Schultheis Post 6: The New Tech Paradox

Beginning his text, The Media Lab: Inventing the Future at MIT, with a description of several futuristic demos performed at MIT in the 1980s, Steward Brand nearly sets up a Wonka-esque scene, yet those descriptions are complicated as he highlights the neoliberal underpinnings of the Media Lab. As he draws attention to the numerous sponsors and potential sponsors that occupy this space, Brand points out the institution’s peculiarity: “MIT is more merrily in bed with industry and government than any other academic institution in the world” (6). My skepticism seems to have anticipated Russell Neuman’s claim shortly after that people are naturally inclined “to see either a revolution or a conspiracy in every new technology” (15). Evident in the history of DAT (Digital Audio Tape) that Brand tells, this new technology paradox emerges: DAT was clearly revolutionary in providing “home manipulation of commercial information,” but the fact that businesses eschewed the release of this technology because they were invested in the CD business suggests the capitalist’s motivations that fund new technologies. But while I wish I could be content to look at the revolutionary resistances to the neoliberal, I can’t help but wonder who gets to participate in the resistance? Those with a surplus of recourses to purchase these devises and a surplus of time to learn how to use them, reinforcing tech-power disparity.

Like the Media Lab, Center for Scholarly Communication & Digital Curation receives private funding, but unsurprisingly it seems to align itself more closely with libraries and archives than media labs. Situated in this way, CSCDC offers assistance for image and text scanning and faculty and student projects, such as the interdisciplinary project the Anatomy of Gender. As the CSCDC encourages NU to participate in Open Access Week, this project embraces the call for open access, in part, because it digitally publishes relevant student essays. CSCDC more generally works to make faculty more comfortable with academic transparency by providing information on copyright and offering support for data management.

Brand, Stewart. “Media Lab: Inventing the Future at M.I.T.” New York: Penguin Books, 1987.

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