Dennis D. McDonald ( consults from Alexandria Virginia. His services include writing & research, proposal development, and project management.

An MIT Course on How Writing and Media "Reports from the Front" Have Changed

An MIT Course on How Writing and Media "Reports from the Front" Have Changed

By Dennis D. McDonald

Recently while checking my blog’s log of referring web sites I discovered that several of my old blog posts on privacy and data ownership were listed as resources for this MIT OpenCourseWare Course:

  • Miller, Ben. 21W.784 Becoming Digital: Writing about Media Change, Fall 2009. (Massachusetts Institute of Technology: MIT OpenCourseWare), (Accessed 22 Nov, 2010). License: Creative Commons BY-NC-SA

This “Becoming Digital: Writing about Media Change” was taught in Fall of 2009 by Dr. Ben Miller. This is the course description:

“Becoming Digital” traces the change in practice, theory and possibility as mechanical and chemical media are augmented or supplanted by digital media. These changes will be grounded in a semester length study of “reports from the front.” These reports, found and introduced by students throughout the semester, are the material produced by and about soldiers and civilians on the battlefield from the introduction of wet photography during the Crimean and Civil Wars to contemporary digital content posted daily to Web 2.0 sites from areas such as Iraq and Afghanistan and possibly even the games and simulations they’ve inspired. Students will work through the ethical, aesthetic, technical and cultural problems raised by the primary content and secondary readings in three papers, a group project written with Inform 7, a presentation, and frequent discussion.

These were the blog posts cited as resources for the course in the unit titled “Personal Data Storage / Total Information Awareness”:

As I suggested in my post Why I’m Not as Interested in “Personal Data Portability” As I Once Was a month ago, my own views on personal data portability (and by reference to this, my views on privacy and personal data control) have changed over the years. Not only are more personal details available online but our ability to control access to these details has diminished.

With respect to the main focus on Dr. Miller’s course, this lack of control over the flow of information, brought about partly by a gradual blurring of the distinctions of personal, professional, and job related communications facilitated by digital communications technologies, has made the job of controlling warzone information more difficult.

Even though the number of sources of what’s really going on in, say, Afghanistan, may have expanded beyond official military and “embedded” media sources to include sources using Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube, we as “media consumers” still have to deal with the personal affiliations, prejudices, and perspectives of individual sources in order to decide whom to trust.

On balance, I’d have to say that more sources are better than fewer sources, especially if we are presented with perspectives that are purposely being hidden by official sources. But I’m not naive enough to believe that more sources will automatically bring about changes and reveal truth. The actions of dedicated individuals are still necessary for that to happen. Individual citizens still need to intelligently evaluate and assess a variety of information sources.

Perhaps the greatest benefit we have gained as a society through access to a variety of sources of information about actual warzone conditions has been our ability to hear the stories of individual soldiers and their own families in their own words, unencumbered by official controls and spin.

The purpose and value of applications of military force will forever be the focus of political and policy arguments. That’s as it should be. But no matter what “side” of a political debate you find yourself on when it comes to applications of military force being made in your name, you will find it increasingly difficult to remain ignorant of the personal pain, suffering, hardships, and horrors experienced by those acting in your name. And that’s as it should be.

Copyright (c) 2010 by Dennis D. McDonald

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