English 482 -- Click to agree: Communicating in the digital age

Dennis Baron

Fall 2015

Tu Th 12:30 - 1:45 p,m.
119 English
office: 251 English
office hours: T Th 11:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m., and by appointment

office phone: 217-305-0067
email me

There is no doubt that the digital revolution has penetrated every aspect of our communication processes. Most of us do all of our writing on keyboards and much of our talking takes place on a cell phone, although most people prefer text to talk.

These changes in our reading, writing and talking practices have inspired both enthusiasm and fear. Computers are praised as tools for democratizing information and liberating the oppressed, for leveling class and gender distinctions, for expanding the frontiers of knowledge and bringing both enlightenment and a better life to everyone. Yet they are also condemned as vehicles for controlling information flow, restricting access to knowledge, subjugating the world's oppressed, increasing the gap between the haves and have-nots, spreading lies, fraud and disinformation, and condemning us all to a life of ignorance and carpal tunnel syndrome. . .  read more

Attendance: This is a discussion course. Your informed presence is essential. Excessive absence and poor preparation (in other words, failure to read the assignments in time for class discussion) will affect your final grade.

Plagiarism: The digital revolution may be changing how we think of intellectual property (we'll look at this issue in detail in this course), but even digitally-enabled academic culture requires us to acknowledge all of our sources and to do our own work. 

Term project assignment

Reading: All readings will be available online.

Grading: Writing on clay (10%); term project (40%); presentation (15%); final essay (25%), participation (10%; attendance is not participation).

Read The Web of Language: it's the go-to site for language in the news; bookmark the Web of Language in your browser or newsfeed.


Week 1 We have always depended on the kindness of technology

Tu Aug 25: Have you tried turning it off and turning it on again?

Naomi Baron: The case against e-readers: Why reading paper books is better for your mind.

Read: Excerpt from Tim Wu, The Master Switch

Watch: Medieval help desk

Watch: Experience the power of a bookbook™

Watch: Typewriter accessory for the iPad:

When the typewriter was new:

Remington typewriter 1875

This ad for a Remington "type-writer" appeared in the Nation in 1875. It is pitched as the next big thing, a substitute for the drudgery of the pen, and a boon to women.

Th Aug 27: Writing it down

This just in: PEW report on mobile phone etiquette

Is this ban on "text walking" in a Wellfleet art gallery censorship, or jiust good sense?

Smart phones don't make us dumb.

In the Phaedrus, Socrates warns against writing because it will destroy memory, but we remember what he said because Plato wrote it down. Was Socrates right? Do new technologies destroy our ability to use older ones?

Read: Baron, "Preface"
Baron, “Writing it down.”
excerpt from the Phaedrus

Writing it down slides

Week 2 The difference between speaking and writing

Tu Sep 1: Theories of literacy.

We privilege the written word, but often for the wrong reasons. Are there cognitive differences between speech and writing? Does writing convey advantages that speech doesn't? Is the common distinction between oral and literate societies really appropriate?

Read: Olson, "Demythologizing Literacy." (From The World on Paper, Cambridge Univ. Press, 1996).

Speech is older than writing, yet we tend to think of writing now as more important, more permanent, and more valid than speech. How did this strange situation come to be? How do technologies of communication spread through a society? How do we learn to trust the technologies and the texts that they produce? How do we adopt and adapt those technologies to our communication needs? How does a technology move from interesting curiosity to something that we can't do without? Is the computer unique in this regard, or just one of many such inventions?

Excerpt from Lévi-Strauss, Tristes tropiques: "A Writing Lesson." (1957)

Th Sep 3: Writing on clay: a messy workshop experience.

Note: A short paper on the writing on clay exercise is due at the start of the next class.

Week 3 Coming to terms with old and new technologies

Tu Sep 8 Writing about writing on clay essay due today.

Discussion: What working with an old technology tells us about the new technologies.

Th Sep 10 Why do we fear new technologies?

Read Baron, “TeknoFear”
Crain, "Twilight of the Books"

Week 4 The promise of the new technology

Tu Sep 15 The pencil as technology: it's got no batteries, no moving parts, but don't try to make one at home.

Read: Baron, "Thoreau's pencil"
Bill Henderson, "No E-Mail from Walden"

Th Sep 17 The dawning age of the computer

Read: Friedrich, “The PC – Time Magazine’s Machine of the Year.”
Roszak, “Shakespeare never lost a manuscript to a computer crash”

Baron, "When WordStar was king."

Week 5 Trusting the text

Tu Sep 22: Counterfeit, plagiary and fraud are everywhere, but we can't even.

Read: Baron, "Trusting the text."

Th Sep 24: The new digital genres

Read Baron, "Writing on screen."

:) when you say that, pardner: Email and the urbanizing of the electronic frontier

Week 6 The impact of technology on reading and authorship

Tu Sep 29: The death of the book?

In 1494 Johannes Trithemius, Abbott of Sponheim, wrote that the copying of manuscripts was superior to printing:

The word written on parchment will last a thousand years. The printed word is on paper. How long will it last? The most you can expect a book of paper to survive is two hundred years. Yet, there are many who think they can entrust their works to paper. Only time will tell.

Yes, many books are now available in print but no matter how many books will be printed, there will always be some left unprinted and worth copying. . . . The devoted scribe. . . will guarantee permanence to useful printed books by copying them. Otherwise they would not last long. His labor will render mediocre books better, worthless ones more valuable, and perishable ones more lasting. . . . He is by no means defeated by the printer; he must not cease copying just because the art of printing has been invented.

