56:350:594 The Internet of Garbage (Spring 2020)

[Image Credit: Chris Jordan, "Cell phones #2, Atlanta 2005"]

"The Internet is garbage." This is how Sarah Jeong begins her ebook, The Internet of Garbage. She shows us that so much content on the Internet must be sifted and sorted, moderated and trashed. Spam, harassment, racism, and misogyny. All of this is commonplace on the Internet, which is no longer even a space separate from "offline" life. But the problem goes beyond this, since the Internet also produces other kinds of garbage too, from the mobile devices tossed into landfills to the carbon spewed into the environment by Google's servers. This course addresses these issues by examining theoretical texts, literary artifacts, digital art, and games that take seriously what we normally dismiss as the waste of our digital interactions. This course will cover a broad range of theoretical approaches, including but not limited to critical race theory, intersectional feminism, game studies, and media archaeology. Course assignments will be flexible and will allow students to pursue both critical and creative projects. No digital skills are required.

Rules of Engagement

What is the purpose of a graduate seminar, and how does one use such a space to engage with texts? This document offers some answers to these questions and serves as a kind of constitution for our class.

The military root of the phrase "rules of engagement" is unfortunate because we are actually interested in something as nonviolent as possible. Of course, any interpretation of a text will do violence to it. This is the nature of interpretation. We fit a text or a set of ideas into a pre-existing framework that we already have. This is unavoidable. But we can try our best to forestall that violence or to at least soften the blow. In the interest of this kind of approach, this class will observe the following rules:

1. Disagreement and agreement are immaterial.

Our primary task is to understand, and this does not require agreement or disagreement. This seminar only asks that you agree to read, consider, analyze, and ask questions about the texts and objects we will address.

In his essay "The Rhetoric of Hitler's Battle," Kenneth Burke presents us with a succinct encapsulation of this first rule of engagement:

The appearance of Mein Kampf in unexpurgated translation has called for far too many vandalistic comments. There are other ways of burning books than on the pyre - and the favorite method of the hasty reviewer is to deprive himself and his readers by inattention. I maintain that it is thoroughly vandalistic for the reviewer to content himself with the mere inflicting of a few symbolic wounds upon this book and its author, of an intensity varying with the resources of the reviewer and the time at his disposal. Hitler's "Battle" is exasperating, even nauseating; yet the fact remains: If the reviewer but knocks off a few adverse attitudinizings and calls it a day, with a guaranty in advance that his article will have a favorable reception among the decent members of our population, he is contributing more to our gratification than to our enlightenment" (The Philosophy of Literary Form, 191)

We are more interested in enlightenment than gratification.

2. An argument is a machine to think with.

This is another version of I.A. Richards's claim that “a book is a machine to think with." The "with" here should be read in two different ways. We read "with" an argument by reading alongside it. We "tarry" with it. We get very close to it and join it during a long walk. Notice that this requires that we stay with the author rather than diverging down a different path, questioning the route, or pulling out our own map. But "with" here also means that the argument is a tool that we must first understand before using. Our job is to learn how this tool works. It has multiple moving parts and purposes. It has multiple audiences. We need to understand all of this before we make any attempt to use the argument, and we certainly need to do all of this before we can even think about disagreeing with it.

3. Ask that question sincerely, or the principle of "generous reading."

Why the hell would s/he argue that? If you find yourself asking this question, then take the next step by answering your own question. Why would s/he argue that? If I am indignant about the argument, does this suggest that I am not the audience? If the argument seems ridiculous, is it relying on definitions that I find foreign? If I think the argument is brilliant, is it because I am in fact the target audience, so much so that I am having a difficult time gaining any kind of critical distance?

The principle of "generous reading" has little to do with being "nice." Instead, it is more about reading in a generative way, in a way that opens the text up rather than closes it down. This requires that we read a text on its own terms, understanding how an argument is deploying certain concepts and ideas (see Rule #2).


Professor: Jim Brown
Class Time: Monday, 6:00-8:50pm
Meeting Place: BSB 108

Professor Brown's Office: Digital Commons, Room 104
Office Hours: Monday, 4:30-6:00pm
Email: jim[dot]brown[at]rutgers[dot]edu

Course Website: http://courses.jamesjbrownjr.net/594_spring2020

Learning Outcomes
Upon completion of this class, students will be able to:

  • Interpret and create arguments about the cultural and environmental impacts of digital technologies
  • Effectively summarize and analyze academic arguments
  • Apply critical concepts to a range of texts and technologies
  • Design, plan, and execute research and creative projects

Required Books
You should plan to purchase the following texts or secure them through the Library during the weeks we are reading them. I am currently working with the Robeson Library to make these texts available in the Course Reserves:

  • Race After Technology, Ruha Benjamin
  • Soft Science, Franny Choi
  • Finite Media, Sean Cubitt
  • Beyond Hashtags, Sarah Florini

In addition to these texts, a number of others will be made available for download (articles and excerpts of books). Please see our shared folder for details (link distributed via email).

