Northeastern professor visiting to discuss mobile media as communication alternative

Meryl-AlperMeryl Alper, an Assistant Professor of Communication Studies at Northeastern University, will be visiting the UW Department of Communication on May 25 to talk about a group of mobile users who challenge the normative construct. Join us; all are welcome.

WHEN: Wednesday, May 25 from 3:30 to 5 p.m.

Abstract > Reconsidering Conversation: Mobile Media as Communication Augmentations and Alternatives

It is well established among communication scholars that “digital dualism”—a dichotomy between devalued technological chatter and valued human conversation—misrepresents the complex social relationships that individuals negotiate through and with new media.  What has been less subject to scrutiny though is how moral panics about mobile technologies privilege oral communication as fundamental to human existence.  In this presentation, I highlight the experiences of one group of mobile users who challenge that normative construct—individuals with communication disabilities who are unable to or who have significant difficulty talking, and supplement their capacity for speech through tools and strategies known as augmentative and alternative communication (AAC).  Based on observations and interviews with young AAC users and their families in the greater Los Angeles area from 2012-2014, a time in which the iPad grew to prominence as a tool for AAC, I argue that all mobile communication technologies in some way augment or serve as an alternative to conversation-as-embodied oral speech.  I thus propose a theory of mobile communication that situates devices and practices along a spectrum of communication augmentations and alternatives.  By subverting the normative structures used to classify human dependency on communication technology, we can better account for the disabled experience as an innately human one.

Bio > Meryl Alper is an Assistant Professor of Communication Studies at Northeastern University and a Faculty Associate with the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University.  She studies the social implications of communication technologies, with a particular focus on disability and digital media, children and families’ technology use, and mobile communication.  She approaches this research through both social science methods and humanistic inquiry, drawing on scholarship from media and communication studies, science and technology studies, and disability studies.  Alper is the author of Digital Youth with Disabilities (MIT Press, 2014) and the forthcoming book, Giving Voice: Mobile Communication, Disability, and Inequality (Under contract with MIT Press).  Her work has been published in New Media & Society, International Journal of Communication, and IEEE Annals of the History of Computing, among other journals.  Her research has also been featured in Wired and The Atlantic.  Since 2003, Alper also has worked professionally in the children’s media industry as a researcher, strategist, and consultant with Sesame Workshop, PBS, Nickelodeon, and Disney.  Prior to joining the faculty at Northeastern, Alper earned her doctoral and master’s degrees from the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California.  She also holds a bachelor’s degree in Communication Studies and History from Northwestern University.