The following is a sketch, perhaps unfinished, on my thoughts about New Media and Informatics as academic disciplines. It is a starting point for a forum involving HASTAC scholar Bonnie Fortune and the UIUC New Media Program Head Professor Kevin Hamilton. If you are interested in this topic, feel free to comment and look forward to a more concrete analysis in the future.
Image: A screen shot of a failed attempt at accessing the UIUC Informatics website from a public wi-fi spot.
Within my undergraduate education I have declared two areas of study that are questionably distinct: New Media and Informatics. Both disciplines are, for the lack of a better term, new. Few people inside and out of the fields are comfortable with the subject heading and I often find myself trying to explain what they mean. When given the topic of explaining different instances in which technological devices have caused distractions in my life, I must immediately cite my own unique position in describing, explaining and practicing these disciplines. As New Media and Informatics serve as platforms to discuss the application of information and technology to practically any field, one must ask how these areas of study do or do not visualize, present, understand, and experience this change.
Inherent within both disciplines is the notion of collaboration and subsequently, community-building. As technological platforms and devices progress, the design creates an ability to network between, among and across systems. It seems as though it is becoming increasingly difficult to talk about one area of study without referencing the other. And it seems even harder to talk about technology without referencing its social, political, and interpersonal implications. Within the essay "From E-Learning Space to E-Learning Place," Wahlstedt, Pekkola, and Niemala explain that "learning cannot solely [rely] on technologies and single tools or media. Instead, it should be on their composition for social purposes" (Wahlstedt 1029). By acknowledging that no technological tool can work independently, perhaps the same metaphor can be used to describe the people using these tools. Whether this tool is technological, artistic or scientific, it does enable new discoveries and insights beyond one discipline or one person. As one identifies the new opportunities of these tools, often much can be learned through its old uses.
Within the field of New Media art, the notion of the old versus the new frequently becomes one of the core subject matters. This method of describing art has been around for a long time, however it usually describes the progression of artistic technique rather than a particular tool. As a practicing New Media artist, I recognize the impact of technological advances on art in both practice and discipline. There is often a check and balance between emerging technical platforms and new expressive abilities. Many of these cutting edge devices do allow for new ways of seeing, interacting and understanding the world, and others do not. Throughout the essay "Mobile Communication in the 21st Century: Everybody, Everywhere, At Any Time," Gumpert and Drucker remind us that "technological devices do have residual societal consequences, [and] the social implications are critical and probably not apparent" (Gumpert 11). As these residues build, it becomes useful to use New Media and Informatics to leverage collaboration between fields. Distinguishing what is new and old within technology and society does allow one to view the changes that are often too quickly overlooked. These behaviors, natural and artificial, do reveal connections in and between our everyday lives.
There will be uncertain consequences as to how these disciplines exactly inform the arts, sciences and humanities. However, these forms of critique and analysis could enable a constructive, if not new, intersection of technological and social development. My fascination lies in how technological advancement often relies on the expectation that newness equates improvement. If New Media and Informatics are the disciplinary equivalent of this paradigm, what does that say about them? What does this say about studying or practicing them? Perhaps these questions are the promise surrounding these disciplines.
Gumpert, Gary and Susan J. Drucker. "Ch. 1: Mobile Communication in the Twenty-First Century or "Everybody, Everywhere, at any Time"." Displacing Place: mobile communication in the twenty-first century / edited by Sharon Kleinman.. Kleinman, Sharon, ed.. Peter Lang, 2007. 7-20.
Wahlstedt, Ari; Samuli Pekkola & Marketta Niemel. "From e-learning space to e-learning place." British Journal of Educational Technology 39.6 (Nov 2008): 1020-1030.