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Act Lab

Andrew Feenberg (right) and ACT lab students look on as Sara Grimes surveys neopets.com, a virtual pet site she's using to explore the ethics of online marketing to children.

At the intersection of technology + culture

January 25, 2007

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Kate Milberry had just been pepper-sprayed during an anti-globalization protest she was covering for an alternative newspaper when she realized, "I'm not a journalist, I'm an activist.

"So I took my activism and started studying indymedia," recalls Milberry, referring to the explosion of independent political media on the Internet.

That eventually led her to SFU Vancouver and doctoral research with School of Communication professor Andrew Feenberg into how internet technologies help enable indymedia. A Canada Research Chair in the philosophy of technology, Feenberg directs the school's Applied Communication and Technology (ACT) lab, which studies the intersection of communication technology and culture.

The lab brings together grad students such as Milberry with other researchers to study advanced-technology applications in areas such as education, entertainment and the arts. "People used to think technologies came from the lab fully formed, made by engineers and inventors," says Feenberg, but that notion has changed. "Many actors are involved in the development of technologies and not all of them have technical training."

The lab houses more than a dozen grad students, with research concerns ranging from documentary film-making and music distribution to video-gaming. As members of the ‘wired' generation, they are uniquely positioned to engage in internet research.

Sara Grimes, for example, studies Neo-Pets, a site on which children own and care for virtual pets. She's exploring the ethics of Internet marketing to children while herself participating at the site. Florence Chee is investigating the extraordinary popularity of video-gaming in Korea, where players can earn hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. For her master's degree research, she learned Korean and lived with a family in Seoul where she haunted video-game clubs.

Feenberg, who hails from San Diego State University, regards the ACT lab as a small utopia: "I am surrounded by PhD students in this beautiful city."

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