New Media, Fall 2019/Lesson 3

From Gerald R. Lucas
Syllabus R1 R2 R3 L1 L2 L3 L4 L5 L6 L7 L8 L9 L10  
85288 nmac 4460.01 Online Fall, 2019

Being Digital
September 9–September 13

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Feedback for L1 and L2.

In lesson three, we will delve into what “being digital” means to our lives and how we live them, beginning with Nicholas Negroponte’s 1995 study Being Digital and considering how the hacker mentality might help to build a new way of living in the world. Negroponte theorized that the digital would bring a switch to how we think about and live our lives by making devices portable, personal, and wireless. This “unwiring” would have practical and psychological implications on human behavior and perception. The hacker brings a DIY approach to problem-solving that came out of the hippie culture of the 1960s. Many first adopters of digital technologies had to hack together systems in order to make them do what they needed them to do. This approach — a hacker spirit, if you will — has become an integral part of “being digital.”

We will also continue our work on Wikipedia by learning some formatting basics and adding more journal posts and comments.

Formatting Basics

Building our our previous experience with editing Wikipedia, this week we will have a look at some formatting basics and begin using them in our journal posts. Let’s begin with a tutorial on formatting and a more comprehensive look at wikitext.[1] Therefore, we must decide how pages on Wikipedia might most easily be used and the tools that the platform provides us for writing.

One of the golden rules of writing text that’s meant to be read off the screen is to think of usability and scan-ability — both of which consider the needs of the user in design and composition. According to “User Experience Basics,” usability may be evaluated by several factors, including ease of use.[2] Barr, in The Yahoo! Style Guide, states a “site is more usable when it is easy to navigate, meets visitors' needs and expectations, and provides a satisfying experience.”[3]

Wikipedia Usability Strategies

  1. Avoid large blocks of text. According to Jacob Nielson, people do not read on the web, they scan.[4] Therefore, blocks of text (i.e., long paragraphs), while acceptable and even expected in books, must be broken up on the screen to be scan-able. Nielson suggests one idea per paragraph.
  2. Use descriptive sections. Having different headers and subheads breaks up the information into related and digestible chunks.
  3. Highlight keywords with bold or italic text. Links, too, since they are a different color, draws the user’s eye to important elements in the text. You might also use bulleted lists or numbered lists when appropriate.
  4. Trim your prose to half the words you would normally write. Make each word count. Use active voice and what Nielson calls “marketese,” a subjective style using boastful claims — this is inappropriate for Wikipedia anyway.
  5. Promote credibility by labeling images, using descriptive keywords in titles and headers, captioning images, and keeping users engaged.


The link above will take you to a bibliography of readings that are applicable to this lesson. Remember, that PDFs that aren’t directly linked may be found on the “NewMediaClass” volume on Google Drive.

Read Negroponte’s Being Digital. Identify at least two important ideas from the book to explore further. Here are some questions to get you thinking:

  1. What does Negroponte mean by “being digital”?
  2. What are the major implications in the shift from atoms to bits?
  3. Is the medium still the message in the digital world?
  4. What are the “four very powerful qualities” of the digital age?
  5. Negroponte states that “bits are bits”; what does he mean?
  6. Negroponte discuss the re-purposing of multimedia or hypermedia. What is his point?
  7. What is Negroponte’s view of the current state of education? How should the digital change that?
  8. What becomes of “art” in a digital age?
  9. What has Negroponte been doing since the publication of Being Digital in 1995?
  10. What are some of the predictions he makes in 1995? Which have been realized? Which have not?

You might have a look at his TED Talk from 1984: “5 PRedictions.”

Journal Post 5

Write about any aspect of Negroponte’s Being Digital that you would like, supporting your analysis with at least one secondary source.

Being Digital: the Hacker

The foundation of “being digital” derives from the hacker: a DIY creative who sees a need in the community and finds a way to make it happen by cobbling bit and pieces into a solution. This hacker mentality provides the foundation for being digital and informs individual approaches the personal technologies and potentially offers new freedoms from oppressive systems. However, it has also been adopted by the corporations in order to sell us the spirit of the hacker’s freedom.

Research the “hacker.” You might begin with Catherine Bracy’s “Why Good Hackers Make Good Citizens” and then maybe “The Hacker’s Manifesto.” Most times you hear about hackers, it’s a negative story about a criminal who is breaking the law or some computer system. However, this is a mis-characterization of the hacker. Hackers who are criminals are called “crackers”: those who break systems usually with bad intentions. Think of a hacker as someone who builds, and a cracker as someone who breaks.[6]

This idea will support the our look at new media for the rest of the semester.

Journal Post 6

What did you learn about the hacker, and how does that fit into your understanding of “being digital”? Could the latter work without the former? Try to bring in several different sources to support your ideas.

Reply to at east one of your colleagues’ journal posts for this lesson.

Due Date

Please have all of the above completed by Sunday, September 15, 2019. I will evaluate your this lesson the following day, email everyone a progress report, and post audio feedback at the top of the next lesson if necessary.


  1. Again, you might bookmark these pages for your reference, as there is a lot of information to digest.
  2. "User Experience Basics". U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. n.d. Retrieved 2019-07-16.
  3. Barr, Chris (2010). The Yahoo! Style Guide. New York: St. Martin's Griffin. pp. 12–13.
  4. Nielson, Jakob (October 1, 1997). "How Users Read on the Web". Nielson Norman Group. Retrieved 2019-07-16.
  5. External sources are always footnoted as references; Wikipedia entries are always just linked in the text. Never cite a Wikipedia article like you would an external source.
  6. "Hackers vs Crackers: Easy to Understand Exclusive Difference". EDUCBA. 2017. Retrieved 2019-07-17.