The Social Psychology of Cyberspace: Self and Community in the Age of the Internet

PSY 380.K

Miami University
Spring Semester, 2000

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1.  Computerization Movements and Counter Movements

Due Tuesday, February 15th, 5 p.m. (extended to Tuesday, 2/21, 5 p.m.) by email to shermarc@miamioh.edu.  [late assignments will be downgraded 1/2 letter grade per day]  

Iacono & Kling (1996) suggest that one reason the U.S. is rapidly computerizing is that there are a number of computerization movements promoting utopian images of computer technology.  These movements are sustained, according to Iacono & Kling, by Computer Movement Organizations (CMO's) which act as advocacy groups for the computerization movement.  Not surprisingly, many organizations that represent these movements have web sites that advertise their mission and solicit new members (for example, the Coalition for Networked Information, Center for Civic Networking, and Society for Electronic Access, and Educause.

Organizations that represent counter-computerization movements are rare.  Iacono & Kling suggest that the major alternatives to computerization movements come from organizations centered around specific advocacy themes, such as Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation.  A third example, not mentioned by Iacono & Kling, is the Critical Arts Ensemble.

Assignment:  Spend about 45 minutes exploring the web sites linked above.  As you do, think of the specific nature of the utopian or anti-utopian images that are either explicit or implicit in the material at the various sites.  Then, using the websites and the readings (Iacono & Kling, Edwards, Roszak, etc.) as the basis for your analysis (incorporate references to these sources whenever relevant),  address the following question.  Your answer should be the equivalent of about 2-3 printed pages (1,000 - 1,500 words).

Which aspects of utopian views of computerization appear to be the concern of the CPSR, EFF, and CAE organizations?  How would you characterize their concerns and approaches?  Specifically, how do they differ from the focus of CNI, CCN, Educause and SEA? Within each grouping (CPSP/EFF/CAE and CNI/CCN/Educause/SEA), how are the organizations similar and how do they differ in their approaches?  Briefly relate your own current position to these organizations -- with which do you feel most compatible and why?

2.   The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly -- Hypertext in Theory and in Practice

Due Wednesday, March 29th, 5 p.m. by email to shermarc@miamioh.edu. Late assignments will be downgraded 1/2 letter per day.

Steven Johnson, in his chapter "Links" explores the possibilities of new ways of communicating information and expressing meaning through hypertext linking.  Although the notion of hypertext was well developed long before the advent of the WWW in the early 1990's,  a limited form of hypertext has now become available to millions of people via the presence of hypertext links in WWW pages.   Johnson argues that this can be a uniquely different way of communicating than more traditional, "linear" text:

"...a link is a way of drawing connections between things, a way of forging semantic relationships.  In the terminology of linguistics, the link plays a conjunctive role, binding together disparate ideas...the link should be generally understood as a synthetic device, a tool that brings multifarious elements together into some kind of orderly unit."  (p.111)

Despite the promise of hypertext, Johnson notes that "the great preponderance of Web-based writing is unapoligetically linear... articles rarely offer any navigational options at all...links do appear in some articles, but they're usually pointing to the Web sites of companies that happen to be mentioned in the piece...this is a particularly mindless use of hypertext." (p128).  At the other extreme, Johnson discusses at length the unusual and unique use of hypertext by the online magazine, Suck, which he seems to believe comes closer to the promise of hypertext writing.

Assignment:

A. Review the relevant parts of the Johnson chapter in our reader, and then carefully go through a Suck article published earlier this year about the AOL/Time-Warner merger, http://www.suck.com/daily/2000/01/13/ .  In an essay that is equivalent to a printed page in length (about 500 words) (1) describe, with examples, how the use of hypertext relates to specific elements of Johnson's chapter, and (2) discuss the impact that the article's hypertext has on the meaning and informational qualities of the article.

B.  Search the Web for two web sites, one that represents an example of effective hypertext use, and one that is an example of ineffective use (note -- both sites must actually use hypertext).  Specify the exact url of each site, and in another 500 words explain why they exemplify effective and ineffective use -- give examples of links that are particularly good or bad, in your judgement, and explain why they are good or bad.

3.    Challenges of the Digital Divide

Due Tuesday, May 2nd, 12:30 (Time of the Final Exam).   Hardcopy only.  Late assignments will be downgraded 1/2 letter per day.

As we saw in the tapes from the PBS series on the Digital Divide, differential access to information technology is becoming recognized as a important issue that needs to be addressed. A number of studies have documented the disparities among people of different income levels in their levels of owning computers and using the Internet, as summarized in a recent ABCNews article. On April 4th President Clinton outlined a series of proposals to close the gap between technological haves and have-nots, and as we saw in the PBS series, a number of programs are being tried by a variety of organizations. A government website, digitaldivide.gov describes many of these initiatives and offers a good overview of the "official" stance on how and why this problem should be attacked. An illustration of the salience of the issue is that my students in Advanced Social Psychology selected Clinton’s recent speech as a news event to analyze from a Social Psychological point of view.

Assignment:

Spend at least hour exploring the links indicated above, trying to get a sense of how the problem and the proposed solutions are being portrayed and what assumptions seem to underlie the assessments and proposals being made. Then, in an essay of approximately 1000 words, answer the following:

1. In terms of our past readings in this course, how would you appraise the way the problem and the solutions are being portrayed? For example, how would the article by Gackenbach and Ellerman on the history of technological implementation relate to the problem and the solutions? Iacono & Kling’s ideas about computerization movements and utopian rhetoric? Edwards’ analysis of the politics of subjectivity? Postman’s notion of "Technopoly" and the ideology of machines? The assessments of gender differences by Ybarra, Morahan-Martin, Kramarae, & Herring? Select three or more of these articles and clearly indicate how they inform your appraisal.

2. How does the Digital Divide and the approaches to closing the technology gap relate to your Team or Individual project? (Pick one.) That is, what implications does the Divide have for your topic? Does your project provide insights into whether some of the proposed programs are more likely to succeed than others? If so, which ones and why? Does the Divide pose challenges to the generality of your project? How? [Note: if you believe your own topics absolutely do not relate to the Divide, you should select another team’s or class member’s to use for this part of the assignment.]

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Psy 380.K Miami University. Last revised: Tuesday, March 11, 2014 at 17:14:25. This document has been accessed 1 times since Jan 1, 2000. Comments & Questions to R. Sherman . Also See: Social Psychology at Miami University