Dr Mulvin’s recent publications include a history of “night modes” in mobile screens, a media-theoretical treatment of atomic timekeeping, and a history of American colour television standards.
He has written extensively about screen technologies from the 1950s to the present. He is currently finalising a book (with the MIT Press) titled Proxies: The Cultural Work of Standing In. In Proxies he draws attention to the curious objects that stand in as the measure for something else, to help people know what we know. The book argues that we traditionally think of standards as obdurate pieces of technology that spread over time and space, with a force all their own. But in practice, the standardisation process is fundamentally and radically contingent, as standards-makers craft standards in specific places, for practical or idealistic reasons, and maintain them in makeshift ways according to local imperatives. Standards don’t hold still; they must be made and remade. Whether it’s artificial desert cities used to train soldiers for contemporary warfare, the physical kilogram delicately preserved in Paris, actors serving as practice patients for medical students, or a centerfold that has stood for decades as a key test image for the field of digital image processing, proxies are their own kind of artifacts, even as they slip from view behind the thing they stand for. Proxies brings theories of media, performance, representation, and the labour of maintenance to bear on the history of data-as-things and data-as-people, showing, along the way, how the work of making representative stand-ins constitutes a fundamental practice in the crafting of a shared world.
In his new research he is investigating the domestication of computing in the 1990s, particularly the ways computing, code, and new forms of infrastructure were explained to various publics. This includes a (recovered) history of the Y2K crisis, as well as collaborative projects on the intersection of HIV and computing (with Cait McKinney) and the fraught and gendered history of interface design and virtual assistants (with Nancy Baym). In particular, this research considers how experts communicate with those most vulnerable changes in computing technologies.