Women


26
Apr 16

Super Name: Fleep

An Oldie but a Goodie – Jane McGonigal

I had occasion this evening to revisit Jane McGonigal’s TED Talk from 2010, and it reminded me of one of my favorite quotes:

Okay, so these are four superpowers that add up to one thing: Gamers are super-empowered hopeful individuals. These are people who believe that they are individually capable of changing the world. And the only problem is, they believe that they are capable of changing virtual worlds and not the real world.That’s the problem that I’m trying to solve.
– Jane McGonigal

 

I wrote about my experience playing the Superstruct game back then (and posted a fun video dispatch), and reading that post led me to dig up the profile I created on the Superstruct site, where I imagined my (avatar) self in 2019:

Super Name: Fleep

Profile Cohabitation
I and the gatos live in a small farm house on the outskirts of town. We don’t need much space, but have a large garden and work to contribute our share to the local food economy.

Profile Communities
I founded the Chilbo Community in 2006 and remain a life-long member, in addition to my local community in terra. I’m also a member of the Screaming 3D Bootstrappers Superstruct, the SLED Community, the Velks, and many other professional associations related to higher education and the grid.

Profile Skills
Human network resource management, education and community building in the metaverse, connectivism, and I grow a mean tomato.

Profile Profession
I am the founder of Chilbo and work most days either in the Chilbo Town Hall or elsewhere in the Metaverse. I have offices and projects scattered all over the grid and pop in to wherever I’m needed when I’m needed. I also serve on the Board of Trustees for GlobalGrid University, one of the original virtual-land-grant research universities created by the United Nations in 2012. GGU serves an international learning network of over 200 million learners through GGU Nodes of Excellence on the grid.

Profile Location
The Chilbo Community is a global village in the Metaverse, made up of artists, musicians, writers, teachers, students, creative thinkers, entrepreneurs, and those who are interested in contributing to the public good.

Profile Experience
As the Chilbo Community reached its second anniversary in 2008, and I spent more time traveling and learning in terra and on the grid, I began to better understand the rapid speed with which the Metaverse was developing. I was fortunate to stumble into an emergent network of highly motivated and brilliant nodes all over the globe and it quite literally transformed my life. In the ensuing decade, our network has grown tremendously, as has our capacity to collaborate and locate the resources we need as we need them. We continue to work to teach others these important skills even as we make our own contributions to projects and endeavors that inspire us.

Profiles Ideals
Increasing access to education, research, knowledge, and learning throughout the grid and finding ecologically sound and sustainable ways to live.

Super Name
Fleep

Super Id
6428

History

Member for
5 years 20 weeks


16
Oct 12

An Ada Lovelace Day Essay: Why Didn’t They Tell Me a Technical Career is All About Helping People?


Me blowing bubbles on my grandpa’s back steps, age 3 or 4?

. . .

When I was a little girl, back when most girls my age were dreaming of being ballerinas, princesses, or veterinarians (a popular choice in my rural community), I dreamed of being the President of the United States.  I’m not sure when or why I came up with that idea, I just knew I wanted to help people, and in my little girl mind it seemed like the president got to help all kinds of people.

Then one day, I think maybe in 2nd grade or so, we were assigned a class project to draw a picture of our future selves at work in our dream jobs.  I drew a picture of myself in the White House behind a big desk, probably with some rainbows and pink and purple hearts.  Anyway, as we took turns sharing our pictures with the class, it was finally my turn and I was pretty excited that no one else had wanted to be my dream job yet.  So you can imagine how upset I became when a classmate interrupted me to say that could never happen because only boys could be presidents.  I promptly started crying, but it was an angry kind of (embarrassed) crying.  That kid probably unwittingly planted some of the earliest seeds for my lifelong feminism.  I was sure I’d prove him wrong – some day!

. . .

I never made a conscious choice to work in the field of Information Technology.  What started as a student worker position in my university IT department eventually turned into full time job, but even though I was working full time, I spent many years thinking my day job was just a placeholder until I could graduate and get on with my real career. Eventually I realized that the calling for public service I felt from a very young age has been realized by a career in IT, it just took a different path than I expected, and I didn’t think of it that way for so long in part because the narrative society tells us about what it means to work in technical fields is all wrong.

Working in Engineering and Information Technology is all about helping people.  It isn’t some abstract, impersonal problem solving exercise.

I was fortunate to have had early access to a computer and other kinds of technology even as a pretty young girl.  My grandpa was an engineer, and the day he taught me how to load up games on his Commodore 64 was life altering.  Load “*”, 8, 1 became a passport into whole new exciting worlds and I can directly trace my current job right back to that very first experience.  I also knew one of my uncles was a computer programmer, and as I got older, I certainly understood that his job was high paying, challenging, and high status.  Another uncle was an engineer too, and I knew he also had a good paying job and everyone seemed to respect his work and his career.  All these men in my family, who I loved and respected, who seemed to be judged as some of the most successful career-wise in the family, and yet I had absolutely ZERO interest in doing what they did for a living.  Why?  Because it all sounded so darned boring.

