Research Themes


Re-thinking the nature of information as grounded in materials and physical objects

Much has been made of the dematerialization of information afforded by digital technology. Digital information is imagined as a pure abstraction, as flowing effortlessly through cables, wireless networks, silicon chips. Classical information theory depends on the analytical separation of information from the particular material instantiations that animate it. This theme puts the focus back on the material foundation of information and the material properties of the configurations through which humans encounter it. We will explore the design implications, the temporal dimensions, and the interrelation of materialities of information with other materialities (e.g., biological), of the material locatedness and constitution of information systems.


Implications of algorithms moving into social systems and daily life, invited or not

We will explore the new modes of everyday living that are evolving together with the explosion of “big data” and its impact on how people craft their self-understandings, how emergent publics are formed, and how data tracking, collection and aggregation are transforming domains of privacy and security. We will explore both the social impact of big data on specific communities, and the communities that create algorithmic environments that generate data. This theme will lead to historical and legal work on the rise of algorithmic living as well as the development of new platforms for the management and interoperation of data sets to permit new personal and collective narratives, social formations and engagements with others.


How people, values, and systems interact and conflict at different scales

If algorithmic living takes up the question of how big data is altering how people adjust to a heightened presence and scale of data in and about their lives, Information ecosystems takes up the interrelationships between data sets themselves, their own corporate, technological and human environments. Privacy and trust emerge as core concerns when large data sets “get together.” We seek to reframe the discussion here by including questions of scale, value(s) and contexts of information flow and interaction. The ecosystem metaphor taken in its most rigorously ecological sense allows for populations as units of analysis. These are populations of data, of users, of user-data networks, databases, technologies and corporate environments, and cross-cutting amalgamations of users, networks and data. This theme will ask how different technological modes (cloud, pervasive, visual, etc.) disrupt contexts, change the appropriateness and vectors of flow, reframe scale, and how these disruptions play out in practice.


Moving beyond “the user” as the center of user experience and user-centered design

This theme takes up the problem of “users” and seeks to understand how social computing is redefining both users and use. We will explore human-computer interaction beyond the user-device dyad, by developing projects that seek to map out typologies of the different kinds of subjects that are created and deployed between design and use. One is not always the same person on Facebook as over email; and Facebook and Google algorithms have their own ideas about what kind of person one might be, or become. As users engage with massively networked and mobile computing, new opportunities and constraints arise for how they experience their subjectivity (experienced identity), or encounter it in unfamiliar ways.


How group production and patterns of making are changing what it is to be creative

We will develop new concepts and prototypes for new modes of collaboration and models for creativity. Online and offline communities are forming that do not map onto traditional understandings of “users” or societies. Users may be massively-multiple collaborations working together on a common project. Societies may be geographically dispersed and non-proximate, and may include non-human agents (bots) or multiply- human agents (avatars controlled by multiple people). Such terms as “pro-suming” (producing and consuming at the same time), “creationist capitalism,” and “making” index new kinds of creative activity in new kinds of collectivity. By examining the sites and products of technological collective social action and cultural production, we aim to understand and support the relationship between collectivity and creativity to provide guidance for the interpretation and design of digital media.