Most of us never get to work inside a think tank. Michael Zimmer, assistant professor at UW-Milwaukee’s School of Information Studies, has enjoyed that rare opportunity. The thoughts that germinated inside his recent New York University submersion have become fodder for his new approaches to teaching media and Internet studies in the UWM community.
Not at all the stereotypical image of a stodgy old professor, Zimmer has a fresh face with a sense of wonder and curiosity. Still, he says that he might be “a bit geeky, too.” With his black, horned-rimmed glasses, he makes his students tackle current issues and trends in privacy, surveillance and intellectual property, inviting them to partake in college assignments that make an impact and a difference in the real world.
What’s it like in a think tank?
It is really fun. There is, of course, a lot of pressure because of the amount of hard work that has to be done in a relatively short term.
How do you make a complex topic, like the study of information technology, relevant in the community?
My students do the work. They’re awesome. One of my classes presented final projects in an ideal living, learning, community setting: the new UWM dorm on Milwaukee’s north east side. They posted final displays in public/approved areas, but because surveillance cameras overlooked them, they were asked to remove them. I got involved a bit, citing intellectual freedom. Posters were re-hung, students got real fired up about it. There’s nothing wrong with a little bit of resistance—it depends on how you do things.
Tell me the big “it” issue for the general public in information science?
Privacy and how individuals can (but often don’t) control information. There is a right way to manage it.
If we all awoke to an information technology nightmare, what would it be?
People will fail to understand the concept of how much information can be shared openly. That reality check stored and potentially used usually is good, but there is still concern about access and government use, with good reason. There can be too much information—too much access, especially blogs. The challenge is to ferret out ways to fix problems and develop more safe, recommended sites and standards for information usage.