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PWR 2JPB: Curated Reality: How Media Shape What We Know

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Netflix would like us to believe that we are making a choice about what we watch. But like any media platform, it has curated that decision for us, selecting content that fits their business strategies and features the shows they produce. Even social media, such as Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook, which have theoretically democratized what the public sees, are easily manipulated by powerful players who can coordinate massive numbers of trolls, inflating retweets and drowning out individual voices with something to say. As MIT professor Sherry Turkle notes “The web promises to make our world bigger. But as it works now, it also narrows our exposure to ideas. We can end up in a bubble in which we hear only the ideas we already know. Or already like.”

In this dizzying environment, so much depends on becoming public, on being “published” or noticed. But when the unpublished are left silent, it erases some groups and ideas while elevating others. In this class we ask: Who gets “published” and why? We investigate how media bring voices and ideas to their audiences: how YouTube promotes influencers, how podcasts distribute what we hear, and how museum curators control what art we remember. We look at video, sound, photography, computational visualization of data, and hybrids of digital formats. We’ll explore how diverse formats and media sites might encourage diverse thinkers to imagine new ideas in science, social science, and artistic expression. At the same time, you might be learning how to get your own voice out into the world.

Major Assignments

Research Proposal

(5-minute live oral presentation; written text of 900-1200 words) You start by choosing a media site that acts as an example of a trend and place this trend within an academic area of interest to you. So you might choose to look at blogs about sharks (marine biology) or Ted Talks about competition (psychology) or stand-up comedy about millennials (sociology). You’ll propose a collection of methods – such as reading, interviews, surveys – you want to use for research and explain to your audience why you want to do this investigation. The goal is to develop a context for researching this subject and get started doing research on your Written Research-Based Argument.

Written Research-Based Argument

(3000-3600 words; 10-12 pages) Written Research-Based Argument (3000-3600 words; 10-12 pages): This assignment extends your Research Proposal to reach two objectives: 1) review examples of your selected platform; 2) invite your audience to look thoughtfully (and critically) at how that platform is an example of an issue you want to learn about. One writer might study music blogs that act “alternative” but somehow end up talking about Kanye West. What does that say about “alternative”? Another might look at “magazines” like Popular Science and Gizmodo; and then ask the question: What are they promoting and who benefits from this promotion?

Delivery of Research

(10-minute live oral presentation with appropriate multimedia support) Delivery of Research (10-minute live oral presentation with appropriate multimedia support): This presentation is your chance to share your research with a live audience. Drawing on your WRBA (above), you will explain the context of your research and analyze a key example of what you are exploring. Option: In closing your talk, propose your own publication.

Genre/Modes Assignment

(500-800 word text, a 2-4 minute audio recording, or a 2-4 minute video) Put together a collection of pieces you want the world to experience. Give an introduction.