New research group collective explores the intersection of media, technology and the social issue
Students from the fields of engineering, film and communication occupied the seats at Annenberg Hall in the Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism class of Mike Annany and Colin Maclay “Media, Algorithms, and Platform Publics: Exploring dynamics of design, creation, and practice. Annany and Maclay created the class in 2017 with the intention of exploring the interdisciplinary nature of the digital world. When the class was over, her versatile energy left students and faculty begging for more.
“At the end of the class, there was actually this moment where everyone was like, ‘Well, we don’t want this class to end, so what do we do? “Said Annany, assistant professor at Annenberg.
This desire inspired Ananny and Maclay, the latter professor and executive director of the Annenberg Innovation Lab, to transform the classroom setting into a collective research group, MASTS, which meets weekly on Tuesday afternoons. MASTS stands for Media as SocioTechnical Systems and represents the bridge between media, technology and social issues. Each week, a member of the group presents an aspect of the technology that interests them.
“There has been a range of topics,” said Adrienne Adams, a graduate student studying American Studies and Ethnicity and a member of MASTS. “The last few weeks we’ve been thinking about platform governance… coming up I’ll talk about 20th century technology like faxing, printer and stuff like that.
Regardless of who initiates the discussion, each member has the opportunity to give their opinion and share their point of view on the issue. Bita Tanavoli, a junior who specializes in communications, said that after the presenters explain their topic, there is a whole group discussion that lasts about an hour. Tanavoli also added that the discussions are “very engaging and dynamic”.
MASTS members can also use the space to explore topics they might possibly want to discuss outside of the group, Annany said. When someone plans to give a presentation at an academic workshop or conference, they can test their ideas in a meeting.
“There is to come [academic workshops and] conferences, where the students want it, much like presentations of test drives or projects they could undertake at these conferences, ”said Annany. “Our weekly meetings become places to rehearse or understand what this topic looks like to them or what a project looks like.”
Over the summer, the wave of Black Lives Matter protests hinted at a shift in the nuances of some of the topics discussed by MASTS at the time, Annany said.
“Very quickly, a lot of the work had a stronger social justice framework,” Ananny said. “Questions of [sociotechnical systems] often have issues of race, social justice and inequality in the way they are designed or how they are deployed or how money is made. Much of the group really had a strong social justice and racial justice component in their work where we ask, how do these technologies see people? “
Adams said they focus a lot on black studies, transgender studies and technology in their classes at USC. MASTS is a perfect place for them to put all of these aspects together.
“It’s kind of this environment without pressure to learn more about things that I might be exposed to or to develop ideas that I think of in terms of how darkness and transness shape the way we think about and use things. communication and information technology, ”Adams said.
Due to the coronavirus, MASTS is currently meeting on Zoom. However, the virtual setting didn’t stop the group from creating a sense of camaraderie and bonding, Ananny said. As a first-year doctoral student at USC, Adams joined MASTS in October after seeking a way to meet students with similar interests, such as the important role of technology in society.
“I think my favorite thing was… just getting to know people from so many other departments,” Adams said. “There are former post-docs who are now professors, there are people from film, media studies, there are people from my own department – Annenberg – and there seems to be this really dynamic approach every time. times we have a conversation because there are so many different backgrounds. “
Ananny echoed Adams’ feelings towards the group, especially since he was unsure whether the group’s connection would be as rich as if the reunions were held in person.
“People wanted to continue meeting,” Annany said. “Meeting attendance increased in the summer, it increased in the fall. This feeling of “Oh, people are getting disconnected”, we’ve seen the exact opposite. People were thirsty for the interdisciplinary community that had motivated us from the very beginning.
In the coming weeks, the group will focus on basic infrastructure, such as transit systems and Bluetooth. Ananny is looking for MASTS to expand this semester to include more people from various disciplines at USC.
For Tanavoli, she looks forward to continuing to learn from the diverse perspectives of the group.
“So far, I’ve had a great time listening, learning and getting to know new people,” Tanavoli said.