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Critical Theory of Technology

Course description

The vast influx of telecommunications infrastructure has coincided with a massive centralization of wealth and power. How has this barrage of spectacles on screens brokered global inequality? What was the utopian goal of early tech-creators, and were those values embodied in the design of the tools we use today?

With contemporary society and our collective future irrevocably changed by ubiquitous technology, the questions that makers, artists and technologists pose to society are increasingly relevant.

This class at SFPC will provide a critical discussion on some of the most relevant aspects of technological society today. We'll draw from theorists such as Jean Baudrillard, Jodi Dean and Alexander Galloway, and science fiction writers such as Bruce Sterling and Ursula K Le Guin.

Expectations and Structure

  • Each week, two people from the class will present that week's readings.
  • Read all the material and come prepared to discuss it in depth. Please bring other resources, authors and artists that you find relevant.
  • As this is primarily a discussion-based class, let's have all laptops closed. See Clay Shirky's post on Medium about how this is better for everyone.
  • Brainstorm and create a final class project.
  • Blog weekly about the readings and your thoughts.


This is under construction and will be changed throughout the course. Please feel free to give feedback.

Week 1

Week 2 - What was the vision?

Week 3 - Decentralization and its Discontents

Decentralized computing, decentralized political organizing, decentralized currencies. Global, decentralized networds of computers have disrupted the way we communicate, seemingly leading to a more democratic society. Simultaneously, we've seen a massive centralization of power and wealth. Protocol introduces us to how control can exist after decentralization.

Week 4 - Utopias and Sci Fi

Ursula K Le Guin writes that science fiction is descriptive, not predictive. And it is in these extrapolations on the present that we are able to see reality with greater clarity. The readings this week explore stories of humanity and utopias, in their various forms.

  • Friday, October 31st, 1pm
  • Readings - This is a lot, so read what you like - and if you don't like it, figure out why and then skip it.
    • Anne McCaffrey - "The Ship Who Sang"
    • Octavia E. Butler - "Bloodchild"
    • William Gibson - "The Gernsback Continuum"
    • Ursula K. Le Guin -
    • Nathan Shedroff and Christopher Noessel, Make It So: Interaction Design Lessons from Science Fiction - Please don't read this, it's way too much for one week, but I want you to have it for the reference. It's an interesting study on how speculative design in science-fiction ultimately becomes the inventions that technologists create.

Week 5 - Messaging and Language

What does sharing mean now that the "sharing economy" is our newest "disruption". What is the collective when a number of companies launch ""? How is defining issues difficult when everything is connected?

Week 6 - Internet of Things

For this week, we’ll look at our future through connected devices. Cisco thinks it’s pretty great. Others are scared of their televisions. Driverless cars are going to happen, but perhaps not as soon as we think. The intelligence community is “intrigued". Bruce Sterling has an interesting take on our future in “The Epic Struggle for the Internet of Things,” which is the assigned reading for this week.

Week 7 - Privacy and Surveillance

Skim this, it's not necessary but good for historical context.

Also Lauren McCarthy's class github has some good resources on surveillance art. And the Artsec bibliography.

Week 8 - Political Change and Riots

Much of the discussion of this class has led to the question: if technology isn't the solution, then what is? I had planned for us to read Alan Badiou's The Rebirth of History: Times of Riots and Uprisings, but it's much too long and you're all too tired right now. So per our discussion on Friday, we’re going to only have one (short) reading for Wednesday. I’ll bring in some videos/discussions of various protest movements. And if the Darren Wilson verdict is announced, we may just go to Union Square.

PS. If you have an idea already of what you’d like to write (or a blog post you’d like to reformat) for our class zine, I’d love to discuss it with you.

##Weeks 9 - Final Class Design and make the final project into a zine from blog posts.

  • Friday, December 5th
    • Link to the zine is here. Great job everyone!



  • This class is partially inspired by David Nolen's class "Bicycles for the Mind," which I took in a Fall 2013 course at ITP/NYU. Also thanks to Alexander Galloway and countless others for making their syllabi accessible online.
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