MAS 961  · Sociable Media
Instructor: Judith Donath

04.04 Web cultures

Cultures imbue objects with meaning. Some, such as a cross or a flag, are deliberately symbolic; others - and this is the case with many of our everyday objects - acquire meaning in their association with particular beliefs, aspirations, tastes, etc. These meanings are subjective (they vary from person to person) and transitory (they change over time). How do objects acquire these meanings? Why do they change over time? How varied are the meanings that different people ascribe to an object?

The advent of the Web makes it possible to observe these cultural phenomena in virtual objects - in the links, pictures, backgrounds and scripts that make up the thousands of web pages online today.

assignment   ·   essays here

1. Please read all the papers. (I realize this assignment is getting to you late - if you are unable to get to the off-line readings, please do the assignment without the background reading and we will discuss it in class).

2. Look at a wide range of personal home pages - academic researchers, homeschooling mothers, gothic teenagers, corporate salesmen. Follow the links they establish to similar pages.

3. Think about these questions: Is there a sense of community about the linked pages - is it through explicit links? common images or language? Is there a sense of a community of readers? If so, how is it manifest? What changes to the technology of the web (browsers, authoring tools, etc.) would extend these communities?

3. Think about the metaphor of the "home" page in the context of Csikszentmihalyi's description of the meaning of objects in a home. What are some of the items you observe that are peculiar to the virtual world. Do they have particular connotations? What is your hypothesis of how they acquired this meaning? Think about fashion (McCracken and Davis) in an information world -- today's web pages are quite static, do you think this is likely to change significantly? why? how?

4. Write what you have observed. You do not need to explicitly critique this week's readings (though you are welcome to if you choose) but you should relate your observations to them. Please include links to illustrative examples.

Please submit the URL of your critique online by Monday evening. Copies of the readings are available outside of E15-449.