As part of my doctoral work at the University of Oregon, I completed an interdisciplinary certificate program last year in “New Media and Culture,” the intersection of social- and computer-science-based quantitative methods with humanities-based critical commentary. The program recently asked to interview me about my thoughts on that intersection. They have published that interview here, as part of a series that they call “Shelfies” (“What’s on your bookshelf?”).
I’m reprinting an excerpt from the interview here (including a few phrases that weren’t included in the published version), since it (like the Software Carpentry Team page summary that I posted several months ago) nicely summaryizes where I see myself, and my interests:
O’Neil and Schutt (2013) popularized the term “datafication” to capture the trend of seeing and gathering data where before it would have been infeasible or uninteresting. Fitbits, for example, “datafy” individuals’ health decisions, from activity levels to food intake. In 2014, Facebook introduced a feature in their mobile app that would remotely activate users’ microphones at various times to “identify TV and music” that the user might be enjoying. Where before there would have been no or only very limited data on these topics (before, one might record one’s food choices in a daily journal, or perhaps pay an assistant to watch one throughout the day and make records), there is now persistent data, which often enable incidental usage (although Facebook stated that it “can’t identify background noise or conversation,” it would not be unreasonable to expect that conversations could be recorded and stored with such an app feature).
This is the context in which I see the study of new media, and where I see their relation to culture: from a research perspective, new media enable new types of inquiry on large scales, both of data quantity and of time; however, they also bring new ethical issues, with which legislation has not yet been able to begin to catch up. In my mind, researchers, as the curators and stewards of these data, carry a moral responsibility to understand these issues and act with them in mind. Understanding and maintaining literacy in the advantages and disadvantages of data storage and usage decisions is complex and requires a creativity that likely is best engendered by cross-disciplinary study, in which historical and philosophical perspectives meet technical ones.