on the darkening days of media lab (a slant corporate sellout story)07 Sep 2019
so jeffrey epstein money has been tied to the media lab. joi just stepped down. zuck and visiting scholar j. nathan matias stepped down last week.
honestly, i really just want to use this moment to rant about my own personal perspective on the media lab’s downfall. this is a pure rant and, while some parts of it i think are connected to bigger societal topics, you certainly needn’t read this post if you’re not looking for a good rant. you have been warned.
some years ago, i started noticing how tools that i loved would often slowly be destroyed by capitalist forces, things like show about race and simple. well, i have also been watching the media lab take the same sad sad trajectory. and today, with joi ito, the director, stepping down amid a scandal revolving around the media lab taking money from the late sex trafficker, jeffrey epstein, i think the graph just took another sharp downward turn.
i’ll keep it to bullets so i don’t go on forever about this but here’s my perspective:
- when i got to m.i.t. and moved into senior haus, i slowed watched the new media lab building get added on to the old media lab.
- over the course of my undergrad years, i spent lots of time in the old and new media lab buildings, taking classes, teaching photography, swimming around in dark rooms and chemicals. the spaces and atmospheres seemed cool: people walking into each other’s offices, having excited conversations about things, showing off new toys and prototypes of stuff.
- around 2012/2013 (1-2 years after joi took on the role of director) things around the new media lab started to change. over the course of the last 6ish years, i noticed the follow changes in this order and each one signaled to me very clearly that the media lab was being taken over by corporate and private money:
- they took away all the fancy (free) public coffee machines
- many of the doors that didn’t have locks before got locks (classic)
- the different lab groups started to list corporate sponsors on their doors
- the public kitchen got enclosed and key-carded
- the chairs started to get fancier
- signs began popping up on the doors and windows of different labs saying “no photo and no video”
- a sign was put by the main elevator that essentially forbade presence from anyone who wasn’t an active media lab staff, researcher, or associated with the lab.
the privatization of space follows very similar patterns every time. it starts with the money (often unseen and unannounced) and winds up in increasingly large visual/aesthetic signals.
ps - i could be totally wrong about all this. pps - the term ‘corporate sellout’ is starting to feel a little flat but i’m not totally how to add a little more nuance while keeping at least some of the directionality of the phrase… hm!
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