My name is Ben Pettis and I am a PhD candidate in Media and Cultural Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In broad terms, my research considers internet culture—with a particular emphasis on the individual user and how their interactions and practices relate to larger platform and corporate entities.
When I discuss my research, it is not uncommon for it to be met with nervous laughter or even outright disbelief. Given that my past objects of study have included the Pepe the Frog meme, 4chan threads, and private “finsta” accounts on Instagram, I have come to expect these kinds of responses. I knew that my work often fell outside most perceptions of what counts as of “real scholarship,” but I wanted nothing more than to be taken seriously. However, I’ve come to realize that this reaction is actually a good thing, and has become one of the things that I love most about the work that I do. The sense of disbelief stems from the fact that the media texts I study are often so deeply embedded in every life that they become overlooked. When a cultural object or practice becomes so normalized and accepted, it becomes even more important to probe its history, functions, and outcomes.
I am interested in the mundane and everyday aspects of how people encounter the Internet and incorporate it into their lives. By doing so we can resist a monolithic perspective of the online world and instead lean into its pluralities. By seeing how individual people, as Users, become entangled within the constellations of tech, platforms, and other people we can imagine and create an online world that is more just and equitable. We cannot rely solely on large technology companies and software developers to create a better and more positive future for the Internet. Meaningful changes will primarily emerge from the individual people use the Web and other online services throughout their daily lives—and their relationships to digital technology. By analyzing and critiquing mundane aspects of internet culture, my research gestures toward new potentials for how for individual Users to experience the Internet.