Smart Mobs & Beyond:
How the Cult of the Amateur Hacks Authority, Story-telling, and Culture
Introduction to Popular Culture
We’re at the brink of yet another digital revolution. The World Wide Web is no longer a mere collection of Web sites readily consumable by its users as it had been in the early 90s. Rather, it is becoming a full-fledged platform serving Web applications to its end users. Flickr, MySpace, Wikipedia, Facebook, YouTube, Google, Second Life, Twitter, and others are examples of such Web applications that we use everyday; and they all rely on one thing: user-generated content. O’Reilly? calls them Web 2.0, these days they are called social media, yet others know them as networking sites. The companies that created these applications are worth millions of dollars because of the content YOU generate. What is their killer application? The communities that they help build. They are easy to get involved in and are impossible to leave… Whatever their name is, they do the same thing: facilitate mass collaboration and peer production in order to solve problems, build virtual worlds, disseminate information, run political campaigns, write stories, and shoot movies. As such, they pose a serious threat to everything we knew to be true about literature and media. Concepts like authority, hierarchy, and a top-to-bottom approach are being challenged and replaced with more decentralized models. Those who are able to harness the power of the masses will have a place in the future, and those who don’t will wither away.
As a result, culture itself is undergoing a significant transformation. Think about it: Stephen Colbert uses Wikipedia, YouTube, and the mainstream media in order to mobilize the masses to offer a serious critique of our culture. Even Hollywood is aware of this power. Samuel Jackson’s cult movie, Snakes on a Plane, relied on its audience to help with script writing and marketing. Lonelygirl15 showed how one could become an Internet celebrity through the use of viral videos published on YouTube?, Revver, and MySpace?. Additionally, communities have started Alternate Reality Games (ARGs) surrounding Lonelygirl15 where users piece together clues found in the videos and try to solve the mystery behind Bree (the main character). While Andrew Keen condemns this transformation, claiming that Internet is killing our culture, others, such as Henry Jenkins and Howard Rheingold, see it as a positive development.
This course will include theoretical readings that will facilitate discussions around these topics in order to help the participants better understand today’s popular culture while evaluating its impact on mainstream culture.
Goals of this course:
Be advised that students may encounter sexually explicit content in this course. You may wish to choose another course if you are uncomfortable with this.
Ability to use technology and the Internet is a prerequisite for this course. Again, you may wish to choose another course if this presents a problem.