Each year the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee issues a research report highlighting some of the innovative and influential research within our campus community. I feel privileged to be featured in the 2011 edition (PDF, page 34). Here’s an excerpt from my story:
Limiting the danger of new technologies
The Internet, the Web, search engines, social media and other communication/information technologies offer both new potential and new danger.
“We get information through search engines and we interact socially online,” says Michael Zimmer, assistant professor of information studies at UWM. “These tools are powerful, sexy and alluring, but we don’t always know what’s going on behind the scenes. We can’t get under the hood.” Zimmer has received national attention for his work in critically exploring and carefully explaining the ethical issues and privacy challenges posed by new communication tools.
A troubling consequence of new technology has been the rise in cyberbullying and violations of per- sonal privacy, says Zimmer. “It’s one thing to peek through a window and another to have a webcam transmitting what’s happening over the Internet.” Young people who have grown up with new media don’t always understand the power of the tools they’re using. “Students have expectations that only certain people will see something – only their 50 or so friends,” says Zimmer. They don’t consider that future employers, lawyers or a much wider audience around the globe might see that information, too.
Education is one way to offset the problems and harness the value of the technology. “It’s good to be out there,” he says, “but you need to have tools and skills to navigate this new world. You need to have the digital literacy to know how to use the Web safely and responsibly.”