My first game addiction, Ultima III Exodus on the Commodore 64.

When I think back to what that young version of me thought of their jobs, I associate all kinds of very dry, abstract concepts and words to their work.  It seemed to involve a lot of math.  It seemed to be about working with tools and machines and metals.  It seemed to have nothing at all to do with other human beings, other people, or about solving the kinds of social problems that I found interesting and compelling as I got older and more conscious of the wider world.  Somewhere along the line, I got the idea that technical fields like engineering and computer science were not only off limits for girls, but they were about inhuman, mechanical things, which I had no interest in anyway!

What’s funny is that you could excuse this misconception from a young girl growing up in the 80s, but it’s a lot harder to understand how I could still think that way even as an adult actually working in an IT job, and even though my mom worked in IT too!  The difference was, my mom’s work stories were always about the people and relationships, so even though she also worked in a technical field I guess I didn’t associate her job in the same way – I thought of her as a people problem solver, not a technical problem solver, and somehow never made the connection between the two.

Connecting the purpose of our work to the tools we use to do it

I think what happened is that the information I absorbed about what it means to work in a technical field was focused on the tools used to do the work, not the purpose of the work.  And frankly, a hammer just isn’t very interesting.  But if you talk about how using a hammer can help you build houses, and building houses helps families have stable, happy homes, then suddenly that inanimate hammer object is placed in a human context that’s tied to something relatable even to the youngest of children.  Focusing on the tools used in technical fields is obviously appealing to some people, but it certainly wasn’t appealing to me.

Because of these misconceptions about IT work, I spent the early part of my career avoiding the more challenging technical aspects of the job.  Partly it was out of fear that I wouldn’t be smart enough to figure it out (girls can’t be system administrators or programmers!), and partly because I was under the mistaken impression that becoming more technically adept would take me further away from the human interaction that I loved most about my job.  It took me years to discover that I was wrong on both counts.  Perhaps if someone had helped me connect the dots, it wouldn’t have taken me so long to discover how thrilling it is create something new that people find useful or valuable, or how wonderful it is to empower others to use technology for their own goals.

Me explaining the architecture of the University of Cincinnati’s OpenSimulator grid.

I think the way we frame the narrative of technology work has a lot to do with why girls and women choose other career paths.  Even today, I doubt many people would associate working in technology with public service, even though in large part, the purpose of our work is about solving human problems, improving living conditions, and making society better. We just don’t talk about it that way.  And we should, because for all the little girls (and boys) who are drawn to the human elements of a particular career, we want them to know that IT and engineering jobs can be very human centered!  Yes the programming and software and protocols are necessary to do the work, but that’s not why we do the work – we do the work to make the world a better, safer, more interesting and beautiful place, just like doctors and veterinarians and ballerinas – and (hopefully) presidents.

Ada Lovelace Day aims to raise the profile of women in science, technology, engineering and maths by encouraging people around the world to talk about the women whose work they admire. This international day of celebration helps people learn about the achievements of women in STEM, inspiring others and creating new role models for young and old alike.

Ada Lovelace is widely held to have been the first computer programmer. Close friends with inventor Charle Babbage, Lovelace was intrigued by his Analytical Engine and in 1842, she translated a description of it by italian mathematician Luigi Menabrea. Babbage asked her to expand the article, “as she understood [it] so well”, and this was when she wrote several early ‘computer programs’. Ada Lovelace died of cancer at 36, her potential tragically unfulfilled.  

Learn more about Ada Lovelace and do your part to support women in science, technology, engineering, and math!


9
Feb 09

On Feminism, Women, & Technology

Feminism is a topic that I don’t talk much about these days, but in the last 24 hours it’s popped up on my radar twice and it’s made me think about why the word, the label itself, doesn’t seem to be part of my current vocabulary. 15 years ago, “feminist” would have appeared in any web profile I’d made if social media had been around then, but now you don’t even see it in my tag cloud on delicious or even on my own blog (until this post). “What’s up with that?!”  I’m asking myself, “how could that be?”

