Thursday, August 25, 2005


Am revising my cyberculture course for delivery in the Spring (i.e., January-April) 2006 term and am open to suggestions for possible new directions, or new readings, etc. I think the basic thrust of my course, which is how to tell when a trend or emergent technology is significant or just bandwagon hype, remains valid, but I can't help feeling I might be missing something.

I was interested to see, googling around for ideas, that "cyberculture" seems to have fallen out of favour in recent years: most cyberculture references are in pages four or more years old. I wonder if this is because the field has expanded sufficiently for people to be narrowing their focus to more specific subtopics, or if the whole concept of a cyberculture has fallen into disrepute?

There is a certain sense I get googling around that some of the initial excitement/panic over the internet has settled down. Perhaps the bursting of the commercial bubble a few years back reigned in some of the more exaggerated hype, and internet usage has reached a sufficient critical mass that there is no longer as much anxiety over one being caught on the wrong side of the digital divide. But part of it may be the whole cycle of academic publishing: as new technology or social implications emerge, there is a rush to be the first to publish, leading to a spate of books and articles on that topic; then the market is quickly satutated as everyone gets their 2 cents worth out, and the topic becomes passé then the topic drops off the radar because no academic wants to try writing on a topic that has already been fully covered/documented in the last five years, and yet students won't read anything more than three or four years old -- so whole issues simply drop off the curriculum under "its been done", yet may remain real and pressing social issues for all that no one is paying attention any longer.

For example, five years ago there were a whole series of books addressing privacy issues in the digital age, but I can't seem to get students interested any more. Yet various data bases continue to track every purchase we make, every Dr. visit, every site we link to; google maps helps stalkers find the closest Starbucks to the stalkee to improve their chances of 'running into you'; and Microsoft makes you sign a contract that says they can use spyware to authenticate your copy of any of their software, and so on. But there is very little currently being addressed to these issues, and students consider anything written in the 1990s as hopelessly out of date. (Well, I guess it probably is, because things are MUCH worse now!)

And whatever happened to virtual reality? When I went to VikingCon ten years ago, it was set to be the next big thing, and was the key example of an emergent technology we analyzed in class for its impact on education. But here it is a decade later, and nothing.

I'll probably use podcasting as the current example of a significant emergent technology, and mobile phones as a current technology now intruding into the classroom (mobile bullying, text messaging for cheating, phones as a general distraction, changed social expectations and interchanges, etc.) but these lack some of the oomph of the bigger issues I was tackling last time I taught this course. No one seems to see the Internet as a new thing any more -- for my current students, it is just there, like TV, and trying to talk about the impact the Internet has/ is having is like trying to get them to notice the air they breath -- i.e., they only think of the net when they are temporairly cut off.

Anyway, open to suggestions of trends or etc. that I might be overlooking.

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