About Me, A Person On (Of?) The Internet

Hello Internet People! I am Michael Ann DeVito (she/her), but most folks call me Mike. I’m an interdisciplinary social/behavioral scientist, and I want to know how people perceive various features of the Internet, especially the algorithms behind social media platforms and search, and what they might be doing to our brains.

Put more formally,  I am a researcher, a teacher, and a deeply interested party in the social science of media, cognition, and the Internet. I exist in an interdisciplinary space which touches on information science, human-computer interaction, and communication studies, and I also draw heavily on psychology/cognitive/behavioral science literature and methods.

I am currently a doctoral candidate in the Media, Technology, and Society program at Northwestern University‘s School of Communication. I am also a Cognitive Science specialist. I work as a graduate researcher in Northwestern’s Social Media Lab under Professor Jeremy Birnholtz, my adviser.

My research centers around how humans adapt to the complex algorithmically-driven systems that increasingly surround us, including how we come to understand these systems, and how they affect major social processes such as the formation and presentation of the self-concept. I am also interested in how we can build technology to return agency to the individual user who is now awash in these powerful systems, as well as the emerging effects of personified/anthropomorphized technology, including virtual assistants and rudimentary artificial intelligence.

To deconstruct that very dense last paragraph: I want to know how you understand really complex things like the Facebook news feed, and how that understanding might change the way you think about others and yourself and the way you get your information (and what all that does to our society). I’m also interested in what happens when we start seeing computer-based agents more like trustworthy friends.

I’m also particularly interested in how these emerging issues play out with populations that don’t always get included in a lot of early work, and that have different concerns than the average college student sample, such as the LGBTQ+ community and early adolescents. I often take a triage approach to picking populations for my studies, and try to prioritize marginalized communities, who may rely more heavily on social technologies and therefore suffer outsized harm when they are not mindfully designed. Frequently, I act as a member-researcher in my own marginalized communities, using my positionality as a bisexual, transfemme nonbinary person to inform my work and make deep community connections.

Prior to coming to Northwestern, I worked as a Graduate Teaching Assistant at George Washington University‘s School of Media and Public Affairs, where I taught and assisted with Journalism and Mass Communication courses. I also worked as Managing Editor for GW’s new media sustainability collaborative Planet Forward, where I directed the internship and education programs in addition to running the editorial department. While I was at GW, I earned both an M.A. in Media and Public Affairs and a B.A. in Journalism and Mass Communication.

In the very small sliver of my life that exists outside the bounds of academia, I’m mostly into cats (all kinds), robots (friendly), space (outer), guitar (loud), and overly-involved roleplaying games (wizards).