The Digital Self

Course Description

Who are we online? Do we control our digital media or do they control us? What’s involved with managing our visibility online? Can we leave our bodies behind in digital spaces? Are self-tracking and social sharing good for us?  Who pays attention to what we do and post online? Is privacy dead? How are our personal relationships enhanced and impeded by our use of digital media?

Questions like these will drive this course on The Digital Self. The class is designed to engage you in deep exploration of how digital technologies are influencing our sense of self, how we interact, and how we are treated, traced, and co-constructed in digital spaces.  Throughout the course, you will be encouraged to reflect on your own digital experiences and decisions, while also considering the implications of digital media for our larger society.

The class will examine the deep complexities and contradictions that lie at the intersection of digital media and our social selves.  Readings and class discussions are destined to raise far more questions than answers.  Our goal is to learn about theories, histories, concepts and phenomena that can inform how we use digital media and how we can work to shape digital technologies, policies and practices into the future.

Learning Outcomes

By the end of the semester, students will be able to:

  • Describe varying approaches to understanding “the self”
  • Identify affordances and risks associated with the use of digital media for individuals and society
  • Critically evaluate arguments regarding issues of privacy, self-presentation, human interaction and well-being as they relate to digital media and the self.
  • Summarize their own personal philosophy for healthy, ethical and meaningful digital media engagement.

 Course Schedule

 Week 1 (Jan. 29):  What is this course about? Why study digital media? Who are you, and why think about yourself in relationship to digital media? Are you different online and offline?

Week 2 (Feb. 5):  Is there a “self?” Is there a “digital self”?  Do technologies determine how we use them, or do we use technologies for our own purposes and desires?

Week 3 (Feb. 12):  How and why do we present ourselves in digital spaces? What does the selfie say?  What is new (and what isn’t) about self-representations in digital media? Are we empowered or constrained when we produce our digital self-presentations?

Week 4 (Feb. 19): Where is your body when you engage with digital media? In what ways can you leave it behind and it what ways does it remain with you, always? What is freeing and what remains constraining for marginalized selves in digital spaces?

Week 5 (Feb. 26):  What’s involved in managing our personal digital visibility? How do we balance publicity and privacy as we share, communicate, and self-promote?  What are the limits of our control?

Week 6 (Mar. 5):  How do we employ digital technologies to know ourselves better? What are the possible benefits to ourselves and our society due to self-quantification? What is knowable about ourselves through digital technologies, and what is not?

Week 7 (Mar. 12):  What digital traces of ourselves do we accidentally leave behind when we interact with digital media? How is the passive data we generate using digital devices harvested and used by advertisers, companies, the government, and others? How objective is our data?

Week 8 (Mar. 19):  Do you work for Instagram or Twitter?  When you share and search online, are you an empowered participant or an unpaid laborer? Should we worry about exploitation, or celebrate tailored, personalized digital environments?

Week 9-10 (Mar. 26, Apr. 2): Classes cancelled for Spring Break

Week 11 (Apr. 9):  What happens when we use digital media to form, maintain and end relationships? How do we see others, and how do they see us? In what ways do digital media strengthen our relationships and in what ways do they pull us away from one another?

Week 12 (Apr. 16):  Are digital media good for our well-being? Are we more depressed, distracted, lonely, and anxious than we used to be? Which concerns should we take most seriously, and why? Are young people at particular risk?

Week 13 (Apr. 23) What does “addiction” mean? Are we, or can we, be addicted to digital media? Are the cases of online pornography consumption, or video game playing, unique when we consider the concept of digital addiction?

Week 14 (Apr. 30) What role do forgetting and remembering play in our lives, and how have digital media changed these roles? Does the possibility of perfect memory via digital media alter our behavior? Should we celebrate the Internet’s “infinite memory,” or worry that forgetting is no longer an option?

Week 15 (May 7) Mini-class Sessions led by students; Topics TBA

Week 16 (May 14)  Mini-class Sessions led by students; Topics TBA