This fall, I'm teaching the two courses below at Bennington College.
Digital technology is changing our understanding of what it means to be human, and rewriting our definitions of life, the body, love, death, and other concepts and embodied experiences. Through engaging contemporary narratives like The Circle and Black Mirror, we will explore the theory of technogenesis—the idea that humans have always coevolved with their tools. We will read key works in media studies to historically contextualize contemporary changes within a longer range of technological shifts, from the emergence of written alphabets to the invention of moveable type, from cave paintings to moving images. What effect have these media technologies had on human consciousness, cognition, sensation, and experience? How does digitization preserve or change the meaning of analog archives and objects? Now that scientists have managed to store digital images in strands of synthetic DNA, what is happening to the boundary between digital technology and what we might have previously called “life itself”?
“The cloud” is not in the sky, but is comprised of thousands of securitized data centers and fiber optic networks that span continents. Undersea cables still carry nearly all internet traffic that travels across oceans. How can we critically analyze these massive systems that are often either invisible or too large to see all at once? This course will explore the materiality of digital media and their infrastructures. We will read key works in media history, media archaeology, and related fields to trace the life cycle of digital devices, from mineral extraction and industrial production to the carbon footprint of consumer usage and digital technology’s afterlife as e-waste. As we delve into the prehistories and possible futures of digital technology, we will also consider the work of designers, engineers, and artists who help us think creatively about digital media, whether from the perspective of deep-time, or in speculations on post-digital media and data.
Photo: Emma Nelson