David L. Hildebrand, Ph.D., Philosophy

Spring 2006 Phl 4812 Philosophy of Media and Technology

Philosophy of Media and Technology


PHIL 4812-1/71696 and PHIL 5812-1/72451
TR 4:00PM - 5:15PM Plaza Building (PL) 131



In his poem The Rock, I T.S. Eliot asks, “Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?” More recently, educator Neil Postman wrote, "A great media-metaphor shift has taken place in America, with the result that the content of much of our discourse has become dangerous nonsense."


As we are constantly reminded, we live in an ever-accelerating “Information Age,” an era of rapidly shifting images and voluminous data. Students and teachers alike feel overwhelmed by the changes surrounding them, and would like to better understand what these changes mean. Because philosophers have traditionally been concerned with the nature of wisdom and knowledge, they are particularly suited to assess the possible impact that current changes in the technological environment might have upon rationality, ethics, and democracy. For example, are these changes affecting our basic capacity to reason? Could floods of “data smog” and our compulsion to “multi-task” erode our ability to recognize wisdom and produce knowledge? More to the point, if ethical action rests upon justification, and justification depends upon certain forms of language then what does our age’s shift toward repaid visual imagery portend for judgments of right and wrong? And what might be the effect upon democracy—which requires from its citizens such traditional abilities as rational discussion and debate? To pursue these answers, this course will present philosophical accounts of visual literacy and criticism, the relations of those changes to human experience and out conceptions of living a meaningful life.

Course Objectives:

    Ideally, by the end of this course students should gain the following skills:

    Familiarization. Gain a good sense of what is at stake in issues of course.
    Comprehension. Be able to comprehend the arguments offered by various philosophers.
    Critical analysis. Be able to criticize those arguments by pointing out where they lack evidence, make an unreasonable leap, hold a false assumption, etc.
    Demonstration of the above through writing.
    Verbalization. Be able to summarize a philosophical position, without notes, using your own words. Be able to criticize a position this way.
    Conversation and Debate. Be able to discuss issues in a focused and informed way with others in the class. This will involve listening closely to their points, then responding in a way that moves the discussion ahead.

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Required Course texts:
1. Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman; Publisher: Penguin Books; (November 1, 1986); ISBN: 0140094385
2. The Age of Missing Information by Bill McKibben; Plume Books; Reprint edition (May 1, 1993) ISBN: 0452269806
3. Holding on to Reality: The Nature of Information at the Turn of the Millennium by Albert Borgmann; Publisher: University of Chicago Press; (November 1, 2000); ISBN: 0226066231
4. Packet of a large assortment of other readings on media and technology from from Auraria bookstore.

Books available at Auraria and Big Dog Textbooks (1331 15th Street). Also, if you desire, online (see, for example, http://used.addall.com). If you buy your book online, make sure (1) that it is the correct edition, and (2) that you have it in time for class. See also http://www.bigdogtextbooks.com here in Denver.

Blackboard/Website: There are two online sites related to this course. Familiarize yourself with them right away. Both will offer you access to information about the course such as study questions, announcements, grades, extra credit assignments.
1. The first and most important one is our course Blackboard site:https://blackboard.cudenver.edu. On this page are INSTRUCTIONS TO ENROLL. Please make sure you enroll right at the beginning of the class.
2. The second site is my home page at http://www.davidhildebrand.org. Here there are a variety of general study tips and resources in philosophy.

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Participation 15%
Short Writings (10 total) 20%
Paper #1 (both grad/undergrad: max: 6 pp. 30%
Paper #2 GRADUATE students: 8-10 pp. 35%
UNDERGRADUATE students: 5-7 pp. 35%

Attendance + Participation/Presentation: Intellectual inquiry requires verbal discussion as much as written argument. There will be ample opportunity for active and well prepared participation, which I value and which will affect the final grade. "Participation" includes the following kinds of things: attendance, ability and willingness to contribute to class discussion and group activities, e-mail dialogue, etc. It is possible that an occasional "pop quiz" (testing only the most basic familiarity with the readings) will be factored into this portion of the grade. Part of this grade will be determined by your presentation of your short papers: clarity of thought, effective communication, and ability to field questions on your paper will all contribute.

Readings: It is expected that you have done the readings before we discuss them. As you read, copy out important points and questions you have onto a separate sheet of paper. (These will help you with your short reflection papers.) You may also want to note problem passages (e.g., with a "?" or "Q.") in your text as you read. These are good points for class discussion. You should come to each class able to discuss the main issues of the reading and you could be asked during class to present the main points to the class. Please see the Tips for Understanding Philosophy and for Writing Philosophy Papers on my home page. See also this page for tips on participating and reading.

Very important: please try to set aside about 10 minutes shortly before class to look back over (skim-review) the readings and whatever you have written for that day.

