Table of contents

  1. CS220SP
    1. CS220SP timetable
    2. Module description
    3. Assignment
      1. Brief and research domains
    4. Syllabus outline
    5. Essay examples
    6. Week 16
      1. Seminar
      2. Lecture
      3. Homework
        1. 1. Follow-up on lecture
        2. 2. Preparatory reading for next lecture
    7. Week 17
      1. Seminar
      2. Guest Lecture
    8. Week 18
      1. Seminar
      2. Lecture
      3. Homework
    9. Week 19
      1. Seminar
        1. Speed dating :)
      2. Guest lecture
    10. Week 20
      1. Seminar
      2. Guest lecture
    11. Week 21
      1. Seminar
      2. Guest lecture
    12. Week 22
      1. Seminar
      2. Guest lecture
    13. Week 24
      1. Seminar
      2. Lecture
    14. Week 25
      1. Seminar
      2. Lecture
    15. References

CS220SP timetable

Seminar 1: Thu 10–11am in 5A.106 (except week 18 and week 24)
Seminar 2: Thu 12–13pm in 5A.118 (except week 18 and week 24)
Lecture: Thu 14–15pm in CTC.2.05
ASH: Thu 15–16 in 5B.109

Week 23 is reading week, no seminars or lectures.

Module description

This page expands on the university’s module descriptions.

The Module Director organizes weekly sessions for weeks 16–22 and 24–25. Each session consists of a one-hour lecture plus a one-hour seminar for discussion. The lectures are given by different experts on a specific topic linked to the module (e.g., digital heritage, social networks, gender inequality, AI and cybercrime). The seminars to discuss the lectures will occur a week after the lecture, you will have a whole week to prepare for the discussion.


Brief and research domains

Throughout the term, you will be asked to choose a research question from a given list (see below) and answer it in written form (i.e., in an essay). By your deadline, you will need to submit your essay using an accessible PDF file on FASER.

Deadline: 24 April 12pm (2000 words for level 4; 3000 words for level 5)

After the last week together (week 25; Thu 21 March) you will have around one month to finish your work.

The list of research questions you must choose from for your essay:

  1. How does social media impact self-representation and identity?
  2. What is the importance of social networks?
  3. Are digital technologies a threat to democracy?
  4. To what extent do hackers represent a threat and/or an opportunity for democracy?
  5. What is the relationship between open science and the democratization of e-knowledge?
  6. How is AI impacting education?
  7. Why does the digital world need to be gendered?
  8. To what extent is online surveillance a ‘necessary evil’?
  9. How can we use digital technologies to protect and promote human rights and justice?
  10. What are the legal and political aspects of cybercrime?

Other research questions are possible, however will need to be discussed with the module director before the end of week 23.

Syllabus outline

Week Presentation & Presenter
w16 Module Introduction and The Physicality of the Digital World (Dr. Krisztián Hofstädter)
w17 Digital Heritage (Dr. Paola Di Giuseppantonio Di Franco)
w18 seminar Library (practical session in seminars) (Dr. Esther Wilkinson)
w18 lecture How to link research questions to your lectures notes? (Dr. Krisztián Hofstädter)
w19 Gendering the Digital World (Dr. Lisa Smith)
w20 The Hacker Ethic: Roots, history and techno-cultural ideology (Dr. Audrey Guinchard)
w21 Artificial Intelligence and Big Data: the new frontiers of living in a digital world (Dr. Spyros Samothrakis)
w22 Cyber Crime and Darknet (Dr. Audrey Guinchard)
w23 Reading Week (no classes)
w24 seminar Using AI Tools Ethically (Oona Ylinen) held in the library
w24 lecture More on Using AI Tools Ethically (Dr. Krisztián Hofstädter)
w25 Sensemaking and critical thinking (Dr. Krisztián Hofstädter)

Essay examples

One example uploaded to Moodle. Can give you more if needed. Remember, you need to submit an accessible PDF, not a Microsoft Word document.

Week 16


Introduction to the module.

