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Panelists at Mason Gross discuss relationship between tech and social movements in modern day

Students, professors, graduate students and undergraduate students of Mason Gross School of the Arts filled the dimly lit and rather intimate setting of the Bloustein Auditorium last night where four panelists discussed and explored Rutgers University’s 250th anniversary theme of revolution through multiple perspectives.

The conversation was held among esteemed artists, activists, writers and scholars, all of whom hold at least two of those positions. In a post 9/11 networking society full of first-world citizens with photo and video cameras tucked in their back pocket, technological social activism is growing day-by-day.

Panelists Madeleine Bair, Coco Fusco, DeeDee Halleck and Harlo Holmes were part of Mason Gross’ annual panel discussion titled “Radical Means: Technology and Media Activism in the new Millennium,” hosted by the Department of Visual Arts.

Moderator Todd Wolfson, an assistant professor in the Department of Journalism and Media Studies, said the panel opens a door to discuss technology's role in activism in the new millennium.

Wolfson thinks it is clear to everyone that across the past 20 to 25 years, and then in the more accelerated sense, in the last five years, people have seen a fundamental transformation in the way social movements and social changes happen.

At least on the surface level we’ve seen big change, he said. “This new figure of resistance has emerged across the world.”

He asks how is it engaging art, what is new, what is compelling in these movements intersecting with technology and what is problematic.

The hook in last night’s event was to explore that and much more, such as some of the assumptions that have emerged in the recent years and to think about what the intersection of technology and social change is, and in order to do that, Mason Gross has four well versed panelists to discuss.

Coco Fusco, an interdisciplinary artist and writer and a professor at the University of Florida, put on her “old lady reading glasses” as she addressed her most recent book about performances and politics in Cuba.

“The country has been forced into a series of economic reforms that have not been coupled with political liberalization,” she said. “But the economic reform made it easier for Cuban citizens to get access to very low-tech media like cell phones with cameras.”

Fusco said the possession of cell phones was only recently legalized in Cuba in 2008, and Cuba has the lowest Internet connectivity rate in the Western hemisphere, but it is slowly and steadily increasing.

The social realities Fusco works in are not reflected by the premise that anyone can report on issues in their respective society due to social media access.

Another speaker, Harlo Holmes, a mobile and web developer and activist, discussed the product of her master's thesis, which essentially is a complex app that takes metadata from a particular space and embeds that automatically into a photograph taken with a smartphone.

She said the information automatically included is more than the geographic location of the taken photo, but also the networks in the area, such as nearby Wi-Fi, which adds a bit of precision to the GPS latitude and longitude. The data can later be used and extended to further applications.

“Beware of data and always question the people who generate your algorithm because ultimately they are representatives of offices of power that you should push back upon,” she said as leading advice. “It was only just a couple of days ago that people were putting viruses into police body cameras ... beware of that as well.”

In terms of the influence, power and “viral-ness of hashtags,” Holmes said ideas, thoughts, feelings and movements are able to go a lot further than ever before and even to a surprising effect.

“You never know exactly which hashtag is going to be picked up and what thing, no matter how minimal or grand, is going to become the thing that occupies space in the public (consciousness) that day,” she said.

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