April 29, 2017

HEWN, No. 211

“To believe that change is driven by technology, when technology is driven by humans,” Jill Lepore observes in an interview with Public Books, “renders force and power invisible.”

I’ve been thinking about Lepore’s words and work a lot this week, and not simply because she wrote a searing criticism of the “disruptive innovation” gospel back in 2014 – I wrote one first, I’ll note, but it appeared on my little ol’ website, not in The New Yorker. Clayton Christensen was back in this news this week, doubling down on his prediction that, thanks to disruptive innovation or some such magical force (whatever else could it be?!), half of all universities will be bankrupt in 10 to 15 years.

And Lepore isn’t on my mind simply because there’s a Wonder Woman movie coming out in June, although you might not know it as it appears the studio hasn't been doing much promotion. As Lepore underscores in her book on the “secret history” of Wonder Woman, the character has always been a complicated superhero politically to squeeze into the typical comic book (and comic book film) fare.

“To believe that change is driven by technology, when technology is driven by humans, renders force and power invisible.”

Sometimes (and sometimes suddenly) these things become quite visible, like when Wired profiles the hackers it claims are shaping our future and they’re all young men. Or when Amazon says that its new Echo Look product – a mic and camera for your bedroom – will judge your fashion (and your body frame and your disposition and your health, etc). Or when someone uses machine learning – and not “broken windows” – to predict where white collar crimes are most likely to occur. Or when Uber does pretty much anything.

Wonder Woman, No. 2

This week, I opted to block annotations on my websites. I haven’t had comments on them since 2013 – because the Internet is terrible – but annotation tools have enabled people to circumvent that. Folks have justified annotating my websites, even though it obviously goes against the spirit of my "no comments“ rule, because writing in the virtual margins of Hack Education is ”scholarly" and therefore necessary… or some such bullshit. Now by blocking annotations on my sites, I have been accused of censorship and silencing. By being online and by writing online, I’m told, I must acquiesce to the demands and the features of technology – as though technologies are inevitable, as though technologies have desires, as though these digital technologies are not the creation of man. Men. Whatever.

What does consent look like in a digital space? What does "permission" look like in a digital space? Who "gets" access? What does "access" even mean? Do not tell me "the technology" demands it.

Elsewhere: thoughts on teaching (as ideology, as institution, as practice, as labor): “The Untold History of Charter Schools” by Rachel Cohen. “Tobacco and Patchouli: Writing about Teaching” by Sean Michael Morris. “The Mindset Mindset: Passion and Grit as Emotional Labour” by Benjamin Doxtdator.

There’s so much about the politics of labor – emotional and otherwise – that we increasingly do not talk about or even consider because Internet titans and the other storytellers for "the new economy" would like us to believe we’re supposed to do this work for free, that our whole lives should be available for anyone to mine and monitor. (For me, the questions then are always, how will this shape teaching and learning? How does this reflect and reinforce information and/as power?)

“To believe that change is driven by technology, when technology is driven by humans, renders force and power invisible.”

We can resist technologies of exploitation and extraction. We can build other technologies and support other practices. We must.

Yours in struggle,