  • Moodle (link to this page)
  • this webpage
  • this website (AU parts could be useful for SP students)
  • me & you
  • maybe start the lecture if we have time


The Physicality of the Digital World


1. Follow-up on lecture

Start thinking about about how our digital activities impact the environmental.

Here some ideas:

1. Energy Consumption and Carbon Footprint: Digital devices and the data centers that support them consume a significant amount of energy, contributing to the overall demand for electricity, much of which is still produced from fossil fuels. This use of digital technologies not only increases energy consumption but also contributes to the global carbon footprint. This includes everything from the energy used to power data centers to the emissions produced during the manufacture of devices.

Nicole Starosielski et al (2023) highlight:

How much energy is used and where is complex:

We still do not have a full picture, for example, of the relative carbon footprint of a network exchange, a terrestrial network, a last-mile connection, a satellite transmission, and a subsea cable link.

But we should try to get a better picture:

It is essential, we show, that both researchers and public stakeholders grasp the relative energy impact of data centers, subsea cables, and Internet of Things devices, among the multitude of other internet infrastructures.

Are smaller or larger data centers more green? It’s complex:

Perhaps surprisingly, when it comes to the environment, bigger is often better. At scale, and in the development of massive new builds, it has been easier for companies such as Google to adopt increased efficiency measures and new technologies, and these companies have helped to drive sustainable development in the data center world. In contrast, a smaller data center or an older facility might fare much less well in an environmental assessment. Yet at the same time, the hyperscalers [e.g. Google, Facebook, Amazon] in the acquisition and appropriation of additional land, energy, and water resources—still have a massive impact on the communities they inhabit.

The computers need cooling, especially if closer to the equator:

Because of the need to maintain consistent temperatures, and because existing technologies are largely built for moderate climate (what Jen Rose Smith, 2020, calls “temperate normativity”), this means that data centers in cooler, often Northern climates typically use less electricity than comparable infrastructure built in tropical regions.

The centers can be powered with different power sources:

Local energy grids also matter, since the mix of renewable versus carbon- intensive fossil fuel electrical generation varies dramatically from region to region (and even during times of day or the year). A data center powered primarily by wind, solar, or legacy nuclear and hydro will have a much smaller climate impact than one powered by coal, oil, or gas. This advantages and disadvantages certain areas of the world (and regions within a country) in terms of environmental performance.

Since its explosive growth in the 2010s, the data center industry has significantly advanced in its attempts to address sustainability compared to other sectors of network infrastructure development. The energy intensity of these infrastructures is a central economic and public relations concern for industry players, both in terms of operational cost and a growing trend of green finance that has incentivized this push. These efforts still have their limits, however: latency and national data sovereignty concerns, among others, mean that hyperscale data centers are not the best solution to every infrastructural problem.

Last Mile: The Driveways of the Internet between IXPs through ISPs to clients seem to use the most energy:

Some studies estimate that 47% of all ICT [Information and Communications Technologies] emissions can be attributed to last-mile infrastructures and end-user devices (Accenture Strategy, 2015). Others suggest that amount is greater than half (Malmodin et al., 2014). There is some evidence to suggest that this number might be lower, but still a significant portion of all ICT emissions (Ferreboeuf, 2019: 20). In addition to being energy-inefficient, last-mile infrastructure and end-user devices make up a significant portion of e-waste, expanding their environmental impact (Maxwell and Miller, 2012).

OK, so what’s better, getting a newer device that is (assumingely) more efficient or repairing the old one?

Scholars have argued for the political and social possibility of an ethics of repair and accepting obsolescence in place of embracing the new (Mattern, 2018; Maxwell and Miller, 2012). Yet this focus on consumer behavior also risks redirecting the culpability of the environmental impact of digital infrastructure onto consumers themselves (Ericsson, 2020).

What is edge cashing?

In short, edge caching means that the content is stored in many edges in the global network, accessible in geographically proximate sites that are called cache servers, rather than distributed from a single central server. Edge caches are like smaller, regional airports, holding content that need not necessarily pass through and from major hub centers.

Edge cashing is good for the users, but is environmentally friendly as well?

This “cooperative model” of data storage and transfer has reduced costs for Netflix and increased efficiency while “increasing quality for consumers” (Netflix, 2021). However, it is not clear that this model has been effective in reducing the carbon footprint of Netflix.

Both academic (Marks, Makonin, Nicole Starosielski et al. Rodriguez-Silva, and Przedpełski, 2021) and popular studies (Bedingfield, 2021; Kessler, 2017) have addressed the environmental impacts of digital streaming, primarily as an aggregate question of carbon footprinting: a certain amount of carbon per GB [Gigibyte], or as the industry’s share of overall global GHG [Greenhous Gas] emissions. Their conclusions are alarming, suggesting that edge caching and the user demand it supports and grows, pose substantial threats to the prospects of a greener internet.

They say it would be better to use the cables under the sea to transmit data instead of storing them in data centers:

If we assumed that the length or duration of transmission is relative to environmental impact, we would easily adopt a localist perspective: like our food and commodity goods, local data would be lighter on the earth than a global import. However, while the transportation of goods via highway is a fuel- and power-intensive activity compared to leaving them stockpiled in a warehouse (provided this warehouse isn’t climate-controlled), the opposite is true for digital signals. Long-haul transmission of information along digital highways is much more energy-efficient than local storage. Subsea routing is actually much less energy-intensive, relatively speaking, than storing data in perpetuity.

The researchers don’t really know the answer to what exactly has to happen, but they suggest that more research needs to be done to better understand the ‘system’:

The question remains: what is it that we want less of when we protest against emissions? Or rather, what does it mean to create “system change” with respect to internet infrastructure? Is it data centers that we need less of? Network exchanges? Subsea cables? No matter the answer, it is clear to us that infrastructural literacy is a precondition for creating more ecologically sound media.

What can I do?

Apart from protesting (e.g. like Extinction Rebellion), which I don’t have time for at the moment, what can I do?

  1. Do I really need to store all my files in Clouds e.g. Dropbox and Drive or would it be good enough to back them up on a hard-drive?
  2. Do I really need a 4K video to accompany my EDM music on YouTube? Also, what about my unlisted and private videos, do I need them still?
  3. Do I really need all my GitHub repositories?
  4. Can I compress my files even more?
  5. Instead of always streaming music/videos can I download them (buy them, go to the local library) and play them from my devices instead?
  6. Can I find out whether my ISP uses the submarine cables or data centers to serve data to my clients (e.g. laptop, smartphone, etc)?
  7. Do I really need to embed/attach files to my emails or could I hyperlink a temporary space-holder? Or shall I delete the emails with attachments later?
  8. Can I send less emails? I already delete as much of the previous content from emails as possible.
  9. Can I further optimize my websites?
  10. Are my devices energy efficient? Does everything need to be plugged in all the time?
  11. Can I unsubscribe from more newsletters?

2. E-Waste: Electronic waste, or e-waste, is a serious issue. When we replace our devices, the old ones often end up in landfills where they can leak harmful substances into the soil and water.

3. Resource Depletion: The production of digital devices requires a variety of rare earth metals and other resources. The extraction of these materials can have a significant environmental impact.

4. Water Usage: Significant amounts of water are used in the manufacturing process of digital devices.

5. Light Pollution: Increased use of digital screens contributes to light pollution, which can disrupt ecosystems.

6. Noise Pollution: Data centers, while not typically located in residential areas, can contribute to noise pollution.

2. Preparatory reading for next lecture

  • Silberman, Neil. “Chasing the unicorn?” New heritage: new media and cultural heritage (2007). Available online at ResearchGate.

