Media Scholar Lisa Parks | 2018 MacArthur Fellow

Media Scholar Lisa Parks | 2018 MacArthur Fellow


Technologies always have social impacts,
and they also help to generate cultures especially in the media age and in the
age of the Internet. My name is Lisa Parks, and I’m a media scholar at MIT. I’m interested in the relationship between media technologies, social power, and
culture, and my research really focuses on infrastructural objects- things like
satellites, cell towers, data centers, and cables that enable media to move through the world, so not just the content on screen, but how it arrives at the screen
and what our systems are made of. Who makes them? Who operates and repairs them when they break down? Those are the kinds of questions that motivated me to start
doing field work in places like Zambia and Mongolia. In Zambia, I learned how
people with very limited economic resources still gain access to
television signals, to radio broadcasts, and Internet, but they do it in very
inventive in different ways, and conditions of scarcity these hybridized
distribution systems take shape, so instead of everybody having their own
satellite dish there will be one satellite dish and people will
collectively watch it together. Remote sensing satellites generate
imagery that becomes crucial not only for meteorology and climate science, but
also is used to help citizens make sense of wars and conflicts around the
world. In my most recent book, Rethinking Media Coverage, I start each chapter with
a drawing that’s designed to get my reader to think about how I’m defining
Vertical Mediation. Really what I was trying to get at in that concept is to
think about how the US after the 9/11 attacks started to use satellites in
orbit, and drones, and aircraft around the surface of the Earth, so when a drone was
hovering above in an area suddenly people’s movements on the ground changed. Suddenly, certain homes were allowed to continue to exist,
and within the targeted killing programs certain homes were taken out. Vertical
mediation is really about the way these technologies in the air and in orbit are
used to remediate or transform the Earth’s surface actively. My research on
satellites became a launchpad for me to do more research in the area of media
infrastructure. Our information systems should cause us to take a step back and
assess what we know about those systems, and who owns them, how they’re being
regulated, if they are being regulated because we’ve seen major deregulation in
the US and beyond, and how we want those systems to actually serve public
interests.

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