Research

Hardware and software are cultural objects; part of a global network of human actions and interactions. My work responds to questions of culture that often escape the development process to contextualize contemporary technology in the cultural histories that shape it.

 

My current work explores how systems shape human experience using an interdisciplinary approach combining research from engineering, psychology, physics, game studies, history, and literary theory. My dissertation,

"Split Reality: Virtual Worlds of American Culture 1692-2017," explores the pre-digital history of virtual reality to describe the construction of reality itself. I argue that reality emerges from the influence of systems, from UIs to mythology to law, on our understanding of the world. The structure of each system unconsciously encourages the formation of certain beliefs and actions.

I begin with the Salem witchcraft trials of the 1690s to show how conflicting systems of judicial ideals with theological beliefs led to the tragic execution of the Accused. Puritan theological beliefs in a binary world, one split between the physical and the Invisible world, demonstrate how this early American conflict models the contemporary challenges of evidence emerging from digital culture. In short, what is "real" when a significant part of our experience emerges from immaterial experiences? Three subsequent chapters turn to Henry James's literary realism applied to the supernatural, H.G. Wells's theory of biological evolution driven by culture and the U.S. mass shooting epidemic understood through playwright Antonin Artaud’s 1938 theory of virtual reality from the Theater of Cruelty. In closing, I apply the insights of my research to understand the emergence of "alt-facts" under the Donald Trump Presidency. Throughout, I push back against dangerous claims that contemporary challenges are unprecedented. Whatever the problems and potentials of digital culture may be they are merely the latest iteration of challenges that have followed us for centuries.

I am currently adapting my dissertation into a series of analog and digital games based on UX and game studies research. For more on my digital and public scholarship, including links, click here.

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