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Digital Infrastructures and Platforms

ENGL 2953.401
crosslisted as: CIMS 2953
Thursday 3:30-6:29pm

Technology observers note that we will live today in a platform society and that platforms touch every aspect of our everyday lives. Platforms ranging from ride-hailing and food delivery apps (Uber and Swiggy) to subscription based audiovisual content providers (Netflix and SonyLIV) mediate multisided transactions (markets) and operate based on algorithmic collection, circulation, and monetization of user data. In this course, we will engage with a variety of readings about multi-situated study of apps, paying attention to both app interfaces as well as their connection to backend systems and infrastructures like content delivery networks and software development kits. In what ways do processes of data storage/distribution, content encryption/decryption and encoding/decoding make “seamless” streaming on Hulu/Prime Video and instantaneous digital payments on Venmo and PayTM possible? We will begin with how infrastructures have been studied in the past, and then in particular focus on media infrastructures such as satellite systems, optical fiber cables, cell antennas, and data centers. Humanities students interested in the aesthetics of televisual interfaces and infrastructures and the way they address spectators and audiences as well as students in the social sciences wanting to learn more about the media industries will find the course to be relevant.   The course readings will consider the varied definitions of platforms and examine the socio-political effects of the proliferation of platforms in different regions of the world. Espousing a global media studies approach toward studying superapps and platforms like WeChat (China), LINE (Japan), and Jio (India), we will try to comprehend in what ways have discourses of platformization been shaped by governmental regulation, cultural practices, and socio-politics of regions. We will explore questions like: in what ways are infrastructures and apps related? How do content creators and SVoD audiences navigate algorithmic opacity? Why do BigTech companies float competing discourses about platforms? What are the connections between infrastructural investments and platform capitalism? What does it mean to have digital lives in a platform society? In what ways do digital infrastructures and platforms create the foundations for smart cities and Internet of Things? What are the environmental effects of digital infrastructures? Course assignments include a final research paper (2000 words) as well as project-based case studies of platform companies and socio-material assessments of infrastructures.