I'm interested in how new technologies expand and disrupt the social world. How do they change the way people present themselves, decide who is trustworthy, and enforce - or evade - social norms?
My book The Social Machine: Designs for Living Online (MIT Press, 2014) shows how interface design shapes our online identity, transforms our communication and and influences our behavior. It is a manifesto for balancing legibility, social responsibility and innovation -- and a manual for designing radically new environments for social interaction.
"Donath makes a compelling case that... issues of
privacy, surveillance, healthy group dynamics and the
health of the larger commons are also design issues. That
she presents these issue in their ethical complexity is a
testament to her concern and hope for design strategies
that pay attention to all the implications of networked
life." - Leonardo
"For anyone with interest in this field, either as a technology designer or just as someone who loves beautiful technology,this is destined to become the definitive text. It is eloquent, well organized, and thorough." - Science
Currently, I'm writing a book about technology, trust and deception.
Some technologies, such as anonymous chats and easily faked profiles, make deception easier; others, such as ubiquitous surveillance and vast data trails, promise to eliminate it. Technologies such as social agents and robots gain our confidence and affection by mimicking the appearance of children and trustworthy companions. To decide whether we want to embrace these technologies - or regulate or reject them - it is essential that we understand how communication really functions: how the economics of honesty shapes it, and the roles that both honesty and deception play in helping individuals and society flourish or fail.
This book is still in-progress. To read in the meantime, some related papers I've written include: Signals in Social Supernets, Identity and Deception in the Virtual Community, Being Real, Public Displays of Connection and a draft of a chapter about signaling theory.
And... Since Trump's election, it has become even more crucial to understand the social dynamics of deception and the role technology plays in establishing or undermining trust. Here are a couple of short articles, on why people share fake news and how (not) to refute a lie.
I've written papers and articles about many topics relating to the internet and society, including privacy, reputation, artificial pets, data portraits, pseudonymity, social visualization, cute robots and anthropomorphized cars.
As for art work and design projects, an organized listing is still to come... in the meanwhile, here are some installations and exhibits. See also the Sociable Media Group's project page, for work my students did when I taught at the Media Lab.