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Judith Donath

At the core of my work, I am fascinated by the question of how we communicate to others about who we are, and how we interpret the social messages that we receive. And I am deeply interested in the flow of history, and how tides have shifted over decades and centuries, and in particular, in the role that science and technology has played in reshaping how we think.

Judith Donath

The online chatroom may seem like a banal place, with its motley crowd of insomniacs flinging non sequiturs across an already almost obsolete interface, yet it contains the basic elements of an extraordinary revolution in human sociability. How do people form impressions of each other in this environment? Conversational software agents are beginning to appear in many online sites; how do people know that they are talking to a fellow human? In this highly constrained world, how do fashions appear, languages evolve, customs arise? Chat, of course, is just one of the many new technologies that is revolutionizing our social world, which includes the self-portraiture of the Weblog and homepage, the extraordinary ubiquity of e-mail and telephony, and the physical-world permeation of sociable robots and augmented humans.

These technologies do not, of course, just happen: they are designed. How they are designed greatly influences how they are used and their impact. The goal of my work is to understand more deeply the social implications of design and to create works that make possible intriguing new situations, forms of communication, and ways of perceiving other human beings.

We are at all times social beings, whether or not we are consciously aware of it. The advent of the online world has given us an unprecedented opportunity to understand this aspect of our "human-ness" by providing us with a laboratory for observing human behavior and the emergence of social norms, aberrations, and rituals. It has also given us the extraordinary opportunity to create a fresh new environment, with new rules, new mores, and eventually, a new sociability.

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Favorite childhood toy: early on, probably my toes
Copyright 2003 MIT Media Laboratory; Image Webb Chappell