Why is it called the Media Lab?
That's one of the most common questions we’re asked. Mainly people want to know: What does the word "media" have to do with the Lab? It turns out there's no straightforward response. So, as the new school year gets underway, 32 years after the creation of the Media Lab, we decided to trace the meaning of its name.
To start, here’s a small sampling of Lab researchers' interpretations:
- Cameron Taylor: "To me, 'media' comes from the word 'medium,' where computers are the medium through which we interface with technology."
- Matt Weber: "Media is just stuff, and we're the lab of stuff—cool stuff, crazy stuff, tech stuff. There's always different stuff going on in here."
- Shriya Srinivasan: "Media are the many means through which we can think about new ideas and solutions."
- Alexandra Rieger: "It's a versatile word. Not only does it refer to broadcasting and other forms of communication, but it also relates to the different materials that we use and all the different fields that we work within. It captures the Lab's antidisciplinary spirit really well."
- Thomas Sanchez Lengeling: "It means, 'How can we communicate science and all disciplines using objects and ideas?'"
- May Alhazzani: "I have two interpretations that I see as linked: Media means ways to communicate, and the Media Lab is about communication among disciplines. This merging is what makes projects a reality outside the academic world."
- Sohan Dsouza: "To me, media is all about communication and interaction. It's how people get along with each other, how they learn from and teach each other. And increasingly, as machines become more intelligent, it’ll be about communication with machines. 'Media' has come to mean anything that's an interface between entities."
In his response, Dsouza also acknowledged that the general public could perceive the word "media" as representing broadcast, print, and social media. Indeed, that's how the Lab first incorporated the word, says its co-founder Nicholas Negroponte: "The evolution was not about the meaning of the word, but how you parsed the phrase. It started as a Lab about/for media, with 'media' defined however you wished. Then it became MediaLab, one word—not literally, but semantically: a place to create trends and do the impossible."
Negroponte headed MIT's Architecture Machine Group in the School of Architecture + Planning (SA+P) which became the home of the Media Lab when it opened in 1985. Back then, the Lab's origins and name stemmed from the broadcast and journalism sense of the word "media."