Location, location, location: New Pearce professor studies what smart phones know about you
Jordan Frith’s academic interests center on one of the fastest-growing areas of communication research: the social impact of smart phones and mobile infrastructure.
Frith is the new Roy and Marnie Pearce Professor of Professional Communication at Clemson University. After a national search, he was chosen to succeed Professor Emeritus Steven B. Katz, who retired after holding the endowed chair for 13 years.
Though Frith will teach some graduate-level English classes in his new role, the Pearce professorship is primarily a research position.
Frith’s work explores how popular mobile applications such as Google Maps, Facebook, Instagram, Yelp and Foursquare use people’s locations to provide information about their surroundings.
“I look at things that use your physical location and either collect data about your physical location or give you data about your physical location,” Frith said. “I’m interested in how people use mobile media to interact and learn about physical space.”
A native of Fairfax, Virginia, Frith came to Clemson after six years as a professor in Department of Technical Communication at the University of North Texas in Denton, Texas.
“Jordan Frith brings to Clemson an international reputation for his expertise in mobile communication technologies and their social and cultural impact, especially in the areas of identification, surveillance, privacy and big data,” said David Blakesley, Campbell Chair in Technical Communication.
“Our students now have more opportunities to learn to thrive in our high-frequency, digital world,” he added.
As smart hones dominate the lives of people across the globe, research into mobile media continues to expand, Frith said.
This fall, Frith is teaching a graduate seminar on “Mobile and Locative Media,” looking at the social impact of the rise of smartphones. The course involves both theory and practical instruction on creating content for smartphone applications. Frith plans to teach similar graduate seminars in the future.
In addition to his teaching, Frith advises students in the two master’s programs within the Department of English, the Master of Arts and Master of Arts in Writing, Rhetoric, and Media. He also advises doctoral candidates in the interdisciplinary Rhetorics, Communication, and Information Design program within the College of Architecture, Arts and Humanities.
Frith’s most recent book, “A Billion Little Pieces: RFID and Infrastructures of Identification” (MIT Press, 2019), investigates the privacy concerns raised by the radio frequency identification tags. The RFID tags found in credit cards, passports, subway passes, key fobs, electronic devices – and even human and animal bodies – monitor billions of objects as they move through the world.
“Frith’s research shows us the many ways information is channeled through networks that connect our lives to the Internet of Things, social media, and even our pets,” Blakesley said.
Campus and community
Frith received a bachelor’s degree in English and master’s degree in technical communication from James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia. He earned his Ph.D. in communication, rhetoric and digital media from North Carolina State University in 2012.
In addition to publishing widely in scholarly journals, he is the book review editor for the Journal of Business and Technical Communication and a leader of the Mobile Media Group in the International Communication Association. He is one of three organizers of an upcoming conference in Australia for the Mobile Media Group.
Outside academia, Frith spent several years in Texas helping at-risk children and serving as a mentor and court-appointed special advocate for children in foster care.
“I’ve had a good life,” Frith said. “I was raised with privilege – upper middle class. I just thought it was the right thing to do, helping kids who are not in good situations.”
He also has worked on behalf of rescue dogs.
Frith came to Clemson with Stevie Edwards, a poet and lecturer in the Department of English. Edwards earned her MFA in poetry from Cornell University and is a Ph.D. candidate in creative writing at the University of North Texas.
Frith and Edwards are getting married in October and renovating their new home in Clemson.
About the Pearce professorship
The Roy and Marnie Pearce Professor of Professional Communication endowed chair was created by Roy Pearce (1919-2004), a Clemson alumnus who developed a multimillion-dollar food business that merged with a company now known as the Sara Lee Corporation. Pearce, who also created the Pearce Center for Professional Communication at Clemson University, always credited his success to his communication skills.