  • Distributed Blackness, André Brock
  • The Internet of Garbage, Sarah Jeong
  • "The Lifecycle of Software Objects," Ted Chiang
  • The Spam Book, Jussi Parikka and Tony Sampson, eds.
  • The Glitch Moment(um), Rosa Menkman
  • Spam, Finn Brunton
  • "#Gamergate and The Fappening: How Reddit’s algorithm, governance, and culture support toxic technocultures," Adrienne Massanari
  • Updating to Remain the Same, Wendy Chun
  • Trick Mirror, Jia Tolentino
  • Not all Dead White Men, Donna Zuckerberg
  • "Tumblr was a Trans Technology," Haimson et. al.
  • Network Propaganda, Benkler et. al.
  • Digital Rubbish, Jennifer Gabrys
  • Signal Traffic, Lisa Parks and Nicole Starosielski, eds.
  • "Digital Refuse," Sarah T. Roberts
  • Culture Machine, Vol 18. "The Nature of Data Center," Mél Hogan and Asta Vonderau, eds.
  • "The Gathering Cloud," JR Carpenter
  • Behind the Screen, Sarah T. Roberts
  • "Rethinking Repair," Stephen Jackson
  • "The Timeliness of Repair," Lara Houston
  • Ephemera, 19(2), special issue on "Repair Matters," Valeria Graziano and Kim Trogal, eds.
  • "Zombie Media," Jussi Parikka and Garnet Hertz
  • "On trans-, glitch, and gender as machinery of failure," Jenny Sundén
  • Depletion Design, Carolin Wiedemann & Soenke Zehle, eds.
  • Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet, Anna Tsing et. al., eds.

Course Work and Grades
In this class, the following work will be evaluated:

  • Attendance (15%)
  • Collaborative Annotations (15%)
  • Book/Article Review (20%)
  • Final Project (50%)

Grades will be assigned on the following scale:

A 90-100
B+ 87-89
B 80-86
C+ 77-79
C 70-76
D 60-69
F 59 and below

Success in this class will require regular attendance, and I will take attendance at each class meeting. You are required to attend class daily, arrive on time, do assigned reading and writing, and participate in all in-class work. Please save absences for when you are sick or have a personal emergency. If you find that an unavoidable problem prevents you from attending class or from arriving on time, please discuss the problem with me.

If you are more than 10 minutes late for class, you will be considered absent. If there is something keeping you from getting to class on time or that requires that you leave class a few minutes early (i.e., bus or train schedules), please let me know during the first week of class.

Computers, Smartphones, etc.
Please feel free to use your computer or any other device during class, provided that your use of it is related to what we are working on in class. Please silence cell phones during class.

Intellectual Property
Using the work of others without attribution, having another student complete an assignment for you, or any other violations of the university's Academic Integrity Policy will result in a failing grade. If you have questions about the that policy, please see the Dean of Student Affairs website.

The Office of Disability Services
From the The Office of Disability Services (ODS):

"The ODS provides students with confidential advising and accommodation services in order to allow students with documented physical, mental, and learning disabilities to successfully complete their course of study at Rutgers University – Camden. The ODS provides for the confidential documentation and verification of student accommodations, and communicates with faculty regarding disabilities and accommodations. The ODS provides accommodation services, which can include readers, interpreters, alternate text, special equipment, and note takers. The ODS acts as a signatory for special waivers. The ODS also works with students, faculty, staff and administrators to enforce the American with Disabilities Act of 1990."

If you believe you might require an accommodation, please contact the ODS early in the semester.

Shared Files, Course Website, and Email
You should check your email daily. Class announcements about readings and assignments will be distributed through email. The course website will also have important information about assignments and policies. Pay close attention to the course calendar as we move through the semester. I reserve the right to move things around if necessary.


This is a schedule of our readings for the semester. Most class periods will include discussion of the readings, collaborative exercises and writing activities, and student presentations (see the assignments section of this website for a description of the article/book reviews that each student will complete once during the semester).

Any changes made to this schedule will be announced in class and on email.


Jeong, The Internet of Garbage
Choi, Soft Science
Chiang, "The Lifecycle of Software Objects"

Parikka and Sampson, "On Anomalous Objects of Digital Culture"
Brock, "Distributing Blackness"
Tolentino, "The I in the Internet"

Review Text:

  • Menkman, "The Glitch Studies Manifesto" (JB)

Harassment and Abuse

Dibbell, "A Rape in Cyberspace"
Chun, "Inhabiting Writing"
Revisit: Jeong, Tolentino, Chiang

Review Texts:

  • Massanari, "#Gamergate and The Fappening: How Reddit’s algorithm, governance, and culture support toxic technocultures"
  • Brown and Hennis, "Hateware and the Oustourcing of Responsibility"

Misogyny and Transphobia

2/17 *Project Proposal Due*
Zuckerberg, Not all Dead White Men
Revisit: Jeong, Tolentino

Review Texts:

  • Sundén, "On trans-, glitch, and gender as machinery of failure"
  • Haimson et. al, "Tumblr was a trans technology"


Revisit: Jeong

Review Texts:

  • Coleman, "Race as Technology"
  • Nakamura, "Digital Racial Formations"


Benkler et. al.
Revisit: Tolentino

Review Texts:



Review Texts:


