collect data on citizens and consumers, the ends to which they use it, and the threat this poses to civil liberties. Yet even as this debate unfolds, the public increasingly embraces technologies of self-tracking, using sensor-laden wristbands and smartphone apps to monitor, analyze, and adjust their own bodies, moods, and everyday habits. In this senior media seminar we will explore a range of practices and products through which individuals “datify” themselves while data, in turn, intimately shapes their experience, identity, and life chances. We will consider such examples as the Quantified Self community, mass-market “digital health” apps, and wearable technology for lifestyle management; occasionally, we will reflect back on pre-digital precursors such as diary writing, dieting, and early forms of self-experimentation. What does contemporary self-tracking reveal about changing cultural values, political contexts, and understandings of the self?
Neuroscience and Society
In 2008, the popular online magazine Slate devoted a series of articles to “the state of neuro-‐ culture,” tracking “how laboratory research on the brain makes its way into our everyday lives.” In recent decades, research in the field of neuroscience has spilled into the national media on a daily basis, suggesting new interventions and applications in social domains such as law, education, and economics, and challenging us to redefine our understandings of responsibility, choice, and what it is to be human. What are the ethical, legal, social, and policy implications of emerging neuroscience? How does neuroscience reflect social attitudes and agendas, and how, in turn, does it reshape those attitudes and agendas? To begin to answer these questions, the course will consider topics such as brain imaging and the popular media; the neuroscience of moral reasoning, empathy, and trust; the new fields of neuroeconomics and neuromarketing; the ethical implications of neurotechnologies such as cognitive enhancement pharmaceuticals; neuroscience in the courtroom; and the neuroscientific recasting of social problems such as addiction and violence. Guest lectures by researchers in the brain sciences, class discussion, and weekly readings that draw from science studies, popular media, and neuroscientific research.