fredag 31 december 2010

Media Technology and Sustainability


A big event at my department, Media Technology and Graphic Arts, is that Nils Enlund, the professor and founder will retire this spring after 25 years or so at KTH. That is a great loss, but also an occasion for some soul-searching and introspection, and the basic question is: ”what will we do from now on?”. The background of our group lies in media production (especielly printed media), but I myself and several others have no background whatsoever in that area.

So, what areas should our group cover, what do we want to excel in, how can we formulate areas that can engage us and others (and in which we can find critical mass among ourselves)? Oh, and by the way, how will we divide all the administrative tasks that Nils has shouldered (including the responsibility for the budget)? These and other questions were the topic of a kick-off earlier this autumn. The group that I belonged to came up with a suggestion for five different topics/groups/”theme areas” that our department could muster around (other groups came up with similar suggestions). This is a big change compared to now when it’s more of ”every man for himself” and the interests of our relatively small group point in a thousand different directions.

Since these five theme areas were sketched out, they have been semi-officially approved. Even though nothing has been decided upon officially, it is still difficult to see what could hinder such a development at my department. At our monthly department meeting in November I therefore suggested we should move forward and ask people at the department what theme areas they would like to belong to. The suggestion was that each person should preferably belong to at least two, and a maximum of three areas. Another suggestion is that each person will ”belong” to one theme area and ”follow” one or two other theme areas.

The big news is that one of the theme areas will be called ”Media Technology and Sustainability” and it will be led (or at least started up) by none other than yours truly. My group managed to have a start-up meeting before the winter leave and so have started to discuss issues that are relevant to this (budding) group/theme area; the need for a common foundation for stating our interests (i.e. comparable to a corporate ”vision” and a ”mission” statement), short- and medium-term goals, short- and medium-term activities, people and other resarch groups we would like to cooperate with and so on.

What’s in a name? ”Media Technology and Sustainability” includes, but is wider than just environmental sustainability and encompasses also issues of social and economic sustainability. An example of a social sustainability (research) issues could for example be the use of social media in a crisis situation (like the ash cloud covering most of Europe earlier this year). An example of an economic sustainability (research) issue could be how society through smart IT use could cope with an extended lack of economic growth (for example by localizing economies and by using alternative but complementary currencies).

The lack of earlier, solid work in an area that combines Internet/media and sustainability is of course a problem, but can just as easily be reframed as being a possibility for our group - a wide open area that we can "colonize" and establish ourselves in. Some work has been done in the area by a few precursors and part of our group’s work during the spring will be to read up on efforts and results of these early pioneers and to formulate a position and an ambition that allows us to stake out some territory of our own.

Our early work will eventually lead to research grant applications and scientific studies and so on. An easy way to explore an unknown area and to do studies ”on the cheap” in the meanwhile is to have master’s students do some of the initial exploration. So one of the tasks of our group during the spring will be to formulate interesting research questions in the form of master’s thesis proposals. A lot of interesting ideas were suggested already at the initial brainstorming meeting and ”in the corridors” before and after that meeting, but much is currently up in the air and has not ”landed” yet.

I end this relatively timid (and secretive) announcement of (hopefully) great things to come with a wish for a great 2011!


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