The Cyborg Inside Me

Thursday, March 21, 2013
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You may be reading these words on your smart phone. Or your iPad. Or your laptop. Regardless, if you’re perusing UNH Today you are engaging with the digital world. This summer, a new UNH anthropology course will explore such interactions between humans and the digital landscape.

“Digital technologies … are a part of the students’ daily life,” says Assistant Professor of Anthropology Svetlana Peshkova, who will teach the course. “Video gaming, texting, the Web, iPads, e-readers, smart phones, computers, and virtual reality provide all of us with new experiences. They challenge time and geographic boundaries, and consequently our understandings of what it means to be human.”

The course, titled Anthropology of the Internet, will be offered, fittingly, online. It is one of more than 400 offerings available through UNH this summer – proof that the season many students devote to jobs and relaxation can also be a fruitful time for academic learning. Registration opens on Monday, March 25 for the roughly 250 on-campus courses in Durham or Manchester and for the more than 100 online and hybrid courses, which combine online learning with campus visits. The courses range from fundamentals such as First-Year Writing and Calculus I to more unusual options, including Sex and Sensibility: The Rise of Chick Lit from Jane Austen to Bridget Jones and Introduction to Puppetry. In addition, students can choose from summer study-abroad programs in Italy, Belize, England, Costa Rica and several other countries.

It’s less expensive per credit hour for degree students to take courses during the summer, and they may use financial aid toward courses or study abroad programs. Nonetheless, since the summer terms are only five, eight or 10 weeks, they need to be prepared for courses that move quickly, says Kristin Bolton, marketing coordinator for continuing education at UNH. “They’re getting a full-length (14-week) course compressed into the shorter term.”

Approximately one quarter of the summer offerings satisfy Discovery, general-education or writing-intensive requirements. “Students can fulfill requirements and prerequisites in the summer without setting foot on campus, which is great for those who live farther away or need to do other things, such as jobs,” Bolton says. UNH’s summer session also allows students to focus on a single challenging course, to boost their grade point average, or to lighten their course load in the fall. Moreover, “it’s a good opportunity if they simply want to take something else that they’re curious about, she says.”

The summer session gives instructors a chance to try something different, too. In an interview conducted electronically, Peshkova told UNHToday that she got the idea for her five-week Anthropology of the Internet course partly from her 9-year-old son. When he came home from school one day, he said he was “going home to my village.” Translation: He was going to his computer to play Minecraft, which allows players to build structures in a three-dimensional game world.

“When I heard my child’s response, I realized that I am a cyborg, too,” she says, referring to a human assisted by electronic devices. “At that moment, I was holding a smart phone in my hands reading a text from a friend. I may not be a digital native (not born into the Internet Age), but I am surely a digital immigrant. When I wake up, I talk to the world online (news, friends, etc.). When I celebrate my birthday, I do it with my parents (from Russia) being digitally present in the room via Skype. A huge part of my life is spent online. And when I do not have access to the Internet … I feel like I am not a complete person. I lack a part of my self, my digital self.”

She asked her students if they would be interested in a course that explores how and in what ways the digital environment, cyberspace in particular, affects an individual, community, and the state, and how, in turn, individuals affect the digital landscape.

Her students responded enthusiastically, and Peshkova created ANTH 508 – a course that is deeply relevant to their everyday lives. As she says, “The larger goal of the course is to learn how to approach, understand, and interact with the off and online world.”

Editor’s Note: For descriptions of ANTH 508 and other summer courses and programs, visit UNH’s summer session webpages. You’ll also find information on registration, tuition, financial aid and deadlines.

Originally published by:

UNH Today

Written by Sonia Scherr, ’13MFA

Animation and cyborg photo alteration by Christine Hodgson.

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    Staff writer | Communications and Public Affairs