INLS 089-121: The Revolution Will Not Be Tweeted: Social Informatics in Popular Culture

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Social Informatics is the study of the effects of information technology on groups and society. The recent revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt have been called the first “social media-enabled” revolutions, which goes to show that social informatics can play an important role in understanding the technology-augmented reality around us. This seminar will explore the effects of different types of information technologies, for different communities, in different contexts – from mobile devices to Facebook, from business to education to social life, from the developing world to your hometown.

The instructor will impose as little structure on this course as possible. Students in this course will design the syllabus as much as possible. Social informatics is an area of study that "examines the social aspects of computerization." That's a broad scope. There is just no way to address "the social aspects of computerization" in one semester. Instead, we will, together, select a few social aspects to consider in depth.

Current events and popular culture will provide us with fodder for selecting topics. The recent “social media-enabled” revolutions and uprisings of the Arab Spring, provide some obvious and timely examples. The recent London riots provide two angles: the Prime Minister's suggestion that it may be appropriate to limit or stop social media usage, and the fact that London is one of the most surveilled cities in the world. The presidential campaign season will be ramping up in Fall 2011; the use of social media in political campaigns might be interesting. Personal informatics allows us to collect data about ourselves, to monitor our own health and habits, and similar trends are emerging in household and other forms of energy efficiency. Our mobile devices collect a lot of data about us, only some of which is available to us. Films such as Gattaca and WarGames explore the ethical issues surrounding the use of various technologies. These are just a few ideas to get your gears spinning. Suggest others.

How will we cover topics? There are several options. We could pursue a single topic, as a whole class, for a few weeks, then move on to another topic. We could form groups (⅓ to ¼ of the class, depending on enrollment) that each pursue a topic, and report back to the class. We could pursue one large topic with multiple subtopics for the entire semester, or several small topics. Again, these are just a few possibilities. Suggest others.

This course is a First Year Seminar. See the University's FYS site for more information on the FYS program.

Course goals and objectives

There is one single, megalomaniacal goal of this course: To get students thinking critically about the possible uses and implications of different computing technologies, as applied in different social contexts.

In order to accomplish these goals, students will:

  1. Contribute to the co-development of the course syllabus, AND
  2. Develop and lead the class in one or more lessons, AND
  3. Read critically and respond critically to the reading, AND
  4. (Conduct an original research project, OR
  5. Build an original tool to collect, manage, or display data)


Jeffrey Pomerantz
Associate Professor
School of Information and Library Science
Office: 112 Manning Hall
Office hours: M, Tu, W, Th 11-noon (make an appointment)
Note: As an alternative to office hours, I'll be happy to do lunch, with enough advance scheduling. You can even get reimbursed for lunch through the Meals with Heels program.
Office phone: 919-962-8064


No textbook is required.

All readings will be assigned on the course Schedule. Readings will be available on the free web, as an e-journal, via the Library's e-reserves, or on the course site. Readings are also listed in my course Pinboard feed.

I collect other items of interest using the inls089 tag on Pinboard. Please do the same.


Weekly Reaction Post

30% of final grade

Lead a Class Session

20% of final grade

Research Project & Poster

30% of final grade


20% of final grade

Grading rubric & other policies

See my course grading rubric.

See my course policies.


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