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Why Digital Media Is Important

Feb 03, 2021 By Richard Smith

Former Master of Digital Media Program Director, Richard Smith, shared his thoughts on the importance of digital media back in 2019. While he could not have predicated how a pandemic would shape the ways we have adapted to working, learning, and living, his argument for the importance of digital media is as true today as it was back then.

In previous blog posts I have considered the "what" question of digital mediawhat is it? But I haven’t yet considered the "why?"

I don’t mean "why does it exist?" That would be a whole other topic, perhaps with reference to some of the historical influences, and perhaps I can deal with that in the future. No, in this case I am interested in the why in the sense of:

Why are we engaged in, teaching, doing research on, digital media production?"

This question is particularly pressing today, as we are all aware of a growing critique of digital media and its impact on society. These critiques range from concerns over health and environmental impact to distraction, depression, and addiction associated with digital media dependence.

How do we express ourselves

Most recently I have been reading Shoshana Zuboff’s wide-ranging examination of the role that digital media plays in the creation and sustainability of surveillance capitalism. (If you don’t have time for the book, here is Nick Carr’s excellent review, and a summary and additional links from Experientia). Zuboff’s critique, as well as the older concerns in the previous paragraph might lead one to wonder, why are we doing this (to ourselves)?

Artists often grapple with the question of how to express themselves in a world that has much darkness and despair in it. Should art reflect this darkness or try to shed some light? In the view of some it is not sufficient to engage with the repellent and dreadful aspects of life. The real challenge for art is to seek out, or create, those inspirational counter-examples that can give hope to humanity. David Foster Wallace expressed this exquisitely in a comment about the book American Psycho, by Bret Ellis:

"Look man, we'd probably most of us agree that these are dark times, and stupid ones, but do we need fiction that does nothing but dramatize how dark and stupid everything is? In dark times, the definition of good art would seem to be art that locates and applies CPR to those elements of what's human and magical that still live and glow despite the times' darkness."

If we substitute "digital media" for "good art," then I see the work ahead as one in which we apply ourselves to the challenge of creating things that inspire hope, that create freedom, that embody beauty.

How can CDM lead the way

When Spider-Man first discovers his new powers, his Uncle Ben famously says, "with great power comes great responsibility." We all wonder: "what better world can we create?" "How can we be the light that inspires and guides us away from darkness?"

The powers that digital media unleash are unprecedented and the artists, designers, programmers, and project managers training at the Centre for Digital Media carry this responsibility on their shoulders."

I definitely see, in my students, an appetite, a hunger even, to engage with these challenges, to bring forward solutions rather than problems, to be part of creating a better world. I encourage everyone reading this to get behind their efforts and realize the potential for freedomand not constraintthat digital media brings. This is the real "why" of digital media.

Note: This post was originally published in July 2019.