Any topic (writer’s choice)

Any topic (writer’s choice)

1. Pick a fictional story that includes one or more digital media technologies that did not exist when the fiction was produced; it could be a movie, a book, a television show. Science fiction shows or high-tech James Bond-like spy movies are easy picks. But you might also pick a show like Black Mirror where, for example, social media is slightly but significantly different than the social media of today. Films that were later made into computer games or vice versa can be good choices for this paper. But, by no means, do you need to choose a film that has been made into a game.

2. Find a demo video that shows the current state-of-the-art of the technology shown in the fiction. For example, you might pick a fiction that includes sophisticated robots (e.g., I, Robot or Westworld) and then find a demo video like this:  (Links to an external site.)

3. Find all of the cultural references you can in the fiction.  How does it reference past or contemporary culture, politics, and people?

4.Web surf (Wikipedia surf, IMDB surf, etc.) to find who produced, directed, starred in, etc. the fiction. Draw it out to produce a sketch of the social network behind the fiction.

5. Analyze the state-of-the-art of a specific digital media technology that appears in the fiction you have chosen.  Find all of the cultural references that it incorporates, explicitly or implicitly. Start by examining closely what the technology looks like and in what ways the technology looks like other things or people, but then expand beyond that. For example, robots might look like humans or dogs or they might look like insects. Consider, for example, the role played by the technology. For example, if the technology is a kind of conversational interface, is the technology being cast (by the designers) into the role of secretary or assistant? If so then, reciprocally what roles are the humans using or interacting with the technology suppose to play? For example, if the technology is some kind of online learning program, is it being cast as the teacher and the humans the users being cast as students? Or is it being cast as the newest kind of “textbook” and the “users” as simply readers of the textbook?  Now expand from the roles into the story or stories in which these roles play a part. For example, there are a lot of stories about teachers and students, they have a setting (e.g., schools), and a set of narrative problems and resolutions. Consider how the fictional story you chose for step 1 fits into this larger set of stories. We will call this larger set of stories and the technologies that appear in them a sociotechnical imaginary.

6. Identify the technical literature that publishes the latest developments in the area of digital media technology that you have chosen. For example, if the fiction is about robots, then you will want to look for computer science and engineering journals and conferences that publish technical papers about robotics (e.g., The International Journal of Robotics Research). If the fiction is about a new kind of interface, look for venues that publish the latest in interface and interaction design (e.g., the annual SIGCHI conference proceedings). Read some of the abstracts of some of the papers you find to try to get a feel for the kinds of problems that are being addressed in the technical literature. Note names of prominent researchers in the technical field.

7. Use to trace out a social network of the researchers who are behind the cutting edge of the technical research in the field. The easiest way to do this is to pay attention to, and record on a social network diagram, who cites whom in the technical papers.

8. The main question I want you to address in this paper is this: Does the development of digital media technologies follow fiction or does fiction follow technological fact? Your answer is probably going to entail tracing out a tangle of influences going back and forth from fiction to fact and fact to fiction. Consider, as you write, if the people behind the fictional story are connected to the people behind the development of the technology; the sorts of questions posed in the technical literature and how they connect to the narrative problems, of what I called in step 5, the sociotechnical imaginary. What are the gaps between the technologys depiction in fiction and the technology’s current state-of-the-art? What connections (personal, cultural, economic, etc.) exist between the storytellers of fiction and the scientists and engineers of the technology?

9. Grading will be done in a manner similar to the grading of paper #1. The paper will be graded according to the following criteria:

(a) Spelling and grammar count! We will take off points for poor proofreading.

(b) the quality and extent of your research;

(c) the clarity of your argument: Make your point right up front and then extend your argument in the body of the paper;

(d) the skill with which you weave your references into your argument: Just listing references is not convincing; you need to consider the point (or ancillary point) you are trying to make by citing a reference; e.g., some references are there to convince the reader that you know what you are writing about; others are there to serve as adversaries: ideas or people against whom you are arguing; other are positive citations, references to ideas or people who back up or give further depth to the position you are arguing.