[SIGCIS-Members] Information culture in 2017: recommendations for student readings/other lit?

James Sumner james.sumner at manchester.ac.uk
Mon Jan 2 04:21:29 PST 2017


Happy New Year, and best wishes for more than usually unsettled times.

I'm writing with a request for suggested sources which arises from my 
annual attempt to update my introductory survey course for undergrads, 
The Information Age – a task that always leaves me hugely envious of the 
local early-modern and medieval historians, who can usually get by with 
rolling the course content forward from one year to the next without any 
seismic geopolitical events leaving their priorities and interpretations 
wildly outdated. The Spring 2016 version, for what it's worth, is in the 
Syllabus Repository at 

I'm looking both for straightforward, accessible material that can be 
used directly by a mixed group of STEM (mostly computer science) and 
humanities (mostly history) students, a few of whom will have little 
background in any branch of the field, and for more complex literature I 
could digest for lecture content.

Like others – see in particular Lee Vinsel's howl of frustration at 
https://twitter.com/STS_News/status/807580040116445184 – I'm wondering 
how best to use the recent rise of public concern about online 
information and the social cultures formed around it, given that the 
analytical discourse over the past 25 years has been strongly shaped by 
optimistic, sometimes utopian techno-determinist accounts, and that the 
more nuanced and seemingly level-headed accounts that have so far 
opposed this trend are now starting to look overly optimistic 
themselves, giving too little agency to the nature of the platforms that 
dominate info consumption.

On a related note, I'm also keen to give more specific coverage to the 
workings and influence of digital formalisations and automated 
processing in everyday information culture, particularly bearing in mind 
the mixture of disciplinary backgrounds of these students. One of my 
concerns is obviously to wean CS students away from the common 
IT-solutionist mindset that presents technical answers to social 
problems and expects them to work in defiance of every single lesson of 
recorded history – but I see a corresponding problem on the humanities 
side, in that many students don't have a working familiarity with 
algorithmic processing, and will routinely size up blind and bulk 
processes in terms of intentions and individualisations that may not be 
there. I usually open these areas up for group discussion with questions 
like the classic "What do you do if your identity doesn't match any of 
the boxes on the form?", or why supermarkets (at least in the UK) 
occasionally display posters for special offers that are obviously 
poorer value than the regular price.

I notice that Tarleton Gillespie and Nick Seaver have put together a 
very detailed reading list of "Critical algorithm studies":


and also that there's a new collection titled /Algorithmic Cultures/ 
edited by Robert Seyfert and Jonathan Roberge, so there are plenty of 
promising leads in the academic literature – but I'm also looking for 
good journalism. All recommendations gratefully received!


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