Future You podcast transcript

Digital society (with Manchester Metropolitan University)

July, 2022

Digital society is a new Masters course at Manchester Metropolitan University, taught in two specialisms - politics and sociology. In this episode learn about the application of technology in everyday life, from political campaigns to requiring a smartphone to order drinks


In order of first appearance:

  • Henry Godfrey-Evans - editorial assistant, Prospects
  • Dr Adi Kuntsman - reader in digital politics, department of history, politics and philosophy
  • Dr Daniel Joseph - senior lecturer of digital sociology, department of sociology


Henry Godfrey-Evans: Digital society is a new Masters course that sheds light on how technology is used in every area of modern society. In this episode, we ask if we're using technology to make our lives easier or if it's imposed upon us, making our life more difficult.

Hello, and welcome to Future You, the podcast brought to you by graduate careers experts Prospects, we're here to help with your career goals. In this episode, we speak to Daniel and Adi, who both teach in the MSc Digital Society course at Manchester Metropolitan University. We ask them what the course involves, what type of students it would suit, and what career paths it could lead to.

So would you like to introduce yourselves?

Adi Kuntsman: Well, hi, I'm Adi Kuntsman, I'm a reader in digital politics. And I'm based in the department of history, politics, and philosophy. I've been researching the internet and online communication for as long as I remember, I would say 20 years now, looking at the range of ways in which people communicate online, which more recently shifted to social media. And I've been teaching a lot around this topic and also doing lots of research. And at the moment, I'm leading the PhD programme in digital politics. And I'm also the programme leader for this new MSc in Digital Society.

Daniel Joseph: Right on. Yeah, so I'm Daniel Joseph, and I'm a senior lecturer in the Department of Sociology here at Manchester Metropolitan. Yeah, in the same way, like, I've been kind of looking at the internet and digital topics for a really long time now. I kind of got into it through an interest in digital gaming, because that was something I was really interested in. I still play a lot of video games, but I've kind of, you know, gone from studying and researching games, and I kind of pivoted towards understanding the things that games were played on, platforms, and then kind of expanding out from that to look at digital platforms in the context of social media, in the context of other cultural productions.

So you know, film and television, music, things like that. Yeah, so I've been doing that, I researched, you know, cultural commodities, like I do a lot of work on, you know, digital methods and other kinds of things, and really sit in concepts of like, technological sovereignty at the state level, and things like that. So, yeah, the reason I'm here is because I'm also teaching one of our units on called 'global digital society' here in the Masters.

Henry Godfrey-Evans: So, starting with you, Daniel, how would you describe digital society?

Daniel Joseph: Um, yeah, you know, there's a lot of ways to go around it. But I kind of think of it as like a starting point for studying just society and politics and everything else. In the context of today, you know, we're not looking at history, we're looking at what society looked at right now. And if you look at what society is, it's a society awash in information computing technologies, you know, cultural forms that are circulating around the world, at mind-boggling speeds compared to something, you know, 100 years ago. So I think that yeah, to understand how we live, and how politics happened, and how economics work, and all those kinds of things, you need to understand that we live in a digital society.

Henry Godfrey-Evans: Would you second that Adi or...?

Adi Kuntsman: I absolutely agree with that. And I would also have to say that understanding how digital society, what it is, and how it works is really crucial. Today, for pretty much everywhere we turn, whether it's economy, politics, culture, environment, everyday life, you name it. And this is because digital technologies, the whole range of them, affect us, or we use them everywhere we go. So whether it's connecting to friends, or monitoring our everyday actions, buying tickets and making doctor's appointments, or you know, if you have to do a visa application or job application. So you have to have an internet connection, access to the phone or computer. And of course, we receive news and we communicate via social media. So it's literally everywhere. But I also have to say that instead of just using these technologies the way many of us do, we also need to understand, how do they change our lives? Are there some new opportunities that they might offer? But also what kind of control or what kind of discrimination or what kind of injustice they might create?

