"Famous" is funny word in an academic context. Are you famous because your theories changed the views of entire field of study? Are you famous because your students all became highly influential in the field? Are you famous because you often cross the line into the territory of journalism and get asked by CNN or NPR to comment on social issues in your field, and therefore a lot of people outside your field now know your name and see you as an authority? If the last one is true, it seems like a good time to try to be a famous economist. Winning a Noble Prize probably helps here, too.
the current age of the Internet and multimedia, perhaps the current best measure of fame is YouTube and my very rough estimate is that there are around 90 videos featuring him, including this
one from his recent visit to Penn State:
As someone who started out long ago with an interest in academic philosophy, I've been interested in academic work that actually makes it to the real world in some form. Philosophy is certainly not considered the most practically applicable major and I eventually lost interest because I wasn't sure that we were talking to anyone but ourselves (as academic philosophers). Thus I eventually found myself in IST, a place that was looking at real-world issues and solutions. And there is a wide range of issues being studied in IST. Two areas of practical importance that interest me right now are the application of technology to humanitarian issues and the area of information policy in general. And two of communities that reflect that are ISCRAM and TPRC.
Most of my research so far within IST has been focused on the issues of the not-for-profit communities and how they use technology to improve their effectiveness. This includes local organizations as well as international organizations, whose missions might include anything from delivering meals to the homebound in the US to providing relief supplies in an international crisis area after a major earthquake. The most interesting community that I have found that is related to this work is the International Community on Information Systems for Crisis Response and Management (ISCRAM ). This community includes academics from a range of information-related areas, as well as people that actually work as practitioners in the field. Areas of interest include a range of issues related to the use of ICTs for humanitarian relief and disaster assistance. ISCRAM started in 2004 with a conference in Brussels and 400 members, and have alternated between the US and Europe, with the 2008 event taking place in China. The next is scheduled for May 2009 in Göteborg, Sweden. Several IST faculty have participated, including Carleen Maitland, Andrea Tapia, Jack Carroll and Rosalie Ocker.
While I can't say that I am actively focusing on it lately, I
think policy really matters for the future of technology. We ignore technology policy
issues at our own peril. Thus, another conference that I am interested in is
Telecommunications Policy Research Conference (TPRC).
The conference covers a range of policy issues, including the legal, social and
economic consequences of policies that affect the use of IT and ICTs. This includes topics like Fair Use
and copyright issues to policies that inhibit municipal Municipal WiFi
projects, as well as a wide range of other issues. TPRC started in 1972 and the last conference was just held at The National Center for Technology & Law,
George Mason University School of Law, Arlington, VA in September, 2008. Carleen Maitland, Andrea Tapia and John Bagby are regular participants from IST.
A fellow advisee of mine under Dr Maitland, Louis-Marie is a third year PhD student in the College of IST. He is comes from Cameroon, where he worked both for the United Nations and the University of Dschang (here's a link if you can read French). Though he has not yet chosen an exact dissertation topic, his interests are in the area of deploying ICT for humanitarian/NGO work and he has had five publications in areas related to human rights and humanitarian relief, and coordination. He has attended a few conferences like TPRC and ISCRAM, and his goal conferences include ICT for Development and ICT Africa. Louis-Marie has already spent some time in academia so his long term goal is again working for the United Nations after earning his PhD. He currently lives in State College with his wife and daughter.
In many ways, my own interests are very similar to Louis-Marie's and I would not mind doing much of the same kind of academic work. I'm interested in how ICTs can support humanitarian work and how ICTs can support development and poverty reduction. He is just a little bit older than me and certainly has more interesting experience to draw upon for that kind of work. In comparison, I feel like an idealistic American (who has travelled little outside of the US) with some techno-utopian goals. And at times I am unsure whether it is the local or the global that is more interesting to address; it seems that if we could fix deliberative democracy at the local level (at least in the US), we might do much better as a nation addressing all the very important international issues that seem largely ignored in my country. My long term goal has been an academic career, but his goal of working with the UN certainly has its appeal. I have wondered at times whether academia is the best place to have an effect on global issues like poverty. It is certainly an area where we need to do something better than what we are currently doing. I just hope that ICT and IT can really have the kind of impact that can make a difference in those areas.
My advisor is Dr. Carleen Maitland and she is one of the faculty that epitomizes what is so different about IST when compared to purely technology-oriented schools. On the ITP triangle that we like to talk about in IST, she seems strongly the Information and People sides. Her doctoral work was in Institutional Economics at Delft University of Technology. I've known her long enough that I should be able to explain what exactly that is, but I'll save my readers a long, rambling attempt. I'll just say it is related to the academic area that I would consider Macroeconomics, but is more interested in the role of human institutions than in many of the broad generalizations you find in much of economics. (There is a Wikipedia post here, but I can't vouch for its veracity.) She earned a Master's degree from Stanford in California and a Bachelor's degree from Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts.She spend some time in the Peace Corps (very cool!) and shecurrently lives in State College with her husband and daughter.
