Speaker introduction by Brian Lennon, Director, Digital Culture and Media Initiative
December 2, 2014
Mann Assembly Room, Paterno Library
It is my great pleasure to welcome Astra Taylor to Penn State as our first speaker for the Digital Culture and Media Initiative. Astra Taylor is a filmmaker whose films include Žižek!, released in 2005, about and starring the philosopher Slavoj Zižek, and Examined Life, another film about philosophy released in 2008. She is also an activist and a writer and critic, whose recently published book The People’s Platform: Taking Back Power and Culture in the Digital Age will form the basis of her presentation today.
I’ll let Taylor speak to the nuances of her position and her arguments, which are considerable; but I will tell you that I read The People’s Platform as one mark of a new critical turn, dating from around 2013, in thinking about the politics of the technology industry, software engineering ethics, and the legislative and other state-based regulation of data collection and analysis. This critical turn is reflected in a shift in public attitudes about data privacy and security documented by the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project. And it’s beginning to show up in academe, as well, in the recent launches of new centers, sources of research funding, and employment opportunities in the study of privacy and technology, open data and other “open” initiatives, a resurgent contemporary critical thought, and digital media and social justice.
Still, too many academics are either still gawking rather desperately at the wonders of social media, as only relatively elderly newbies can do, or else greedily salivating at the prospect of escaping the ivory tower, entering Silicon Valley through the side door as a data scientist. Neither of these constituencies, each for its own reasons, takes much time to consider the ethical and political challenges that they, and we, face today — that is to say, to consider fundamental and long-standing critical questions. That’s something that Taylor’s new book certainly does. Please join me in welcoming Astra Taylor.