Fall 2015: Information in America

“Information wants to be free!” This slogan, popularized in the 1980s, has become a rallying cry during recent events, such as the death of Aaron Swartz and the battle for net neutrality. But, what does it mean for information to be “free?” The Free Software Movement argues that it uses the term in the tradition of “free speech” rather than “free lunch,” which draws on older notions of liberty in American society. Additionally, questions about privacy, the digital divide, and infrastructure continue to be debated in the media. President Obama has urged the FCC to declare the Internet a public utility, but why is there such a fuss over the speed of electronic signals moving through a wire? How exactly do they relate to information? In this course, students will examine these questions and similar ones by looking historically at how “information” emerged as a concept and how it has manifested itself in various technologies. We will read about the history of computers, cybernetics, posthumanism, and networks. In addition to conventional scholarship, we will use novels, films, games, and documentaries to explore these questions further.