Course Description

Download the full syllabus with course policies [.pdf]

Information overload is a contemporary cultural concern with a rich past. This course covers a broad sampling of texts from different time periods and genres to consider how our current confrontation and struggle with digital technologies both is and is not new. We will pay attention to the various forms that information overload takes: a pathological condition, a burden on attention and social bonds, a renaissance of knowledge access and production, and even a non-issue. Most importantly for our purposes, the texts we read and view will help us ask how our understanding of knowledge, literature, and even ourselves evolves alongside technological innovations.

Questions raised in this course include:

  • How do people experience and describe information overload (or a sense of “too much”) across cultures and chapters of technological development? In what ways is the contemporary predicament of information management similar to and different from the past?
  • How does information overload contribute to distraction and changing modes of attention, and why is this relevant to today’s readers of literature?
  • What are the differences between information, data, and literature? What values are at stake in efforts to make this distinction?
  • If we accept the popular belief that humans are becoming increasingly dependent on their reference tools and technological devices, what new types of machine-human hybrids emerge? What reasons might we find for resisting such dependence?

Through engaging with these (and other) questions and the texts on the syllabus, we will look at how information overload functions as a subject matter, a form or structuring device, and a feeling generated by the work itself. This final affective quality of information overload is a familiar frenemy of college students, so I hope that you will draw on your personal experiences to enlighten our discussions and inform your writing.