Printed books will never be the equivalent of handwritten codices, especially since printed books are often deficient in spelling and appearance. . . . Copying by hand involves more diligence and industry.

[In praise of scribes, Ch. 7] With no sense of irony, Trithemius recognized that the new technology of print could reach a wider audience, so he had his essay about copying by hand printed on a press.

Read: Kevin Kelly, "Scan this book!"
John Updike, "The end of authorship."

Anthony Grafton "Onward and upward with the arts."

Geoffrey Nunberg critiques the Google Book Project: "Google's Book Search: A disaster for scholars."

Grafton speaks at the Chicago Humanities Festival on the "Past, Present, and Future of the Book" (listen to the podcast).

Th Oct 1: Text in the age of digital reproduction

Read: Walter Benjamin, "Art in the age of mechanical reproduction."

Week 7 Redefining authorship

Tu Oct 6: Should everybody write?

Read: Baron, Everyone's an author

Baron, Should everybody write?

Th Oct 8: "There has always been too much to read . . ."

Geoffrey Nunberg: "Farewell to the Information Age."

Week 8: The internet of race, class, gender

Tu Oct 13: Gender and the internet

PIew Internet Project: How Women and Men Use the Internet

Laurie Penny, Cybersexism

Astra Taylor: "The Internet’s destructive gender gap: Why the Web can’t abandon its misogyny."

Hargittai and Shafer, "Differences in Actual and Perceived Online Skills: The Role of Gender"

David Bamman, Jacob Eisenstein, and Tyler Schnoebelen, "Gender in Twitter: Styles, Stances, and Sociall Networks"

InfoTech sexism in the news recently:

Gamergate 1: Wu

Gamergate 2: Quinn

Gender discrimination in tech Lawsuit

Technology's Man Problem

Th Oct 15: Race and place

Read: excerpt from Jessie Daniels, Cyber racism: White supremacy online, chapters 9 and 10.

British law on hate speech and online threats:

incitement to racial hatred


French law on hate speech and online threats

Reporting online hate speech and other banned speech (this site is in French)

The European Union:

European Convention on Human Rights

EU Hate speech laws

EU Fact sheet on hate speech

Week 9:

Tu Oct 20: Social class and the internet

PEW Internet and American Life surveys on social class, income, and digital use, and those who choose to remain offline.

Read: the Global digital divide

Digital Divide

Th Oct 22: The digital revolution and the schools

Read: Cuban, "Oversold and underused."

Todd Oppenheimer, The Computer Delusion

PEW, "Digital Disconnect"

Week 10

Tu Oct 27: Another network -- from wired phone to smart phone

Read: Baron, Cell phone scenarios

PEW Report on US Smartphone use, 2015

PEW Report on Mobile etiquette

Th Oct 29: The social implications of social media

PEW report on the Net and social ties

PEW report on Internet users

Presentation: Jason Hameister, Mariclare Touhy

Week 11 SocialNets

Tu Nov 3: The revolutionary power of social media?

Read: #twitterrevolution: destabilizing the world 140 characters at a time

Join or die or follow us on Twitter

and here are the slides.

Excerpt from Castells, Networks of outrage and hope.

Presentation: Michael Fleming, Priya Trivedi

Th Nov 5: Privacy on the web.

Read: Siva Vaidyanathan: "Naked in the Nonopticon"

Read: excerpt from Engaging privacy and information technology

Read: Geoffrey R. Stone, "Privacy, the first amendment, and the internet"

Read: excerpt from Julia Angwin, Dragnet Nation

Read: Baron, "The right to be forgotten"

David Brooks on the language of privacy

Presentation: Bidisha Roy, Daniel Porder

Week 12:

Tu Nov 10: Censoring the web.

Read: excerpt from Ronald Delbert, et al, "Access denied: The practice and policy of global internet filtering

Read: TNR: Hate speech: When censorship makes sense

Presentation: Sungyon Ahn, Ben Lane

Th Nov 12: Intellectual property and fair use

Digital facsimile of the Statute of Anne (passed by the English Parliament in 1710): the first copyright law in the world

transcription of the text of the The Statute of Anne (1710)

The US Copyright Act of 1790 (as printed)

The US Copyright Act of 1790 (transcription)

Excerpt from Lewis Hyde, Common as air: Revolution, art, and ownership. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2010.

IP slides

Week 13:

Tu Nov 17: Digital Rights Management: why own, when you can rent?

Read: Excerpt from Hector Postigo, The digital rights movement

Th Nov 19: No class today

Thanksgiving Break

Week 14: The new critique of the digital revolution

Tu Nov Dec 1: Rejecting the future

Read: Jonathan Zittrain, Introduction and Part I of The future of the internet and how to stop it. (The link will take you to the book website, and you can download a free pdf there.)

Read: James Curran, "Reinterpreting the internet." (from James Curran, Natalie Fenton, and Des Freedman, Misunderstanding the Internet, Milton Park, Abingdon: Routledge, 2012).

Read: Umair, Haque, Why Twitter;s Dying (and what you can learn from it).

Th Dec 3: Going offline -- is it an option?

Read: Nicholas Carr, "Is Google making us stupid?"

Read: excerpt from Jaron Lanier, You are not a gadget (New York: Knopf, 2010).

Week 15:

Tu Dec 8: Click to agree: what about Web 3.0? TERM PROJECT DUE TODAY

Final Exam questions go online at 5:00 p.m. today. FINAL EXAM DUE FRIDAY, DEC. 12, by email.

The final will be a take-home essay. The exam will be posted by 5 pm on TBA.