Media Science

30 Oct 2021 02:15 - 17 Jun 2023 08:29
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    • I have a PhD in the fake-sounding field of Media Arts and Sciences from the MIT Media Lab, which is not only a lab, but also its own academic quasi-department. It's never been quite clear to me what the field really is, despite my fancy degree.
    • While at the Media Lab, I and some of my fellow graduate students occasionally tried to take seriously the idea that we were founding a field and there should be some sort of intellectual core to it. This didn't really happen back then, and as far as I can tell it hasn't happened in the 25 years since I left.
    • That's not to say there isn't some really excellent and important work done there (as well as some not so great); just that there is no real unifying theme or core ideas. Back then the gamut of research activities ran from digital holography to documentary film; today it includes all that and neurobiology and agriculture (sort of) and public policy. This is all very exciting but what ties it all together, other than coolness?
    • What the Media Lab excelled in back then was pushing digital technology into places where it had yet to invade (such as newspapers – this was pre-web). And more importantly, figuring out ways to get funded by these industries that didn't have one clue about research or digital technology. I imagine it's a lot harder to do that today, given that we are several stages further into the digital transformation of everything.
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    • The real strength of the place likes is being interdisciplinary, because that's a much more fruitful zone for innovation than within an established discipline. It's a bolder, more exciting, and more risky way to do research. So not having an intellectual core is actually something of a plus. Why would you want to give the field a rigid definition? (See illegibility) Certainly that was the most attractive feature of the place for me, I had a shit-ton of intellectual freedom there, for better or worse.
    • The lack of a formal definition of Media Science didn't bother me one bit at the time, and now it's only a minor annoyance in that I have to explain it to be people all the time. But it might hint at larger problems of mission in the lab, which seemed to lose its way and as a result got mired in scandal. That was long after I had left, thankfully.