Andrés Monroy-Hernández is a PhD candidate at the MIT Media Lab. His work on social computing focuses on the design of online spaces that support collaboration and remixing. As part of his research, he created the Scratch website, an online community where young people from around the world share their own animations and video games.
What one insight from your field, approach, method, findings etc. do you think is most important for scholars working in this topical area?
Digital cultural production is mediated by sociotechnical systems. The designers of these systems often see themselves as providers of solutions, however, the systems and the culture they support tend to thrive when design interventions are based on iterative interventions that emerge from close relationships with the communities they serve.
What are two issues that are not adequately treated within current work on cultural production in the digital age in your field or in others?
1) Control. Digital culture often has two sides: producers and consumers. However, tensions arise as technology empowers both and the line between the two blurs. The issue to address is how to empower people without alienating them at the same time. This tension often comes up in the context of control over intellectual property and people’s ability to remix media.
2) Methodology. The emergence of large corpora of cultural data has opened new computational forms of analyzing culture. One of the challenges is how to leverage these new methods without ignoring the traditional humanistic and non-computational methodologies that can give us different insights.
Are humanistic values such as justice, equality, democracy or (insert preferred humanistic value here) currently served by cultural production in a digital networked environment?
Humanistic values have been both supported and hindered by new tools of digital cultural production. For example, we have that systems like YouTube or Twitter have arguably contributed to the democratization of digital expression, but at the same time, tools like those that support “digital rights management” are often used to thwart that same democratic form of expression. Chris Csikszentmihályi often says that technology is always political. If this is true, technology designers need to acknowledge their politics and take a clear stance on the values that their technical solutions embody.