Film 208: Are You a Gadget?

#dmcult: Digital Media and Culture at Emory

Dr. Eric Solomon

Course Description


gadget, n. Used as an indefinite or general name for: a comparatively small fitting, contrivance, or piece of mechanism.


Etymology: Origin obscure. First known in use among seafaring men, and said by several correspondents to have been current c1870, and by a few as far back as the fifties of the nineteenth century, but not found in print before 1886 (from the OED).


This class at Emory University investigates the ways computers and digital technologies have changed how we think, communicate, express ourselves, learn, and interact with the world. The hypothesis of this course comes from the title of one of the books from which we will be reading a selection: You are not a Gadget. As the author Jaron Lanier writes, “I want to say something: You have to be somebody before you can share yourself.”  Over the course of our readings, screenings, and project work, you will have to decide for yourself whether you agree or disagree with these provocative statements in the context of your navigation of digital media and culture. Your final summative statement will consist of your response.


In developing your response to these personal micro-statements, we will discuss broader topics like the relationship between computers and culture in a history of technological change, the way the Internet expands the dissemination of knowledge, the role search engines play in the organization and archiving of information, the rise of media convergence and conglomeration, the cultural impact of social networking on individual and collective identity formation, navigating digital affects in developing a digital ethic, and contemporary changes in digital entertainment industries, such as television, movies, and music.


Organization of the Course and Course Objectives


This course is largely organized around the ways in which digital media shapes cultural concerns and identity formations (and vice versa). Students should leave the course with a greater understanding of their digital selves in relation to both a digital practice (toolkits) and a digital ethic (values). We will study theories of digital identity, community, and activism, especially (but not exclusively) in relation to race, gender, class, sexuality, and disability. Each week, we will approach our overarching concerns via different topics. Tuesday’s readings will typically be slightly heavier in length and philosophical content. Thursday’s readings will usually be lighter, shorter and/or more whimsical. For both Tuesday and Thursday class sessions, you should come prepared to discuss with your classmates the materials for the day by completing our Google Docs class notes beforehand. We will often have group work and presentations (sometimes scheduled in advance, sometimes facilitated in-class).


Finally, Thursday’s screening selection will aim to add dimension and perspective to the week’s respective topic(s). After each screening, you have the option of completing a reflective review/report. You must complete 6 of these by the semester’s close (details under assignments overview).




This is a project-centered and process-oriented course. As such, all of your readings, classwork, screenings, and group and individual assignments will build toward a work-in-progress (or sandbox) personal website (featuring work from this course) and a Final Project and Summative Statement of your choice. See the Assignments tab for an overview.




I grade your work throughout the semester holistically in terms of the process and not the product. You need to show up (attendance), do the work (all of it), and participate in activities to the extent you are able, in order to succeed. In other words, you have to “plug in.” Much of what you will be doing this semester will be graded on effort—your works in progress participation and completion grades reflect this effort. However, at midterm I will assess your level of engagement, assign you with a letter grade, and provide suggestions for improvement. Your demonstrated, consistent effort and strength of your final portfolio of blog posts, essays, reflections, and projects will determine your success in the course. Thirty percent of your grade will come from group and collaborative assignments. Sixty percent of your final grade will be based upon your own work. The other ten percent will come from completion and participation components.


Primary Readings


All of the readings are accessible via hyperlink from the course reading schedule unless otherwise indicated in the calendar. PDFs will be available via Canvas. Throughout the semester, we will read various selections that reflect, refract, or reject some of the course’s central concerns. These include portions of Jaron Lanier’s You are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto (New York: Knopf, 2010), Kevin Kelly’s What Technology Wants (New York: Viking, 2010), and Nicholas A. John’s The Age of Sharing (Malden, MA: Polity Press, 2016). Additionally, we will read numerous articles and chapters by Alice Marwick, Simon Lindgren, and Eli Pariser, among many other thinkers and scholars of digital culture and media.


A sampling of readings:


Recommended Texts for Deeper Reading

(see assignment: Reading “Hyperlink” Extension Report due 12/9)



Course Policies


  1. LATE WORK AND REVISION: All late work must be pre-approved by the instructor except in extenuating circumstances, i.e. a medical emergency.  Extensions will not be granted the day an assignment is due.  All late work is due the next class meeting after the original date posted in the syllabus unless otherwise stipulated by the instructor.  Late work will be deducted a letter grade for every day it is late unless otherwise specified by the instructor.  Unapproved late work will not be accepted.  However, during the semester, you are allowed to revise one assignment, with no guarantee for a higher grade, per the instructor’s approval. The lectures, class discussions, group work, or other daily class work or homework exercises cannot be reconstructed for a student who has been absent; therefore, daily work missed due to tardiness or absence (for any reason) cannot be made up.  Students may arrange to turn in major-grade work in advance or online only if granted permission.

  2. RESPECT: All students are expected to be respectful of others and their opinions and to act with decorum. 

  3. ATTENDANCE: Students are expected to attend class with thoughtful classroom participation. Please schedule appointments with the instructor(s) if you are concerned about your participation role.

  4. TARDINESS: Students are expected to come to class prepared with tasks completed, texts, homework, and pen in hand, ready to go on time and awake. If you arrive to class after roll has been taken (and I strongly advise you do not), it is your responsibility to approach the instructor and make your presence known.  Otherwise, you may automatically be counted absent. If your presence is noted after arriving late, points will be deducted from your class participation grade. Such late arrivals disrupt class and prevent both the late student and his/her classmates from benefiting from the entire lecture/discussion.


Policy on Academic Misconduct

Emory University takes plagiarism cases and all academic misconduct very seriously.  The full Emory College Honor Code statement can be read here:


Other Resources

Writing Center

The Emory Writing Center is located in Callaway Center North 212.  The Writing Center provides a broad range of services related to writing, including thinking through writing assignments during the planning phase and advising regarding many aspects of writing, including brainstorming, organization, thesis, style, wording and revision.  The Center can also help you in your digital assignments and multimodal texts.  The Writing Center is a wonderful resource for students, and I encourage you to take advantage of it.


Office of Disability Services

Emory University complies with the regulations of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and offers accommodations to students with disabilities. If you are in need of a classroom accommodation, please make an appointment with me to discuss this as soon as possible. All information will be held in the strictest confidence.  Appropriate documentation from the Office of Disability Services is necessary for all accommodations.  You may contact ODS via telephone at (404-727-6016).


Emory Counseling Center

Free and confidential counseling services are available at the Emory Counseling Center.

(404) 727-7450,


Disclosures and Triggers

Throughout the semester, we will be discussing topics that may or may not be comfortable for all. While I believe the bedrock of all education is open dialogue and respectful communication, it is my policy to notify all of potential triggers in the content and accommodate all student requests in regards to the sensitive materials. For more on this, please see Erika Price’s similar policy.