Forms of Nonfiction
EN 253
Bentley College
Robert Crooks

AGC 099
891-2641 (Office) 648-2014 (Home)
E-mail: EOS::rcrooks
Office Hours:
T: 8:30-9:30
W: 10:00-11:00
Th: 8:30-9:30
or by appointment

General Introduction

When you turn on your computer, you enter cyberspace, though it's only a small isolated cell, like your own room. Within this cell, you're largely in control of what's going on (not completely of course─the power can fail, the walls can fall down). The price of this control is that there isn't all that much to see and do; you're limited to what you can create on your own with the handful of software tools on your hard disk.

When you log in to the EOS network, you enter a larger domain of cyberspace. Here your control is much more limited, and depends not only on what kind of access you're granted and the hard- and software you have to manipulate that access with, but also what you know how to do and how well you can find your way around. On the other hand, there's much more (potentially) to see and do, because EOS-space is the constantly evolving product of the collective imagination of the whole Bentley campus, at least of those members who choose to participate. You can communicate with hundreds, maybe thousands of other users and share your ideas and feelings. You can discover information you hadn't even known existed. Just as with physical space, however, the expanded opportunities bring expanded risks as well. A computer wiz down the hall (real or virtual hall?) might hack into your files and e-mail and read secrets you hadn't meant to reveal, or steal your English paper, or plant a virus that will crash your system before you know it's there.

When you access the Internet, you enter a cyberspace domain thousands, maybe millions of times larger than EOS. Now you can communicate with users all over the world, provided you share a common language or an adequate translation program. You can enter into discussion groups or get information on every subject imaginable, download bug-fixes, programs, or even whole new operating systems for your computer, if you know where to look. And the risk of catching a virus or having your files hacked open increases too (though not much here, because at present Bentley doesn't allow external users to log in through the Internet; the price of this is that if you have access to the Internet through some other system, say the computer network at a friend's college, you still won't be able to log in to your Bentley account).

Even the Internet is just the thin surface of what cyberspace may eventually become, however. Improved technology, including virtual reality simulators, will let you experience cyberspace not just through a screen graphic display, but as a full threedimensional reality that impacts all your senses─you will not only communicate in language with other users and systems, but be able to touch, hear, taste, and smell them─or rather your simulated cyber-body will be able to sense other cyber-bodies.

Here begin the real questions that motivated the development of this course. Given the opportunity to create a new space-time, limited only by hard- and software capabilities that are improving at a dizzying pace, what kind of space-time shall we create? What should it look and feel like? How will we move through it? What should it contain, and what should we be able to do there? How will countless users cooperate to maintain cyberspace in a form they can all use? To answer such questions demands the resources not only of computer science, but also of sociology, philosophy, business, physics, psychology, engineering, and perhaps especially of literature, which through poetry, drama, fiction, and nonfiction has long been the privileged site for inventing new worlds.

Course Objectives:

To gain a better understanding of the essay as a literary form

To gain a better understanding of cyberspace and the aesthetic, philosophical, political, and sociological questions raised by ongoing construction of cyberspace.

To learn more about the capacities and uses of Bentley■s existing cyberspace.

To make a contribution to the construction of cyberspace in general and cyberspace at Bentley in particular.

Michael Benedikt, ed.: Cyberspace: First Steps William Gibson: "Burning Chrome"


Journals: Keep a journal on your computer, using Word Perfect, Ami Pro, or any ASCII text editor like the DOS editor or Windows Notepad; you should submit new entries to your journal every other Friday via e-mail. Your journal is a place to reflect on the course. Record your responses to the readings, to what goes on in class, and to your experiences in the course projects. Your journal should be a source of ideas that you can later use other writing assignments, but should not be limited to that. Exactly what you write is up to you. In grading journals I will only consider the seriousness of your reflections, not your style and grammar or the particular views and opinions you express. There will be specific assignments for the journal on occasion, but for the most part it■s up to you to decide exactly what to comment on. You should make at least two entries in your journal every week. Be sure to date each entry. One specific journal assignment: over the course of the semester, you should include at least six "help-notes"─explanations of unfamiliar words, ideas, events, people, etc. that you come across in the course readings. Look these up and record an explanation. I will compile these explanations and save them for use in future versions of the course.

