Conference at RIT Explores Media Environments and the Liberal Arts, June 10-13




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Every time we gain something, we give something up. Take the Internet for instance.

“With the Internet we gain the flexibility of going across time and space,” says Susan Barnes, associate professor of communication at Rochester Institute of Technology. “We lose the association of people with their words, and so people are no longer accountable for their words and actions. We have worms and spam happening because you can’t track these people down. You would never have these things occurring in a face-to-face community.”

The “environment” media creates is the focus of an emerging discipline called media ecology, a blend of communication studies with information technology and the arts. RIT will host the Media Ecology Association’s fifth annual convention from June 10 to 13, which will explore “Media Environments and the Liberal Arts” from a variety of perspectives. Conference events will be held in the Liberal Arts Building.

“When I first came to RIT, I realized I was starting to see a lot of intersections between liberal arts, information technologies and creative expressions,” says Barnes, one of the founding members of the MEA. “I thought this conference would be an opportunity to bring together different people from campus to explore media and, in particular, digital environments that are changing everything.”

She adds: “The digital medium is the first media that combines words, pictures, sounds and motion. That’s why websites can resemble books and newspapers, and TV shows can go online. It’s such a flexible medium.”

Barnes notes that digital media blurs boundaries of what used to be traditional disciplines. For instance, web site design could fall under information technology, graphic arts and communication.

“The whole premise of the conference is that once a new communication medium is introduced into a liberal arts discipline it changes everything,” Barnes says. “It will influence how we teach, do research and express ourselves creatively.”

One of the conference highlights will include a keynote speech by author and media critic Douglas Rushkoff, who will talk about computer games at 7 p.m. on June 11, in the Ingle Auditorium of the Student Alumni Union. This portion of the conference is free and open to the public. Rushkoff is the author of several best-selling books on new media and popular culture, including Cyberia, Media Virus, and the popular PBS Frontline documentary, Merchants of Cool.

Other points of interest will include panel sessions on blogging, gaming, visual ecologies and digital poetry. RIT professors Elizabeth Lawley, Stephen Jacobs and John Roche will head discussion panels, along with such visiting authors and scholars as Robert Logan, author of Alphabet Effect, Denise Schmandt-Besserat, art historian and archaeologist from Stanford University, authors Gary Gumpert and Susan Drucker, Marjorie Lusesebrink, president of the Los Angeles-based Electric Literature Organization, and Liss Jeffrey from the McLuhan Center at the University of Toronto, among others.

“Many of these conference sessions are pilot ideas for possible courses in liberal arts and information technology, and possibly other disciplines,” Barnes says. “And to make a point that in the liberal arts we are affected by digital media and communication environments.”

Media Environments and the Liberal Arts begins at 2 p.m. on Thursday, June 10, and wraps up at 1 p.m. on June 13. It is sponsored by RIT’s Department of Communication and the William A. Kern Professor in Communications, and the College of Liberal Arts. The event is free to the RIT community, $60 for the general public and $25 for non-RIT students. To register, or to see the conference agenda, visit www.rit.edu/~sbbgpt/mea-rit.