CCT Professor Highlight: Mary Madden

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CCT is excited to feature adjunct Professor and CCT alum Mary Madden (CCT ’02) in today’s professor highlight!

Madden majored in English and Cultural Studies with a French minor at the University of Florida. She graduated in 2000 and went directly into the CCT program. At that time, few fields were taking the study of the internet seriously, but English departments and film/media studies programs were an exception, as the languages of visual critique and text-based analysis were already prevalent in these areas. One of her first internet projects at UF was to create a “My Story” website long before the creation of social media as we know it today. Through that class, she learned basic HTML to create webpages and this piqued her interest in what was happening with the internet. At same time, she was very involved in the local music scene with concert production and hosting a college radio show and was seeing how the internet was impacting the music industry and artists. 

When looking at graduate programs, Madden focused on the intersections of her interests and found CCT to be the best match by far. In addition to a full course load, she worked part-time on campus in the CCT Program office, as a TA and as a Research Assistant. During her final semester, she had an internship at the Pew Internet & American Life Project before it officially became part of what is now the Pew Research Center. Her fellow CCT classmate and friend Bente Kalsnes had previously done the internship and recommended it to Madden. After securing the internship, Madden ended up working for the Pew Research Center for 13 years. 

Madden’s CCT thesis focused on the internet’s impact on independent musicians and how the repercussions were more complex than what was being portrayed in the media at the time. She carried some of that research into her work at Pew and led the first nationally representative survey of artists to understand their experiences using the internet to promote their work as well as what concerns they had about peer-to-peer file sharing and digital copyright issues. She and Pew partnered with the non-profit Future of Music Coalition that she had originally become familiar with during her time at CCT as an organizer for the first Future of Music Policy Summit that took place on campus. 

At Pew, Madden delved into a wide array of projects, most prominently working to understand teenagers’ use of the internet and social media and how their privacy practices differ from adults. She led the national research on understanding Americans’ attitudes towards privacy after the Snowden revelations and authored some of the earliest research documenting the nascent behaviors associated with online reputation management and the creation of digital footprints.

Madden joined the Data & Society Research Institute in 2015 in New York, where she led a grant-funded project to understand privacy and security-related digital inequalities. Her work examined how low-income Americans experienced privacy harm differently, as privacy increasingly became a luxury. More recently, she became a Senior Fellow for the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop in 2020, which is a non-profit charged with understanding the effects of digital media on children. Madden is currently a Senior Researcher working with Common Sense Media, helping to lead national research projects focused on understanding parents and teens’ use of generative AI and social media’s impact on youth mental health and wellbeing.  

Madden joined the faculty at CCT in the spring 2023 semester, teaching the class “Understanding Utopian and Dystopian Narratives about Technology.” She created the course curriculum and had a wonderful time with the class last year, so she is very much looking forward to teaching it next spring 2025 semester. The class is meant to help students recognize recurring patterns of technology narratives that tend to cycle through society and affect policy debates, the way businesses market to people, and what we see in popular culture. Her students examine a wide array of media artifacts and implement tools from critical theory and science and technology studies to shape their analytical writing skills. While the course covers thorny theoretical concepts like “dialectics,” it also includes watching and discussing scenes from dystopian movies such as Spike Jonze’s Her. She emphasized that the class gets very creative and interdisciplinary in the most CCT way possible; students have a lot of fun exploring and do a lot of writing in the course. The class is held in a seminar-style workshop setting, with everyone participating to give feedback or critique each other’s work. Students should come away from class progressing in their research and writing skills, be able to give and receive critiques, and feel they have a community they can develop and share their ideas with.

Fun Fact: Professor Madden plays guitar and is the lead singer of two bands in the DC area. You can listen to some of her music on Bandcamp, and see her playing concerts at venues like the Black Cat or Comet Ping Pong.