Revised 10/22/2014
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Readings and topics by date: September: 3 | 4 | 8 | 10 | 11 | 15 | 17 | 18 | 22 | 24 | 25 | 29 | October: 1 | 2 | 6 | 8 | 9 | 15 | 16 | 20 | 22 | 23 | 27 | 29 | 30 | November: 3 | 5 | 6 | 10 | 12 | 13 | 17 | 19 | 20 | 24 | December: 1 | 3 |

SOCL 4528 Computers and Society Syllabus

Northeastern University, Fall 2014, CRN 10766
Professor: Judith A. Perrolle (
Office: 530 Holmes
Office Hours: M 3:00-4:00 and by appointment after class

Teaching Assistant: Brett Nava-Coulter (navacoulter.b@husky)
Office: 518 Holmes
Office Hours: Th 12-3

Class meets sequence 5: M, W, Th 4:35-5:40 in room 220 Shillman

Course Description

Assignments and Due Dates

Assignment% of GradeDue Date
Essay 1 - Social Control by Design 15%due Th Sept 18
Essay 2 - Power in Computer-Mediated Communications 20%due W Oct 22
In-class quiz) - Intellectual Property20% on W Nov 5
Essay 3 - Ethical Issues in Design 20%due by time of scheduled final
Group Assignment 1 - Power in Computer-Mediated Communication 10%Presentations M Sept 22 - W Oct 1. Slides and references due in electronic form by Th Oct 2. There is no group paper.
Group Assignment 2 - Ethical Issues in Design 15%Presentations W Nov 12 - Th Nov 20. Slides and references due in electronic form by M Nov 24. There is no group paper.

The quiz will consist of short answer questions identifying the key concepts. Essays are based on the assigned readings and class discussions. You may also use additional online sources found through the class bookmarks or by searching. You must cite your sources (including the urls and date retrieved for information found online). Grades will also be based on your ability to write a logically organized essay supporting your own ideas with facts and analysis. The ability to recognize the positions of major stakeholders, present multiple points of view and show that you understand the key points of arguments other than your own are also necessary for a good grade. Each essay should be between four and eight double spaced pages. Students are expected to exercise some judgment about the probable accuracy of sources on the web. If in doubt, ask. Some recommended sources have been bookmarked. When using slashdot, Wikipedia, blogs, or other online sources try to find out where the original information came from. When giving the definitions of sociological terms try the class glossary, not an online dictionary of English. Northeastern University expects students to abide by the NU Academic Integrity Policy and to participate in the TRACE course evaluation survey at the end of the semester.

Topics and Readings

Assigned readings are available online. Temporary backup copies (often at lower resolutions or missing images and other parts) will be available in the class cache in case the webserver for the reading becomes unavailable. These files are viewable only by members of the class and require your myNEU username and password. The Communications of the ACM and other online journals are available to the Northeastern University community through the Library's portal.

You can subscribe to the RSS news feed for the class bookmarks. Bookmarks will generally refer to information on topics that will be used in lectures. You can access subsets of bookmarks with specific tags to use as sources for essays and group presentations. The twitter link is for cancellations. It is rarely used. A few announcements will be emailed via blackboard, so please see that your spam filter is letting class spam through.

Part 1. Introduction: Computer Ethics

W Sept 3 Topic: Ethics and Professional Ethics (bookmarks icon ethics bookmarks) (rss icon subscribe)

Professional codes of ethics are more specific than moral philosophies. They contain statements of responsibilities to clients and the public. Besides being an expression of the moral views of their members, professional codes of ethics serve as a statement about a profession's responsibility to avoid doing harm in the wider society. This contributes to building the trust that leads society to allow professional groups to regulate themselves. Codes of ethics are based on the moral values shared by a group.

Th Sept 4 Topic: Morality and Design (RSS feed icondesign bookmarks) (bookmarks icon subscribe)

Professional ethics can be put into practice by individuals in their work and through the policies designed by governments, business organizations, and NGOs (non-governmental organizations).

Part 2. Computer Mediated Social Structure

M Sept 8 Topic: Computer-Mediated Social Structure (bookmarks icon bookmarks) (rss icon subscribe to this topic)

The basic unit of social structure is the social interaction. Repeated patterns of social interaction build larger elements of social structure: roles, groups, organizations, communities, and social institutions.
Computer-mediated social interactions occur between people using computers and communications networks.

W Sept 10 Topic: Social Networks (bookmarks icon bookmarks) (rss icon subscribe to this topic)
Concepts: Although some people believe that people were isolated from one another before the internet, the human species is linked into a dense social interaction network that spans our planet in a way that makes each of us no more that 6 social interactions away from any other person. Social networks are characterized by weak ties and strong ties. They are able to mobilize social capital, the collective resources of their members.

For further reading
Th Sept 11 Topic: Power (bookmarks icon bookmarks) (rss icon subscribe to this topic)
Concepts: The social theorist Max Weber defined power as the ability to get someone else to do what you want them to, even against their will. Legitimate power refers to situations in which the exercise of power is accepted as right. Power is exercised in society through social interaction. When that interaction is mediated by technology, the way in which power is exercised may change as well. Weber distinguished among normative, economic, coercive forms of power, based on control over different kinds of valued resources.

For further information, view:

M Sept 15 Topic: Social Control (bookmarks icon bookmarks) (rss icon subscribe to this topic)
Social control works best when the application of power is seen as legitimate. Although "illegal operations" are not really against the law, the embedding of rules, regulations, norms, values, and laws into software tends to blur the distinctions among them.

