When I signed up for history of the information age last semester, I was not entirely sure what I was getting myself into. I believed the class would primarily be about computers and the impact that they have had on the world, as well as how the infrastructure that maintains this age was invented and implemented. I did not expect for a class that started with the advent of the printing press and went all the way up to the development of the online culture that we know today. On reflection that makes sense. The information age is all about how fast information spreads, and Gutenberg’s printing press redefined how information could be spread.
Considering this class dealt with a non-standard topic for history, it makes sense that the class would implement non-standards means of assessment. The break from writing another major paper was a relief to say the least and gave me several unexpected opportunities to flex creative muscles that the history department has not given me the chance to use before. I made a silent film and discovered a love for video editing, which I have lamented not exploring sooner. I created more infographics than I can shake a stick at, but among those infographics I was able to talk about the late actor Stefán Karl Stefánnson, a beloved figure for his as Robbie Rotten on the children’s TV show Lazytown. Making an infographic all about the memes he spawned was a unique experience, but it gave me an opportunity to demonstrate a lot of trivia that I had picked up in following his story.
We also got to design the lessons, which made this course far more student driven than any other class I have taken thus far. Everything, from the discussion questions to the readings to the activities were all designed by us. This not only was a chance for me to get some practice in lesson design, something that as a teacher I need, but it also gives the class a sense of ownership over the whole thing. The lessons, the projects are all things that we created. No other class is going to be taught the same way, because future classes are going to propose different ideas and use different materials to teach it. I think by the end of the class people were starting to get over-reliant on infographics as an activity but using a visual medium to express our thoughts to the class certainly was effective in showing what we thought and letting individuals’ personalities shine.
The most important discussions had were the ones toward the end of the class, especially those about the Dark Web and digital ethics. For most people, the Dark Web is this nebulous concept of a hidden online world that acts as the seedy underbelly of the world wide web. Learning that the Dark Web has noble uses was eye-opening, although in hindsight it makes sense. It is essentially incognito browsing amped up to 11, and while that does allow certain bad elements to use the internet for truly horrific ends, it also allows the oppressed and threatened to tell their stories and get vital information they need to fight back against the administrations or individuals who can harm them. Meanwhile, digital ethics is a field that needs to be developed more substantially as the technology and culture of the internet continues to grow at a rapid pace. Learning how technology can be used to subtly oppress people, and how false information can spread so rapidly were both important truths that needed to be learned and spread, and figuring out how to fix these problems, and the myriad of others that the internet creates, needs to be a priority for us as a species.
I’m genuinely glad that I decided to take History 427 this semester. It has been a departure from the norms of the history department, but right now that is what I needed. Taking the time to talk about issues that affect us as individuals and users of the internet is different than a lot of the classes I have taken, which focus on ancient civilizations or bygone wars. But talking about memes, about fake news, about the information age, has been a more personal experience than the ones that I have had during my years at UMW, and I think it has helped broaden my experiences and helped prepare me to work to solving the problems, and embrace the opportunities of the information age.