By Giselle Mills

On April 18, 2023, the DSI’s second annual AMPLIFY Student Showcase took place. The DSI community gathered to eat dinner, celebrate the end of a successful year, and check out what DSI students created over the 2022-2023 academic year. Some students presented their projects with details about their respective courses, the context for their interest and creative process, or provided VR headsets for viewers and judges to fully experience their final works.

Presenting students had a lot to be proud of and showcase attendees had a lot of reasons to show up—here’s what some of them said:

Claire Callen, interested minor, second year: “My favorite thing [about the DSI this year] was engaging with the Digital Studies courses in general—I feel like they make me think about things that I encounter every day in a new light. Usually, the narrative is ‘This is just the way technology is,’ but the narrative should be, ‘How can we change technology to make it better?’” Callen’s project about the color fuschia for DIGITAL 357 “From Prisms to Pantone: Color, Race, and Technology” was one of the student projects highlighted in AMPLIFY.

August Mashburn, interested minor, third year: “With this piece in the final DSI Showcase, I'm most proud of what I was able to achieve as a part of my learning process with glitch art. This [work] is both a final project and a culmination of a week of spending a lot of my time every day learning about [glitch art].” Mashburn explained that this project—created for DIGITAL 228 “Fanfiction & Prosumers”—and glitch art itself was explored during her stay in U-M quarantine housing.

Mya Strayer, undergraduate minor, fourth year: “One of my Digital Studies GSIs is presenting here, which is so cool. I’ve gone to a lot of the DSI community events throughout the year and I knew a lot about these classes, so it’s really nice to see everyone’s final projects.”

Adam Kuplicki, fourth year: “My close friend has a personal connection to one of the presenters, and the project is healthcare related. I’ve done a lot of work in healthcare, so I was interested to see it. I'm also curious to see what the Digital Studies Institute is doing.”

Robert London, fourth year: “I really enjoyed the Pugs and Planning Event—I saw this [showcase] on the event list and I thought it sounded interesting, so I decided to come!”

Griffin Glick, fourth year: “I decided to tag along with my friends to this event, and then I got here and I thought it was really cool to see the displays. It’s very interesting to see topics and ideas that I have a little bit of exposure to, along with the things that I have had zero contact with before today.”

This year’s winning project, “Consume,” was created for DIGITAL 394 “Intro to VR” by Tess Eschebach—a fifth year student in LSA and the College of Engineering. To experience “Consume,” attendees wore VR headsets and explored the picturesque world that Eschebach created. Far-off mountains were crested with white peaks, grass swayed in the wind, and the passing of time was illustrated by realistic color and lighting changes in this 360-degree virtual reality. The beauty distracted from a giant, ominous black cube that inched closer and closer to the viewer’s right. When I wore the headset, I chose to avoid that side, instead focusing on the VR nature and only occasionally glancing at the menacing box when I realized how close it had gotten to me. Despite trying to ignore it initially, the black box became unavoidable, foreboding, and dread-inducing; the closer to me it moved the more I found myself unable to look away. Eschebach told me that’s exactly the point. In her own words, “Consume” is “about the black box and machine learning, and how that relates to recommendation systems. My idea uses VR to create the sense that you have agency to look away from what is going to inevitably destroy you with these algorithms, because they force you to continue going down a particular path even when you’re looking away and not acknowledging [the black box].”