Unit 2: Reading Reality

We live at time when claims to facts and truth are hyper-mediated; that is, for most of us living in the western world, our understanding of reality is filtered by hourly engagement with digitally-networked technologies. More than 3 out of every 4 adults in the United States, for example, own a smartphone — a figure that has doubled in only 7 years.

While Google has been around since 1998, 15 years ago Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram did not exist (at least publically). These brief examples don’t account for the development of broadband networks, the central role of sharing economies, nor rise of surveillance technologies. In other words, the introduction of these devices and programs have radically changed the nature of our everyday reality.

In this first unit you’ll be introduced to several frameworks for better understanding how this reality is arranged, filtered, and projected. Frameworks are helpful in that they provide readers with broader perspectives — lenses — for understanding why things seem to be they way they are. Our lenses for this purpose will include politics, culture, technology, psychology, and economics. We will read and discuss each of these frameworks in order to try to see how they affect the ways we access, assess, and subsequently produce truth. We’ll ask questions like:

  • Why and how do evolving technologies of writing silence or amplify certain stories, arguments, or ideas? What can readers do about it?
  • What ethical responsibilities do we have as writers, but also readers and consumers of texts? Why and how do writers participate in the construction and circulation of fake news?
  • Which aspects of our post-truth moment do we have the power to change individually and which are more systemic and difficult to alter?

While we will attempt to read through these lens separately, often they overlap. For example, when we look at economics of post-truth, we will hear a podcast about two entrepreneurs who exploited vulnerabilities in Facebook’s technology in order to make money; however, in their pursuit of economic success, the podcast producers argue that the entrepreneurs also contributed to vitriolic political polarization in US culture. Such overlap will be useful in the next unit when you begin to fact-check various claims on the web, tracing their roots back to some of these frameworks.

Methods of Annotation

The work of this unit thus entails reading and looking at examples. As such, you will be graded on your ability to make your process of reading visible to me and others through annotations. We will experiment with three different methods or approaches to annotation as a result:

Marginal — This print-based, dialogic approach involves going beyond highlighting to point out and trace the major features of a text (argument, evidence, examples, etc.) and to converse with it.

Holistic — This broader annotation strategy requires readers to keep a separate place for notes that summarizes the text, pulls relevant quotations, and maps keywords and sources.

Social — This method involves using web annotation tools (we will use hypothes.is) to have a conversation about web texts with other users.


HW: Five annotations [50 points]
Each time we meet in this unit, I expect you to have not only read the assigned texts, but have annotated them. No late annotations will be accepted. Each annotation is worth 10 points and will be largely graded on effort. Although we will discuss how to make annotations effective and look at examples in class, due to the pacing of this unit, I will not offer individual feedback on these unless you schedule a time to meet with me.

Final: Video Essay [50 points]
You share a video based on an 800-1,000 word reflective essay that responds to specific questions about both the content of this unit (that is, the lenses) and the annotation methods we used (marginal, holistic, social). You’ll provide a script and I’ll provide feedback in the form of marginal notes in Google Docs. See the Unit 2 Reflection page for details.