A1 Representation: What the Internet Means Today (Fall 2020)

Fall 2020

Assignment 1

Representation: What the Internet Means Today

Internet companies, like so many other businesses, noticeably changed the way they represented themselves at the start of the pandemic. Emphasis in advertisements shifted from touting the novelty and features of products to showing how companies could help in a time of crisis, shifting to a tone of care and aiming to uplift. Delivery services such as Grubhub turned attention to what they could do for restaurants that had closed. Google thanked teachers. Facebook highlighted its platform as a place where people could find help or offer support. Uber thanked its riders for not using the app. And Apple sought to inspire. The rush of advertisers to show their usefulness “in uncertain times” was so pronounced that it became the subject of parody and self-parody. But we should take seriously this shift in tone because it also reflects ways that our relationship with the internet is changing, perhaps permanently.

How have you been using the internet during the pandemic? What websites, apps, or services are you using more now than before? What do these represent to you in a context where so many former services are on hold? How do these services represent themselves to you? What language and tone are associated with them? How do they make you feel?

Check out the main web page for the service you choose. What does it say? How does it represent itself in text, image, and sound? What tone does it strike? What emotions does it seek to elicit? Who is it for? What is its structure and format?

Circuit of Culture

To help you get started, take a look at this short text on the “Circuit of Culture,” which will be the frame for all the assignments this semester. Once you have your activity or service in mind, focus in on the dimension of representation associated with it: what does the medium, technology, activity, or service represent and for whom? What is its context and what does it mean for the people who use it? Remember that representation can occur in spoken language, text, image, and sound, and in any of the media that combine these.

Submitting Assignments

All assignments should be submitted as text documents on Blackboard and to the blog on the course site. For further instructions on posting to the blog, check out this explainer.

Due September 11 by 5:00 p.m. EST.