Lela Mosemghvdlishvili - Media & Communication
To understand the driving forces that channel the process of technological development, that’s what Lela Mosemghvdlishvili is interested in. After her Master’s Degree in Communication Studies, she started conducting industry and market research for a huge multinational in Amsterdam. “A very market-oriented type of research,” Lela remembers. “ You don’t have academic freedom to evaluate processes, which for me was very limiting. So I decided to go back to academia.” At EUR, she is now a lecturer and PhD candidate with the Department of Media & Communication. Her research project Politics of Mobile Code and Devices explores how smart phones develop from the perspective of the social shaping of technology and the critical theory of technology.
Researcher and lecturer
The international character of the university attracted Lela to EUR: “The Bachelor’s programme is in English and the university has a very good staff of international lecturers.” But most appealing was the combination of being both a researcher and a lecturer. “At my faculty ESHCC, you dedicate 60% of your time to research and 40% to teaching,” Lela explains. “This gives you very good experience and enables you to interact with the students. For example, I’m now teaching a course which I developed myself, based on my research.”
Her research focuses on how mobile devices are designed and developed. “I’m not per se interested in the appropriation of technologies, how people use them,” Lela explains. “I look at the prior process where decisions are made regarding what kind of technology we have in our hands. I want to contribute to the idea that we need to increase public involvement and to democratize this initial phase of how technologies are developed.”
Alongside policy issues in relation to, for example, net neutrality, Lela also focuses on the software used in mobile devices, comparing the levels of freedom given to the user by the different platforms, such as Android and iOS. Lela: “It’s interesting to see the change in power structures; how platform owners like Google, Apple or Microsoft are merging as gatekeepers who can not only decide what type of apps we have, but who also monitor these for content. It’s actually a very political issue, which makes it really interesting.”
Her research is very important to Lela not only from a professional perspective, but also personally. “I see my PhD as an intellectual quest. At the beginning you feel very lost,” she recalls. “You dive into this immense amount of literature, struggling to find your way until at a certain point you suddenly see the little contribution your dissertation will bring to this already immense knowledge we have in academia. It can be a tough and stressful process, but in the end it’s very rewarding.”
To cope with this pressure, it is important to share your experiences. “Talking with your colleagues makes you realize you’re not the only one who struggles with insecurities,” Lela explains. “Pretending you are in control of everything all the time will eventually lead to a burn-out. Being very honest about both your weaknesses and strengths helps during this process.”
Privacy vs surveillance
For Lela, it was amazing to see how her initial proposal gradually morphed into something bigger, stumbling upon broader socio-economic issues related to her research, such as inequality in power, intellectual property rights and the very sensitive issue of privacy versus surveillance.
“Clinging to the naïve, romantic idea of privacy actually overshadows what really needs to be done. For me, the recent issues around the Snowden files point out that the privacy era is over. We now need to have the mechanisms of control over who has access to our data and how our data and online lives are being used.”
The Big Date
With October 2015 as her submission date, Lela’s quest is gradually coming to its end. A moment which for most PhDs is another guarantee of sleepless nights, but Lela can’t wait to stand in front of the committee: “You have done so much for four years, this is the moment when you can finally show it. I really want to communicate the knowledge that I have gathered to the public. That’s why, after finishing my dissertation, I would also like to become more involved in activism: for example in the Digital Rights Movement.”