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Faculty Who Think and Do: The Significance of Empathy and Digital Media

Dr. Grant Bollmer

During his time as an undergraduate student at Wake Forest University, Dr. Grant Bollmer realized his love for digital media when he took an introduction to communication course. The ideas his professor proposed about why and how technology is shaping experiences, relationships, and how we sense the world inspired him to pursue digital media as a profession and eventually led to his research on the history of empathy and how it relates to digital media.

Dr. Bollmer began his research on empathy with the use of video games such as LA Noire, a game where players detect if a character is lying. The game led him to the history of systems for identifying emotion on the face and how psychology has used particular tools to determine facial expressions. LA Noire, among other video games, led him to examine how empathy has changed over time and how increased association with technology is turning emotion into a researchable science.

This research led Dr. Bollmer to publish multiple articles and two books. The first book, Inhuman networks: Social Media and the Archaeology of Connection, delves into the concept of network connectivity and why humans want to connect with each other; the book analyzes the development of social, financial, technological, and biological networks in Western culture and how they’ve changed the history of human connectivity and interaction. His second book, Theorizing Digital Cultures, analyzes British and German approaches to media and culture through the study of digital media.

Currently, Dr. Bollmer is working on another book that investigates the physicality of media and the tangible resources it requires. He also continues to study the history of empathy and how it relates to modern digital media – specifically, the connection between empathy and virtual reality. As virtual reality becomes an increasingly popular digital tool, Dr. Bollmer seeks to understand how virtual reality is portraying empathy to users in educational circumstances and the potential societal benefits.

In addition to his research, Dr. Bollmer teaches a number of graduate and undergraduate courses. His favorite classes to teach include game studies and critical analysis in communication media. As an assistant professor, he believes it is important for undergraduate students to be able to think about what media are doing in terms of shaping identities and social relations and for students to graduate with practical knowledge or experience. Dr. Bollmer’s influence as a teacher is one of the many reasons the Department of Communication has awarded him the 2019 CHASS Outstanding Junior Faculty award.

Although Dr. Bollmer enjoys his research and teaching, he says that if he were not teaching at NC State, he would be either a fiction writer or a filmmaker and would be doing a lot of yoga.

To learn more about Dr. Bollmer’s research, read his Faculty Bio here.