This symposium explores the “big questions” for scholars concerned with a contemporary media landscape increasingly marked by commercialism, surveillance, propaganda, and receding faith in the power of social institutions.
Two decades ago, the advent of the World Wide Web and the spread of digital communication tools prompted scholars concerned with public life to celebrate the way they imagined digital tools would strengthen democratic communication and cultures around the world. In 2018, much of that optimistic analysis seems dramatically premature. Many of the same observers are now writing about the dark side of digital culture—about pervasive surveillance to which the vast majority of us willfully submit, a political communication sphere marked by propaganda and disinformation, the power exerted over information landscapes by unaccountable algorithms, and receding faith in the power of facts and fact-based journalism.
In engineering today’s information ecosystem, the communication sector, time and again, has sought to tap the innovative and profitable Silicon Valley startup ethos. The time is overdue to likewise tap the perspective of scholars across disciplines who are compelled to reexamine the nature and power of digital communication technologies and practices and to reconsider how we approach the study of media and public communication.
The symposium provides an opportunity for scholars to reconsider the very questions they ask about these urgent issues related to media and public life. Participants describe and discuss what they see as the “big questions” (rather than answers) that academics ought to be asking about today’s public sphere.