Dr. Maitland's work here at IST has been focused on international telecommunications policy (cell/wireless issues in particular, information and technology issues for humanitarian organizations (often referred to as NGOs) () and issues of inter-organizational coordination issues (like supply chain management). Some of the classes she has taught at IST include: Information Technology in an International Context, Globalization Trends and World Issues, and Information and the Organization. She has published work in journals like The Journal of Information Technology in Social Change (link), and Telecommunications Policy (link) and has presented at conferences like International Information Systems for Crisis Response and Management (ISCRAM) and the International Conference on Information and Communication Technologies and Development (ICTD).
I spent 3 years as an undergrad in IST, so my view might be a bit different from that of a 'new' grad student. But the story I heard as an undergrad was that the (undergraduate) program was meant to address an unfilled need in industry for people who could understand more than just technology, for people that could understand the importance of people and information in the technology mix. As an undergrad, it seemed like this meant that most people were destined for the corporate world. And it seems that most IST undergards did very well if that was there goal. But I was focused on this whole other part of IST that seemed a bit less practical, a bit more focused on social or philosophical issues realated to technology. The thread was there so I followed it, but I often felt like I was a bit out of step with my seemingly more pragmatic peers.
IST is organizanized around centers rather than departments, and that is a large part of its appeal for me. If I had to pick a department, I don't think I would be nearly as interested in IST. And my observation has been that there us a great deal of interaction across centers, where faculty from seperate disciplines are working together on research that niether would do as well alone. Whether there could or should be more intereaction across centers and faculty is another question, but it seems common enough so far in my experience.
Right now, I can see myself somewhere between the Center for HCI and the Center for the Information Society. And I ultimately don't see them as seperate things, there is a lot of overlap there and, ideally, I would pull elelents from both of those Centers together to be the kind of reasearcher that I want to be. If they were distinct departments, I think that I would feel a little differently. The message I have gotten from several faculty is that we (as grad students) should be understanding the 'big picture' of IST better than they do, each coming form their own academic background, that we (as grad students) are to be a synthesis of some sort that embodies what IST is. Perhaps this is a bit idealisrtic. But IST stands out to me as a place you could explore almost anything related to techology and find faculty to guide your interest, while also getting a bigger picture than just that particular interest.
I'm attending an iSchool, though a few years ago I had no
idea what that meant. What seems to make the iSchools
movement different from other disciplines is that it arose in response to a new
challenge, based on the insight that no existing discipline completely
addressed the phenomenon of the Information Age.
It is different in that its approach is interdisciplinary (my chosen
definition: "A curriculum organization that cuts across subject-matter lines to
focus upon comprehensive life problems or broad-based areas of study that bring
together the various segments of the curriculum into meaningful association." -
) and takes its area of study to be information.
Other disciplines seem to have long histories and established programs which
are usually well known. It is different than other disciplines in that it still
defining itself as a science. It includes many established sciences like
computer science, psychology, and sociology. But as a science and discipline in
itself, it seems to be evolving and not-yet-final - in a good way.
One conception that seems common to the iSchools is the
focus on the triangle of information-technology-people. In order to address the phenomenon of the Information Age,
all three sides of the triangle need to be included. Other disciplines seem to
focus on one of the three sides, or two of the three sides - understanding how
people use technology form a sociological perspective, for example. While we
wouldn't say the sociologist is wrong, in an iSchool we might say that there is
another way to look at, that there might be more to gain from an
interdisciplinary understanding of all three sides of the triangle.That we bring something unique and new and valuable to what we study.
With information as our area of study, some iSchools emerged out of the tradition of Library Science, which is focused on themes like classification, organization, and searching of physical information sources. It seems natural that as information moves toward digital forms that they would extend their study to digital information. Other iSchools seem to have developed out of Computer Science or Business Schools, and while they all likely have their own flavor, they all seem to have moved toward the same conceptual triangle as their common theme.
My own choice of an iSchool was something of an accident of circumstance. I moved near Penn State to get away from the Philadelphia suburbs, with the thought of returning to college as something far in the back of my mind. When I did decide to return to school, I had a conversation with an advisor about my interest in "something with technology" and, since I didn't think I wanted to be programmer, she suggested IST. I was interested from my first class (IST 110) and thought there was something unique here. But I also thought that I was going to get in, get a B.S., and get out - to start a job that paid well. But over the three years of my undergraduate classes, I realized I wasn't that excited by some of the jobs that my fellow undergraduates were getting. Most of them were very good jobs in the usual sense, but none of them quite fit the passion I had for the things that made IST unique, that made it an iSchool rather than a Business school or a Computer Science school. For me, it is the interdisciplinary approach to a compelling set of issues raised by our 'Information Age' world that brought me to this graduate school. And though I have moments of doubt, there really isn't anything else that I can imagine doing right now that could be more interesting.
- Taken from "Technoslave" essay posted at Adbusters.org, which was referenced by an Alternet.org essay on "How cell phones hurt communities".
Having a definite Buddhist influence in my thinking, this seems to me to be a fairly obvious observation. But it isn't just technology, it seems like it is our whole consumer/entertainment culture that seems to support us in avoiding ourselves and each other. And while I usually avoid SMS and IM, I am as caught up in my technology use as anyone. I sometimes feel like a wanna-be Luddite who is studying technology. But what else can we do? The world has gone down a certain path.
UNICEF video on the "Bee" System: