A Conversation with Former gnovis Contributor and CCT Student, Jeff Borenstein

In last Spring’s issue of gnovis, CCT student Jeff Borenstein contributed a paper on the role of cell phones and citizen journalism during the London bombings in 2005.  In “Camera Phone Images: How The London Bombings in 2005 Shaped the Form of News”, Jeff examines how social conditions, theory and technological climates intertwine to result in global phenomena.  This week, I sat down with Jeff to discuss his research, the state of the news media, his work with gnovis and the importance of academic blogging and the peer-review format.

I first asked Jeff what his initial interests were at CCT and how CCT’s format is conducive to those with ever-evolving academic interests.  Thinking back, he answered:

“I wrote my initial CCT personal statement about the use of photography as a tool for advocacy and social purposes.  I became increasingly interested in how camera phones are changing social institutions, being used in news and changing definitions of citizen journalism.”

He later highlighted that the process of exploring different perspectives has been an essential part of the experience, saying:

“I’m interested about some of the other culture studies focuses as well.  I began taking classes outside of my comfort zone which really helped me learn how to conceptualize my specific research and problem solve from a methodological approach.”

This background in research methods landed Jeff in Uruguay this past summer with his work at One Laptop Per Child, an organization that promotes low-cost, 1:1 computing solutions for children in emerging markets.  In Montevideo, Jeff found one of the most rewarding aspects of this project to be: “Seeing the ideas become real policies and change people’s lives on a large scale.  The goals of academic research should be to get as close to these goals in practice as possible, to build knowledge that materializes.”

Bringing the conversation back to the paper he submitted to gnovis in the Spring, I asked Jeff what his impressions were of how cell phones have impacted the global news mediaConsistent with his research, Jeff is most fascinated by the social aspect of this change:

“What was unique about 2005 was the moment when all the other technologies behind the camera phone — the images, transition processes, news aggregators, etc –- were ready for it.  The people were ready for it and the news was ready to use and filter this content.  The amount of user-generated content is hard to measure compared to five years ago.”

But how has this social adaptation to technology impacted the way we manage and consume information?

“I think I’ve lost a bit of something as an overt information consumer. We have a hard time being able to discern what’s worthy of our time- learning to make a choice that news providers used to make for us. I hope we come to a place where we’re better equip to choose our own news.”

So then what is the role of academic blogging?  How do blogs like those on gnovis contribute to the state of news and information?

“In the context of gnovis, there is a huge benefit in being able to write in such a multifaceted space that anyone can come participate in and communicate in a way that is offhandedly academic.  Published papers are often written for a select audience.  The gnovis blogs are interesting; you can learn something, it can have a voice, but I’m not reading it in the same way you read for class.  It’s a whole new venue for conducting intellectual and social discourse.”

How does gnovis’ peer-review process affect the author’s writing style?

“I started as a peer reviewer reading papers.  I liked seeing how other students write, what kind of styles they employ.  Sometimes we write in a bit of an empty space and maybe you get constructive feedback from professors.  But having a peer-review process gives you flexibility in the process of improving your own work, getting to the next level.  This is a more thoughtful, collaborative and careful way of publishing your work, and it’s reflected in what gnovis has put out there.”

Brian Mehler is a former MA student at Georgetown University’s department of Communication, Culture and Technology. While completing his BA in English Literature at Villanova University, he focused his studies on the role of new media in contemporary art, critical theory and digital poetics. A native of Freeport, ME, he has worked as a consultant and researcher in the non-profit sector for the Phoenix Foundation- a Portland-based organization that teaches ethical leadership and alternative learning throughout northern New England. Between his academic endeavors, Brian took a year off to travel, mostly backpacking through India and Nepal where he spent most of his time exploring the Kathmandu Valley and trekking in the Himalayas. In Washington DC, his research focuses on cultural narratives, social innovation, international development and visual theory.