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Welcome to Digital IDEAS 2024!

The Digital Studies Institute at the University of Michigan is excited to host its third annual Digital IDEAS Summer Institute. 

With this year’s theme, Digital X Climate, we welcome intensive inquiry into the relationship between digital culture and climate, broadly defined. 

The terms “digital” and “climate” form a timely, even urgent, pairing for critical interrogation. More and more, problems of climate pose an existential crisis for the future of our digital culture, as our reliance on digital technologies poses an existential crisis for our climate. Climate change has challenged the sustainability of our 24/7 reliance on the internet and other energy-intensive technologies by making us aware that our digital lives are far from virtual or immaterial. Rather, they depend on communication networks, data centers, and smart devices powered by the very fossil fuels that are altering the planet’s climate at a rapid rate. Such technologies, moreover, rely on extractive practices that treat as inexhaustible and disposable non-renewable and precious natural resources (mineral and human). 

Likewise, disillusionment with the racist and sexist cesspool of our online platforms has gone mainstream. The quality of our media environment continues to be profoundly shaped by corporate tech platforms, algorithms, community policies and legal regulation (or lack thereof), which distribute harm unevenly to citizens and users. The prevailing conditions and impact of digital platforms, habits, and technologies constitute a critical concern for our current climate, particularly as these threaten to exacerbate already asymmetrical power relations. 

Meanwhile, we have seen an “environmental” turn in digital media studies over recent decades, as media scholars have explored the ways in which our media is increasingly indistinguishable from our climate, as satellite, surveillance, and smart technologies saturate our landscape to the point of blanketing the world.

Guided by our keynote lectures, panel respondents, and each other, we’ll explore these and other charged sites of convergence between digital and climate and ponder novel creative, theoretical, and practice-based modes for addressing and responding to them. What new recognitions spark at the meeting of digital studies and climate (social, political, affective, environmental)? What new modes of inquiry become possible when questions of the digital are brought to bear on life conditions online and off, and how they help us address issues of environmental justice, algorithmic harm, mutual aid, fake news and misinformation, mental health and social media, or political resistance? How does the concept of “climate” productively expand the purview of digital media studies (its objects, questions, methods) by challenging our traditional understandings of what constitutes digital media?

We’ll ask how we might conceive, reimagine, and contest the lived conditions and probable futures produced by digital technologies and the extent to which the digital itself can function as a tool of remediation, redress, and collective action.

We invite broad interpretations of what the X stands for in Digital X Climate. Perhaps it stands for amplification, or the raising of stakes when we think “digital” and “climate” together. Perhaps it marks the hybridity of two disciplinary objects so enmeshed that they have become hard to differentiate. Perhaps it represents the mark of refusal or the politics of fighting for a non-toxic technological and/or environmental future. Or perhaps still it stands for no pasarán (“they shall not pass”), suggesting a relationship fundamentally at odds. Finally, perhaps the X stands for a variable missing in the equation, a missing term that allows us to understand the relationship between digital and climate (e.g. crisis, embodiment, inequity, infrastructure)

Digital IDEAS is open to a broad cohort, including advanced graduate students from campuses in the US and  abroad, early career scholars and alt-ac practitioners, artists, and activists. Over the course of two weeks attendees will participate in keynote lectures, panel discussions, workshops, and group discussions. The institute will be held in a hybrid format: one week entirely online and one week with an option to attend in person or online.

Digital X Climate brings together eminent scholars, artists, and practitioners working to illuminate the critical impact of digital technology on our social, psychic, and ecological lives. The summer institute will engage these ideas through intentional conversation, reflection, workshopping, and community.