The Politics of Information Access - Syllabus

Honors College
HON 201 (Section 53330)
Thursday, 4:00-4:50, 117 Lincoln Hall

Laura Quilter |
Veronda Pitchford |

I. Access for All - the Economics of Access

August 28 - Moderators: Laura Q. & Veronda P.
Logistics & Definitions

Defining Our Terms - Discussion Points
Defining Information, Access, Politics: Is information a public good? What is its relation to knowledge? to productivity? to citizenship? How we've provided access to information in the past & present. How information affects our ability to effect change.

September 4 - Moderators: Laura Q & Veronda P
Universal Access: Print, Broadcast Media, the Internet, Narrowcasting
- History of Media & Its Impacts on Society
- Coming of the Internet and new methods of access to information. Comparison of the Internet with cable TV, rural electrification data, the library, and other relevant models of access to information.
- Examination of attempts to ensure universal access. Community computing and freenets; other models.
- Will ability to "narrowcast" - self-select information - make us insular and ignorant? Is the ability to avoid unpleasant truths a right or a curse?
- How can we as individuals affect this process?

September 11 - Moderators: Laura Q. & Veronda P.
Universal Access - Libraries & Other Organizations
- Role of libraries in a democracy: providing access to information, helping people to critical thinking skills, helping people watchdog government/business.
- Other information access tools, such as not-for-profit groups, statutes like FOIA, etc. Evolution of information access. Collection development patterns in libraries.
- The local situation: "The construction of a great marble monument has not transformed what can only be described as the Cook County Hospital of public libraries." (Regarding the Chicago Public Library's new Harold Washington Library. CPL has one of the lowest per capita expenditures on books of any large public library system.)
- How can we as individuals affect this process?

II. Media Concentration, Public Relations, & Advertising

September 18 - Moderator: Denise
Media & Society
- What is media? Media defined. What is the difference between "the media" and information?
- The history of "news"
- the evolution of information distribution, from the printing press to the Internet.
- In this country, how is media creation & distribution organized? Who produces media, who controls it, who owns it?
- How has media access been used to effect or suppress change in society?
- How can we as individuals affect this process?

September 25 - Moderator: Richard
*** Project Concept or Paper Topic Due ***
Media & Our Lives - Consuming (Mass) Media and Advertising
- Looking at the modern age, how does access to the media influence us in our everyday lives? What are our roles in this process -- are we consumers or active participants?
- What does advertising tell us about ourselves? How are our perceptions of things we don't know about shaped by advertising? by the news? What does "advertising" try to get us to do? Is that useful or harmful to us as individuals, and to our society? How much are our "needs" shaped by advertising? Are advertisers effective in shaping our desires?
- What impact does advertising have on the "news"? the electoral process? What about on other aspects of our political culture (where the power is, who makes the decisions that affect our lives)?
- How can we as individuals affect this process?

October 2 - Moderator: Jeff
Broadcasting: Who Controls the (Mass) Media?
- The state of ownership, control and access to the mass media. Concentration of modern mass media in the hands of corporations, vs. efforts to ensure that "the people" have a voice (community radio; public access cable). For example, we can look at the differences between community radio and public radio and commercial radio.
- (What are "the people"? "The people" defined.) What role, if any do public and alternative media play? (Quick, which statement is true: "The media has a liberal bias" or "The media is only as liberal as the conservative businessmen who own it." Do either of these categories have meaning or relevance to people's lives?)
- Examination of the Telecommunications Act of 1996.
- What's the difference between media and propaganda? What unstated assumptions are never, ever questioned in the mass media? Does the United States' way of creating media (selling licenses to companies to make money with) tend to foster lots of ideas and variety, or stifle them?
- How can we as individuals affect this process?

October 9 - Moderator: Adit
Narrowcasting: Making Media via the Internet, Cable Access, Etc.
- How is the Internet going to affect information distribution, and access? Is the Internet really "the ultimate vanity press" or is it the beginning of a tremendous explosion of human creativity and potential, a la the Renaissance?
- Do individuals have a right to express their opinions via the airwaves? Can they do it via the Internet? Is this democratically distributed, accessible to all people -- or only some?
- Can you identify certain trends in the development of "media creation," and can you identify their historical precedents or are they entirely new and unprecedented? What impact could this have on the political world?
- Can you envision ways to use new technologies to empower people, and to impact society meaningfully? Are these things likely to occur? What could you do to help them to happen?

