As a student, I was always amazed by the abilities of students to simultaneously “pay attention” and browse Facebook, but a new course from Bowdoin College in Maine brings Facebook into the course load. Entitled “In the Facebook Age”, the course analyzes sociological concepts and applies them to the emerging phenomena of Facebook and other social networks. The course itself is fluid, and its material responds to the changes that occur every day in the social sphere.
Dhiraj Murthy, professor of sociology at Bowdoin college stated that “It’s a constantly evolving organism,” said Murthy, and “a symbiotic relationship between my students and me.” The school paper, the Bowdoin Orient, reported that classes covered topics ranging from “internet privacy, to the persistence of information put online, to the opposing forces of risk and opportunity.” The class interacts with many different types of media, including Youtube videos, blogs and even ChatRoulette.
The paper reported that during an impromptu discussion about the privacy issues of ChatRoulette, a student pointed the class to chatroulettemap.com, which consists of screenshots of Chat Rouletters and their location, and when they looked to Brunswick, ME, the class found the photo of Matt Marr, a student that was in the class that day! Certainly, the seemingly innocuous public information we post up on the web becomes a different entity when it is saved and categorized, and to get this photo of Matt, the ChatRouletter he was talking to would have had to take a screenshot, save his location, and then add the information to a database. This is part of the reason that Facebook’s Terms of Service disallow FB app developers from saving personal information about their users.
“I realize that the chances of this particular instance affecting me in the future are slim to none, and I’m not very concerned about it at all,” Marr said, “but it does make me think about other things that are very much related, and about the future – not for myself, mostly, but for all of mankind.”
There is no doubt that the generation of students that is coming up right now is going to have a foundation in technology and information that outweights any generation before them. With formal courses like these, we can hope to see some interesting breakthroughs about human interactions through technology, and perhaps help us answer a little bit about ourselves.