Great Conversations explores technology, partisan divides


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Assistant professor Michael Humphrey speaks to an audience during the Great Conversations event in the Lory Student Center Theatre Sept. 26. (Brooke Buchan | The Collegian)

Great Conversations kicked off its 24th season with a community conversation in the Lory Student Center Theatre Sept. 26, focusing on the question “Does technology create or heal partisan divides?”

Panelists Evan Elkins, assistant professor of communication studies, Michael Humphrey, assistant professor of journalism and media communication and Jessie Luna, assistant professor of sociology, tackled this question alongside members of the Colorado State University community.

“Great Conversations is one of the touchstones of the College of Liberal Arts,” said Ben Withers, dean of the College of Liberal Arts at CSU. “It was started as a way of sharing with the community some of the research and great teaching that we have in the college.”

To start the night off and get the conversation rolling, speakers shared their thoughts and backgrounds on the topics at hand.

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What is it that would drive people to be driven apart by a given technology?” -Jessie Luna, assistant professor of sociology

“I think about the individual who appears in the social media space,” Humphrey said. “What I often think about most is how a story develops from the actions that they take in those digital spaces over time, whether they intend a story to develop or not.”

panel listens to audience
College of Liberal Arts faculty Evan Elkins (left), Michael Humphrey (middle) and Jessie Luna (right) listen to an audience member during the Great Conversations event in the Lory Student Center Sept. 26. (Brooke Buchan | The Collegian)

Interacting with the audience throughout the night, the speakers probed the given question. They explored what defines technology, which technologies are most impactful and, on a more philosophical note, whether technologies experience consciousness.

“One of the things that I think it’s interesting for us to explore is … what is it that would drive people to be driven apart by a given technology?” Luna asked.

Without definitively answering the posed question, the speakers discussed where they see partisan or social divides in technologies related to their fields.

Luna said she sees more divides between urban and rural communities when debating pesticides and GMOs than between political parties.

“Views on technologies like genetically modified crops, also on vaccines, don’t actually fall neatly along partisan lines when you look at the research on it,” Luna said. “There’s actually people on both sides who are quite critical of those kinds of technologies for different reasons.”

panel speaks to audience
Assistant professor Evan Elkins speaks to an audience member during the Great Conversations event in the Lory Student Center Theatre Sept. 26. (Brooke Buchan | Collegian)

Along with environmental issues, the speakers discussed artificial intelligence, social media use and matters that affect the globe and not just the United States.

“Seeing the term ‘partisan divide,’ it can be easy to kind of default into this U.S.-based, liberal-conservative, Democrat-Republican perspective on things,” Elkins said. “But I think we’ve covered a wide range of geographical and historical examples and context here.” 

The Great Conversations series is not meant to provide a solution to a question or problem, but rather facilitate engaging discussions.

“One of the important motifs of the night is … the understandings, the literacies, the contexts that we, in our educational system in the College of Liberal Arts, help our students understand,” Withers said.

Serena Bettis can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @serenaroseb

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