The Relationship Between Culture and Technology

Severin Matusek interviewed Paul Feigelfeld and me about “The Relationships Between Culture and Technology” for the Culture and Technology Podcast, hosted by the Vienna Business Agency (March 1, 2021).


Tools: Anvils to Androids

Undergraduate seminar-studio

Silicon Valley loves its “tools.” Tech critic Moira Weigel notes the frequency with which tech chiefs use the term, and she proposes that its popularity is largely attributable to its politics — or the lack thereof; tool talk, she says, encodes “a rejection of politics in favor of tinkering.” But humans have been using tools, to various political ends, for thousands of years. In this hybrid undergraduate seminar/studio we examine a range of tools, the work they allow us to do, they ways they script particular modes of labor and enact particular power relationships, and what they make possible in the world. After building up a critical vocabulary (of tools, gizmos, and gadgets), we’ll tackle a number of case studies — from anvils, erasers, and sewing needles to algorithms and surveillance technologies. In our Monday sessions we’ll study the week’s case through critical and historical studies from anthropology, archaeology, media studies, science and technology studies, and related fields; and in our Wednesday sessions we’ll explore that tool’s creative applications, either by studying the work of artists and creative practitioners, or by engaging in hands-on labs. Each student will develop a research-based “critical manual” for a tool of their choice.

Fall 2019 Website


The World Silicon Valley Made

The World Silicon Valley Made,” a review of Brian Merchant, The One Device: The Secret History of the iPhone (New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2017) and Adam Greenfield, Radical Technologies: The Design of Everyday Life (New York: Verso, 2017), Public Books (October 27, 2017).


Sharing Is Tables: Furniture for Digital Labor

Sharing Is Tables: Furniture for Digital Labor,” e-flux architecture (October 9, 2017).

Italian translation: “Condividere è un Tavolo: L’arredamento per il Lavoro Digitale,” Progetto Grafico 33 (August 2018): 65-76.


Emergent Infrastructures: 2013-2015

A Cluster Grant-supported research project focusing on the topic of emergent infrastructures in rapidly changing urban environments. Our team is comprised of scholars and practitioners from media studies, architecture, design and technology, and history of science (Orit Halpern, Jessica Irish, Brian McGrath, Jane Pirone, Rory Solomon, me), whose intent is to reconfigure the study of infrastructures in terms of emergence and not merely emergency; to interrogate the complex interactions between “hard” and “soft” or “smart” and “stupid” infrastructures; and to reevaluate how we discern between failure and success – all considerations that condition the present and shape the future of urban space. See our project website.


The New Everyday

How the times have changed! A little, a lot, vastly, not at all? We shall see. 
– Henri Lefebvre, Everyday Life in the Modern World, p. 7

From Fall 2012 through Winter 2014 I was editor of The New Everyday, a MediaCommons journal. I wrote the following “mission” statement:

The New Everyday investigates the mundane, the quotidian, the habitual, and the routine, focusing in particular on the roles that media and technology play in their construction. Building upon the work of pioneers in the field – Lefebvre and Michel de Certeau among them – we wonder about new formulations of the everyday in this age of seemingly universal digitization and mobilization. How have the times changed? As “new media” grow old and are upgraded with ever increasing rapidity, as our visions of the world and the stars are shaped via the “machine-visions” of a New Aesthetic, as our everyday temporalities are informed both by the predictive capabilities of “big data” and a growing consciousness of the “deep time” of humans’ impact on the planet, what distinguishes the everyday today? We must wonder, as Lefebvre does, if “what has changed” is “everyday life” itself, or “the art of representing it through metamorphosis, or both, and what the consequences are” (7).

The solution, he advocates,

[is] to attempt a philosophical inventory and analysis of everyday life that will expose its ambiguities – its baseness and exuberance, its poverty and fruitfulness – and by these unorthodox means release the creative energies that are an integral part of it (13).

The New Everyday aims to be a forum for these inventories and analyses. And it aims to infuse this investigation with “creative energies” by experimenting with the means and modalities of critical investigation. As we examine the mediated everyday, we’ll involve those same everyday media as tools in our examination. Do particular formats or genres of expression uniquely capture various dimensions of everyday experience, or do certain aspects of the everyday elude mediation? And as we think through the everyday, what modalities best support our own rhetorical and expressive goals?

[Illustration via Atelier Olschinsky]


Preserving Yesterday’s Tech to Get a Better Grasp on Today’s

Preserving Yesterday’s Tech to Get a Better Grasp on Today’s,” Nautilus (November 22, 2013)


SoundMatter @ CUNY Grad Center (2011)

I spoke about “SoundMatter” — or sonic objects — at No Thing Unto Itself at the CUNY Graduate Center. You can find my talk and media here.

Thursday, October 20, 2011, 7:00 – 9:00 p.m.
The City University of New York
365 Fifth Avenue, Room 9207
Free admission

On occasion of the exhibition And Another Thing at The James Gallery at The Graduate Center, The City University of New York, the Vera List Center and the James Gallery presents a panel discussion featuring artists, scholars and writers on the subject of “thingness.”

What are the political and ethical implications of considering all objects—whether animal, vegetable, or mineral, even whether animate or inanimate– equivalent and thereby interchangeable? Moderated by the exhibition’s co-curator Katherine Behar, sociologist Noortje Marres, media scholar Shannon Mattern and urban designer David Turnbull discuss how this kind of perspective changes the conversation around sustainability as well as human interaction. What happens when technology reaches the scale of cities? Can an object bear responsibility that has previously been reserved for humans? Beginning with the artist’s sometimes contentious relationship to material presence as a platform for the examination of these questions, this panel considers the constellation of disciplines including architecture, ecology, global geography, urban studies, and anthropology that are tackling these questions.

Presented on occasion of the Vera List Center’s 2011-2013 focus theme “Thingness.”

Noortje Marres
, Lecturer, Department of Sociology, Goldsmiths, University of London
Shannon Matter
n, Associate Professor, Media Studies, The New School for Public Engagement
David Turnbull
, Professor, Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture, The Cooper Union

Katherine Behar
, Assistant Professor, Fine and Performing Arts, Baruch College, The City University of New York


Beyond the Seminar Paper @ CUNY Grad Center (2011)

I spoke with Mark Sample at the CUNY Grad Center about means of assessing non-traditional classroom assignments.

Tuesday October 18, 2011, 6:30-8:30pm, Room 6496, CUNY Graduate Center

By exploring how new technologies might function as teaching tools or platforms on which students can demonstrate their learning, we expand the means and ends of education. With this increasing openness of pedagogical forms comes the responsibility to justify our choices and develop new forms of criticism and modes of assessment. Using several of my own courses as examples, I’ll address the challenges and potential benefits of holding students, and ourselves, accountable for the choices we make in our classrooms and advising relationships. I’ll focus on the value of (1) student documentation of their learning process, and in particular (2) students’ justification of their chosen methods and modes of presentation; (3) collaborative development of criteria for evaluation; and (4) connecting our work in the classroom to larger public problems and public institutions. Here are my slides, and here’s a video of my talk.


Delicious: Renovating the Mnemonic Architectures of Bookmarking

Delicious: Renovating the Mnemonic Architectures of Bookmarking” In Trebor Scholz, Ed., Learning Through Digital Media: Essays on Technology and Pedagogy (Institute for Distributed Creativity, 2011).