Technology is an integral part of our culture, though in many ways, it goes unnoticed. However, there is an emerging discipline that strives to understand the sociological, artistic and historical connections between technology and society.
Here at UC Davis, the intersection is explored in Technocultural Studies, an undergraduate program with an assortment of interdisciplinary courses and innovative media equipment available for students.
Jesse Drew, director and co-creator of the Technocultural Studies (TCS) major, said he sees the interaction between technology and culture daily.
“Popular culture is full of technocultural ideas – ideas about the changing nature of humans and technology,“ Drew said. “For example, there was an article, front page of the New York Times about a runner in the Olympics who would be allowed to run. To me, that‘s technoculture.“
Officially installed as a major at UC Davis in the fall of 2004, TCS investigates the relationship between technology and culture while providing students with hands-on exposure to a broad range of digital media.
Students learn about digital imaging, sound, digital video and web production. For senior TCS major Sean Johannessen, the program gives “a footing in a lot of different areas in order to give people a broad skill set.“
It has also given students the encouragement to explore new technologies in media.
“In addition to an awareness and exposure to relevant art and theories, I‘ve developed a lot of confidence in myself,“ Johannessen said. “I‘m much more confident diving into computer software that I haven‘t had the opportunity to learn.“
With the new Technocultural Studies Building that opened winter 2007 in the Art Annex, students now have 24-hour access to the high-end resources needed to work on their projects. For cash-strapped students hoping to work with cutting edge and often expensive equipment, the use of TCS facilities is a dream come true.
“We try to support students the best we can,“ said Don Yee, the computer technician for the TCS building. In terms of choosing media hardware and software, “if it‘s pretty popular, we‘ll get them.“
The main TCS classroom resembles a warehouse, with high ceilings and ample space for a range of activities. The room is set up to accommodate musical or artistic performances with speakers and audio-visual equipment on hand.
Upper division classes like TCS 121: Introduction to Sonic Arts are held in a studio, fully equipped with microphones and a 5.1 surround sound system, which means that there are five speakers connected to one subwoofer. The studio computer runs standard recording software like Logic along with more specialized programs like MAX/MSP, which students use to create digital rigs and instruments.
The studio also possesses hardware that can be used to control digital sounds. The Lemur, a touch-sensitive tablet, can be configured to act as a mixer or an instrument. One clever TCS student was able to reconfigure a Nintendo Wii controller to manipulate digital instruments made in MAX/MSP.
Considering the opportunities for students to fiddle with such fancy equipment, the TCS major is “not cut and dry like other majors,“ said junior Ben Johnson. He said that introductory classes are usually more academic, but if you “stick it out,“ you can move on to courses that are more hands on, such as digital video.
While the practical aspect of learning the software used in popular media may attract many students, the major is not a vocational program, according to Drew. Along with TCS professor Douglas Kahn, Drew created the interdisciplinary program for students to conceive “the broad picture of technology.“
“Even if people are looking [at the TCS major] as a vocational sort of thing, we want students to understand technology holistically so that they do not become intimidated or mystified by it,“ Drew said.
Programs like TCS must adapt to reflect the constantly evolving field of technology. The specific emphases of the program change as TCS faculty and students try to remain on the cusp of technology.
“I don‘t want to be rooted and comfortable in what we think technoculture is today,“ Drew said. “That‘s not what technoculture [will be] tomorrow.“
With the growing role of technology in culture and the interdisciplinary nature of the program, Technocultural Studies hopes to constantly attract a diverse group of students.
Johnson said, “If [students] are interested in any sort of connection between art and technology, or interested in a new media discipline, they should definitely check it out.“
CHRIS RUE can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.