Short Papers (10 total)  The purpose of these assignments is to help you clarify your understanding of the readings and to help you think critically about the issues. These assignments should be:
1.    One page, typewritten reactions or questions about some specific issue which you find compelling in the readings. Your paper must not simply sum up the reading or repeat points made there. (I.e., no book reports, please.) Rather, you must try to raise a question or discuss some original insight. You may use these papers to demonstrate your application of a concept/idea in the readings to an experience you have with media or technology. See the website link "Writing short, critical papers" for further hints about how to write a good paper.
2.    The first paragraph should state in 1-2 sentences a summary of what the paper is about.
3.    You must do 10 papers total and you may not hand in more than one paper on the same date.
4.    Only papers that are written on a reading or topic that will be discussed in the class immediately coming up are acceptable.
5.    You must come to class for a paper to be accepted.
6.    This will be a “graded” assignment only in a loose sense; in other words it will be either S-satisfactory (100) or U-unsatisfactory (50). A zero (0) will be awarded if nothing (or next to nothing) is turned in.
7.    TWO MAKE-UPS: If you get a Unsatisfactory on up to two papers, you may revise and resubmit them. The old grade will be dropped in favor of the revised paper's grade.

Papers: There will be two longer papers required for this class. You will need to start thinking about paper topics soon. NO late papers without prior arrangements. You may email me at any time to discuss your progress on ALL papers/assignments or we can discuss them in office hours. Style and citation help: A nice little layout of different citation styles can be found here.

Here are the paper topics for the first paper. These are current for Fall 2006:

Paper Topics for paper #1 available here as Microsoft Word file

Here are the final paper topics for Fall 2006.

Paper Topics for FINAL paper (#2) available here as Microsoft Word file


Plagiarism: Plagiarism is a form of stealing. It occurs when an author uses the words or ideas of others as if they were the author’s own original thought. (It may include word-for-word copying, interspersing one’s own words with another’s, paraphrasing, inventing or counterfeiting sources, submitting another’s work as one’s own, neglecting quotation marks on material that is otherwise acknowledged.) Plagiarism is often unintentional. It can be avoided by always acknowledging one’s debt to others by citing the exact source of a quotation or paraphrase. Since plagiarism is such a serious violation of academic honesty, the PENALTY for it may be an AUTOMATIC “F” FOR THIS COURSE. The CU handbook has a more complete description of plagiarism and academic dishonesty.

Grades: I use the plus/minus system. Values for those letters, as well as the policies regarding other grades such as Incomplete, are available in the CU Academic Policies and Regulations section of the handbook.

Office Hours/Contact Information

Phone : 303-556-8558
E-mail: hilde@yahoo.com

Office and Hours: Plaza M108; Hours TTh 10:30-1130 a.m. or by appointment.
Purpose: I strongly encourage you to participate by dropping by during office hours. We can talk about the class readings and lectures, exams and papers, your progress, or just philosophy in general. Note: If you are a student with a disability, I will make myself available to discuss appropriate academic accommodations. Before accommodations will be made, you may be required to provide documentation. Students with disabilities will be accommodated. Students with disabilities are required to register disabilities with the UCD Disability Services Office, and are responsible for requesting reasonable accommodations at the beginning of the term.

Key Registration and Academic Deadlines

    August 24, 2006 (midnight) -- Last day to be added to the wait-list for a closed course.
    August 24 –-- September 6, 2006 -- Students are responsible for verifying an accurate fall 2006 registration via SMART.  Students are NOT notified of their wait-list status by the University.  All students must check their schedules prior to September 6, 2006 for accuracy.
    August 31, 2006 (midnight) -- Last day to add courses via the web SMART system.
    September 6, 2006 (5:00 pm) -- Last day to add structured courses without a written petition for a late add.  This is an absolute deadline. This deadline does not apply to independent study, internships, and late-starting modular courses.
    September 6, 2006 (5:00 pm) -- Last day to drop a fall 2006 course for tuition refund and no transcript notation.  This is an absolute deadline.
    September 6, 2006 (5:00 pm)  -- Last day for undergraduates and graduates to apply for December 2006 graduation. This is an absolute deadline.
    September 6, 2006 (5:00 pm) -- Last day to request pass/fail or no credit option.  This is an absolute deadline.
    October 30, 2006 (5:00 pm) -- Last day for NON-CLAS students to drop a summer 2006 course without a petition to their home college and receiving their Dean’s approval.
    November 10, 2006 (5:00 pm) -- Last day for CLAS students to drop a fall 2006 course.  Treated as an absolute deadline.  Dean’s approval required.
    November 10, 2006 (5:00 pm)  -- Last day to withdraw (drop all courses) without a written petition.

See the Registrar's Academic Calendar for details on registration/payment deadlines

Schedule of Readings

(A rough schedule. Subject to revision. I will let you know in each class what is coming up.)

