Digital Culture as a Response to Social and Environmental Tragedy

One of the most wonderful things about my job is being surrounded by people whose work faces social and environmental change head on. I mean, think of it: Part of what I get to do is learn from, and engage with, people who not only live and thrive amidst the breakneck speed of a digital world, but seem to be able to ride it — along with all the accompanying social change — like a wave. 

They see things I don’t see. They hear things I don’t hear.

Two people came to mind today, and I wanted  to share links to their work with you.  

I won’t try to describe the breadth of Mary Flanagan’s interests. In addition to being a pioneer in gaming for social change,  Mary has written widely about the impact of digital culture on our senses, on the way we concieve of public space, and many other topics in the growing field of psychogeography.  For a wonderful introduction to her work, check out the Tiltfactor web site and her own site 

What I wanted to share is a brief interview Mary did this week on the NPR program FutureTense about games like Peacemaker, Food Force and Darfur is Dying. Many of you may not know that gaming is right in the middle of urgent debates about war, genocide, hunger and other ongoing human tragedies. 


So here is how my catastrophically-oriented mind works. As I watched Mary’s interview and thought about these games, another tragedy was taking place this week in Antarctica: A massive  ice shelf began to collapse, apparently due to climate change. And I thought of my colleague Andrea Polli.


Andrea spent a good portion of her sabbatical this academic year in Antarctica, focusing on the meeting point of sound, art, global change, and the environment.  Among her projects was the recording of an extraordinary series of sounds from the natural environment that are both beautiful and haunting. Included is a truly poignant recording of an iceberg breaking up that is almost impossibly sad to listen to. In fact, to get a sense of her artisitic project and vision, check out her site 90 Degrees South.

Here is another link to a WNYC broadcast in which Andrea shares her passion for sound:  Originally broadcast in March, 2007, it features Edmund Mooney, co-founder of the New York Society for Acoustic Ecology, speaking with Andrea about the New York Sound Map, a collaborative audio map of New York’s audio environment.

I’ll be very honest: My foot is just enough inside the pre-digital, “old-media” era that keeping up with a constantly evolving and expanding definition of media and culture can be a disorienting experience.

But it is nothing less than thrilling to watch colleagues like these navigate a world so confidently that was unimaginable even just a few short years ago.