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NCSA Affiliate Ben Grosser Named as a Harvard Fellow

Stylized photograph of Grosser's Flexible Pixels Project portrait

Self Portrait (Digital), 2009, from Grosser's Flexible Pixels project.

At NCSA, you might expect all our experts are neck deep in supercomputers – a building full of computer science majors gazing upon rows and rows of processors. What you’d find if you explore more is that NCSA is home to some amazing humanities researchers, studying things that you use every day. Ben Grosser is one such example, and his work on social networks is getting recognition from another big research-focused institution, Harvard.

The Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University recently began a new fellowship program called the Institute for Rebooting Social Media (RSM). This program’s mission is to “build new interfaces, implement novel protocols, and create additional artifacts that reimagine digital social space in service of democracy and the public interest.” This is the first year of the program and Grosser was awarded a fellowship as part of the inaugural group.

Ben Grosser Headshot
Ben Grosser portrait.

Grosser is the co-founder of the Critical Technology Studies Lab at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications and an associate professor of new media at the School of Art and Design. His work and research into social media were a natural fit for the fellowship. Grosser has created a limited or, as he puts it, finite, social network called Minus. In Minus, you only get 100 posts, and that’s it. You can reply to all the posts you want, but you can only create 100 of your own. The whole system is streamlined and simplified; there are no likes, followers, or other social media frass. Even the timestamp for posts remains vague. The only social media indicator for each user is how many posts they have left.

An animated graphic of the Minus posy submission form.
The Minus post submission form (demo GIF)

Visible metrics and the algorithmic profiling of individual interests for the purposes of driving user engagement is largely responsible for many of the problems we see with social media today, from extreme polarizing speech to trolling and misinformation, as well as the ways these platforms damage human psychology and threaten democracy.

Ben Grosser, co-founder of the Critical Technology Studies Lab at NCSA

Creating and studying how people use Minus is the basis for Grosser’s work – if people are limited to how many times they can post, how does that change how they interact with their social network? Grosser calls it the “social media network designed for less,” and hopes to study how limiting social media changes the way people interact with it and each other. You can read more about it in the full article by UIUC’s College of Fine & Applied Arts.

Learn more about Minus in this video by Grosser:

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