Pithily put, this is a course about computers and film. We will explore how film (as a mode of producing history and culture) corresponds with the history of computers and computation. That said, a bulk of our time will be spent watching and discussing films (from the 1950s to the present), as well as working through various approaches to computer culture. We will likely ask questions such as these: How do people learn about computers through film, and to what effects? How are computers socially or discursively constructed? How are they tied to questions of race, gender, sexuality, class, labor, and power? What kinds of identities and narratives form around them, and how? What are their aesthetics on the screen? How do they function as characters in films? Do they have agency, and in what ways or situations? How are all of these questions historically contingent?
The list goes on, and the point—at least for now—is that we will be concentrating our efforts not on, say, crunching numbers or processing data with computers, but on computers as objects of cultural criticism, acknowledging all the while the limitations of this perspective.
Aside from writing often, you will also be asked to experiment with collaboratively and actively engaging film. One crucial component of this class will be a Twitter-based backchannel (#bis397), through which we will (in a public forum) chat about films as we watch them. The reason for this experimental approach is for us—as we look at the same screen in the classroom—to investigate the potential of collective criticism and shared responses (laughter and frustrations included). Consequently, expect films in fragments. That is, we will often stop and chat about what we are seeing and hearing, not to mention what we are learning through the backchannel (where will we share comments, questions, and links). Indeed, we’ll press the limits of multitasking and determine what (if anything) it affords in an academic climate.