The Critical Media Lab

Faculty Spotlight: Marcel O'Gorman

Professor Marcel O'Gorman

Who is Marcel O’Gorman?

In 2006, Marcel O’Gorman came to the University of Waterloo with the hope of breaking new ground in the area of what he calls “applied media theory.” This is a mode of research that involves making media projects that provoke thought about the role of technology in our lives [1]. 

As of 2017, for his exceptional achievement and pre-eminence in the Department of English Language and Literature, the University of Waterloo awarded O’Gorman with the title of University Research Chair. He was also appointed as Associate Chair of Graduate Studies in English. As a Professor, he teaches a wide range of courses that combine critical thinking and hands-on creation of digital media projects.

Many of his research, publications and projects seem to rest on answering one common question: Why and how does technology play such a powerful role in our lives? As an English Professor, O’Gorman believes that close reading and careful writing are necessary to answer this question. 

The Critical Media Lab (CML) 

Critical media lab and Masters of experimental digital media signage

The CML is a cross-disciplinary research-creation initiative founded in the Department of English Language and Literature. After moving five times in the past ten years (including a stint on a truck), it is currently located at 44 Gaukel in the heart of Kitchener-Waterloo. 44 Gaukel houses many startups and arts and culture groups, supported by the Accelerator Centre [link needed] and the City of Kitchener. Crimelab, as some humourously call it, offers graduate seminars, digital Wednesdays (workshops), public exhibitions, and Critical Media Lab Salons, where invited guest speakers discuss their current research [2].

Graduate students in the Master of Arts in Experimental Digital Media (XDM), have their own cubicles where they are currently working on research projects. PhD students working on media-related topics also share this space.  The CML also has a makerspace with a 3D printer, laser cutter, soldering stations, and supplies for circuit building and bending. 


That Critical Media Lab fosters the creation of new media projects that explore the impact of technology on society and the human condition. O’Gorman started the CML in his office back in 2007. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Media Lab was the inspiration behind the name – O’Gorman wanted a lab that was not motivated by economic gain, but by philosophical thinking [3].  

His mission was to create a space for graduate students and faculty members within the Faculty of Arts, where they can conduct research and have access to “tools necessary to apply critically reflective work at the R & D (research and development) level of technological production.”  

 As the Director of the Critical Media Lab at uWaterloo, I oversee the creation of digital objects-to-think-with, where digital design practices serve as problem-solving tools for social and philosophical issues [1]. 

Marcel O'Gorman

In addition to teaching multiple undergraduate courses on campus for the Department of English, O’Gorman has taught some unique graduate courses in the CML with titles like Digital Abstinence, Things in Literature and Philosophy (with Prof. Kevin McGuirk), Memory and Techne, and Maker Culture. 

Current Projects and Research Involvement 

As a research-creation initiative, the CML is always buzzing with new individual and collaborative research and community outreach projects with artists and arts groups, from the Waterloo region and beyond. The CML has an ongoing partnership with the Contemporary Art Forum Kitchener and Area (CAFKA), and THEMUSEUM [3].  

Digital abstinenceDigital Abstinence

O’Gorman’s current research is on the broad theme of Digital Abstinence, which focuses on the impact of technology on the art, politics, and philosophy of unplugging. To learn more about the importance of “locking up your smartphone”, O’Gorman published an article for The Atlantic, where he also discussed a few of his research projects on Digital Abstinence [5].

The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) of Canada granted the fund for Digital Abstinence, a University of Waterloo research project about unplugging. When was the last time you stayed unplugged for a whole 24 hours? As part of the ongoing research project, The CML has been conducting workshops with school students who have constructed their own resistor cases. These cases allow students to store their mobile phones at times when they need to focus their attention. English graduate students working in the CML prepared their first run through of the making of a Resistor Case prior to the workshops.

Resistor Case

Resistor case logoThe Resistor Case first began as a prototype with vinyl, duct tape, and 500 Grade eight students. The project is designed to help people use their devices more carefully [6]. Today, the case is made with fabric composed of recycled water bottles from Haiti, and it comes as part of kit that includes all the materials necessary to make the case.

The kit also includes critical thinking prompts. The prompts are a set of cards that help the creator turn the case into an “object-to-think-with,” a term that Marcel O’Gorman heavily uses. The cards are designed to start conversations about recycling, upcycling, e-waste, human-technology evolution, women in the tech industry, and other topics. Another term used to describe the motivation behind this case is “thinkering,” the act of Professor Marcel O'Gorman holding a resistor casemaking and thinking at the same time.

The Resistor Case has a Velcro enclosure that emits an obnoxiously loud noise when you try to open the case to retrieve your phone. The loud noise creates an embarrassing moment where it triggers everyone to look at you. Within those few seconds, you stop to think twice to yourself—is it a good idea to keep going, or ultimately, let the case stay closed. To learn more about the collaborative project, or to purchase your own kit today on the Resistor Case website.


Through his position, founder and Director of The Critical Media Lab (CML), Marcel O’Gorman’s mission is to explore the impact of technology on society and the human condition. By creating objects-to-think-with, O’Gorman promotes Digital Abstinence, the art, philosophy and politics of unplugging. To learn more about Professor Marcel O’Gorman and his achievements in the Department of English Language and Literature, you can visit his website [8].

Marcel O'Gorman - Critical media studies and creation


[1] Marcel O’Gorman. (July 13, 2017) Retrieved January 31, 2018 from

[2] Critical Media Lab (2010, May 07) Retrieved January 31, 2018 from

[3] An interview with Marcel O’Gorman of Critical Media lab. (October 16, 2017) Retrieved February 13, 2018 from

[4] About. (n.d.) Retrieved February 13, 2018 from

[5] The case for locking up your smartphone. (2018, February 02) Retrieved February 02, 2018 from

[6] Resistor case. (2018, January 26) Retrieved on February 6, 2018 from

[7] Image - Digital Tabernacle. (n.d.) Retrieved February 14, 2018 from

[8] Marcel O'Gorman. (n.d.) Retrieved Februrary 14, 2018 from