Taubman College Architecture Associate Professor McLain Clutter and Architecture Assistant Professors Ellie Abrons and Adam Fure co-organized the U-M 2019 Michigan Meeting on “Living a Digital Life: Objects, Environments and Power.” The co-hosted two-day meeting convenes faculty, non-profits, and industry together to talk about the impact of digital technologies on identity, health, entertainment, environment, labor, policy, and society.
University of Michigan set out to ask critical questions about how today’s digital environment impacts personal and societal well-being, perceptions and livelihoods. According to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, the digital sector of the economy grew at an annual average rate of 9.9 percent, compared to the rest of the economy, which grew at an annual average rate of 2.3 percent (1997-2017). With digital tech growth in the U.S. and across the globe, what does an immersive world of ubiquitous connectivity, 24/7 news feeds, surveillance, responsive design, algorithmic-recommendation systems, and voice-controlled assistants mean for how we perceive ourselves and the those around us? In other words, what does it mean to be alive in the digital age?
This question is the topic of the 2019 University of Michigan “Michigan Meetings,” which is a convening of faculty and professionals to discuss societal-impacting technologies. Held at U-M’s Horace B. Rackham Graduate School on May 9-10, 2019, the two-day symposium brings together more than 30 experts in their fields to discuss topics such as digital selfhood, automation, activism, and social justice, among others. Organized by seven U-M faculty from the College of Literature, Science and the Arts; School of Information; and Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning, the conference is free and open to faculty, students, staff and the community.
“Digital culture has fundamentally reshaped the way we live, work, think, and relate to one another,” said Adam Fure, U-M Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning faculty member and event co-organizer. “We are living in the aftermath of the digital revolution. Our lives are constantly mediated by technologies with networked connectivity that often goes unnoticed. The Meetings are a chance to consider what this means for who we are as a global society, both now and in the immediate future.”
Two keynote lectures will be given. Sarah Sharma, Associate Professor and Director of the McLuhan Centre for Culture and Technology at the University of Toronto, will speak on Thursday at 1:30 p.m. Adam Greenfield, author of Radical Technologies: The Design of Everyday Life and Founder of Urbanscale, will provide the closing keynote on Friday at 4:30 p.m.
Faculty and industry panels will address the impacts of digital technologies on identity, health, environment, entertainment, labor, policy, and society. Panel topics will address some of the following key themes:
Health in the Age of Biotech, Wearable Sensing Devices and Responsive Environments: Andrew Ibrahim, U-M Medicine Resident Surgeon and HOK Healthcare Chief Medical Officer; Upali Nanda, U-M Taubman College of Architecture & Urban Planning Associate Professor and HKS Research Director; Sarah Murray, U-M College of Literature, Science and the Arts Assistant Professor of Film, Television, and Media; Ridhi Tariyal, NextGen Jane Founder (Thursday, 4:30 p.m.)
Politics, Resistance and Social Activism in a Digital Era: Anna Watkins Fisher, U-M College of the Literature, Science and the Arts American Culture Assistant Professor; Muzammil Hussain, U-M Institute for Social Research’s Center for Political Studies Faculty Associate and Department of Communication Studies Assistant Professor; Lisa Nakamura, U-M College of Literature, Science, and the Arts Gwendolyn Calvert Baker Collegiate Professor and Digital Studies Institute Director (Friday, 10 a.m.)
Labor Access, Jobs and Rights in the Digital Age: Jerry Davis, U-M Ross School of Business Associate Dean for Business + Impact and Sociology Professor; Silvia Lindtner, U-M School of Information and Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design Assistant Professor; Curtis Roth, The Ohio State University Knowlton School of Architecture Assistant Professor; Molly Wright Steenson, Carnegie Mellon University School of Design K&L Gates Associate Professor of Ethics and Computational Technologies and College of Fine Arts Senior Associate Dean for Research; Dan Taeyoung, Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation Adjunct Assistant Professor (Friday, 1 p.m.)
The event is the culmination of a year of courses, colloquia, visiting lectures, and conversations that critically engage with the big issues, urgent consequences, and radical possibilities for grappling with the meaning of life in this era of digital ubiquity.
“We are purposefully playing with the term ‘alive’ to initiate a different kind of conversation about digital ubiquity,” said Sarah Murray, U-M College of Literature, Science, and the Arts Assistant Professor of Film, Television, and Media and Digital Studies Institute faculty and event co-organizer. “In a networked world, definitions of ‘life’ are embedded in the power and value systems of automation, artificiality, data, gig labor, the demands of productivity, and the possibilities for digital activism. When we ask, ‘what does it mean to be alive in the digital?’ what we’re really asking people to think about is quality of life for all users - how do we foster meaningful progress in light of pervasive anxieties about identity theft, hacking, online harassment, oppressive algorithmic systems, migrant digital labor, smart surveillant cities, and drone warfare. We want event attendees to feel empowered to have this conversation through shared content and open dialogue.”
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The 2019 Michigan Meeting is co-organized by:
Ellie Abrons, University of Michigan Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning Assistant Professor of Architecture
Megan Sapnar Ankerson, University of Michigan College of Literature, Science, and the Arts Associate Professor of Communication
McLain Clutter, University of Michigan Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning Associate Professor of Architecture and Interim Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Strategic Initiatives
Paul Conway, University of Michigan School of Information Associate Professor of Information
Adam Fure, University of Michigan Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning Assistant Professor of Architecture
Sarah Murray, University of Michigan College of Literature, Science, and the Arts Assistant Professor of Film, Television, and Media
Lisa Nakamura, University of Michigan College of Literature, Science, and the Arts Gwendolyn Calvert Baker Collegiate Professor and Digital Studies Institute Director