Understanding Media: The Philosophical and Cultural Impacts of Technology module (PI31019)

On this page


Module code


  • Level 3
  • Semester 1
  • 24 places
  • Philosophy - School of Humanities
  • Coursework 100%
  • European Studies module choice.


Marx held that a society’s level of culture (as expressed in its ideas, customs, values and morals) is ultimately determined by the technologies involved in it, and by the way these are distributed among the society’s members. This course seeks to examine this claim with special reference to the technologies that mediate our experience today.

In the first half, we explore what it means to view technology as a philosophical problem. To come to terms with key trajectories in the contemporary literature, we look at key authors including Zeynep Tufekci, Sherry Turkle, Martin Heidegger and Walter Benjamin. In the second half, we move towards considering applied concerns that speak directly to interests and perplexities faced by members of the class in relation to technologies today. Along the way, we will explore questions like this: How does social media affect personal identity? Do mobile phones extend our senses, or just diminish our manners? Are technologies inherently authoritarian? Does the Internet exist? Is technology an existential threat to human life?

We will draw on three main types of source to do this:

  1. Extracts from canonical figures in the philosophy of technology (Plato, Aristotle, Rousseau, Marx, Heidegger, and McLuhan, for example);
  2. Extracts from contemporary writers concerned with how technology modifies experience (Sherry Turkle, Andy Clark, and the Ars Industrialis group, for example);
  3. Extracts from literary works that take technology as a theme (for example, David Foster Wallace and Philip K. Dick).

Our aim in assessing the philosophical texts will be to question how technology determines culture.

Our aim in assessing the literary texts will be to see how culture bears witness to this.

Along the way, we will explore questions like the following:

  • How do ebooks affect the role of literature and philosophy today?
  • Do mobile phones extend our senses, or just diminish our manners?
  • Does 'the Internet' exist?


Dr Dominic Smith


Contact hours: 3 hours per week over 11 weeks, comprising a two-hour lecture and a one-hour tutorial.


The assessed components on this module are:

  • 1 x 1,500 word textual commentary (30%)
  • 1 x 3,500 word extended essay (70%)


  • 1 x 1,500 word art project description (30%)
  • 1 x art project (70%)


Indicative Reading

  • Robert Scharff and Val Dusek (eds.) Philosophy of Technology: The Technological Condition, Oxford: Blackwell, 2003.

Access the online reading list system


This module is available on following courses: