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Blown to Bits

As a final exam, you will submit an essay on a topic of your choice related to one of the chapters in the book Blown to Bits: Your Life, Liberty, and Happiness After the Digital Explosion by Hal Abelson, Ken Ledeen, and Harry Lewis. This book is available online as a pdf for free at and the related website with additional material is at In particular, you may find their blog interesting and relevant to your work.

To help you navigate the book, the following table summarizes which lecture topics loosely correspond to which chapters. You are of course free to select any chapter (or related sections from multiple chapters), regardless what was covered in class.

CS 190 Topic Blown to Bits
The Internet Appendix:
The Internet as System and Spirit
Social Networking Chapter 2: Naked in the Sunlight:
Privacy Lost, Privacy Abandoned
Security Chapter 5: Secret Bits:
How Codes Became Unbreakable
Ethics Chapter 7: You Can’t Say That on the Internet:
Guarding the Frontiers of Digital Expression
Intellectual Property Chapter 6: Balance Toppled:
Who Owns the Bits?
Digital Divide
History & Computation Chapter 1: Digital Explosion:
Why Is It Happening, and What Is at Stake?
Other Topics
Digital Documents Chapter 3: Ghosts in the Machine:
Secrets and Surprises of Electronic Documents
Search Engines Chapter 4: Needles in the Haystack:
Google and Other Brokers in the Bits Bazaar
Censorship/Regulation Chapter 8: Bits in the Air:
Old Metaphors, New Technologies, and Free Speech

Specific instructions and guidelines:

  • Select one chapter (or several sections) in Blown to Bits. Please state which one(s) you selected in your essay.
  • Write a critical response containing “new” material. This should be a contribution based on your own experience and/or an angle/view not covered by the authors.
  • You should also draw upon the points discussed in lectures, on the team blogs, and in the course wiki pages.
  • The required length is 2 to 3 pages (500 to 750 words). Your document should be formatted nicely (e.g., double-spaced with reasonable margins).
  • This assignment must be your individual work; you may not collaborate with other students other than discussing the book or course issues in general.

Please submit your essay to the TA via email (, preferably as a PDF attachment (see below). You will receive a reply confirming the receipt of your document. The deadline is Friday March 12th at 5:00 PM. Late work will not be accepted; enjoy your Spring Break!

Creating PDFs

Note that one should be cautious about sending .doc (or .docx) files: besides not being fully portable, .doc files often contain hidden information that one may not want the recipient to know (see here, here, and Blown to Bits chapter 3).

There are many ways to create (or, print) a PDF file:

Feel free to contact the TA if you have any questions regarding this process.

ci2010/blown_to_bits.txt · Last modified: 2010/03/04 12:46 by Chris Mayfield