For Further Reading:

W Sept 17 Topic: Privacy (bookmarks bookmarks) (rss icon subscribe to this topic)
Concepts: privacy

For Further Reading:

Th Sept 18 Topic: Negotiating Identity in Computer Mediated Communications (bookmarks icon bookmarks) (rss icon subscribe to this topic)
Essay 1 due
Concepts: identity, frontstage, backstage, gender

Suggested Reading/Viewing:
M Sept 22 - W Oct 1 Topic: Power in Computer-Mediated Communication

Groups will present the results of Group Assignment 1.

M Sept 22 presentations by groups 1 and 2
W Sept 24 presentations by groups 3 and 4
Th Sept 25 presentations by groups 5 and 6
M Sept 29 presentations by groups 7 and 8
W Oct 1 presentations by groups 9 and 10

Group slides and references due in electronic form Th Oct 2

link to image of disappearing civil liberties mug

Th Oct 2 Topic: The Social Construction of Information (bookmarks iconinformation bookmarks) (rss icon subscribe to this topic) (bookmarks icon social construction bookmarks)
Concepts: information, social construction, and the Thomas Theorem.


Mon Oct 6 Topic: Formal and Informal Knowledge (bookmarks icon bookmarks) (rss icon subscribe to this topic)
Concepts: Formal written procedures, like software algorithms, can be applied to many human activities. But it is difficult to write a formal procedure for riding a bicycle or find a good search algorithm for pictures of a blue guitar. Informal knowledge is based on physical experience and non-written communications.
Read: For Further Reading:
W Oct 8 Topic:Standards (bookmarks icon bookmarks) (rss icon subscribe to this topic)
Concepts: standard, vendor lock-in ( bookmarks icon vendor-lockin bookmarks)

Th Oct 9 Topic: Information in Bureaucratic Organizations (bookmarks icon bookmarks) (rss icon subscribe to this topic)
Concepts: bureaucracy, organization, rationalization

For Further Reading:
M Oct 13 Columbus Day Holiday

W Oct 15 Topic: Information in Informal Organizations (bookmarks icon bookmarks) (rss icon subscribe to this topic)
Concepts: open source, emergent social structure

Part 3. The Digital Dilemma: Intellectual Property in the Information Age

Th Oct 16 Topic: The Social Construction of Property
Concepts: property, public domain

  • in Judith Perrolle, Computers and Social Change:

  • M Oct 20 Topic: Balancing Intellectual Property Rights and the Public Interest (bookmarks icon bookmarks) (rss icon subscribe to this topic)

    For Further Reading About organizations building the information commons:
    W Oct 22 Topic: Contracts, (bookmarks icon bookmarks) (rss icon subscribe), (rss icon subscribe) and Licenses (bookmarksicon bookmarks) (rss icon subscribe)
    Concepts: contract, license, work for hire, EULA
    Essay 2 due

    Th Oct 23 Topic: Trademarks (bookmarks icon bookmarks) (rss icon subscribe) and Trade Secrets (bookmarks icon bookmarks) (rss icon subscribe)
    Concepts: trademark, trade secret, censorship

    M Oct 27 Topic: Problems with Patents - Business Methods, Innovation, Trolls, and Vendor Lock-In (bookmarks icon bookmarks) (rss icon subscribe)
    Concepts: patent, prior art

    W Oct 29Topic: Copyrights (bookmarks icon bookmarks) (rss icon subscribe)
    Concepts: copyright, derivative work, circumvention, doctrine of first sale
    Read or View:
    Th Oct 30Topic: Digital Rights Management by Law, Treaty, and Design (rss icon subscribe) (rss icon subscribe)
    Concepts: vendor lockin, infringement, circumvention
    Read or View:
    For Further Reading:

    M Nov 3 Topic: Fair Use (bookmarks icon bookmarks) (rss icon subscribe)
    Concept: fair use

    W Nov 5 Topic: Intellectual Property Quiz Consists of short answer questions of the form: Define and give an example of... for key terms AND a one paragraph essay answering one of the questions announced in class as we go through the intellectual property section.

    Part 4. Ethical Issues in Computer and Communications Design

    Computerized stock markets, automobiles, airplanes, and medical equipment malfunction and are vulnerable to hacking. The development of adaptive technologies to permit disabled individuals (and people with slow internet connections) to use the web has not kept pace with the development of high bandwidth multimedia applications. A "Digital Divide" has developed in the access to online information and services. In the United States rural people, ethnic and racial minorities, women, the disabled, and lower income people are at a disadvantage. Internationally there is a great discrepancy among regions, especially among rural and non-English speaking people.

    Th Nov 6 Topic: Designing for Democracy (bookmarks icon bookmarks) (rss icon subscribe)
    Recommended Reading:
    link to movie of chimp hacking a voting machine

    Mon Nov 10 Topic: Designing for Safety (bookmarks icon bookmarks) (rss icon subscribe)

    Recommended Reading:

    W Nov 12 - Th Nov 20 Topic: Ethical Issues in Design
    W Nov 12 Groups 1 and 2 present their work.
    Th Nov 13 Groups 3 and 4 present their work.
    M Nov 17 Groups 5 and 6 present their work.
    W Nov 19Groups 7 and 8 present their work.
    Th Nov 20 Groups 9 and 10 present their work.
    Slides and references are due F Nov 21 in electronic form (not Prezi, please).

    M Nov24 Topic: Designing for Safety (bookmarks icon bookmarks) (rss icon subscribe)

    Recommended Reading:

    M Dec 1Topic: Restoring Trust
    Recommended Reading: To be supplied

    W Dec 3 Topic: Future of Computers and Communications
    Recommended Reading: To be supplied