Of Interest - Research News

Research Spotlight: SocioDigital Lab

Anabel Quan-HaaseHeaded by FIMS Associate Professor Anabel Quan-Haase, the SocioDigital Lab is made up of graduate and undergraduate students who research the use and social impact of technology on society. All things techie are of interest - from romantic breakups on Facebook to studying information-seeking behaviours to looking at how seniors interact with new technology.

Some current/recent projects:

How are digital tools affecting scholarship in the Humanities?
Funded by a 5-year SSHRC Insight grant awarded in mid-2012, the project aims to discover how researchers in the Humanities connect with one another via technology. What new tools and innovations are they using to analyze large digital data sets? As a component of the project, researchers have organized the Digital Humanities Speaker Series, which will challenge people to think about issues around interdisciplinarity, information-seeking and the future of Humanities research. Alumni would be welcome at any of these presentations. A new schedule of presentations for the Winter semester will be available soon, so keep your eye on the FIMS Events Calendar.

Digital Divide: how connected are Canadians?
Working with Statistics Canada, researchers are examining the current state of the digital divide in the Canadian context. In an age where many tasks and activities are filtered through the internet, it is a problem that 20% of Canadians still do not have regular access to the web. The project aims to find out who is not connected, and what barriers are standing in the way. It will also try to develop an economically sustainable model to provide Internet access to those who lag behind in the digital economy.

Technology and Society: Social Networks, Power, and Inequality
Professor Quan-Haase recently produced this textbook for publication in 2012/13. Touching on everything from the history of technology in society, technology-mediated social relationships, the ‘surveillance society’ and the ethical dilemmas raised by these phenomena, the book is a synthesis of the key ideas and debates being examined in her Lab. Take a look at the full table of contents.

Anabel explains:

“A key motivation for my work is a mixed sense of euphoria and deep concern. I am constantly adopting new technologies and testing various applications on the web. As I continued to dive into the digital realm, I developed a feeling of excitement - excitement to be part of a time of unprecedented technological transformation - the era of digital tools.

This is an era where strings of bits and bytes have opened the door to endless combinations yielding an unprecedented proliferation of new tools, such as cellphones, E-readers, and social media. I have come to rely on some of these technologies as if they had always been there, allowing for flexibility, mobility, connectivity, and ubiquity. My digital activities include things like: writing a tweet during a conference, contacting a collaborator via Skype, and updating various profiles.

I wondered, though, what would happen if these technologies failed us? My real concern was not about some doomsday prediction, where the world would come to a sudden halt as we often see in the movies. My concerns are much more driven by my sociological curiosity to understand what these technologies mean for society as a whole. The problem with technologies is that they are often imperceptible because they have become such a normalized part of everyday life; hence we do not tend to reflect upon them and give them as serious a consideration as they deserve. This is what motivates me to ask questions about how technologies transform how we find and make sense of information. What kinds of relationships do we build through Facebook and Twitter? What info is best transmitted via these real-time technologies?”

Research Spotlight:

The Future of Organized Labour in the Digital Media Workplace

How are digital technologies affecting organized labour?  What challenges and opportunities do today’s digital media workplaces present to Canadian media labour in particular?

In an age of user-generated content and simple click-and-point digital reproduction, new policy challenges arise, and intellectual property laws have trouble keeping pace.  This inevitably impacts media consumers, owners and workers.

James Compton, FIMS professor and Principle Investigator, explains this in his project proposal for “The Future of Organized Labour in the Digital Media Workplace,” an initiative which is designed to address these issues from the perspective of organized labour. 

He says what prompted the project is the “awareness that, increasingly, people’s working lives are mediated by digital technologies in complex and sometimes contradictory ways. Digital labour involves both pleasure and pain. In particular, we are interested in the increasing precarity of work today and how digital technologies are used by capital to take advantage of flexible work regimes.”

Compton has assembled a unique team made up of both researchers and community partners to tackle the nuts and bolts of the work.  FIMS researchers will work collectively with the Canadian Media Guild (CMG), the Writers Guild of Canada (WGC) and the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists (ACTRA) to examine how decades of digitization have transformed the media.

Compton explains that “we are attempting to synthesize scholarly work with the practical experience of the members of trades unions and guilds.”  To that end, there will be two researchers paired with each of the CMG, WGC and ACTRA.  “We have to work hard to ensure both partners are happy,” says Compton.

The specific topics to be investigated include Job Shedding and Challenges to Quality in the Digital Newsroom, and New Business Models, New Revenues, New Payments.

The project is supported by a grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, and is slated to be completed over a three-year period.  Other FIMS faculty members who are involved include Nick Dyer-Witheford, Alison Hearn, Jonathan Burston, Matt Stahl, Edward Comor and Sam Trosow.