Working with technology and media certainly is keeping previously scholar J. Nathan Matias busy. Here he explains what he’s been up to since departing the adventure of St. John’s.
Davies Jackson students hardly need someone to tell them that university expands our imagination, giving us space to fumble safely towards our dreams. My Cambridge years from 2006 – 2008 included many fumbles and dreams alike. After working in UK tech and charity startups, I moved to Boston for a Master’s degree at the MIT Media Lab that has transformed my life a second time.
Three weeks ago, I submitted my thesis, which expands how we measure and change women’s representation in the media. The project has been a wonderful education in public research. With funding from the Knight Foundation and input from over 40 people, we have developed software to monitor and change gender in the media. I have been able to publish a series in the Guardian Datablog and PBS. Most importantly, it offers a significant new direction for gender equality online. Several more projects will launch later this year. Click the photo for a video example.
I have rediscovered play at the Media Lab. For the last two years, I have coordinated the Festival of Learning, an amazing two-day celebration of learning and play. The Mozilla Festival brings me back to London every year for a weekend of creative technology and mediamaking with people from newsrooms, film studios, and creative learning centres around the world. My amazing flatmates Eric and Sayamindu, who both create learning technologies for children, keep me inspired every day. Here is a project Eric and I created recently:
Life sometimes feels like endless projects. Grassroots Mobile, which we tested in Nairobi last week, creates peer economies for electricity using mobile payments. Social Mirror is being tested by the UK National Health Service. Coordinating The Atlantic’s Twitter book club is a steady stream of fun.
Blogging and social media have become a wonderful source of relationships and opportunities. I have written around 150 pieces in the last two years. Each one joins in conversation with passionate people, from Occupy Boston and GZA to Cass Sunstein, Muhammad Yunus, and Bruno Latour. The most inspiring event I covered was the Global Voices Summit, a gathering of bloggers and activists from around the world who care about sharing the voices of people who usually don’t get heard.
This summer, I’m in Seattle at Microsoft Fuse Labs, a part of Microsoft Research that conducts social science research and also ships actual technology products. As an intern, I get to work on projects that could help strengthen communities while learning from people I admire like Andrés, whose work on education and civic technology is truly remarkable.
Next year, I start the Media Lab PhD, a four-year journey with my advisor Ethan Zuckerman where I try to balance learning opportunities and the obligations of a researcher with my passion for getting technologies out into the world. I’ll also be a fellow at a Boston-based university, in a position I can’t quite yet announce.
Seven years ago, I went up to Cambridge in hopes that it would enable a life in service to the good of others. Before I went, Davies-Jackson chair Graham Down told me that I shouldn’t worry about grades.
“We believe in you,” he said. “Making the most of your experience involves more than grades.” Many years later, I still feel surrounded by people who are more intelligent and capable than I am. I’m deeply privileged to be living out the vision that first took me to Cambridge.