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Documentary Project


Good critical thinking, in Ian Bogost’s (2012) words, should “amplify the black noise of objects to make resonant frequencies of the stuffs inside them hum in credibly satisfying ways” (p. 34). The questions asked by students in Language, Technology, and Culture in the video project Does your Smartphone Make you Smarter? can be seen as an attempt to pursue just such an amplification. The video project was developed partly as a way to help students open the black boxes of their cell phones (without literally taking them apart). I introduced and explained the project to students like this:

Let’s extend some of the conversation that was started in The PEW Internet & American Life surveys, but move it in a different direction. Instead of identifying how many people do a specific thing with their phones, or what students’ feelings are about using technology, let’s address the most distinctive and fastest-growing change to our everyday lives since the emergence of the World Wide Web—smartphones. Unlike the PEW studies, we won’t confine ourselves to asking about how much, where, and why we use (or don’t use) smart phones as students.

We’ll ask not-obvious and interesting questions that try to elucidate some of the connections we have with cell phones. This project will act as a concrete way for us to develop questions that are informed by our readings and representative of a history-rich understanding of media. We can help documentary participants think about complex, yet short, questions concerning their work, their studies, their relationships, and their literacy practices enacted through and with cell phones.

We’ll shoot the video with our phones and then upload them to YouTube. They’ll comprise the raw data for a short film about smart phone use. We’ll all share the credit equally and can cite the work in our CVs and resumes. The resultant video will be authored by everyone and shared online via a Creative Commons’ Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported license.

The full video Does your Smartphone Make you Smarter? is available here:

A PDF transcript is available here and you can see the course syllabus here: http://eng494595.wordpress.com/syllabus/. Questions were submitted by all class members, collected on a shared Google document, and revised both in and outside of class: https://docs.google.com/document/d/158XnYG4uooATD2iK-EsF0A9-w7VYimFWJWZM8LJWKYs/edit.