Date Readings/Assignments

22 -- Introduction to Course”
24 -- Postman, ch. 1 Read a brief article about this book HERE

29 -- Postman, ch. 2; Packet, Boorstin “The Lost Arts of Memory”
31 -- Postman, ch. 3, 4
5 -- Postman, ch. 5; Packet, Boorstin “Making Experience Repeatable,”; Suggested: Packet, Boorstin “Extending Experience”
7 -- Postman, ch. 6, 7; Packet, Boorstin “Extravagant Expectations” and “A Flood of Pseudo-Events”

12 -- Postman, ch. 8, 9; Packet, Boorstin, “The Rhetoric of Democracy”
14 -- Postman, ch. 10, 11

19 -- Packet, Boorstin, “From Packing to Packaging: The New Strategy of Desire”
21 -- McKibben (up to p. 54)

26 -- McKibben (up to p. 120)
28 -- McKibben (up to p. 168)
3 -- McKibben (up to 202) Packet, Gitlin,"Flat and Happy" (second of three online articles here); Suggested: The Hipness Unto Death: Soren Kierkegaard and David Letterman-Ironic Apologists to Generation X (Mark C. Miller)
5 -- McKibben (to end of book)

10 -- Paper #1 due Film: Toxic Sludge is Good for You; [Question: what kind of information is appropriate for knowledge in the strong sense?]
12 -- Borgmann, Introduction, ch. 1,2,3

17 -- Borgmann, ch. 4, 5; Packet, Diamond “Blueprints and Borrowed Letters”
19 -- Borgmann, ch. 6,7; Packet, Diamond “Necessity’s Mother”

24 -- Borgmann, ch. 8,9,10
26 -- Borgmann, ch. 11,12

31 -- Borgmann, ch. 13, 14
2 -- Borgmann, ch. 13, 14

7 -- Borgmann, 15, conclusion
9 -- What is Technology?; Packet, Drengson "Four Philosophies of Technology"

14 -- Packet, Mumford, Technics and the Nature of Man, Heidegger, “The Question Concerning Technology”
16 -- Packet, Ellul, “The Technological Order”

21 -- Thanksgiving
23 -- Thanksgiving

28 -- Packet, Langdon Winner, "Techne and Politeia"
30 -- Packet, Larry Hickman, "From Techne to Technology"
5 -- Packet, John Dewey “Nature, Means, and Knowledge
7 -- Packet, Postman [from Technopoly] “The Great Symbol Drain” and “The Loving Resistance Fighter”

12-- Final paper due by noon in Philosophy Department office.


Course Links


Author Pages

Daniel Boorstin talking about his life and his book, The Creators (Real Audio-Video)

Great page on Neil Postman--articles, interviews, bibliography, etc.

Bill McKibben Home Page

Bill McKibben: An Inventory of His Papers, 1971-2001 and undated, at the Southwest Collection/Special Collections Library, Texas Tech University, Lubbock, TX

Media and Politics

Why satirize the news? Jon Stewart talks about the Daily Show (Fresh Air, 9-30-04)

Misperceptions, The Media and The Iraq War by PIPA (non-partisan, I believe: the Program on International Policy Attitudes)--a PDF report is here.

Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (leans medium Left)

Center for Media and Democracy (a debunker of both government and corporate influences on media content

Spinsanity (leans medium-well Right)

Media Matters--A media watch site run by David Brock (leans left; very thorough)

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Additional Resources

How much are younger people reading newspapers--or following news at all? A lot less.

Youth and Geographical Knowledge

Research on children and decreased attention spans

Media Spectacle by Douglas Kellner (Electronic book through Auraria from this UCLA philosopher)

Adbusters Culture Jammers

Women and Technology on radio program, Odyssey--September 21, 2004--link to Realaudio

Amy Bix--Associate Professor of History, Iowa State University Patrick Hopkins--Faculty, Department of Philosophy, Millsaps College.
From assisted reproduction to high-tech assembly lines, women encounter technology in ways that often go unrecognized. What's the relationship between women and technology? Historian Amy Bix and philosopher Patrick Hopkins join host Gretchen Helfrich for the discussion. Bix is working on the book, Engineering Education for American Women: An Institutional, Social, and Intellectual History. Hopkins is editor of Sex/Machine: Readings in Culture, Gender, and Technology.

From democracy to demographics: Frontline on Politics, Media, and Marketing In "The Persuaders," FRONTLINE explores how the cultures of marketing and advertising have come to influence not only what Americans buy, but also how they view themselves and the world around them. The 90-minute documentary draws on a range of experts and observers of the advertising/marketing world, to examine how, in the words of one on-camera commentator, "the principal of democracy yields to the practice of demography," as highly customized messages are delivered to a smaller segment of the market.

The Long Now Foundation was established in 01996* to develop the Clock and "Library" projects, as well as to become the seed of a very long term cultural institution. The Long Now Foundation hopes to provide counterpoint to todays "faster/cheaper" mind set and promote "slower/better" thinking. We hope to creatively foster responsibility in the framework of the next 10,000 years.

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Latest Update by DLH: July 17, 2006

Last updated Oct 07, 2010 11:40:AM