Friday, August 17, 2007

Book group meeting notes

Attendees: Kristin E., Greg, Barbara, K8, Jeff, John, Kristin J.

Kristin: we chose this book to fit with the broader SLIS diversity goals, and it also fits nicely with our interests in information/IT and society.

Greg: So given the time limitations given the end of summer - how much of this book did people read? What did you like? What chapters if any should we be assigning to classes?

KE didn't read the book : ( K8 admits she read the book with watching tv : ) Several people skimmed. Selective skimming is a VERY important grad school skill. Barb read the WHOLE thing!

Jeff: What is "everyday life?" Refers to some guy who wrote a book on everyday life - a transcendant everyday life. All ideas have been flattend by the idea of competitive advantage. What is everyday life anymore? Everything is dominated by competitive advantage.

Greg: The use of the term in the title was just a signal that they weren't talking about information technology in the work context. Think they were referring to recreational uses - kareoke, fan groups, etc.

K8: Thinks it was referring to the "invisible" everyday things that people don't think about.

Greg: Part of it stems from the fact that it is an anthology and they have to build a frame around what they get. Look at the first couple of chapters, they usually represent the main ideas they were trying to get (at least initially). Here they probably thought they were going to talk about digital divide, but they ended up getting a lot wider range of things.

Barbara: and the chapter about low rider cars. low riders are not really a digital technology.
K8: there is a cool article about low riders as performance.

Greg: skimming the TOC, what was your sense of what this book was about? Class? Power?

Kristin J: I thought it was about participation - who can participate and how.

KE: could the pinch and kline car/washing machine article have been reprinted in this book? (appropriation)
Barb: remember the book is about race.

Greg: what class would this be good for?

John: I enjoyed the interviews with the technology entreprenuers
K8: The gender articles could have been taught in womens studies
John: Interestingly, those ones are the articles that have stayed the most current.
Barb: I would have enjoyed reading some things about the assesmbly line aspects of technology work in the labor class.

Greg: the oldness of the chapters has historical value. Would some students miss that? Or would they value the historical perspective? But the H1 visa thing is still very current.
k8: they might appreciate the retro value - they like 80's music. Girls are wearing blue eye shadow again : )

When you saw the book assigned on the blog - what did you expect it would be about?
k8: I expected more new media: virtual community, gaming - I was happy to read about low riders.
Kristin J: I expected a whole book on the digital divide
John: I was looking for theory - but its sort of a bring your own theory sort of book.
k8: that is only because we've been brainwashed to expect theory and millions of footnotes. Maybe they were trying to make it more accessible purposefully. Read Janice Joplin biography by Alice Echols for an example -Scars of Sweet.. something???
Barb: I was expecting more theories, but glad that it didn't have a lot. I thought it was good it was so accessible.
Greg: I wanted some theoretical pointers to be there.
Barb: But if you have some theories in your head, you just sort of fit it in yourself. You don't have to be hit over the head with it. But undergradutes might need some orientation.

Greg: would it be nice for them to define/explain what they mean by race? They could have something in the intro. Do they mean black/white? Do they mean what whiteness means? Do they mean ethnicity in the USA? How does this book compare with other things you have read that are about race? What chapters would still be good for a class on race and technology?
k8: asiatic geek girl, the silocon valley chapter
Barb: I thought it was more about ethnicity than race.
k8: but was is ethnicity vs race? Students in my class got offended by a piece that referred to rural Appalachians as having an "ethnicity." They thought white people couldn't have ethnicity.

ke: but I thought that white Wisconsinites would be more aware of white ethnicity - the whole polish, german, swede, scando thing...
k8: they may not have realized that white appalacians tend to come from a distinct culture (scottish?)
Greg: if it were published today, maybe the book would use the term "identity"
k8/john: they should add ethnicity and gender to the title - but race may sell better.
Greg: in some cases the term "identity" is used to avoid talking about race.
k8: yeah, identity is too vage
Greg: too academic - a book you don't want to read

John: conscienceness of white race is very shallow now. In the 1980's there was a big interest in small town life in Wisconsin. Kristin, be careful with your "scando" comment because the different groups see themselves as quite distinct and had been at each others throats. Lately it hasn't been as big a deal. Maybe because of the fall of communism there has been a let's all get along sort of feel?

