I am a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Communications and the author of the forthcoming book, The Digital City and Mediated Urban Ecologies, which examines the digital technological initiatives and programs of three major cities in the U.S. Prior to Simmons, I taught courses in visual, media and digital culture, communication, cultural studies, globalization, and advanced senior research methods and writing at George Mason University for eight years. I also taught at George Washington University for five years and was one of the first faculty members at Columbia College Chicago to introduce courses that focused on digital and Internet culture.
I hold a Ph.D. in Cultural Studies from George Mason University, with a focus on media studies, and my primary fields of research include urban communication and culture, media convergence, civic media and civic technology, visual and media culture, urban sustainability, mobile technologies, environmental rhetoric, and digital surveillance. Earlier in my career, I also worked in television (as a producer, editor, and videographer) and was a freelance writer for a number of publications in Chicago.
As urban populations continue to rise at an unprecedented rate, I am particularly interested in understanding how digital and mobile technologies, mobile apps, and open data connect to the meaning of the contemporary city, and mobilize discourses of urban sustainability, digitalized security and safety, and democracy. In the summer of 2014, and thanks to an Applied Urban Communication Research grant from the Urban Communication Foundation, I conducted research in Copenhagen, Denmark to explore how the city’s use of digital and mobile technologies, in combination with urban planning efforts, are being leveraged to optimize existing infrastructures, help create dense “walkable” communities, conserve and consolidate urban resources, and make use of digital citizen participation in urban sustainability efforts. And in the summer of 2012, I received a grant to attend a professional development institute, “Spaces of Media,” at Princeton University, in collaboration with the Bauhaus-Universität Weimar, Internationales Kolleg für Kulturtechnikforschung und Medienphilosophie, in Weimar, Germany, to explore with international colleagues how our use of media and digital technologies intersect with everyday spatial practices.
Always searching for the balance between theory and practice, I offer innovative, inclusive, and active learning opportunities for my students in an effort to help them situate their learning within real-world contexts and address contemporary problems. Almost every aspect of our lives are now intertwined with digital and media technologies, and communication occurs regularly now in often imperceptible ways, such as through the collection of data and its aggregation, online maps, GPS/GIS systems we carry in our pockets or wear on our bodies, and the smartphone applications we use. Because we are (sometimes unknowingly) communicating a vast amount of information on a daily basis through these kinds of technologies and media platforms, it has become increasingly crucial that we not only have a thorough understanding of how messages are created and received in our visually and digitally-saturated culture, but also how to best communicate our own messages within these contexts.
What I Teach
- COMM 269 – Globalization: Intercultural Communication
- COMM 262 – Media Convergence
- COMM 121 – Visual Communication
- BOS 101 – Virtual Boston
My book, The Digital City and Mediated Urban Ecologies (Palgrave Macmillan, 2016), examines the phenomenon of the “digital city” in the U.S. by looking at three case studies: New York City, San Antonio, and Seattle. I consider how digital technologies are increasingly built into the logic and organization of urban spaces and argue that while each city articulates ideals such as those of open democracy, civic engagement, efficient governance, and enhanced security, competing capitalist interests attached to many of these digital technological programs make the “digital city” problematic. At first glance, the digital technological programs and initiatives, as described by each of these three cities, may appear to be politically, economically, and socially progressive and empowering; but further investigation revealed that many of these digital technological programs, in practice, often work to reinforce existing hierarchical power relations.
Other recent publications include “Digital Urban Health & Security: NYC’s Got An App For That,” in Edward Clift, Carol Smith, and Glenda Amayo Caldwell, eds., Digital Futures and the City of Today: New Technologies and Physical Spaces (Intellect Books: 2016) and “New York City’s Open Data,” in Eric Gordon and Paul Mihailidis, eds., Civic Media: Technology, Design, Practice (MIT Press 2016).