Lisa Parks contemplates the eyes in the sky
Media scholar studies the way satellites, drones, and other aerial technologies change society

Lisa Parks, photo courtesy of the MacArthur Foundation

"Most people in the world live in relatively disenfranchised or underprivileged conditions. If we shift the question about designing technologies so they serve a broader array of people’s interests, and designs are interwoven with concerns about equity, justice, and other democratic principles, don’t those technologies start to look different?"

— Lisa Parks, Professor of Comparative Media Studies/Writing

Satellites have changed the way we experience the world, by beaming back images from around the globe and letting us explore the planet through online maps and other visuals. Such tools are so familiar today we often take them for granted.

Lisa Parks does not. A professor in MIT’s Comparative Media Studies/Writing program, Parks is an expert on satellites and their cultural effects, among other forms of aerial technology. Her work analyzes how technology informs the content of our culture, from images of war zones to our idea of a “global village.”

“I really wanted people to think of the satellite not only as this technology that’s floating around out there in orbit, but as a machine that plays a structuring role in our everyday lives,” Parks says.

As such, Parks thinks we often need to think more crisply about both the power and limitations of the technology. Satellite images helped reveal the presence of mass graves following the Srebrenica massacre in the 1990s Balkans war, for instance. But they became a form of “proof” only after careful follow-up reporting by journalists and other investigators who reconstructed what had happened. Satellites often offer hints about life on the ground, but not omniscience.

Full story at MIT News

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Suggested links

Lisa Parks | MIT webpage

Cultures in Orbit (Duke University Press, 2015)

MIT Program in Comparative Media Studies/Writing