Revisit: Chiang, "The Lifecycle of Software Objects"

Review Texts:


Pasek, "Managing Carbon and Data Flows"
Zimmer, "Bitcoin and Potosí Silver: Historical Perspectives on Cryptocurrency"
JR Carpenter, "The Gathering Gloud"

Review Texts:

  • Hogan, "Facebook Data Storage Centers as the Archive’s Underbelly"
  • Vonderau, "Storing Data, Infrastructuring the Air"

Living in a World of Garbage

4/6: Maintenance
Florini, Beyond Hashtags

Review Texts:

  • "‘Joy is resistance’: cross-platform resilience and (re)invention of Black oral culture online" by Jessica Lu and Catherine Knight Steele
  • Trice, Potts, and Small, "Values versus Rules in Social Media Communities"

4/13: Repair 1
Jackson, "Rethinking Repair"
Houston, "The Timeliness of Repair"

Review Texts:

4/20: Repair 2
Ephemera 19(2), special issue on "Repair Matters"
Parikka and Hertz, "Zombie Media"
R-CADE website

4/27: Aesthetics
Cubitt, Finite Media

5/4: Design
Costanza-Chock, "Design Justice"
Bratton, "On Speculative Design"


Collaborative Annotations (15%)

Throughout the semester, we will be using Hypothesis, a collaborative annotation tool, to annotate certain readings. These are credit/no-credit assignments, so I will not be grading annotations. I will merely be tracking that you have completed the annotations and have put forth a good-faith effort while doing so.

Article/Chapter Review (20%)

Once during the semester, each student will write a one-page review of an article or chapter that is related to our discussion for the week. These are readings that the rest of the class is not required to read (though all students are encouraged to read the review texts), so the person reviewing the text will serve as the resident expert on that text.

Reviewers will circulate their one-page review prior to class and will be asked to provide a condensed version of that review that lasts no longer than five minutes (time limit will be strictly enforced). These are informal presentations, but they will need to be carefully choreographed so that the student observes the time limit. Presentations will be followed by a Q&A session.

Articles and chapters to be reviewed are listed on the schedule. Students interested in a particular reading that is not listed on the schedule are free to speak with me about reviewing an alternate text, though the review does need to fit with the reading for that week.

Reviews are limited to a single side of a sheet of paper. When grading and providing feedback on reviews, I will be asking the following:

  • Does the review follow the "rules of engagement" established for this class?
  • Does the review offer a detailed summary of the argument that includes discussion of the author's field of study, the methods and theories they deploy, a detailed description of the argument, and the evidence they use to support the argument?
  • Does the review provide a discussion of how the author's argument relates to the topic of the class, other readings from class, and our discussions?
  • Does the review observe the page limit?
  • Is there evidence that the author has carefully written and revised?
  • Did the reviewer observe the time limit during the informal presentation in class?
  • Is there evidence that the reviewer planned their informal presentation?

Final Project (50%)

One-page Project Proposal: Due February 24
Final Project: Due May 11

Final projects may be individual or collaborative, and they can take two forms:

  • A conference paper, written for a specific scholarly conference, that somehow addresses the content of this course. Conference papers are typically 15-20 minute presentations. Should you choose this option, you will submit a 2000-3000 word paper as well as a 250-word abstract. You will also need to include either a CFP that you are responding to or a description of the conference that you have in mind.
  • A creative work, using any medium you choose, that somehow addresses the content of this course. This means you might submit short fiction, poetry, a video, a sound project, or any other medium you feel best allows you to achieve your goals.

The project proposal that is due February 24 should be no more than one page and should do the following:

  • Describe the project and its goals
  • Provide a roadmap for completion, including deadlines and benchmarks for drafts and revision

All final projects must be accompanied by a Statement of Goals and Choices (SOGC). This is an assignment that comes from Jody Shipka's book Toward a Composition Made Whole, and it asks you to reflect on why you built, wrote, and/or designed your project the way you did. There is no minimum or maximum number of words for the SOGC - it takes as many words as you think it takes to explain why you made certain choices and what you were trying to accomplish with the project.

The SOGC should answer the following questions:

  • What, specifically, is this project trying to accomplish - above and beyond satisfying the basic requirements of the assignment? In other words, what work does, or might, this work do? For whom? In what contexts?
  • What specific, rhetorical, material, methodological, and technological choices did you make in service of accomplishing the goal(s) articulated above? Catalog, as well, choices that you might not have consciously made, those that were made for you when you opted to work with certain genres, materials, and technologies.
  • Why did you end up pursuing this plan as opposed to other possibilities? How did the various choices listed above allow you to accomplish things that other sets or combinations of choices would not have?

When providing feedback on your project and SOGC, I will be looking for the following:

  • Does your project demonstrate detailed and in-depth research and engagement with the course material?
  • Have you carefully considered the affordances and constraints of your method and/or medium?
  • Is your project effectively designed? Is there evidence that you've carefully chosen your medium and that the medium is appropriate for what you're trying to communicate?
  • Does your SOGC address all of the questions listed above?
  • Is your SOGC (and your project, if it uses written language) generally well-written and free of grammatical errors?