So What’s The Big Deal? Why Digital Studies? — Assignment #1

Photo by Prateek Katyal on Unsplash

Initially, the Digital Studies minor interested me because I thought it was primarily about content creation, photography, video-editing, and graphic design. Digital Studies encompasses all of these things, but more importantly, engages students in conversations about the impacts of technology on society, ethical design of digital environments, technological determinism vs social constructivism, data literacy, data visualization, and much more.

As I look back over the course of my minor, one of the most influential classes I have taken is DS 350: Social Media in Culture. During this class, we were required to pose a research question that involved social media. My group created the following question:

How does the design of Instagram shape how gen-z users participate or engage in social movements?

In my 17 years of schooling, never once have I been able to do a project on the impacts of social media. This was a huge blessing, a huge interest of mine, and I had a blast working on this assignment.

Literature Review for DS 350 Project

Additionally, this DS 350 class required some heavy reading. I am not typically a huge reader, but man, did this guy know how to interest me with his literature choices. We read articles like “The Three Major Forms of Facebook Surveillance, How Technology is Hijacking Your Mind, and User Interface Psychology Functions”. How can I not be interested in this??! I guess I must be a perfect fit for this minor.

One major concept that we discussed was technological determinism versus social constructivism. We looked at an excerpt from a book titled Media/Society by David Croteau and William Hoynes. Technological Determinism is the idea that the way in which technology is designed directly impacts how we use it. On the other hand, social constructivism is the idea that we as humans decide how how to use technology. Ever since I read this, there has been a constant battle in my mind as to which one it is. I enjoy this challenge and thinking about these concepts.

Furthermore, there were several other classes through which I gained a significant understanding of digital studies, and were more on the creative side.

ART 209 — Graphic Design Basics

FVP 125 — Media Production I

DS 202 — Digital Data and Design

ART 209 — Graphic Design Basics was one of my favorite classes in the minor, alongside DS 350. I was able to experiment with different design techniques and strategies. This course introduced me to the Adobe Creative Cloud, the platform I use every single day for my internship. Throughout this class, we were required to stand in front of class and receive feedback for our design (some of which was positive, some of which was constructive). I have done a few freelance graphic design projects since, and looking back, ART 209 prepared me to be able to receive critical feedback without getting upset or angry.

Carson’s Personal Brand

FVP 125 — Media Production I was another creative favorite of mine. I took this class this Fall and was shocked at how much goes into creating a film. Framing and lighting and videography and cinematography are so interesting. One part of this class that particularly interested me was the documentary project. We were required to create a documentary in which we had to interview a family member about an heirloom. This was challenging, because my family doesn’t have very many heirlooms. I had to focus on creating an engaging documentary with different camera angles, precise lighting, and solid audio. I have a passion for this.

Side note — one of my classmates spelled ‘heirloom’ as ‘airloom’ and I couldn’t contain myself it was hilarious.

DS 202 — Digital Data and Design was another favorite of mine. In this class, digitizing data was our main focus. Throughout the semester, we designed data in a variety of easy-to-digest ways. Each week, we were required to do an assignment called “visualizing text”, where we created an Excel graphic for our reading during the week. This is such an important skill to learn, as data is now more valuable than oil.

It’s interesting how the majority of this post seems to be primarily visual and I have no problem with it. This is a huge part of why I have enjoyed this minor, being able express ourselves digitally with intentionality. Not just being there, but being there with a purpose.

GVSU’s approach to the field of digital studies is two-fold. Per the website, the goals are as follows:

  • The first is to teach students the skills necessary to use digital skills and tools foundational to their careers, including data literacy, visualization, multimedia production, visual rhetoric, and design.
  • The second is to gain the knowledge to critically assess digital culture, including the interrogation of social media, digital identity and representation, and exploring the ethical implications of digital access.

Reflecting upon these goals, GVSU has nailed it. It’s crazy how I’m looking at the program goals towards the end of this assignment and I am seeing how my progress throughout the minor matches them. I have learned the creative side from classes like ART 209 and FVP 125, and the cultural side from classes like DS 340 and DS 350. It’s imperative to have this balance. Living in a digital culture, we need to be able to critically assess it, but also be productive.

As we close, I would like to make a point about the significance of this minor. If we are unable to educate ourselves in digital literacy we will be at a huge disadvantage for the years to come. Technology is always changing, trends are always changing, mediums are always changing, and if we cannot keep up we’re in trouble. We need to understand that algorithms are manipulative, that social media can have an impact on social movements, and that our lives are inextricably tied to technology whether we like it or not. How is this technology impacting us?

— Carson Jay Kunnen