Week 17


  • Listen Again works.
  • I have slightly reorganized Moodle and its reading list, but please continue to use this website as your primary source of information.
  • Does anyone have any questions?
  • Who has not read Nicole Starosielski et al (2023)?
  • How can you connect the ideas in this paper (and last week’s lecture) to the list of research questions from which you were asked to choose for your essay?
  • Can you conceptualize layers of society when it comes to these connections?
    • You, your personal or professional life.
    • Your family and friends.
    • Your demographic groups (e.g. age, gender, race/ethnicity, education level, income level, occupation, geographical location)?
  • It’s a good idea to initially contemplate how anything you read about could affect you now or in the future. Ask yourself the question, why does any of what I read matter? How is it linked to me?
  • Why is it important to know how our digital lives impact our environment?
  • How could these environmental effects be connected to my current or future self?

Guest Lecture

Digital Heritage (Dr. Paola Di Giuseppantonio Di Franco)

Week 18


  • Library sessions


  • Does anyone have any questions about the assignment?
  • What was the most interesting part of Paola’s presentation last week? Can it be connected to any of the set list of research questions or help you write a new research question?


    1. Look at the research questions and select the ones you think you personally are most interested in. (This step encourage you to choose a research question that aligns with your personal interests. It’s important to be engaged and motivated while conducting a literature review.)
    2. Make a list of keywords linked to the research questions and add module-specific ones if they are missing, e.g., ‘digital world’. (This step emphasizes the importance of identifying relevant keywords so you don’t get sidetracked.)
    3. Use your keywords with search engines and find relevant literature by reading the title, the abstract, and keywords (if there are any) of your search results. (By reading the title, abstract, and keywords of publications, you can quickly assess their relevance to your research question.)
    4. Select 50 relevant results (which can be books, papers, book chapters, or online articles, videos and podcast episodes). Try to find at least a few recent, up-to-date, peer-reviewed papers that are systematic overviews (reviews) of the relevant fields. (This step provides a specific target for you to aim for in terms of the number of relevant publications you should find. The emphasis on recent peer-reviewed papers and systematic overviews ensures the quality and comprehensiveness of the literature selected.)
    5. Skim read your preselected publication and make notes (e.g., add specific keywords, paraphrase sections, and link them (integrate them) into your knowledge of what you already know). (This step promotes active engagement with the literature.)
    6. Make a diagram of the ideas connected in your literature review to see where the connections are strong or weak. (This step encourages critical thinking and helps you organize your thoughts.)
    7. Prepare to discuss your findings in the seminar next week in groups. (Group discussions foster collaboration and allow you to share insights and perspectives.) No need to present anything in front of the class, so no stress. :-)

Week 19


  • Any questions?
  • How are you getting on with your essays?

    Speed dating :)

  • Group activity reviewing each other’s progress with a round-robin aka rotation method.
    • Consider using the list in the homework section for week 18 above.
    • Make sure you don’t only ask closed questions for which the answers often simple are ‘yes’ or ‘no’. A key concept here is to learn to become good listeners by using open-ended questions starting with the words ‘what’, ‘when’, ‘which’, ‘why’ and ‘how’.
    • Take notes while reviewing others’ progress.
    • At the end, we will spend a few minutes summarizing everyone’s progress and provide suggestions if needed.

Guest lecture

Week 20


  • Any questions?
  • How are you getting on with your essays?

Guest lecture

Week 21


  • Any questions in general?
  • Can we discuss your progress with your logs and tasks list?

Guest lecture

  • Artificial Intelligence and Big Data: the new frontiers of living in a digital world by Dr. Spyros Samothrakis

Week 22


  • Any questions in general?
  • Essex Startup - they can come here or we can go there …
  • Thoughts on AI and Big Data?
  • Can we discuss your progress with your logs and tasks list?

Guest lecture

Week 24



  • More on Using AI Tools Ethically by Kris (practical demo)

Week 25


  • Any questions in general?
  • Update on progress.


  • Sensemaking and critical thinking by Kris
  • See you in the pub at 5pm?


Starosielski, Nicole, Hunter Vaughan, Anne Pasek, and Nicholas R. Silcox. “Disaggregated Footprints: An Infrastructural Literacy Approach to the Sustainable Internet.” In The Routledge Handbook of Ecomedia Studies, pp. 111-118. Routledge, 2023. Available online at taylorfrancis.com