On Materiality in the Digital Age: Research Progress (Blog 2)

After two months of gathering data we finalized the theoretical readings from JSTOR and the primary sources from Google Scholar that will be used to support our analysis. I annotated each text with detailed notes that serve as an outline for short essays. In the short essays I define materiality within the contexts presented by Merleau-Ponty, McLuhan and Hayles. I plan to compile the short essays into a coherent, organized paper. Notably, the three media theorists mention that there is a feedback loop that exists among humans and technologies. They suggest that materiality is not a property inherent within objects, but rather the sensory experiences that occur during human-technology interactions.

The research I have done has brought me to raise countless other questions. Therefore, the challenging aspect of this project was remaining focused on the thesis regarding the role of materiality in the digital age. I am compelled to explore different concepts from the readings and expand upon them in the individual essays, but I easily digress. I have to remind myself that I will not be able to attain mastery over the subject matter or come to definite conclusions within the short time granted to carry out this project.

From the many questions raised during the process, there are a few worth highlighting. Considering the ubiquity of the fidget spinner in digital culture whether as the subject of memes or of YouTube videos, we question if referring to the digital has become inevitable. We also question how long the fidget spinner will remain popular and if there is a trend among our cultural phenomena that could predict the next future craze. After drawing connections among the readings by the three of our chosen media theorists, I keep revisiting the question: can material objects whether analog or digital hypothetically be deemed alive?

From this project, I have honed my skills in analytical reading and writing. I have also learned how to form clear arguments while using the theoretical texts to support my claims. This project has set the groundwork for future studies of materiality. I am excited to see how the definition changes as digital culture continues to evolve. I am certain that the theoretical frameworks I have researched will be useful in future discussions. I now have a foundation on which I can build upon for future research projects including my senior thesis or a presentation for the Dyson Society of Fellows.

Conceptualizing Materiality in the Digital Age: Examining the Relationship Among Humans,Technology and Language (Blog 1)

Our initial direction was to examine the fidget spinner, an analog toy that has gone viral in recent months, to conceptualize distraction and productivity in the Digital Age. After sifting through scholarly databases, we became fixated on exploring the role of touch and materiality in our digital-saturated generation. Thus, we have titled our project, “Conceptualizing Materiality in the Digital Age: Examining the Relationship Among Humans, Technology and Language.” The purpose of this project is to gain broader insights on the ways humans cope and adapt to technological advancements.

First, we will define materiality, a term whose primary meaning was limited to the notions of matter and tactility. The rise of digital culture expanded the definition of materiality due to the birth of cyberspace, a supposed intangible place. During a time in which screens mediate interaction, there is a heightened desire to fulfill the basic need for connection or to be in touch with others. We will examine words that are specific to the Digital Age such as “touchscreen,” which suggests that a technological component is now needed to achieve connectivity. Through our analysis, we will show that the expansion of language coincides with imperative to preserve a firm sense of self in an increasingly digitized era.

During this process, I will gain the experience of working with advanced qualitative research practices that will help me develop more effective methods for future studies. Moreover, I hope to hone my skills in analytical reading, academic writing and organization. We will use the database, JSTOR, to locate secondary sources including scholarly and academic journals on media philosophies. We will filter searches based on keywords including ‘materiality’, ‘phenomenology,’ ‘media technology,’ ‘tactility,’ and ‘touch.’ By reading the abstracts of related searches we can determine which readings are relevant to our project.

The theoretical frameworks for this project will stem from the perspectives of media theorists, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Marshall McLuhan and N. Katherine Hayles. To explore similar perspectives or to help clarify complex ideas, we will refer to other media theorists that appear in the articles. Once we gather foundational theories on materiality and human-technology interaction from JSTOR, we will use Google Scholar to find primary sources on fidget spinners. Then, we will draw connections among our sources to pose our own arguments about the changes in the relationship among humans, language and technology.