Visiting Professors: Maria Bakardjieva On New Media Regulation & Ethics

Visiting Professors: Maria Bakardjieva On New Media Regulation & Ethics

This is a guest post from MDM student Emma Konrad.

On May 30th, the CDM had the pleasure of welcoming Professor Maria Bakardjieva to our campus. A professor in the department of Communication and Culture at the University of Calgary, Bakardjieva spoke to our Teaching Digital Media class about her work and the role that students play in the theory and discussion surrounding new media.

Bakardjieva began studying new media when she came to SFU from her native Bulgaria back in the 1990s. She was quickly introduced to the idea of the internet and was struck by its potential. Of course, at that time, the internet wasn't quite what we know it to be today.

"It was so onerous, originally," she said. "And my question was always, why would normal people want to use this?"

She set out to discover exactly that, and what she found wouldn't necessarily surprise present-day users of the web.

"The Internet was part of real-life from the beginning. There was no science-fiction aspect to people's desire to connect. It was about real needs."

The Internet was part of real-life from the beginning. There was no science-fiction aspect to people's desire to connect. It was about real needs."

Those needs were diverse, but also not surprising. People with health conditions were seeking out people who shared their diagnosis. Communities were forming where they couldn't exist in real-life. And Bakardjieva had her own experience with these virtual connections.

"It wasn't fantastical. It was about real stories...and, as someone struggling with the challenges of the immigrant experience, it wasn't surprising," she said. "Immigrants were using the internet to stay connected to political and cultural needs, but also, quite simply, to their families."

Today, the idea of the internet being used to find people with similar interests, life experiences, and ideas is hardly new. In fact, it’s an integral part of what the network provides. So much so that we often lose sight of what's "real" and what's "virtual."

"Originally, real-life was migrating onto the internet," said Bakardjieva. "Now, there's equal push from both sides. Digital is replacing things that used to be done in the real world."

There's an immense power in that, especially for students studying digital media. Students and creators in the IT sector are entering into an industry that has very little regulation and a lot of power.

Students and creators in the IT sector are entering into an industry that has very little regulation and a lot of power.

Bakardjieva listed other industries that are subject to regulation, such as the Hippocratic oath in medicine or the bar for lawyers. But these types of regulations don't yet exist in the tech sector.

"I think of it as an ethics issue," she said. "[Ethical integrity] is something creators should work towards individually and collectively." That means asking tough questions, like "what [our products] will do to our friends and our lives," she said.

[Ethical integrity] is something creators should work towards individually and collectively." That means asking tough questions, like "what [our products] will do to our friends and our lives,"

"You have to keep the critical acumen with you throughout your career."

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Thank you Maria!

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