Beki Grinter

Lack of a Critical Education: An Explanation for IT problems?

In academia, computer science, discipline on April 7, 2014 at 9:41 am

An New York Times article about sexism in the tech industry has been making the rounds on Facebook. One explanation that some of my friends have used to address the why such rampant and explicit misogyny exists is the lack of education. Not engineering/computing education, but a well rounded one in which people would come to understand why its inappropriate and why having a diverse workforce actually matters.

I was making the same argument the other day about a different topic. When Snowdon, Assange, and Manning decided to leak intelligence secrets all of them claimed they had done so because to do otherwise would be ethically wrong. I/You/the NSA may disagree, but they all agree that they had a moral/ethical/civil duty to do so. As I said to a colleague, what drives this moral/ethical/civic sensibility? I shared the thought with my colleague that perhaps a lack of a well-rounded education might play a role here.

For decades we’ve shortchanged all education. It cost us too much. Further, we’ve long prioritized the sciences over the social sciences and the humanities. (We now find it alarming that Congress ridicules the sciences, but as another colleague of mine pointed out, that’s how long many/some in the sciences have treated the social sciences/humanities). But it is just these maligned disciplines that would have gone some way to create the critical thinkers that seem to have vanished from the tech sector. And now we have an industry that’s unabashed in its misogyny. We have “rogue” technologists who now have the power to decide when to leak secrets, and deciding to do so based on moral principles that at least to some are questionable. I wonder whether we did it to ourselves and if there is worse to come.

p.s. if you want to be even more depressed here’s a timeline of sexist incidents (thanks to the friend of another colleague) in the Tech Sector.

What is Knitting?

In crafts and craftiness on April 1, 2014 at 10:33 am

Now I’ve finally finished Kate Orton-Johnson’s piece on the study of Ravelry, and at the end I find myself asking what is knitting?

Her argument, which resonates with me strongly, is that social media have broadened the experience of knitting. And as I reflect on this, I am inclined to agree.

I don’t really know what triggered the reawakening of knitting for me. Knitting as a child waned in my teenage years. Long before sewing did, I sewed basically up to University. I even made a few garments for my trip to Irvine. But for some reason knitting reappeared. But knitting now isn’t what it was for me. It is strongly changed by social media.

I’ve been a keen amateur photographer, but even I was surprised at how useful the picture-taking skills I learned would be for knitting. One of the most significant changes for me is that picture taking is part of my new experience of knitting. Just like Orton-Johnson describes in her study of Ravelry users (of which I am one), part of participating there (and elsewhere) and to do that photographs are required (of the yarn, of the project in progress, of the completed article). It’s hard to take pictures of yarn. Especially certain colours which are difficult for the digital camera to reproduce (purple-blues seem especially hard). Then there’s also the lighting to manage. I find myself back to all my techniques for handling autumn colors, the hope for bright flat even lighting. There’s technique involved in arranging the finished article to convey size, texture, and so forth. Focusing in on the stitch work brings back memories of many evenings of macro photographic practice.

I didn’t expect my photography and knitting interests to merge.

There’s a whole social world on Ravelry too. One that I am not very engaged with, I have three friends on Ravelry. But, I have had interactions there, not just with colleagues in HCI (although that is very nice, hello W.P. :) Most surprisingly to me, but also rather fun, is that after I knitted my first socks (I was in fear of socks, I really thought that I could never knit socks and then it happened much to my surprise and delight) I heard from the author of the book I had used to make them. She complimented my socks and added me to a group of people who have knitted her patterns. She is obviously straddling a social world, and one in which she professionally promotes and gets feedback about her texts. Its an interesting connection. It felt very similar to being sent a friend request on Facebook by someone whose work you admire and feel that they are a leader in the field. Its professional, but it’s also something else. And I didn’t expect that with knitting.

