Communication Processes and Technologies

Communication Studies 464
University of Michigan

Meetings: Mondays and Wednesdays, 10:00-11:30, 2050 Frieze
Instructor: A. Trevor Thrall, PhD.
Office: 4050 Frieze



This course aims to help students gain some perspective on the influences that our rapid transition to the Digital Age will have on almost every aspect of society. We will discuss where we are today technologically speaking (and ask how we got here), but we will spend most of our time trying to figure out what impacts emerging communication technologies have and are likely tohave on the essentials of the human condition: on sense of identity as individuals, on how we form and regulate our communities (o n and offline), and on how our nation and world function politically, socially, economically, and so on.


Students must undertake four basic activities during the semester, each of which will represent 25% of the final grade.

1. Communication and Participation! The make or break element of this course is vigorous participation in class discussions of the subjects at hand. Students must also take part in various labs and experiments in computer-mediated communication through out the semester.

2. Weekly Discussion Emails. To stimulate and foster excellent discussions in class, students must post brief critical analyses of the week’s readings to the class email list.

3. Virtual Community Analysis. Each student will choose a virtual community in which to spend two weeks as a participant/observer, after which they will prepare a five page analysis of its communication, culture, and community for inclusion in the cours e web site.

4. Class Web Project. Each student will also participate in the revision and expansion of the Communication and Society in the Digital Age Web Project. This semester the focus of our joint efforts will be trying to determine how the University of Michi gan should adapt, or not adapt, to the digital age.


The best way to start thinking and learning about the nature and possible consequences of new communication technologies and processes is to use them yourself. Thus, this course has a substantial experiential/hands-on component. For most of the semester we will rotate back and forth between the computer lab and the traditional classroom, attempting to infuse our theoretical discussions with real-world insights.

Most of the readings for the course are on the Web and the online syllabus contains links to them. Just click on the link to view them. Some of the best work, however, is still only available in earth-bound form and thus you must also buy a coursepack a t Michigan Document Service (these are marked in this syllabus with an A, for "atoms.")


I. Welcome to the Digital Age !

Sep. 3 Introductions and Course Overview

Sep. 8 History and Evolution of the Digital Age and the Information Revolution

Howard Rheingold, Chapter 3, "Visionaries and Convergences: The Accidental History of the Net," from The Virtual Community: Homesteading on the Electronic Frontier

Jones Telecommunications and Multimedia Encyclopedia, "Computers: History and Development"

The Internet Society, "A Brief History of the Internet"
(A tad techie but a good complement to Rheingold, —skim this at least)

Highly Recommended (on reserve at the UGLi):

You may want to read these over the next couple of weeks as additional background on the technological development of the information age and its implications for how we use computers, the Internet, etc.

Nicholas Negroponte, Being Digital
William Gates, The Road Ahead

Sep. 10 Lab #1: Using the Net

For help using UM computing resources and the Internet more effectively check out the Communication Studies 111 Virtual Coursepack

Sep 15 Frameworks and Theories: Thinking About the Internet

Merrill Morris and Christine Ogan, "The Internet as Mass Medium," in Computer-Mediated Communication

** Discussion paper (DP) due via email before class

Sep 17 Lab #2: CMC in Real Time

Sep 22 Frameworks and Theories: Computer-Mediated Communication

John December, "Units of Analysis for Internet Communication," in Computer-Mediated Communication

(A) Garton and Wellman, "Social Impacts of Electronic Mail in Organizations: A Review of the Research Literature," in Communication Yearbook 18

J.C.R. Licklider, "The Computer as a Communication Device," and "Man-Computer Symbiosis"(for Oct 6)

Please note that the Licklider papers are in PDF and you must have Adobe Acrobat Reader on your computer to read them. (The computing cluster machines have it, you can also download it for free from the Licklider link)

** DP due via email before class

Sep 24 Lab #3: MUDs, MUSEs, MOOs, and More!

