By Henry Kean, iMedia 2014-2015
As the tech community was recently set ablaze with the announcement of the new iPhone and Apple Watch, the iMedia students were assigned to read Jaron Lanier’s You Are Not A Gadget. While most readings thus far have described the incredible benefits technology and new media have provided society, Lanier tells a cautionary tale that warns of the potentially disastrous direction we are moving. At first it felt bizarre to read a book that, in some ways, bashes the fields and professions many of us are pursuing, but it also had a very refreshing and empowering effect.
As a psychology major in undergrad, I am new to almost everything that has been discussed in our classes so far. And as someone who grew up in a house with no cell service, and spent my summers at a camp where any technology outside of a headlamp was banned and the Internet was non-existent, I have always been a little weary of new technology. For example, while watching my fellow classmates hoot and holler about the incredible new Apple Watch, I couldn’t help but wonder how that will get in the way of face to face interactions. I agree technology can be a wonderful tool, but I also side with Lanier, that maybe things are starting to get out of hand in some aspects. If a friend is trying to have a serious conversation with me, and my wrist is buzzing and beeping, there is no way I can give that person what they need in that moment.
If it is not apparent, I was eating up what Lanier was laying down. I agreed with almost everything he was saying and felt like someone actually understood where I was coming from. But then I asked myself: Why is the guy who basically invented virtual reality discrediting his own field? Why am I getting so excited that he is discrediting the field I have chosen to pursue? And what in the world is that instrument he’s playing? As it turns out, I was falling victim to a psychological term called confirmation bias where you seek out sources that validate your feelings or opinions and ignore ones that are in opposition. I have studied how dangerous this phenomenon can be – even fatal in some cases – and once I realized what was happening, I quickly took a step back and reevaluated the situation.
I soon discovered that I was seeing the situation all wrong. Lanier wasn’t saying that new media and technologies are some sort of dastardly villain, nor was Professor Lackaff trying to play some sick joke to make us feel like we had taken the wrong life path. Instead, it was a charge, a sort of call to arms as we begin to grow and develop into interactive media professionals. When we come out of this program, we will be in charge of creating and distributing content to the world. Content that has become extremely important and influential in today’s society. According to Lanier, in some ways, we aren’t just learning to code a website or computer program. We’re not merely making videos and designing content. We’re learning skills to take the reigns of the digital world and drive it in any direction we choose.
While graduation may still be a long ways off, it is really inspiring to know that we are gaining the ability to go into a field that can enact huge societal change if we so choose. Sure, it may start slowly with a goofy resume project where the top of your head pops off, but this program is teaching us to apply what we’re learning in the classroom to our future, professional lives (or this really great blog post) and can be seen in previous classes’ capstone projects. But before I get too ahead of myself, I have to make it through Professor Lackaff’s literature review.