Quizzes: There will be frequent short quizzes on assigned readings. Your two lowest quiz grades will be automatically dropped, but missed quizzes cannot be made up.

Formal assignments:

Visualizing cyberspace (a computer-aided graphics project; details will be handed out later)

Research project devoted to furthering the development of cyberspace (in general or at Bentley specifically) or assessing the implications of cyberspace in aesthetic, philosophical, political, or socio-economic terms. The project will result in an essay that draws upon class readings and also outside sources you discover through the Library or the Internet.

Class Project: The Schindler■s List Electronic Bulletin Board

During mid-November, the Bentley Service Learning Project is sponsoring a campus-wide discussion of the film Schindler■s List. The discussions will be carried out in 20-30 separate classes across the disciplines. We will attempt to create means of exchanging ideas between people in the different classes (and anyone else who■s interested) by creating an electronic bulletin board on the EOS network where users can post messages relating to the film. We will attempt to set up the board by the beginning of November, and also produce a guide to using the board which can be distributed to the classes involved and made available to the general Bentley community on-line. This will be a complicated project involving a number of different kinds of tasks, and we will need to begin planning the project immediately and determining what skills each member of the class has to contribute.

Class Participation:

In general this class will devoted to discussing essays on cyberspace and working together on cyberspace projects. One of my fundamental assumptions as a teacher is that we all learn more through an open exchange of ideas than through my lecturing to you. Therefore your regular attendance and active participation are expected and will be significant factors in the determination of final grades.

During the final two weeks of the course, the class will be conducted in the form of a mini-conference, in which the student groups will form panels, present their research projects to the class, and take questions.


Attendance, participation, quizzes: 20% Participation in the Bulletin Board Project 20%

Class journal                                  20%
Visualizing Cyberspace assignment              20%
Research project                               20%

Class Schedule

Session 1
Introduction to the Course: Cyberspace and Forms of Nonfiction

Session 2
Read the Introduction to Cyberspace. Obtain the course syllabus and "Burning Chrome" from the EOS network.

Session 3
Read William Gibson's "Burning Chrome" (will be available on the O:\ drive through Pathworks, or the course directory, accessible through GETFILES via Procomm Plus)

Session 4
Planning session for the Schindler■s List Bulletin Board (SLBB). Send first journal entries via e-mail.

Session 5
Read "Mind is a Leaking Rainbow" in Cyberspace

Session 6
Continue discussion from previous class. Work on SLBB. Bring a progress report on your work to class.

Session 7
Read "Will the Real Body Please Stand Up"

Session 8
Continue discussion from previous class. Work on SLBB. Bring a progress report on your work to class. Send new journal entries via e-mail.

Session 9
Continue discussion from previous class. Work on SLBB. Bring a progress report on your work to class.

Session 10
Read "Cyberspace: Some Proposals" (note that this is a long essay─don't wait until the night before to start)

Session 11
Visualizing Cyberspace assignment due. Continue discussion from previous class. Work on SLBB. Bring a progress report on your work to class.

Session 12
Read "Liquid Architectures in Cyberspace". Send new journal entries via e-mail.

Session 13
Continue discussion from previous class. Work on SLBB. Bring a progress report on your work to class. SLBB should be operational and help documentation should go out to classes this week.

Session 14
Read "The Lessons of Lucasfilm's Habitat." Send a proposal for your research project via e-mail.

Session 15
Continue discussion from previous class. Work on SLBB.

Session 16
Read "Notes on the Structure of Cyberspace and the Ballistic Actors Model." Send new journal entries via e-mail (include progress report on your research project).

Session 17
Continue discussion from previous class. Work on SLBB if necessary. Bring a working outline for the essay based on your research project.

Session 18
Read "Virtual Worlds: No Interface to Design." Send progress report on your research project via e-mail.

Session 19
Continue discussion from previous class.

Session 20
Read "Corporate Virtual Workspace." Send new journal entries via e-mail.

Session 21
Read "Making Reality a Cyberspace." Submit a draft of your final project via e-mail.

Session 22
Continue discussion from previous class. Send new journal entries via e-mail.

Session 23
Presentation of Final Projects

Session 24
Presentation of Final Projects

Session 25
Presentation of Final Projects

Session 26
Friday 12/16: Final Exam 8:30-10:30 Presentation of Final Projects