Syllabus and Assignments

Course Meeting Times

Seminars: 2 sessions / week, 1.5 hours / session

Course Description

Hacking and trolling; mass murders and bullying. What do these have in common? One might say that these are all "deviant" social behaviors, behaviors occurring both online and off, which have purportedly been brought about or exacerbated by our new media environment. Such aberrant behaviors seemingly give us ample reason to fear digital and social media. But is technology to blame? Throughout this course, we will grapple with this question as we investigate how our understanding of new technologies and media is socially shaped and, in turn, how new media might influence our social behavior.

We will begin by studying how similar panics about "old" media (books, film, television and even the written word itself) set historical precedents for these current fears. Along the way we will establish and explore issues embedded in debates about new media including issues of class, gender, youth, sex, and violence. Such topics will be placed in cross-cultural perspective, allowing us to compare the nature of panics over contemporary events and issues—e.g. the Columbine school shootings, cyber-bullying, Japanese otaku, and the Chinese "Human Flesh Search Engine"—occurring within both the United States and East Asia. Students will read essays, keep media journals and watch films pertaining to weekly topics.

Assignments and Grading

Attendance & Participation 15
Reading Explication (10% x 2) = 20
Media Journal 25
Midterm Paper (4–6 pages) 15
Final Paper (8–10 pages) 25
  1. Attendance and Participation: You are expected to attend every class, having read the assignments prior to the class session for which they are assigned. Your participation grade will be determined by your active participation in class discussion. This means raising thoughtful questions about the readings, agreeing with or critiquing the main arguments presented in the readings, and respectfully listening and responding to what your classmates have to say. If you will miss class due to an illness or family emergency please inform me in advance by e-mail. Unexcused absences and coming late to class will negatively impact your grade.
  2. Reading Explication: Twice during the semester you will lead class discussion by presenting a ten-minute introduction to the week's readings. You should introduce the authors, summarize the main arguments, offer your own critique of at least one of the arguments (agree/disagree with what and why), and raise at least two open-ended questions for class discussion. Each presentation will be accompanied by a one-page* written report.
  3. Media Journal: This will be an ongoing project throughout the term. Most weeks you will be required to find (at least) one media report related to the topic we are discussing in class that week. After reading the article(s), you will write a short (1–2 paragraphs) analysis and response. Submit these analyses and a link to the article(s) (when possible) prior to Monday’s class so that we may discuss these articles and your responses with the group. Over the course of the semester, it is expected that you will produce a minimum of ten journal entries. At the end of the term, you will compile these stories/analyses and write a conclusion (3–5 pages) that summarizes the content of the journal and reflects on the stories gathered in light of the theories and readings we have covered in the class. Prior to the first week of the assignment I will distribute a sample media journal entry and more details about this project.
  4. Midterm and Final Paper: You will write two papers during this course. The first paper will be a take-home exam, whereby I will supply 3 questions and you will have approximately two weeks to choose and answer 2 of these questions (2–3 pages per question). The second paper (8–10 pages) will be on a topic of your choosing, though I must approve the topic in advance. Students who fail to get their topic approved by me will not receive credit for the paper. In the weeks leading up to the final paper, I will distribute a sign-up sheet so that you can schedule a meeting with me to discuss your paper topic idea and any questions or concerns you might have about the paper. I will also provide more detailed instructions about research and citation for the paper later in the semester.

*Unless otherwise noted, all written materials must be typed (1 inch margins, double-spaced, Times New Roman 12pt. font)


There is no required textbook for this course. Readings will be made available online or handed out directly in class. You are responsible for completing the readings prior to the class date for which they are assigned.

Academic Integrity and Plagiarism

Please familiarize yourself with MIT's policies on academic integrity. Students will be expected to adhere to these policies at all times. 

Additionally, MIT's Writing & Communication Center provides guidelines about how to avoid plagiarism. Please read these in their entirety. Plagiarism is a serious offense and will be treated as such. Any student found to be plagiarizing will receive an automatic "F" on the assignment and may face other consequences.