The topic of feminism first came up when I attended Mitch Wagner’s Copper Robot show in Second Life, a bi-weekly discussion/interview session about technology, politics, etc. etc. This week’s guest happened to be a good friend, Aliza Sherman aka Cybergrrl Oh in world, who founded Cybergrrl, Inc. back in 1995 before anyone knew what the prefix “cyber” even meant. During the discussion, I got to ask her if she still considered herself a feminist and if she felt that technology had empowered women as much today as she’d thought it would nearly 15 years ago. Grab the podcast at http://copperrobot.com/index.php?post_id=431238 to hear the interview (the first part is about living in Tok, Alaska where it got down to -50F recently!), but she replied:

“Oh absolutely, I mean, in so many different ways.  It’s not a cure-all, it’s not the silver magic bullet-y thing.. But first and foremost, women having technical skills puts them at a greater advantage than women without technical skills because our society pays people with technical skills much better!   Second of all, even if a woman is not using it for her career, a woman who is a stay at home mom is far more connected to the support she needs and wants and the information she needs and wants because she’s able to get on the internet, use the internet, and connect with family, friends, and communities – and that information.  So right away, that’s much more empowering than to be isolated and alone.”

And I thought to myself, how true!  I don’t have one of those fancy visualizations of my social networks online, but in my mind’s eye, the women in my social networks really stand out as the major -connectors- to other people, resources, and information (for example, the person who consistently shares the most great stuff on my Google Reader feed is iAlja, a woman from Slovenia who I’d never know without technology), and as the major -motivators- for keeping me on track with some of my larger goals (for example, Intellagirl is one of the busiest women on the planet but still finds time to send feedback and targeted advice), and as the major -doers- of the nitty-gritty hard work required to not just get good projects off the ground, but keep them running and sustainable long-term (for example, Rachel keeps the  Chilbo Community running smoothly by making time to do routine tasks that need to be done, even if they aren’t fun or glamorous).

Generally speaking, the women in my social networks contribute some element to the overall picture that I think of as the lubrication that makes the network _work_.  It’s hard to put my finger on it, but if I imagine my social network and eliminated all the women, there would be huge, gaping holes in every project or endeavor I’m involved with.  So yes, without a doubt, technology is empowering women in ways earlier generations of feminists could only dream of and I am both a beneficiary of it and have obviously devoted my career and my work to teaching others technology skills so they can be empowered, too.

And yet..  My answer to that question would be different than Aliza’s.  I’d say that technology has not empowered women as much today as I thought it would have back in the 90s.  Feminism as a label isn’t just a dirty word, it seems almost irrelevant and completely absent from the discourse in my sphere of reference these days, despite all the STEM initiatives targeting women and minorities, and “women/girls in IT” or women’s leadership conferences/events I participate in every year.   It feels like “women’s issues” get plenty of lip service in the broader conversation, but other than for isolated events, it never even comes up in the male dominated IT world, and the fundamental issues underlying things like wage disparity and far, far fewer women in positions of management haven’t changed very much at all.  Women have been graduating with degrees at higher rates than men for years now, but they aren’t anywhere near equal representation in terms of ownership, management and leadership positions, economic well-being, or nearly any other metric we measure “success” by in the US.   Technology may be improving women’s social connectedness, but it isn’t translating into economic success nearly as much as I might have predicted 15 years ago.

And then while these thoughts were stewing, I ran across a TED Talk from novelist Isabel Allende that gave me a serious reality check.   Here I am thinking of myself and the women in my network and the challenges we face.. but then Isabel’s talk reminds me of just how far I and most of the women I know are from the most brutal conditions of women in other parts of the world.

I found Isabel’s talk very disturbing.  I don’t like to think of things in dichotomous terms like “developed/developing nations” but the stories she tells of child sex slaves and women in dire horrible circumstances make you feel sick to your stomach, and yet it is so far removed from me and my experience I can hardly identify with it except to feel a general sense of horror and helplessness, similar to the feelings I have about the situation in Gaza, Afghanistan, or any number of other human-caused tragedies.

Watching that video, I felt a deep sense of what others might call “white, western, worthless guilt”  as I thought about how seldom I spend any time, energy or thought to empowering women, specifically, even in my own spheres of influence.  I try to think back, have I done any special outreach to women, lately?  Women students?  Women faculty?  Hmm, no, I haven’t.

So, geez, what happened to that feminist Fleep who moderated flaming, raging debates in the Feminism> rooms of BBSs of yore?   The one who identified as a woman first and everything else second?  When did I start feeling guilty about the plight of women in the world, instead of angry and ready to fight to change it?

I really don’t know where that Fleep went, and most puzzling, I don’t even know when it happened.

I guess I don’t have much of a point here, except to say that I feel like I’ve lost some important thread in my own internal conversation about a topic that I was once extremely, publicly passionate about.  If you had asked me yesterday, I would have said I don’t wear my feminism on my sleeve any more, but a feminist ethic is deeply embedded in my world view.  Today I wonder how deeply embedded it could be if it doesn’t even come up on my mental radar very often and when it does it feels like a shock to my conscience.