Digital Cultures and Creativity, American Studies

Jason Farman


Jason Farman is an Assistant Professor at University of Maryland, College Park in the Department of American Studies and a Distinguished Faculty Fellow in the Digital Cultures and Creativity Program. He is author of the book "Mobile Interface Theory: Embodied Space and Locative Media" (Routledge, 2012 -- winner of the 2012 Book of the Year Award from the Association of Internet Researchers), which focuses on how the worldwide adoption of mobile technologies is causing a reexamination of the core ideas about what it means to live our everyday lives: the practice of embodied space.

He is currently working on a book called "The Myth of the Disconnected Life: How Mobile Technologies Have Transformed Social Connections" and is editing a collection titled Digital Storytelling and Mobile Media. He has published scholarly articles on such topics as mobile technologies, Google maps, social media, videogames, digital storytelling, digital performance art, and surveillance.

Farman has been a contributing author for The Atlantic and The Chronicle of Higher Education. He has also been interviewed on NPR's Marketplace Tech Report, the Christian Science Monitor, the Baltimore Sun, the Denver Post, among others.

He received his Ph.D. in Digital Media and Performance Studies from the University of California, Los Angeles.

Video & Transcript

I’m Jason Farman, Assistant Professor in American Studies.

Really as I walk around my everyday life, I’m finding inspiration everywhere.  A few weeks ago I was up in New York City for a conference and I was down in Times Square getting coffee.  A woman in her 20's walked in and she was holding her iPad, and she was actually having a video chat with someone.  He was in his pajamas on his bed and she was in one of the most crowded places in Manhattan, and it was an interesting moment for me to think about how does connection happen across our devices, especially when our devices are with us at all times.

As I was writing the book that just came out, Mobile Interface Theory, one of the big challenges I faced was how do you write a book about what is perhaps the most rapidly changing technology on the face of the planet?  I knew that by the time the book was going to published that most of the examples that I was talking about were obsolete.  Tools come and tools go; it has to be about something deeper than that.  So it really begins with a question: how are people using these devices taking them out around Times Square?  How do we connect with people?  How do we understand community, when we are using these devices more and more to connect?

I think a huge transformation is happening with the ability to use these devices for a community to tell it's story.  I don’t think that any other media, prior to mobile technologies, have done this in an effective way.  The stories that were told about space tended to be told by the people in power.  It cost quite a bit of money to set up a plaque, to set up a statue, and so money and power all sort of coalesced in what kind of stories could be told about a space.

Now what’s interesting about mobile technologies are you can actually use a device to layer multiple stories onto a single site—stories that can be competing with each other, contradictory to each other, or just little nuances about what that space means.

There are certain parts of the book that when I was writing I knew my parents were to read this chapter and just not get a word of it. So my goal was then to say how do I take that work that is inaccessible and make it accessible? I want theoretical models that can be used by people in a wide range of disciplines—to begin to think critically about the spaces we’re very familiar with, and to then see them differently from that point on.