The Technology, Culture and Society Department welcomes two new faculty members
Dibner Family Chair in the History and Philosophy of Technology and Science
Associate Professor in the Department of Technology, Culture, and Society
If you were attending a party in the mid-18th century, and Georg Matthias Bose was booked as the entertainer, you might have been treated to an unusual spectacle: Bose would summon a young woman to stand atop a wax platform and use an early electrostatic generator, hidden from the view of the audience, to charge her. She would be insulated by the platform, but when an unsuspecting male guest was invited to kiss her, sparks would fly from her lips, delivering a painful shock.
Later, in the 1880s, it became common to see coin-operated arcade machines that delivered a jolt of electricity to users, some of whom believed manufacturers’ claims that the practice had medicinal benefits and others who simply wanted to prove to their friends how strong a shock they could withstand.
Leap to the release of the Sony PlayStation and the Nintendo 64 game systems in the 1990s, and users could experience a much more advanced form of haptic technology – a term that refers to tech that imparts the experience of touch and motion. (Think of a vibrating cell phone or those “rumble” game controllers.)
David Parisi traces the history of haptics in his highly regarded 2018 book, Archaeologies of Touch: Interfacing with Haptics from Electricity to Computing, and here at Tandon, he’ll be continuing his research into touch-based digital interfaces.
Parisi, who now holds the title of Dibner Family Chair in the History & Philosophy of Technology & Science, first became interested in the intersection of technology and touch after his young sister was paralyzed in a car accident. Struggling to comprehend her injuries and their ramifications, as he writes in the preface to Archaeologies of Touch: “I gradually came to understand it as a problem of information transmission: the vital connection between the brain and body had been damaged, impeding the successful reception of sensory data from the extremities and making the transmission of commands impossible.” He later began reading about fledgling attempts to transmit tactile sensations over electrical networks, and — although he earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in political science — the agenda of his doctoral research (conducted here at NYU) was set.
He began his doctoral program in 2002, focusing on the then-unusual field of media ecology and earned a Ph.D. in 2008, with a thesis that examines how video game designers assign haptic cues. (How, for example, would an onscreen explosion feel to a player holding a controller).
Parisi held a professorship at the College of Charleston from 2009 until the end of 2023, and in the course of his more-recent research, he has met several engineers and learned about their challenges and pain points. “My timing has been fortuitous,” Parisi — whose work has appeared in such publications as New Media & Society, Journal of Games Criticism, and Game Studies and who now serves as an editor for ROMchip: A Journal of Game Histories — says. “Thanks to the burgeoning interest in virtual reality, haptics has become an area of increased relevance, and while it’s admittedly been long on promise and short on delivery thus far, there is still hope that we could one day make tangible and meaningful contact through screens.”
Industry Assistant Professor, Technology, Culture, and Society
Industry Assistant Professor of Technology, Culture, and Society Margaret Jack believes that in addition to their technical skills, aspiring engineers must also become familiar with humanities concepts, qualitative research methods, and social justice principles if they are to understand the societal impacts of the technologies they’re developing. “Many of them will be heading into industry and research roles, where they’ll put ideas from the classroom into action, and I want them to be able to contribute to building more ethical tools in the future than the ones we know today,” she says.
Jack, who conducts ethnographic research into how technology affects the working life of everyday people, teaches a master’s course in designing for social impact, as well as an undergraduate seminar in transnational technology — a realm she is deeply familiar with: she spent multiple years in Cambodia, just as cell phone and internet use was burgeoning in that country, and she gained valuable insight into how small vendors and drivers of tuk-tuks (a type of motorized rickshaw) incorporate platforms like Facebook into their operations.
While in Cambodia, Jack also explored how that country’s media workers repaired film and radio infrastructures after the Khmer Rouhe era and how their contemporary counterparts now find and repair media artifacts from before the war and disseminate them, often using social media platforms. She recently published her findings in the book Media Ruins: Cambodian Postwar Media Reconstruction and the Geopolitics of Technology, which was based on her award-winning 2020 doctoral dissertation.
Jack — who holds a Ph.D. in Information Science from Cornell University, an M.Phil. in the History and Philosophy of Science from the University of Cambridge, and a B.A. in History and Science from Harvard — is currently engaged in researching the logistics networks of small-scale vendors and socially conscious groups such as food pantries, which must often operate on shoestring budgets, in order to glean lessons that may be relevant to massive entities like Amazon, which can be hazardous to both their workers and the environment.
“You hear a lot about how Silicon Valley is filled with technological geniuses,” she says, “but ordinary, resourceful workers can think of genius ways to appropriate tech tools and make them work in powerful ways for them.”