New media, new ways of thinking

Graduate students today, unlike their parents and professors, grew up using computers, have relied on the Web for research and entertainment for most of their lives, and use email, instant messaging and blogs as effortlessly as previous generations use the telephone.

It’s a generation for whom technology is a natural, essential component of work and play, and that, according to Cathy Davidson, means they are likely to use emerging technologies in ways never before imagined.

Davidson, Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies at Duke University and one of the founders of the Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Advanced Collaboratory (HASTAC, pronounced Haystack), targeted this technologically savvy generation of graduate students for the conference Thinking Through New Media. These young people, she said, will set the tone for HASTAC’s upcoming Year of Information, a series of  networked events across the U.S. that will examine the role of information technology in everything from the arts to dealing with natural disasters.

Thinking Through New Media, held June 7 and 8 at Duke, was sponsored by HASTAC, RENCI and Duke’s Information Science and Information Studies program (ISIS). The conference brought together more than 50 students—including 15 from North Carolina institutions—interested in the interdisciplinary study of digital technologies and their impact on art, culture, science, commerce, society, and the environment. Long term, organizers hope the conference will help build an international community for interdisciplinary new media scholarship. Participants came from 25 universities in the U.S. and Canada and RENCI support helped pay the travel and lodging expenses for the students.

Panel discussions covered a wide range of topics, including collaborative creation, digital art, geographical and geological imaging, gaming, digital storytelling, and populist information technologies such as blogs and online forums. Ten papers, authored by the student participants, were presented during the conference.