III. Intellectual Freedom

October 16 - Moderator: Tim
Intellectual Freedom, Speech & Society - Types & Concepts
- A look at historical and modern concepts of intellectual freedom
- Types of intellectual freedom: freedom of speech, libel, Academic freedom, right to petition your government, freedom of press, freedom of assembly, and freedom of religion, and other subsets of intellectual freedoms.
- Threats (and rationalizations of threats) to intellectual freedom. Types of Censorship: Filterware at home and in libraries, hate-speech codes, suing pornographers (Minneapolis) for "harm," Canada's handling of certain types of sexually explicit materials, Singapore & China, yelling fire in a crowded theatre, banning books in school libraries, Catholic Church list of forbidden books & movies -- lots of examples.
- Is freedom of speech equivalent to right to access information?
- How can we as individuals affect this process?

October 23 - Moderator: Jana
Intellectual Freedom, Threats, and the Individual
- A closer look at the current state of affairs in the US, and some comparison with other nations and the world.
- The Communications Decency Act of 1996.
- What is libel and how does it affect "freedom of speech"? (Most famous recent case: McLibel).
- How do different standards apply to different media (the Internet, broadcast, cable TV)?
- How are we as individuals affected by freedom of speech? And threats to it?
- How can we as individuals affect this process?

IV. Intellectual Property

October 30 - Moderator: Will
What is it and why should we care?
- What are copyright, trademarks, and patents, and how do they relate to access to information?
- What was the original intent of intellectual property law - why was it created, and for whose benefit? Is that how it's working today?
- What role do they have to play in the development of knowledge and culture?
- Can "information" be owned, or does "information want to be free"?
- Do different types of information (such as scientific, personal, cultural) transmit differently?
- What are the roles of publishers, artists/authors/information creators, libraries, and information consumers? Are these roles changing? How are we as individuals affected by all this?
- How can we as individuals affect this process?

November 7 - Moderator: Martha
What will "intellectual property" look like next year?
- What role will copyright have in the future?
- Does it need to be redefined for electronic information, and can it be? What methods have the software industry employed, and what methods are print publishers examining?
- What impact do differing national standards of copyright have on producers & consumers of information? What about the changes in a single national standard of copyright (for instance, the US)?
- US and international copyright reform proposals are affecting all this - and so are international trade treaties such as WIPO, GATT, etc. What impact might international agreements have on local regulations of other types? On the ability of libraries to provide you with copies of articles?
- How can we as individuals affect this process?

V. Privacy & Human Rights

November 14 - Moderator: Megan
*** Project: Rough Draft or Outline Due ***
What Is Privacy and How Does It Affect Us?
- What is privacy? Do we have a right to it?
- What kinds of violations of privacy (intrusions in private lives) do we face?
- Government threats to privacy: IRS, DMV, criminal divisions/police/FBI/CIA; Clipper-Chip & Encryption; role of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
- Business threats to privacy: advertising, private databases, mailing lists (the U.S. News & World Report case), employer-snooping.
- Are any of these threats warranted? Should we be afraid? Are the trade-offs worth it? What can we do to to ensure that society respects individual privacy?

November 20 - Moderators: Ron, Oneba, Nadia
Biological & Genetic Information
We also have lots of really personal information - our genetic and medical information. What kinds of information are included?
- How is this information gathered? Who collects it, and what do they do with it? (Health alliances. Human Genome Project. Insurance companies. Government databases.)
- Gene copyrighting, from white mice to individual's gene sequences. Owning life-forms. Owning strains of people. Clones?
- How can we as individuals affect this process?

November 27 - Thanksgiving

December 4 - Moderator Youlet
*** Projects & Papers Due ***
Jana's Birthday
Protecting Our Privacy - Can We and Should We?
- The ability to gather large amounts of data & cross-reference databases has created new & unprecedented ways to track people and their information. In combination with new technologies to track movement, etc., we may not ever have any privacy again.
- Is this likely? Who (what institutions) would want to do this? Can they? Should we be afraid of it?
- What kinds of technologies are we talking about? (New surveillance technologies, automated highway toll systems, fingerprints on driver's licenses, retinal scans, high-tech eavsedropping, Clipper-Chip.)
- How can we as individuals affect this process?

VI. Technology & Employment

December 11 - Moderator Kinga
Jobs & the Information Economy
- How is employment affected by access to information and access to technology? What is the impact of technology in employment: net gain or net loss? - Do public education, free access to information, etc., play a role in a strong economy?
- Are we really moving from an industrial economy to an "information" or "service economy," and what does that mean? Are 80% of all workers now "information workers"? If so, what does that mean for the worker? Can we get jobs, and are they good ones?
- How does technology relate to "downsizing," "restructuring," and "reengineering"?
- What are neo-luddites? (Was the Unabomber one?)
- How can we as individuals affect this process?