Solutionism to Singularity: Expansion of the Digital Economy

General Information
Number of Hours: 
Thursday 9:45 - 11:15
Preliminary requirements: 

Students are expected not to be intimidated by technospeak. Any interest in hardware, software, app development is a plus.

Course Description: 

The course will focus on technical and economic aspects of the Internet: from its origin, through relationship to modalities of software production, emergence of networked business models, to the current tipping (possibly) point where distributed becomes centralized, neutral becomes opinionated and transparency means massive surveillance.

1. Introduction (theory and some facts)

  • Basic definitions, economics and intellectual property
  • History of software production, the Internet and artificial intelligence

2. Struggles (some facts and some theory)

  • Free Software, hacker ethics and peer production
  • Pirates and privateers: enclosing the digital domain
  • Decentralization, firewalls and net neutrality

(The mid-term is here)

3. Futures (stories and discussions)

  • Is there any room for openness left? (Science, government)
  • Google, Facebook and the non-evil corporations
  • Privacy in the age of surveillance capitalism
  • Enemies of solutionism vs. libertarian and liberal (if we can still tell them apart) optimists

(Final exam is open book, circa 500 words essay related to discussions)

Aims of the course: 

To create (or strengthen) doubts about the future of the Internet as an open, enabling network. To show some potential remedies. To be more aware when using the Internet and software.

Teaching methods: 

Lectures and seminars.

Evaluation & Completion: 

Written mid-term exam (test/essay 30%) and final written exam (essay - 60%). Attendance and participation (10%).

Basic Literature: 

Readings/ Schedule:


0. Introduction

1. Economics 101

Hardin, Tragedy of the Commons:

Coase, The Problem of Social Cost:

Please log in and scroll down to course resources.

2. Law 101 (Intellectual Property) 

Public Domain comic book

3. Networks & Economics (Definition and Background)

4. Hackers and Hobbyists

  1. R. Stallman, GNU manifesto
  2. R. Stallman, Why Software Should Not Have Owners?
  3. R. Stallman, Why Open Source misses the point of Free Software
  4. B. Gates, An Open Letter to Hobbyists
  5. S. Levy, Hackers, Heroes of the Computer Revolution, Chapter 2
  6. E. Raymond, The Cathedral and the Bazaar

5. Internet and The Borderless World 

  1. Y. Benkler, The Wealth of Networks, Chapter 6, pages: 188 (200 in PDF file) – 196 (208) , i.e. from the paragraph starting with “The introduction of radio was the next and only serious potential inflection point,” until “BASIC CRITIQUES OF MASS MEDIA”.
  2. Goldsmith, Wu, Who controls the Internet?: illusions of a borderless world‎, Chapter 1 & 2 (log in to see a link in Course Resources below)

6. Sharing Economy & Peer Production 

  1. Y. Benkler, The Wealth of Networks, Chapters 2, 3 and 4
  2. L. Lessig, Remix, Chapter 6

7. Midterm

Log in to see the Midterm Study Guide (Course Resources at the bottom of the page).

8. Big Data and Massive Surveilance 

  1. d. boyd, Six Provocations for Big Data,

9. Wikipedia and the Shallows 

  1. N. Carr, Is Google Making Us Stupid?,
  2. T. Simonite, The Decline of Wikipedia,

10. Silicon Valley Ideology and Solutionism 

  1. Y. Lu, Silicon Valley's Youth Problem
  2. E. Morozov, To Save Everything, Click Here (book)

11. Sharecropping and the Entrepreneur 

  1. T. Terranova, Free Labor: Producing Culture for the Digital Economy,
  2. J. Lanier, You're Not a Gadget (book)
  3. J. Lanier, Who Owns the Future (book)

12. Artificial Intelligence and Robots

13. Peer Production: An Unfulfilled Promise?

14. Final Exam 



Yochai Benkler, The Wealth of Networks

Lawrence Lessig, Remix. Making art and commerce thrive in the hybrid economy

Jaron Lanier, Who Owns the Future

Nick Carr, The Shallows. What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains

Evgeny Morozov, To Save Everything, Click Here: Technology, Solutionism, and the Urge to Fix Problems that Don’t Exist


Other papers, blog posts and data sources will be specified during class.

Additional Literature: 
  1. Lawrence Lessig, Free Culture. The Nature and Future of Creativity

  2. Steven Weber, The Success of Open Source

  3. Jaron Lanier, You Are Not A Gadget. A Manifesto

  4. Lawrence Lessig, Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace

  5. Evgeny Morozov, The Net Delusion: How Not to Liberate The World
  6. Albert-Laszlo Barabasi, Linked: The New Science of Networks

  7. William Landes, Richard Posner, The Economic Structure of Intellectual Property Law
  8. James Boyle, Shamans, Software, and Spleens: Law and the Construction of the Information Society (quite old for this topic, but still interesting)

  9. Yoram Barzel, Economic Analysis of Property Rights