This semester, Rahul Mukherjee has been teaching two classes on digital media and its underpinnings: Television and New Media and Mobile Phone Cultures. At a time when many are binging TV and TikTok during stay-at-home orders, and the classes themselves are being conducted online, how does the Dick Wolf Associate Professor of Television and New Media Studies teach digital media?
“I like to move away from just the screen of the smartphone or the television set to talk about the environmental impact of data centers supporting streaming services and the so-called “flexible labor” or “informal labor” issues concerning rideshare and food delivery apps,” says Mukherjee, who is also an associate professor of English. “I think it's good to help my students to think and map some of these connections as they ask questions about these media, or contemplate and reflect on living with them.”
The class has covered cyber cultures, the internet, social media, misinformation online, the gig economy, global use of mobile phones, and the platforms required. They’ve also talked about the infrastructures needed for cloud computing services, like data centers and optical fiber cables, as well as the energy they require and their environmental footprint.
The course material in Television and New Media ranges from I Love Lucy to reception of Netflix in international contexts. “This is one class where they have to get a sense of what's happening across the vast media landscape and make connections,” says Mukherjee. Throughout, they’ve discussed how race and gender are represented on television. When they got to new media, Mukherjee asked them to also think about aspects of distribution and concerns about differential access.
Discussions of social media included how dating apps are now a routine part of the students’ social lives, and whether selfies on Instagram are superficial, commercial, or self-expression. They’ve talked about the expertise and labor needed for a popular image, and who the audience is.
“All of us, whether it's a politician, a corporation, a social movement, or as individuals, we both need and desire a certain amount of privacy and not wanting to be surveilled, but at the same time, also want publicity and attention of people, sometimes not for ourselves, but for issues that we think are important,” says Mukherjee. “So, how does one work out that conundrum on social media?”
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