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Sony’s Walkman and virtual reality headsets are just two prominent examples of personal technology. In Paul Roquet’s hands, they’re also a way to learn more about Japan, the United States, global tech trends, and ourselves.

Roquet is an Associate Professor in the Comparative Media Studies/Writing Program at MIT, specializing in analyzing how new consumer technologies change the way people interact with their environment. His focus in this effort is Japan, which was among the first to adopt many of his technology trends after the war.

For example, in his 2016 book Ambient Media: Japanese Atmospheres of Self (University of Minnesota Press), Roquet explores how music, film, and other media unfold in Japan to help people calm down and relax. We are looking to see if we can create a personalized atmosphere. This gives people a feeling of being in control, even though their moods are regulated by the products they consume.

In his 2022 book “The Immersive Enclosure: Virtual Reality in Japan” (Columbia University Press), Roquet explores the impact VR technology has on users, making these devices insulated from the outside world and in a networked environment with other users. I understood it as a tool to interact. Roquet also elaborated on VR’s cross-cultural trajectory. VR emerged from military and aviation applications in the United States, but in Japan it is more of a form of escapist entertainment.

As Roquet puts it, his research steadily focuses on “the relationship between media technology and environmental perception, and how this relationship plays out differently in different cultural contexts.”

He adds:

Indeed, these different cultures are connected. For example, in Japan, British musician Brian Eno had a great influence on our understanding of ambient media. The translation of his VR technology from the US to Japan was done through engineers and innovators with connections to MIT. On the other hand, Japan introduced Sony’s Walkman, a unique acoustic enclosure.

As such, Roque’s work is innovative, bringing together cultural trends in various media and tracking them around the world through the history, present and future of technology. His research and teaching earned Roquet his tenure at MIT earlier this year.

The exchange program pays off

Roquet grew up in California and moved his family to several different towns as a child. As a high school student studying Japanese in Davis, he enrolled in the California-Japan Scholars Program, an exchange program with Japan, which allowed him to see the country up close. It was Roquet’s first time outside the United States, and the trip had a lasting impact.

Rocket continued his studies in Japanese language and culture during his undergraduate studies at Pomona College. She received her BA in Asian Studies and Media Studies in 2003. Roquet also indulged his growing fascination with atmospheric media by hosting a college radio show featuring his music in an experimental form of ambient. Roquet soon discovered, to his perplexity, that his show was being held at a local car dealership. The impact on customers was unknown.

Japanese cinema was also a source of new intellectual interest for Rocket, as it recognized its differences from mainstream American cinema.

“Storytelling often serves a very different function,” says Roquet. “I was attracted to films that emphasized atmosphere and space rather than plot.”

After graduating from college, Roquet won a Thomas J. Watson Fellowship and immediately spent a year working on an ambitious research project. Malaysia, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Cook Islands and Canada.

“We realized how people’s relationships to soundscapes vary from place to place, and how history, politics and culture shape sensory environments,” says Roquet.

He then completed his master’s degree from the University of California, Berkeley in 2007 and finally his PhD from UC Berkeley in 2012. The PhD focuses on the core areas of Japanese Studies and Film Studies. His thesis formed the basis of his book Ambient Media.

After three years as an Andrew W. Mellon Postdoc in Humanities at Stanford University and a year as a Postdoc in Global Media at Brown University, Roquet joined the MIT faculty in 2016. Various essays on VR and other forms of environmental media are also published.

willingness to explore

Roquet says MIT is a great fit because he has a variety of interests in the relationship between technology and culture.

“One of the things I love about MIT is the genuine willingness to explore emerging ideas and practices, even if they are not yet placed in the context of an established discipline,” he says. says Roquet. “MIT has this place that brings it all together so we can have interdisciplinary conversations.”

Rocket has also taught a wide range of undergraduate classes, including media studies and an introduction to Japanese culture. Japanese and Korean film courses. The other is about Japanese literature and cinema. Courses on digital media in Japan and Korea. This semester he is teaching a new course on Critical Approaches to Immersive Media Studies.

Speaking of MIT undergraduates, Roquet said:

They are always ready to delve deeper into whatever piques their curiosity. ”

As for his ongoing research, Roquet explores how increasing use of immersive media changes the relationship between society and the existing physical landscape.

“These kinds of questions are rarely asked,” says Roquet. “While much emphasis has been placed on what virtual spaces offer consumers, there are always environmental and social implications by inserting new intermediary layers between people and the world around them. Not to mention making headsets that are often obsolete within a few years.”

Wherever his work takes him, Roquet will continue his career-long project of exploring cultural and historical differences between countries to deepen our understanding of media and technology.

“I do not want to argue that Japan is fundamentally different from America. [between the countries]’ says Rocket. “However, close attention to local context can reveal important differences in how media technologies are understood and used. You can challenge our assumptions.”

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