Before lab read "Basic Information about MUDs and MUDding"

II. Who Are You in Cyberspace?

Sep 29 The Virtual Self

(A) Sherry Turkle, "Introduction: Identity in the Age of the Internet," and "Aspects of the Self," from Life On the Screen

** DP due via email before class

Oct 1 Gender, Sexuality, and Relationships on the Net

Malcolm Parks and Kory Floyd, "Making Friends in Cyberspace," in Computer-Mediated Communication

Susan Herring, "Gender Differences in CMC: Bringing Familiar Baggage to the New Frontier,"

(A) Sherry Turkle, "TinySex and Gender Trouble," from Life on the Screen

Oct 6 Our Cyborgs, Ourselves

J.C.R. Licklider, "Man-Computer Symbiosis,"
Note that this document is downloadable in PDF. (see Sep 22)

(A) Sherry Turkle, "Making a Pass at a Robot," from Life on the Screen

** DP due via email before class

Oct 8 Interpreting the Future

(A) Recommended: William Gibson, Neuromancer

III. Community, Culture, and Communication in Cyberspace

Oct 13 Virtual Communities

Katie Hafner, "The Epic Saga of the WELL," in Wired 5.05 May 1997

Amy Bruckman, "Finding One’s Own in Cybersace," in Technology Review, January 1996

**DP due via email before class

Oct 15 Lab #4: The Virtual Community Tour

**Begin Virtual Community Participant/Observation Today

Virtual Community Analysis Guidelines

Oct 20 Communication and Culture in Virtual Communities

(A) Nancy K. Baym, "The Emergence of Community in Computer-Mediated Communication," from Cybersociety

Howard Rheingold, Chapters 5, 6 from The Virtual Community

** DP due via email before class

Oct 22 Social Norms, Crime, and Punishment on the Electronic Frontier

(A) Margaret L. McLaughlin, et al., "Standards of Conduct on Usenet," from Cybersociety

John Perry Barlow, "Crime and Puzzlement"

J. P. Barlow, "Crime and Puzzlement 2"

Recommended but with a Warning:

Julian Dibbell, "A Rape in Cyberspace, or, How an Evil Clown, a Haitian Trickster Spirit, Two Wizards, and a Cast of Dozens Turned a Database Into a Society,"

This is one of the most widely read and discussed pieces of Internet/Virtual Community history. Originally published in The Village Voice, December 21, 1993, the article raises fundamental questions about the nature of community and the processes by whic h communities shape and govern themselves. I warn you, however, that as the title suggests it deals with a very ugly topic and contains graphic language—in fact the very language which consituted the acts in question. I therefore leave it to each of you to decide whether to read it.

Oct 27 LAB #5: Using CMC to Facilitate Group Processes

IV. The Great Internet Debates

Oct 29 Utopia or Apocalypse? The Debate over the Impact of the Net on Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness



DP due via email before class

Nov 3 Lab #6: Say It to the World with HTML

Nov 5 Dial Locally, Act Globally: Politics in the Information Age

Howard Rheingold, "Electronic Frontiers and Online Activists," from The Virtual Community

** DP due via email before class

Nov 10 Class Web Project Session #1

Nov 12 What’s the Net Done for Your Neighborhood, Lately?

Law and Keltner, "Civic Networks: Social Benefits of On-Line Communities,"

(A) Talbott, "Networks and Communities," from The Future Does Not Compute

Robert Putnam, "The Prosperous Community,", from The American Prospect, Spring 1993

Nov 17 Lab #7: More HTML

Nov 19 Font of Wisdom and Learning or Just a Lot of Data Smog?

(A) Talbott, "The Great Information Hunt," from The Future Does Not Compute

Paul Starr, "Computing Our Way to Educational Reform", from The American Prospect, July 1996

Nov 24 Class Web Project Session #2

** Team DP on current status of their topic due in class

Nov 26 Privacy and Surveillance in the Digital Age

John Perry Barlow, "Jackboots on the Infobahn: Clipping the Wings of Freedom,"

David Brin, "The Transparent Society," in Wired 4.12

Lessig et al., "Privacy Law In Cyberspace," from Cyberspace Law for Non-Lawyers

Note: The other three sections on Copyright, Libel, and Trademark Law are also extremely interesting, I recommend you read those too

Dec 1 Producing, Regulating, and Protecting Information in Cyberspace

John Perry Barlow, "The Economy of Ideas," in Wired 2.03

(A) Honeycutt, et al. "Your Cyber Rights and Responsibilities: Law and Etiquette," from Using the Internet

Dec 3 The Rest of the World and the Net

Also check out the APC’s home page at

Dec 8 What Will Become of Us?

Langdon Winner, "Who Will We Be in Cyberspace?"

Dec 10 Final Mediations on Communication and Society in the Digital Age

No readings

** Web Project work due today

Back Up to the Table of Contents

hits this semester!