Henry Godfrey-Evans: Okay, that's actually partially answered my second question, but in case there is a little bit more, you'd want to add on it. So I guess the reason courses like digital society are so imperative in today's world is that it is just important that people were aware of it a little bit more, and they're able to utilise it in wherever the career they face?

Daniel Joseph: Like one of the reasons why, you know, we have this and like when I talk to my students, because I teach them the undergraduates as well and I teach a class called digital society actually. And like, you know, some of my students come to me and they say, you know, 'I'm not really interested in this stuff'. I'm like, 'yeah, but like, you're literally most of the time you're emailing me, you're talking to me some somehow through digital technology, like, you know, you have to understand that ways that, kind of building on what Adi was saying, is just that all like, everything you do is digital.

So like to kind of focus on any topic without taking into account that computers that were built with very specific purposes in mind came out of very specific social contexts have kind of like shaped our whole lives in these in these different ways. And it's not that technology comes out of nothing. It's not technology driving, you know, the development of politics and economics in our society. But I think, you know, kind of, it's more interactive in the sense that technology comes out of a social context, and that it influences that social context in our society. So, you know, I think no matter what you look at, you need to focus on it and understand it.

Henry Godfrey-Evans: Adi?

Adi Kuntsman: Absolutely. And just to add to that, I mean, this is obviously a topic that's so much needed. And one of the reasons we started preparing this programme is because there is a lock in what is currently provided in the current university landscape, especially in the region. So there was only a handful of postgrads courses in related subjects such as media, digital sociology, digital media, and communication. So there was a geographic gap. But even more importantly, when we started developing this problem, and we looked at what's needed and to address all these questions, Daniel has elaborated on, so far I think we are the only one the only programme that offers not just the general information on digital society, but also specialisation within that area of knowledge into then looking in more detail in traditional politics, or digital sociology and that can be done alongside with a general degree in digital society.

Henry Godfrey-Evans: Yes, it's about time, eh? If you were to try and profile the sort of student that would suit this course, how would you describe it? I suppose there's a general answer for this, and then you've got more specifics. You've got the sociology and then the history, politics and philosophy?

Adi Kuntsman: I would say, yes, definitely clear disciplinary background, but it's also an interdisciplinary programme. So I would say anyone who has a keen interest in exploring digital society further on the more advanced academic level. So because of that, we welcome students from a range of backgrounds, whether it's social sciences, or humanities, it doesn't just have to be politics, or sociology. And what we do will provide rigorous training in both theory and methods. So regardless of which background students are coming from, they will receive this disciplinary knowledge from us. So students who are interested in additional politics, or digital sociology, would find this course particularly suitable regardless of whether they've done their first degree in sociology and politics. And often I find teaching interdisciplinary studies, students that come from different backgrounds, find it a lot more interesting and insightful. And they can kind of adjust what they studied in their previous degree.

Henry Godfrey-Evans: Yes, entirely universal, isn't it? It's quite a general thing, isn't it? Like you say STEM, humanities, everyone would suit the course it's genuinely like, there's not really one profile a person who shouldn't be interested in digital society, as a course or as a concept.

Daniel Joseph: Yeah, and I think that's the thing, it's like come in with with the interest in the higher level of learning, but like, you know, all of our units, like we offer a number of core units, becoming digital researcher, digital living, the dissertation, global digital society, principles, and debates and social research, all of these things, exactly what Adi was saying, which is that like, that baseline from which to then go, and like, kind of pursue a project, and a dissertation topic, that's really interesting to you as the researchers, so and like I come from an interdisciplinary background, myself, you know, like I did, like history, I did communication studies, I did cultural studies. You know, I don't come from like a really hardcore social science background. But now I do social science research. And what I like about this is, if you are interested in the social science approach to these things, come on in, but you don't necessarily need to have that background. So do it well, it's more just about your interest and your willingness to kind of put yourself into the project.

Henry Godfrey-Evans: Yes, it's very inclusive. If you've had enough of talking about digital society in general, and you want to talk about your own sort of specialisms, starting with you Adi, would you like to talk about politics side of things, and then sociology in a sec with you Dan?

