Societal Impact of Digital Media (SIM) lab

Digital media technologies, ranging from the Internet to mobile communication devices, and recently from social robots to artificially intelligent algorithms and virtual reality applications, have evolved into a major factor in shaping today’s societies. The SIM lab studies and explains the societal and social impact of this digital revolution, currently focusing on four domains: Digital traces (big data and computational methods), the Internet and Social Media, Social Robotics and Artificial Intelligence (AI), and Virtual and Mixed Reality applications. The advent of the digital society – including its defining manifestations such as globalization, the disruption of established value chains and labor markets, and the uninhibited and unredacted dissemination of information – raise important questions about potential stabilizing or destabilizing effects. Do these phenomena benefit or harm communities and individuals? How do they relate to the “wellbeing” of consumers, employees, citizens – and society at large? Providing accurate answers to these questions is the more important as society often meets digital media technologies with exaggerated utopian and dystopian views; digital technologies are both heralded as enabling more open, democratic, prosperous, and peaceful societies, as well as feared as threats to societal order and stability. In the wake of the present “techlash”, concerns often dominate the public debate, for example about increased means of state surveillance, loss of employment, increased work-related and social stress, information overload, compulsive behaviors, distorted self-perceptions, or hate speech. In the context of digital media technologies, societal resilience in SIM lab research rests on successful utilizations of positive, healthy, functional media effects, and effective interventions against potential negative, unhealthy, detrimental media effects. When research is carried out in an early stage, effective interventions aimed at diminishing potential dysfunctional effects of digital media technologies can be established before mass adoption. It can also identify beneficial effects of new media technology that enhance a society’s stability and welfare: social robots combating loneliness, VR-applications helping people understand the perspective of others, computational methods providing novel insights to improve organizational efficiency, public health, or economic prosperity, and social media applications that help overcome gaps of knowledge and understanding between individuals.