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How I became interested in tech and civic life

by | Aug 5, 2017 | Dissertation Research, Doctoral Funding Mentoring Program

Series Note: The following post is part of a series written by Rutgers graduate students participating in the 2017 Dissertation Funding Mentoring Program. Designed to allow students to practice public writing, the first blog post prompt asked participants to narrate a story about how they came to be interested in their research topic. 

I often tie my decision to apply to doctoral programs in communication, and research interest in the role of information and communication technologies in civic/political engagement, to September 11th, 2001. It was days before my 11th birthday, and I had already handed out invitations to the pizza party my mom planned at my elementary school in Brooklyn, when the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center not only changed those plans, but fortified my inextricable personal and academic interest.

I’ll never forget the feeling of fear and confusion. But that day, I also watched as the world relied on media and technology to understand what had just happened and how much of a role the media can play in the information and actions of its audience. I found myself gripped by the events and glued to every television channel, radio station and news website to provide updates. As a New Yorker, I felt trapped, terrified to leave the house out of panic of another attack and limited means of transportation. As a child, I felt helpless, unable to assist or fully make sense of what had unfolded. But as a media consumer, I felt liberated–at the very least I was informed and knowledgeable. I would spend hours on the bulky desktop in our living room–it running Windows 97 with a dial-up connection to access the Internet–refreshing webpages and in AOL chatrooms, where I could share information and communicate with others. I wasn’t just the passive recipient of the media message anymore, I was actively engaging, and it greatly helped me cope. This experience sparked my curiosity about mediated information and communication in the everyday experiences and civic life.

From that moment, I sought out experiences that would help me become proficient in technology and digital information. Throughout high school I participated in Global Kids, which is a non-profit education organization aimed at empowering students to be aware of global events and become active global citizens. One of the programs I joined was aimed at teaching digital literacy skills to the youth. There, I began to analyze media and information dissemination. I found myself taken with understanding digital identity, questioning how people determine what content is trustworthy, and how online social platforms influences offline action.That high school experience was pivotal in my decision to pursue my BA degree in communication at Penn State, which lead me to my MS degree in information science, and ultimately here at Rutgers in the School of Communication and Information for my PhD.

Today, my research interests are rooted in understanding the ways in which the use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) can support or constrain individuals in the context of self-presentation, political communication and social movements. More specifically, I explore how the interrelationship of youth, their mediated practices and social context contribute or detract from their civic socialization and engagement.

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