Vanderbilt faculty members Jad Abumrad, one of the pioneers of podcasting, and Jacob Mchangama, a leading expert on free speech, will take part in a thought-provoking discussion on Nov. 2 as part of the Dialogue Vanderbilt initiative. “Freedom or Foolishness: Are Our Digital Lives Making Society Better or Worse?” is presented by the Jean and Alexander Heard Libraries and the Wild Bunch Lecture Fund, established by members of the Class of 1977 in honor of the late Chancellor Alexander Heard and his wife, Jean.
The discussion, which is free and open to the public, will take place from 4 to 5:30 p.m. in the Central Library Community Room. In addition to the conversation between Abumrad and Mchangama, there will be a Q&A session with audience members and a reception to follow.
“Digital technology offers access to unlimited information, and with it, the promise of a society that is better informed,” said University Librarian Jon Shaw, who will introduce the discussion. “Yet, many would argue that freedom of thought is losing ground to narrow-mindedness. Is that actually what’s happening? And if so, how much are our digital lives to blame? It’s a fascinating topic, and I look forward to hearing how Jad and Jacob approach it.”
As part of the university’s commitment to freedom of expression, the recently launched Dialogue Vanderbilt initiative provides a range of programs and events to the Vanderbilt community and the public at large to promote civil discourse and to better understand and address polarization. Learn more about the speakers for the Nov. 2 event:
Jad Abumrad, Distinguished Research Professor of Cinema and Media Arts and Communication of Science and Technology, is the founder of Radiolab, one of the most influential podcasts of the past 20 years. The program, which won the prestigious George Foster Peabody Award, explores big questions in science, philosophy and mankind. It has averaged 100 million cumulative downloads over each of the past two years. Abumrad was honored as a 2011 MacArthur Fellow for his innovation in the field and has produced other notable podcasts during his career. A Nashville native, he graduated from Oberlin College with degrees in creative writing and music composition.
Jacob Mchangama, research professor of political science, is the CEO of Justitia, an independent and nonpartisan think tank based in Copenhagen, Denmark. He is also executive director of Justitia’s Future of Free Speech Project, which opened its first office in the U.S. at Vanderbilt earlier this year. Mchangama is the author of Free Speech: A History from Socrates to Social Media (Basic Books, 2022) and has written and commented extensively for international media outlets such as The Economist, Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, BBC, NPR and The Wall Street Journal. He holds degrees from the Faculty of Law at the University of Copenhagen and the European Inter-University Centre for Human Rights and Democratisation.