Adi Kuntsman: Yeah, thank you. So there was a digital politics specialism, which is one of the options that the student can choose. And that would introduce students to ways in which digital technologies specifically shaped political life, and by that I mean things like elections, voting, activism, digital wars, political campaigning, environmental politics, and environmental communication. So there was really a range but it's more politically oriented. And what students will do that they'll look at a range of approaches to how to understand these. And they will also engage in a range of research activities, they won't be just sitting there and listening to lectures. So for example, one of the core units on digital politics pathway is exploring digital politics around the world, where students get the chance to see how the digital technologies affect politics, everywhere in different locations around the globe. What are the differences? What are the commonalities, and you know, what are the futures of digital politics?

Henry Godfrey-Evans: It's so important that these sorts of courses are interactive nowadays. Same for you Daniel?

Daniel Joseph: Yeah, um, so I guess like, yeah, like the obviously the digital, like, the sociology pathway is like, more focused on the kind of classic questions of sociology, so kind of looking at core questions that sociologists are interested in, which is, like, you know, ontological questions on what is society? And then bracketing that in with questions on, you know, like, the different aspects of society. So cultural, economic, political, and I want to emphasise that, like, these are specific pathways, but they themselves have a lot of interdisciplinary. I guess, you're going to be talking about a lot of different things, no matter which pathway you go on, that's gonna be interesting to both sides. Yeah, you know, we'll definitely be focusing a lot on like methods and like, bringing in, talking about digital sociology as like a kind of rising area of study, something that's been definitely growing in the UK recently, as well.

Henry Godfrey-Evans: So what career paths do you think are possible upon achieving a degree in digital society?

Adi Kuntsman: Well, since you know, like we said, digital society, digital technologies are basically everywhere. So they're absolutely key to everything we do. So in that sense, a degree in digital society will make our graduates stand out. And they will give our graduates more advanced understanding of how these technologies work, what they do, how they are implemented, how they should be implemented. So while there isn't one defined narrow profession of digital society specialists, what instead of our programme does, is a much broader, much more flexible and robust advantage in careers such as government management, voluntary section, local council, even environmental agencies, education, business. So these are just some of the many areas where knowledge and advanced understanding of digital society will be crucial.

Daniel Joseph: Yeah, and I think, you know, to kind of build on that, we're not like, we're not like training you in specific technologies, necessarily. But instead, we're trying to like train you to understand the context in which these technologies are used, the ways in which they have been used well, the ways they've been used badly, to think about the ethical implications of digital technologies. And those kinds of like, importantly, like analytical skills that like you can bring with you in almost any kind of area of work. Right. So again, nonprofit, or for profit, you know, governments or otherwise. And I think that the key thing is that like, going in with those kinds of broad, high level, you know, theoretical understandings of digital technology and society, you'll be able to kind of move around flexibly within your career, you know, and with, obviously, with a focus on like, the digital aspect of that. So, you know, think about how almost everything you do doesn't matter what, your job is going to involve these technologies.

Henry Godfrey-Evans: What is a method or a way that people can, can look at digital society, and sort of has a concept understand it a bit more and like notice it a little bit more in society?

Daniel Joseph: This is a thing that I often talk about within our introductory sociology, what it's like to think about how to look at something from an outsider's perspective, even though obviously, we are very much in society, we can't escape it. But I think it's important to kind of look and be like, make strange the fact of the way we interact with technology every day, especially if you grew up with it, like I didn't grow up with smartphones, a lot of our students will have though, and I think about how sometimes when I reflect on it how normalised they've gotten in my life, and to try and imagine what life would be like without them, or what life was like before them. You know, I think it kind of changes the ways in which we think about how these things have changed our lives, both for the better or worse.