Greg: this discussion of community is very interesting. Did it show up in the book? It was in the silicon valley chapter, the techno in detroit, but a lot of this stuff was place-less. Do less sexy places get overlooked for studies of their ethnic communities (e.g. Appalachia?)
John: the low rider one could easily have been more "localized."
Greg: and there is a big global industry behind low riders. That transcends place. But it would be interesting to examine locational differences - how are the Chicago low riders different from the CA low riders?
John: and some Asian communities are now doing car modifications.
Greg: it reminds me of this concept of "tinkering" that is very popular now. Theoretically it is about the deinfition of expertise? and what is the relationship between tinkerers and manufacturers? Do they encourage a culture of modification or discourage it? They could talk about low riders in this way, but it would really make it too abstract. In making it abstract, do you end up focusing more on the dominant tinkerers (white male geeks). Do you have to localize to due credit to minority tinkerers.

Final thoughts?
Barb: I wish someone would do something more contemporary.
ke: I'd want to see a cell phone texting article
Barb: I've been hearing that there really isn't that much of a stark generational difference in technology use - tho that is more identity than race.
k8: I have to teach my freshman lots of stuff.
johN: yeah, they know IM, but they don't know a lot of other stuff: email attachment, open a PDF.
Greg: there is a cool book Mobile communication and global perspective that is about global phone use. Castells did a chapter for it. He was able to get areally wide range of people. Our book was very US oriented in comparison to this newer book. It is an interesting literature review. They did find a generational difference: older people are doing different things with phones than younger people. They don't talk about race/ethnic differences.
Barb: So much of what we read is USA focused.
John: Take cell phones, people talk about very private stuff on their cell phones in public.
This is the economic elite. The elite is abandoning privacy for convenience. They have lost the sense of a private space. Take myspace, facebook.
k8: I saw an article about how colleges have been getting roommate change requests after they view the roommates myspace info!

Ok, now we are drifting into some conversation about Facebook....

Thursday, August 16, 2007


This collection of essays about race and technology seems to offer something to the academically-inclined of various persuasions, from traditional labor studies in essays about marginalized technical workers and resistance on the assembly line to contemporary cultural criticism surrounding a modern urban musical genre ( Detroit techno), to sociological interpretations of activites such as low-riding. Pick the approach that suits you best. All bring to the foreground a concept that minorities traditionally viewed as absent from the world of technology, or passive consumers of technology at best, are in fact active shapers of contemporary technology whose unique use and role in technology production does not necessarily mirror that of non-minority society.

From my own perspective, I appreciated especially the essays about low-wage Latina assembly-line workers in what we think of as affluent Silicon valley, and the discussion of marginalized Indian workers on special visas for ëxpert" workers. The assembly-line workers are viewed in a somewhat traditional fashion, focusing on their gendered resistance to the strictures of assembly -line work under the direction of male non-Latino bosses. The Indian workers are subtly reclassed in their worklife from higher-status computer programmers to lower-status "temporary workers" whose rootless existence in spite of their superior education and qualifications is presented as one aspect of global migration.

The presence of traditional assembly-line work in such a supposedly contemporary venue as technology production as well as the downgrading of the abilities and status of immigrant groups, are traditional themes that seem to be playing out in contemporary high-tech settings. Just how revolutionary is the supposed computer revolution, anyhow? In aspects of labor and production, it seems that traditional themes are still applicable.

Last meeting of the summer tomorrow, Friday August 17

We'll be discussing the ideas and essays from _Technicolor: Race, technology, and everyday life_ tomorrow. Although we had disappointingly low attendance last time around, I'll be out on the Terrace at around 3pm for anyone interested in coming by. Feel free to post reactions to the weblog in advance of, during, or after the meeting.