Letter from the Director

Joe Walther


As the new director, I’m expanding my awareness that CITS is about lots of things. It’s about learning new ideas from others around campus about the big questions presented by information technology and people, and synthesizing answers that their research provides. It’s about visitors to the Center whose projects illuminate new ways to think about the application of foundational knowledge to the technologically-based problems society faces. It’s about understanding the dualism between what people want socio-computational systems to do, and what these systems do to them. About solving technologically-related problems with even better technologically-related solutions. About what digital life is like. About the agendas that evolve into programs and algorithms, the adaptations and appropriations of technology that human nature propels, and the interventions that parents, educators, and industry seek in order to manage the role of technology in the human condition. There are many topics that occupy the Center’s attention, but CITS is at its best when we grapple with questions that are too big for any academic discipline to understand on its own.

Our work on Fake News is a case in point. Last November, we gathered campus scholars with  visitors from academia, industry, news organizations, and our advisory board, for an all-day symposium. We shared questions and findings about how foreign influences, Facebook friends, bots, and social systems perpetuate fake news; what is fake and what is true; and what steps are being taken to inoculate against it. It’s current, it’s important, and it’s too big for any discipline to understand by itself. Our next Fake News event will bring researchers back together to articulate research agendas and start interdisciplinary projects. Next spring, our PhD “gateway” course will continue the focus, helping our newest scholars from across campus to examine the topic from many perspectives, to join existing research, and to develop research ideas of their own.

"CITS is at its best when we grapple with questions that are too big for any academic discipline to understand on its own."

The directorship of CITS offers very big shoes to fill. My predecessors grew CITS from a small network of scholars scattered among departments at UCSB who had the foresight to know that the Internet had, and would have, a lot to do with our lives. With their vision, and the support of donors who recognized the importance of the effort, CITS has become an extremely successful operation by all measures. Its faculty affiliates are from 16 departments and colleges, from arts and humanities, computer science and engineering, education, and the social sciences. It hosts guest lectures and long-term visiting scholars, and industry advisors. It sustains an interdisciplinary PhD emphasis program. It facilitates grants and collaborative research. It grows and grows.

Thanks to our donors and the confidence of the University of California, we’re getting ready to do more. More to support our affiliates’ and students’ work, and more to be part of the international conversation about the evolution of information technology and the human experience. About what more we want technology to do for us and what we want technology to do less of to us, and how to identify what is good and what is ill and what is possible, on the basis of serious study and interdisciplinary research.

--Joe Walther
Mark and Susan Bertelsen Presidential Chair in Technology and Society
Distinguished Professor of Communication