So I think kind of always trying to think about like, how has digital technology embedded itself in everyday activities and big things, politics, wars, all that kind of stuff that Adi's talking about, right? But also thinking about, you know, like to kind of question that, so make it- and also to question, you know, something that Adi and I have been working on in other aspects of our work, which is like, you know, does technology need does digital technology need to be here? Right? Or is there something better that we could use? So, you know, never take something for granted, is kind of a thing that I like to emphasise. Did you have any kind of thoughts on that Adi?

Adi Kuntsman: Yeah, I think to build up on what Dan said about looking at what we do, what we couldn't have done without those technologies, but also always asking ourselves, do we need them? Do we need them in the shape that they are? That they currently are? Do we need more digital technologies? And this is kind of critical question that I often deal with our students. So we start with personal exercises such as you know, just look around you what other technologies and devices that you use, how often which phase of your life you just can't imagine without a phone or internet access, whether it's your work or like you said, your studies your errands, but also which technologies were imposed on you. And we go then from an individual experience, so you may not want to have a digital trail everywhere when you go to get a Jobseeker's Allowance, but it is imposed on you, for example, or contact tracing apps. So beyond individual then, we go into looking at organisations or social institutions, whether it's a show. At university, since we mentioned the GP surgery, train depot, job centre, police departments, home office, and we ask the same question, which technologies do they use? Who do these technologists serve? And who do these technologies possibly harm? Are these beneficial? Do we need them? So it's the kind of critical approaches and critical questions that will really develop on this programme?

Henry Godfrey-Evans: That's a really interesting point you made Adi. Especially about like, the very, very fundamental things you need, in society around Britain, for a start, that you need a smartphone just to do the very basic things. I mean, that's a that's a very interesting angle. And last, but not least, what advice do you have, starting with you Adi, what advice do you have for anyone considering a career in digital society?

Adi Kuntsman: Well, I would say a degree in digital society really opens up a role to a whole range and bunch of careers. So my main advice would be to consider before you start to consider which area, or areas, you see yourself growing into, contributing to, some of our students will be more interested in business. Some are very settled in the NGO sector, or maybe community work, maybe communication, maybe public services, so kind of where you want to be when you grow up, when you graduate? And then build your unique skills and knowledge during the course by honing your knowledge, specifically on how digital technology shapes this area, because we do offer a range of different optional units, different optional assignments. So it is good to have an idea, if not exactly what you want to do, with which area really interests you.

Daniel Joseph: Yeah, I think kind of building on that, like, it's like, kind of know where you want to go. But even if you don't, like, you can kind of go into this programme. And I think, kind of choose your own adventure, pick the units that you're interested in, and then see, you know, if it's looking into the kind of stuff that you want to keep, you know, like learning about basically, because again, like, regardless of the topic, like what we're really focused on teaching here are these like critical analytical skills that are universally applicable, regardless of where you go. And because of the specific knowledge base, we build up around digital technology, and questions of politics and society, I think you're going to be very well placed for a lot of different careers. But also, like, you know, again, if you if you're interested in doing academia, if you did want to do a PhD, you know, in a similar topic, this is a great place. Obviously, like, you know, staying at Manchester Met, we would be able to supervise those kinds of things, but also like there's other universities and also this kind of thing. This kind of Masters would be, you know, look very good to continue on with. So, you know, I think I'm always like, the way I think of university is a place to learn how to think and to learn how to ask questions, and to learn how to be, you know, understanding, like project management, like develop good life skills and stuff like that, but you know, obviously, and also developed very specific knowledge that we offer.

Henry Godfrey-Evans: Anyway! Thank you for coming Adi, and thank you for coming Daniel.

Both: Thanks so much for having us.

Henry Godfrey-Evans: Thanks to both Dan and Adi for that. Hopefully, you've learned something. If you feel like you have then do check out the rest of our library on the podcast. I'll put the course link in the description if you want to go and check out digital society at Manchester Met. And if you'd like to explore more postgraduate content and advice, then check out the postgraduate section on our page prospects.ac.uk. For now, it's goodbye and talk to you soon.

Note on transcripts

These transcripts are produced using a combination of automated software and human transcribers, and may contain errors. The audio version is definitive and should be checked before quoting.

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