How do we understand technology’s role in our lives today?
Do we control it, or does it control us?
Are technologies contributing to political polarization?
These questions will lead our community conversation at the the kickoff to the 24th season of Great Conversations, a College of Liberal Arts program that invites community members to engage in meaningful conversations with liberal arts faculty throughout the year.
On Sept. 26, faculty panelists will open a discussion with the audience about technology’s impact and effect in our lives.
Faculty Panel Experts
Evan Elkins, assistant professor of communication studies, specializes in media studies and takes a critical cultural approach to the consideration of technology, its uses, and its impact.
“There are economic and cultural imperatives for a technology to be created and used in a certain way,” he says. “And we have to consider what are the hopes and benefits that institutions want us to experience.”
According to Elkins, one way to think about social media is that they are not primarily communication platforms, but tools that have been designed to extract data and keep people engaged/on the platform.
“Social media is a potentially democratizing/equalizing platform. In reality, it’s more complicated than that. They encourage emotionally intense experiences,” he says.
Michael Humphrey, assistant professor of journalism and media communication, specializes in digital storytelling. He starts from the personal space and works outward. “What is the line between your technology and your being?” he asks in relation to the many different “smart” watches people now wear. “What is a machine? That definition has changed. What parts of us remain human? Which parts are we willing to augment?” he asks.
In addition, Humphrey, building on the work of philosophers Hannah Arendt and Adriana Cavarero, questions whether we can truly tell our own story because it is difficult or impossible to both act and observe at the same time, as is required on social media.
“Can you observe while you’re acting? Are the algorithms observing us while we are acting?,” he asks. “Is it even possible to make a difference in the world though digital means alone? If you want to change the world, do you need to return to the streets? These are essential questions of our time.”
Jessie Luna, assistant professor of sociology, specializes in race, ethnicity, and global and environmental issues. She asks: “How much diversity is represented in who is developing the technologies? For the voice of Google Assistant, they had interviews of women for weeks. The voice – an upper middle-class white woman – we think of it as neutral, but it’s not.”
According to Luna, the concept of technological determinism – how technology influences a society – is an important one to consider. “We have to step back and ask who made the technology, what was the economic structure in which it was designed, and who was it created to benefit (economically or otherwise)? Questions of social inequality come up,” she says.
Be part of the conversation.
Though each faculty member approaches technology from a different lens, some fundamental and consistent concerns remain about access to reliable information so that we may be educated citizens. How are we accessing reliable information? How do we evaluate information? Ultimately, how do we become informed citizens?
Join us for the Great Conversations Kickoff on Thurs., Sept. 26 at the Lory Student Center Theatre, 6:30-8:30 p.m. RSVP