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I’m Grant Wythoff, a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Society of Fellows in the Humanities, and a Lecturer in the Department of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University.

I study the history and theory of media technologies, twentieth century American literature, and digital approaches to humanities research. Specifically, I’m interested in the ways people think through tools, especially when those tools are highly complex, broken, or brand new, compelling their users to imagine new uses and new possibilities.

My current research project is a cultural history of the gadget in twentieth century America. Today, the word “gadget” evokes smartphones and GPS receivers: digital devices that pack a countless range of functionalities in a small, black box. Many humanists argue these digital gadgets are fundamentally altering the ways we read, communicate, and even think, citing decreased attention spans, fragmented reading and viewing experiences, and the depersonalization of social relationships. But a look into the history of the word “gadget” tells a very different story, one in which the functionality of this indeterminate object (“gadget” is, after all, little more than a placeholder for an anonymous tool) shifts dramatically according to the needs and desires of the era.

I’m currently at work on a critical edition of essays and fiction by Hugo Gernsback titled The Perversity of Things: Writings on Media, Technology, and Science Fiction.  I’m a member of the core team at the Group for Experimental Methods in the Humanities at Columbia University.  Previously, I worked as project manager on Princeton Prosody Archive, a full-text searchable database of writing on the rhythm, intonation, and utterance of language from 1750-1950, under the direction of Meredith Martin. Recently, I was a research fellow at the Values in Design Doctoral Workshop in Irvine. As a result, I’ve been collaborating with a group to produce a physical knob that controls the “volume” of social media feeds. I have also served on the steering committee of the Princeton Digital Humanities Initiative.

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