The transformation of knitting into an online and public experience, not just in meetings or places, but also through Facebook has also been a new part of my hobby. It extends the types of conversations I might have with people. People who knew me as someone interested in ethnographic methods, or as someone they went to primary school with, now know that I knit and do other crafty things. I know it of some of them too. One of my FB friends, and someone I went to high school, makes the most amazing jewellery (you, C.H.), and I hope she’ll start selling it soon. For people that I see face to face its broadened the conversations that I’ve had to include knitting. (Knitters of the world unite, we have nothing to lose except our stitches).

Another dimension of the online experience that I’m not so engaged with, but I have used it, takes me back to some of David McDonald and colleagues work on the role of YouTube and others in its ilk to learn. Orton-Johnson also talks about this in her paper. When you don’t have a peer network of people who can teach you new techniques, how do you learn. The Internet is filling in for where my Grandmother and my Great Aunt. It also translates for me what my mother would show me, but she knits in the Continental method whereas I knit the English way.

Knitting as a child was something I did by myself or with members of my immediate family. It was relatively solitary and only likely to survive if I kept a social network around me that could teach me, and with whom I could share the products. It has returned to a different world, one in which I construct these social circles not via proximity (very marginally at best) but with the help of dedicated and non-dedicated social media sites, each of which plays something of a role in growing, sustaining and nurturing my hobby. And much like the experience of knitting in public, one of the things I find really rewarding about the role that Facebook plays, is that it starts unexpected but very welcome conversations with colleagues who in most worlds I just would never know that they were knitters, or curious about knitting.

Knitting in Meetings

In crafts and craftiness on March 31, 2014 at 3:38 pm

I was just re-reading a great paper on how sites like Ravelry transform knitting in a variety of ways. One thing that comes up in the paper is a discussion of knitting in public. Knitting is typically not a public act, the paper suggests, and sites like Ravelry through their focus on advertising local events provide opportunities for people to get together and knit outside of the domestic circle.

I’ve been knitting in public for a while now. It’s an interesting experience. I’ve written about it before. I also knit at work. I’ve said less about that. At first I felt the need to explain to colleagues that when I was knitting my concentration was better than it would be without yarn. I tried to explain that for the things I knit in meetings, I don’t have to know the patterns because they are encoded in my finger and hand movements. Its a physical knowledge, not one that requires mental attention. If it does, I have to stop and either deal with the knitting or wait until we have a break to do something like, say, count the number of remaining stitches.

Explaining the presence of the knitting is different from justifying the laptop or phone. The laptop is easy to explain, as a machine with a keyboard it seems obvious that one could be taking notes. Although that’s not the only things that laptops are capable of doing during meetings. The phone/tablet is more curious. I don’t see my colleagues justifying using these devices in meetings, even though its pretty clear to me that they are not note taking devices. Knitting ought to be in the same category as the phone, and yet, I’ve not gotten there with it. I think it’s because I believe it to be unfamiliar to many of my colleagues. Unlike phones—where we all share a global understanding of their pros and cons in meetings and what work they might do, or not—knitting is not something I expect my colleagues to know about. I thought that they might wonder whether I was so focused on the knitting that I was essentially not present.

Also, I still have a list of work related meetings I won’t knit in. Obviously, I can’t knit and teach. I could knit during class presentations, but again I feel that the students might not understand that I was concentrating. Their unfamiliarity with knitting (presumed by me of course) along with their unfamiliarity in giving presentations makes me leave the sticks behind. There are also meetings in which I think even the presence of laptops/phones is frowned upon. Meetings about really important topics. I don’t take my knitting there either.

Over time, I suppose I’ve started to think about my workscape in a new way, places to knit, places not to knit. Who are the stakeholders in each setting? What do I owe them? What can I assume about their knowledge? (Interestingly I get far fewer questions about knitting from my colleagues even when I do it in front of them than I do when knitting out in public in Atlanta). Asking, can I knit here has been an interesting way to reexplore the place I work.

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