History 427: History of the Information Age

HIST 427: End of Semester Final Reflection

It is already the end of the school year! Our last assignment in History of the Information Age is to reflect upon what we learned in the past semester.

Society and Technology

Personally, I most enjoyed learning about the relationship between society
and technology, and the way in which new technologies arise and are shaped by opportune times, rather than technology shaping the times. This is evident from our past class discussion of Ada Lovelace, who wrote early forms of computer code, but whose works were not adopted, partially due to her sex, but also due to society’s lack of readiness or need for such technology. It would not be until almost a century later than computer code and programming would finds its useful niche in society.

This example proves to us that it is not entirely inventions that shape society, but rather, society that shapes inventions. It is not uncommon for societal norms to even go so far as to stifle the creativity of an otherwise powerful inventor or scientist, like in the case of Lovelace, or in the case of British scientist Alan Turing, whose notoriety, influence, and eventually life were cut short due to his homosexuality.

If we are to accept this relationship, I will posit that technologies become successful due to a positive user-tool relationship in which the user gains more benefit – such as in terms of ease-of-use, accessibility, improvement of circumstances, etc. from the use of a tool than the tool, or tool-maker does from the user – such as in terms of profit.

Computers

Let’s take the a well-known tool, the computer. While computer specifications vary wildly, we can agree that computers are widespread, widely popular, and their variety of uses for communication, word processing, media production, and a whole range of procedures are more often than not accepted and understood by the public.

While creating my entry for the class timeline project, I learned about how Apple marketed and sold the Apple IIe computer for use in schools, and how this marketing impacted their role in the education industry, and later, the computing industry as a whole. In my research, I learned that many individuals and groups questioned Apple’s motives, and whether or not the purpose of putting Apple IIe computers in every school in the country was truly for the betterment of education, or if it was only a marketing scheme. As Apple IIes proliferated in the classroom, some students began to extol the virtues of such machines to their families, who in turn purchased the computers at full price for home use, thus solidifying Apple’s role as a tech giant.

While many criticize Apple’s pursuit of profit through education, and argue that Apple’s strategic marketing was key to their success, we cannot forget that the usefulness of a product in and of itself is also a key determinant of that product’s success – not just clever marketing.

Social Media and Gray Area

More complicated and controversial for its usefulness is social media, in which the lines between content producer and content consumer are blurred. On one hand, social media can allow users to connect and share platform-specific content, such as photos, videos, or text posts, to a variety of users across the world. However, on the other hand, social media can be time consuming or invasive of personal information, or even cause individuals to become victims of cyber bullying, or for their content to be hidden due to “algorithms of oppression,” both concepts that we discussed in class.

In learning about “algorithms of oppression,” we learned about how search engines and social media may purposefully or inadvertently hide content or display biased article based on specific search terms. While bias cannot ever be fully removed from online spaces, it is important to keep in mind how such biases may impact our search results or how we produce and consume content.  

Virtual and Augmented Reality

Even more complicated is the role of Virtual Reality. History of the Information Age is not the only course that I have discussed virtual reality. In fact, I focused many of my efforts in DGST 101: Intro to Digital Studies on Augmented Reality (AR) and its possible uses and implications in a classroom setting. Maybe this is a personal bias, but AR and VR have always rubbed me the wrong way. Augmented Reality always reminds me of Disney’s semi-failed theme park, Disney Quest –(I say semi-failed because the possibility of a Disney Quest spin-off could be in the works) a world full of – you guessed it, VR-based rides and attractions.

While Disney Quest did not fail solely because of its use of AR/VR, it is important to note that AR/VR still has not truly taken off, despite having been around for decades. I believe that part of this failure is due to the unclear purposes and applications of AR/VR, and its uncertain user-tool relationship. What exactly is the purpose of AR/VR? A learning tool? A simulation for a roller coaster? Inducing a headache? I imagine that as the uses of AR/VR become clearer and more applicable, that the technology may take off.

Favorite Assignments

Another good part of History of the Information Age was that we had a great deal of flexibility in choosing our assignments. My favorite assignments were our group Silent Film Project, in which my group made a short video in which we recreated scenes from the University of Mary Washington Yearbooks, and also, our meme project, in which I created an info graph on vaporwave, an online-based genre of music.

Takeaways for the Future

On the last day of class, we theorized about the future of technology and the Information Age. One point of discussion was how themes in the history of the information age are cyclical and repeating, rather than idiosyncratic. Patterns of invention will always come and go, and the skepticism of older generations regarding the technology use of younger generations will always exist. There will always be an older generation to lament “how easy” the younger generation has it. After all, Luddites have been around since the 19th-century.

I enjoyed taking History of the Information Age, and was surprised with how much content that I could relate to and possessed prior knowledge on. I will definitely use the concepts that I have learned about patterns of innovation and societal applications of technology in the future.

Citations

Buck, Stephanie. “When Steve Jobs donated 9,000 Apples to California Schools, It Was Tax and Marketing Coup.” Timeline. November 8, 2017. https://timeline.com/apple-kids-cant-wait-2792d326aa31

Hom, Elaine. “Alan Turing Biography: Computer Pioneer, Gay Icon”. Life Science. June 23, https://www.livescience.com/29483-alan-turing.html

Hood, Michelle and Amanda Duffy. “Understanding the Relationship between Cyber-victimisation and Cyber-bullying on Social Network Sites: The Role of Moderating Factors.” Personality and Individual Differences 133 (2017): 103-108. https://www-sciencedirect-com.umw.idm.oclc.org/science/article/pii/S0191886917302556

Miller, Claire Caine. “Ada Lovelace’s Obituary.” Overlooked. The New York Times. March 2018. (accessed April 27, 2019)
https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/obituaries/overlooked-ada-lovelace.html

Noble, Safiya Umoja. “Challenging the Algorithms of Oppression.” (accessed April 27, 2019) https://youtu.be/iRVZozEEWlE

Watters, Audrey. “How Steve Jobs Brought the Apple II to the Classroom.” Hack Education.
http://hackeducation.com/2015/02/25/kids-cant-wait-apple (retrieved February 18, 2019)

One Final Citation

Lastly, I would like to “cite” both my amazing classmates, much of whose work can be viewed at our class website, as well as my excellent Professor, Dr. McClurken, for having inspired and supported me so much this past semester. After all, citations (especially those in Chicago style) are part of an ongoing conversation between scholars, and that conversation would not be possible without such a great class! Thank you, everyone!

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