Westmont professor explores digital age dilemma
Back in 1995, Felicia Wu Song stumbled upon Marshall McLuhan’s “The Medium is the Message” in a used bookstore on Newbury Street in Boston.
“To my surprise I had discovered a kindred spirit from an earlier decade, asking the same unsettling questions about the subtle but powerful influence of mass media and communication technology over the lived experiences of modern life that I had fluttering in my mind,” said Dr. Song, professor of sociology at Westmont College.
“McLuhan was asking questions that I heard no one else asking in our public conversations and debates. I just didn’t understand why the role of media and technology wasn’t at the foreground of all of our discussions about relationships, community, politics, education, parenting and personal identity.”
Since then, Dr. Song said she hasn’t been able to stop thinking about the place of media and technology in our contemporary lives.
“I continually wonder about how it shapes the most fundamental ways in which we interact, think and even perceive reality,” said Dr. Song, author of “Restless Devices: Recovering Personhood, Presence and Place in the Digital Age” (InterVarsity Press, $24).
Scheduled for release Nov. 30, the book is dedicated “For the parents and digitally exhausted.”
“It is difficult to imagine life without our personal devices. Today’s digital technologies are designed to captivate our attention and encroach on our boundaries, shaping how we relate to time and space, to ourselves and others, even to God,” said Dr. Song.
“Our natural longing for relationship makes us vulnerable to the industrializing effects of social media. While we enjoy the benefits of digital tech, many of us feel troubled with its power and exhausted by its demands for permanent connectivity. Yet even though we grow disenchanted, attempting to resist the digital powers that be might seem like a losing battle.”
She earned her bachelor’s degree in history at Yale University, her master’s in communication at Northwestern University and her doctorate in sociology at the University of Virginia.
“I had the fortune of starting my academic career with the formative experience of teaching in the journalism and mass communication program at Louisiana State University during the rise of social media platforms, mobile technologies and the attention economy during the early 2000s,” said Dr. Song.
“As a sociologist among industry experts and practitioners in news media, public relations, advertising and political communications, my eyes were opened anew to the massive shift occurring in the contemporary media and influence landscapes.”
Her early research projects included explorations into the democratic potential of early online communities from the late 20th century, which she wrote about in her book, “Virtual Communities: Bowling Alone, Online Together” (2009).
“I also did several smaller studies on the role of the digital in motherhood, including studies on the information-seeking habits of expectant mothers, online consumer research and motherhood and the evolution of ‘mommy bloggers’ into social media professionals,” said Dr. Song, who lives in Santa Barbara with her husband and two children.
She regularly speaks on digital practices, social media, the digital media industry, parenting in the digital age and spiritual formation at universities and colleges, churches, schools, parent groups and conferences.
When she is not working, she enjoys reading children’s chapter books, baking breads, doing the New York Times crossword puzzles and daydreaming about becoming a bass player.
“When we can imagine the grip of the digital on our lives weakened and even dissolving, we can be released from its hold and begin enjoying the fruits of experiencing freedom from our compulsions and freedom from our fears — whether they be about not being good enough, what others think of us or getting enough done,” said Dr. Song.
“When this door is open, we also enter into the possibility of experiencing a freedom to be vulnerable and freedom to be fully who we are in all of our capacities and limitations.”