Media lab

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For other uses, see Media lab (disambiguation).

Media lab (often referred to as new media lab or media research lab) is a term used for interdisciplinary organizations, collectives or spaces with the main focus on new media, digital culture and technology. Media Arts Lab refers to a division of TBWA Worldwide, a global advertising agency and part of the Omnicom Group.

Discussion of the definition[edit]

The definition of media lab is widely discussed and is open for debate. The term can describe a space, a cultural organization as well as a community or a way of working in which collaboration and experimentation plays a crucial role. Media labs are usually:

  • multidisciplinary: they gather participants of multiple disciplines and of diverse professional backgrounds
  • open: they stimulate open knowledge exchange and sharing in the spirit of free culture, often using or producing open source softwares.
  • experimental: the outcome of projects is often not defined before they are started. They allow for tinkering.
  • sites of non-formal learning practices, where learning by doing is stimulated.


The new MIT Media Lab building

The name "media lab" was coined in 1985 with the creation of the MIT Media Lab by Nicholas Negroponte grew out of the Architecture Machine Group - a research group dedicated to studying man-machine interfaces - within MIT's School of Architecture and Planning.[1] Since then the term medialab has grown to encompass various sorts of initiatives.

In the early 90's medialabs often created new technology, often with the goal of opening it up to a broader group of users. For example, many medialabs created user-friendly tools for artists.

Due to the increased availability of technology at the beginning of the 21st century, a greater and more diverse number or people wanted to explore the possibilities of technologies that themselves became cheaper and cheaper. This led to an increase in grass-roots initiatives, such as hackerspaces, and labs that are more focused on the sharing of practices and ideas besides the creation of new technology.


In media labs diverse activities take place: artistic research and development, creative production, knowledge sharing and exchange, education program, workshops, tinkering, experimentation, cultural mediation.

Classification of media labs[edit]

Organization forms[edit]

Media labs can be most easily categorized by the way they are organized which often relates to the way they are funded:

  • University labs
  • Public funded
  • Private funding
  • Grassroot initiatives


There are various types of medialab.[2] They rarely fall neatly into these categories, and new ones are regularly defined.

  • Commercial lab - There are many companies that exhibit medialab qualities, such as opening parts of their process or products, and generally exploring cultural or social uses of technology next to work for clients.
  • Community lab - often a group of like-minded individuals that form a collective or other shared operation. These don't necessarily share a single workspace. An example would be the Free Art and Technology Lab, an international collective of new media artists.
  • Educational lab - A lab that is attached or part of an educational institution, such as a university or artschool. An example would be the MIT Media Lab.
  • Fab lab - A space with advanced fabrication tools, which are often offered for commercial use at a price, or for free/cheaply to artists and students.
  • Hackerspace - Communal spaces where hackers and other digital creatives meet to share ideas and work on projects.
  • Living lab - A type of lab that is most often used commercially, where a whole area of a city is used to research urban-scale ideas. They might explore new ways of sharing resources, or test a new commercial product with a small group of residents.
  • New media art lab - A lab that explores new expressive or social possibilities of new technology. Examples would be V2 Institute for the Unstable Media in Rotterdam or Eyebeam in New York City.
  • Youth lab - Labs that focus on children as their target audience.

Social-political impact[edit]


A lot of people are motivated to use technological tools for social or political goals. They can be meeting places for people interested in Hacktivism, Tactical media or other activistic practices. Towards technological development itself these medialabs often promote a critical and nuanced attitude, contrasting with the more dominant idea of Technological determinism.

Social effect[edit]

Media labs play a role in society to understand the new ways of education, culture, communication and even political participation. Groups such as the German Chaos Computer Club have successfully protested the creation of large technology projects by their government that in their opinion could erode civil liberties.

Working in a media lab context can be considered as informal ways of learning.

Artistic impact[edit]


Medialabs can be meeting places for people interested in Media art and other expressive possibilities of new technologies. This goal contrasts with a more dominant functionalist view of technology, in which it is seen as a tool to streamline processes, such as businesses.

Social effect[edit]

Expressive uses of new technologies, like all art, can help people reflect on issues, and often explores what it means to live in a technological society. These exploration can point to alternative directions in which technology can develop.

Related terms[edit]

working attitudes: artistic research - creative technologies - DIWO - DIY - DIY culture - experimentation - interdisciplinary

fields of activities: digital art - digital culture - human–computer interaction - interaction - internet - media art - new media art

tools, concepts: Creative Commons - F/LOSS - FLOSS Manuals - free culture - open content - open hardware - open source - public domain

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Chardonnet, Ewen (March–April–May 2011). mcd musiques & cultures digitales 62: 15.  Check date values in: |date= (help); Missing or empty |title= (help);
  2. ^ Virtueel Platform. "Nederland Labland" (PDF). Retrieved 24 July 2012. 

External links[edit]