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Digital World Explorer

by Andrew Price

November 6, 2009

The digital ethnographer Michael Wesch on the dark side of social media, what we learned from Iran, and why the future of the web depends on human interests-not market interests.As a graduate student in Papua New Guinea, Michael Wesch studied how the introduction of books and literacy changed government and society. Now, as a professor of cultural anthropology at Kansas State University, Wesch examines how digital media is changing human interaction. His YouTube video "Web 2.0 ... The Machine is Us/ing Us," has been viewed more than 10 million times and he has won several awards for his cutting edge work and his teaching. GOOD talked to Wesch about the dark side of social media, how Anonymous helped the protesters in Iran, and how we can prevent augmented reality from going wrong.GOOD: You sometimes describe yourself as a digital ethnographer. What is this new field like?MICHAEL WESCH: It's a big field and it's growing so fast that it's hard to pin down what it is and what to call it. Some people talk about cyberanthropology or virtual ethnography. Then, of course, there are all these other fields that are a lot like what we do. Media ecology, a lot of what media studies people do, and some of the things journalists are now doing look like digital ethnography. It's wonderfully undisciplined and that's what's so fun about it. When there gets to be a discipline for it I'll probably go find something else.[
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