I am Meryl Alper, a Ph.D. Candidate in Communication at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California. I study the social implications of networked communication technologies from a historical, sociological, and critical/cultural perspective, with a particular focus on disability and digital media, children and families’ technology use, and mobile communication. I am interested in the ways in which media and technology can unexpectedly contribute to the reproduction of social inequality. You can find some of this work in my book, Digital Youth with Disabilities (2014, MIT Press).
My research is theoretically oriented around the idea of “networked immobility” (see also, networked im/mobility and networked immobilities): how individuals, groups, and institutions negotiate micro and macro forms of mobility and immobility in public and private space through the use of information and communication technologies. I locate my scholarship at the intersection of media and communication studies, science and technology studies, and disability studies. I also draw on my professional experience in educational children’s media as a researcher and strategist with Sesame Workshop, Nickelodeon, and Disney.
My dissertation is a case study of networked immobility. I am exploring how parents of children with communication impairments manage their children’s communication technology use, and what this says about families’ connections and disconnections in the digital age. Specifically, I have been conducting qualitative research with parents of children aged 3-13 with developmental disabilities (e.g. autism, cerebral palsy) who have difficulty producing embodied oral speech and use iPads as augmentative and alternative communication devices in order to “talk.” My interest is in how these technologies figure into families’ lives, the functions they serve as networked mobile communication devices, and how caregivers navigate complex and interconnected technical, sociocultural, and institutional systems.