Posted on | February 17, 2014 | No Comments
Thanks to Seda Gürses for her efforts in organizing such a wonderful day. I am still wearing my camo souvenir!
Saturday’s ISTC for Social Computing Obfuscation Symposium at NYU brought together experts in law, policy, arts, activism, engineering, computer science, design and anthropology to discuss case studies and demos exploring obfuscation – strategies whereby ‘individuals, groups or communities hide, protect themselves, protest or enact civil disobedience, especially in the context of monitoring, aggregated analysis, and profiling in (digital) space’. Speakers debated the ethical and technical costs of sending confusing, diverting, or misleading information as a ‘weapon of the weak’ in an era of inevitable surveillance and big data, as well as new priorities for consumer protection rights when organizations adopt obfuscation techniques in, for example, the realm of privacy policies.
The day began with a brief overview of the term obfuscation and the benefits of the framework as defined by Helen Nissenbaum and Finn Brunton in ‘Vernacular resistance to data collection and analysis: A political theory of obfuscation’ (2011). Their point in the paper is that obfuscation is about confusing rather than hiding; it is a chance for ordinary users to ‘take control’ when faced with encounters that are defined by information asymmetry.
Obfuscation works as an opportunity to buy time, create plausible deniability, provide cover, foil profiling and ultimately elude surveillance in situations that amount to ‘data tyranny’. Obfuscation is a more promising alternative to the common defeatism invoked by arbitrary monitoring power, i.e. when users simply ‘suck it up’ and/or ‘hope for the best’ in their transactions.
Communication scholar Joseph Turow’s complementary take on this position highlighted that organizations also routinely engage in obfuscation practices to mislead. Obfuscation is not just a technique of those without power, then. It is a means for a company to avoid ‘anything marginal to its own primary resource considerations’. Turow talked about privacy policies as a kind of phatic speech: the mere convention and the fact of presentation can have a reassuring effect on the user even if the content of a policy makes little sense or holds no binding obligation. Privacy policies often boil down to being a ‘tough luck contract’, yet they raise significant new questions (for communication studies in particular) about what is an audience and what is a public. Michael Warner is a useful reference here.
The technical sessions taught me a lot of new things to be concerned about! e.g. the practices of font probing, proxy piercing and finger printing. Demos of Ad Nauseum, Anonymouth and Vortex showcased obfuscation tools already in development. But not all of the talks focused on technology. Throughout the day, conversations regularly turned to nature and history to situate the practices under analysis.
Finn Brunton drew attention to the rare spider that sets up a decoy spider in its web to stay safe from predators. It’s a resonant illustration of how to produce confusing messages or signals when concealment is impossible. Following Hanna Rose Shell’s work on camouflage, my mind turned to the idea of exposure more broadly. Especially in open fields. I kept thinking of scarecrows! Which also made me wonder at the ways obfuscation has facilitated different modes of production. It was Finn’s mention of ‘foot dragging’ and ‘go slows’ in the industrial era that sent me in this direction.
Nick Montfort and Susan Stryker rounded out the day talking about code: in Nick’s case, the sophistication and knowingness that can underwrite the most simple and poetic computation expressions; in Susan’s, state-imposed gender distinctions that set punishing terms for legibility and recognition. Laura Kurgan’s investigation of satellite imagery was a lovely counterpoint to Susan’s talk, in the sense that it conveyed the historical assumptions that militate surveillance norms. As such, and as a result of concerted activism, the blessing is that they may pass.
As the day closed, I was most struck by how much obfuscation helps to reveal the very strong relationship between knowledge and sight in Western culture. At times, these parallels between visibility and legibility, recognition and comprehension seemed a little easy. I was much more interested in comments made by Finn, in conclusion, about how obfuscation might be used to secure a model of identity that is much less human-centric than we have managed in the past. This is surely true when we find ourselves needing protection from the way we perceive an algorithm to be reading us. Mark Andrejevic calls this threat the ‘drone logic’ of a ballistic imaginary.
I also left pondering Rachel Law’s observation that, in the move to algorithmic living – when college health insurance policies are calculated based on your father’s heart medication purchases – we are essentially post-Internet. We are no longer in the driver’s seat, logging on to discover information at random. As tailored Google search results only serve to prove, sharing information now creates opacity. Every time you send something to a friend or colleague you enclose them in your own data bubble. The techniques we need to recreate and demand the objectivity of information, in the face of data filters, is a matter of exploiting the weaknesses of ‘data entropy’.
Posted on | January 29, 2014 | No Comments
Creator – a person or thing that brings something into existence; used as a name for God.
Posted on | January 26, 2014 | No Comments
The history of time management in the workplace draws on ideals of efficiency arising from the factory: a worker who comes to work, ‘clocks’ on and off, with discrete periods of separation and respite from the job. Extended to professional realms, the careful orchestration of activities through calendars and schedules allowed office workers the capacity to claim time for themselves both within and outside the temporal logic of the organization. The widespread take-up of online and mobile technologies and the emergence of post-Fordist data industries change this temporal configuration significantly. Today’s workplaces span time and space, resulting in a growing experience of presence bleed. Workers learn to manage themselves in proximity to a workplace that is both ambient and omnipresent. Never entirely relieved of their obligations, the default measure for productivity is an amorphous display of commitment.
Coping mechanisms for dealing with constant availability are often adhoc, as reflected in the proliferation of lifehacking plugins, services and apps. The boom in productivity platforms – equipment that quantifies tasks, privileges attention and encourages mindfulness through pervasive assistance – reflects a moment in which professionals are personally responsible for their own performance. Adhoc professionals in and beyond the organization are entrusted to internalize productivity, accomplish results and maintain composure through techniques that are self-sought and -taught. The science of management thus gives way to the pseudo-science of self-help, as workers attempt to focus and flourish – at the very least, simply to manage.
Professional subjectivity in this situation calls for technological innovations that enable performative presence on the one hand and opportunities for withdrawal and obfuscation on the other. This paper surveys a number of productivity apps, lifehacks and “Getting Things Done” philosophies to illustrate the regenerative and reflexive activities accompanying knowledge work today. Identifying these affective support structures reveals new priorities for workers and management, including the right to ritual. An anthropotechnics of mindful labor asserts the benefits of work beyond the productivity imperative.
- Abstract for SCA The Ends of Work conference, slightly amended
Posted on | December 23, 2013 | No Comments
I’ve added a specific page for online features in the ‘other writing’ section to the right. This is a way to highlight some of the things I’ve been doing in collaboration with others lately. And to remember some of the feisty things I put in print a few years ago, too. One of the hardest things about moving countries is trying to integrate the different parts of previous lives. An upside of starting a new job in a new place is that the past is less burdensome. But there are times when you also crave the sense of coherence and accumulation that place and field and context – not to mention friends and family – provide.
Then again, maybe my lack of coherence is one of the things that defines me. To wit: my piece on intimacy and adultery technologies is also out in Surveillance and Society’s latest issue, just after the earlier version appeared in Anna Poletti and Julie Rak’s excellent new collection, Identity Technologies. This book has some really exciting essays and an interview with fellow traveler/blogger, Lauren Berlant. It’s consolation for someone who has, for whatever reason, found my most consistent home to be here, online.
Posted on | December 4, 2013 | 1 Comment
On Katherine Losse’s The Boy Kings: A Journey into the Heart of the Social Network, Free Press (2012) and Dave Eggers’ The Circle, Knopf (2013)
Even before opening the books, you can see why Losse is annoyed with Eggers. It’s not that the content is the same, exactly – although there are overlaps that lead us to ponder. To be generous, the fact that the female protagonist works in customer service in each case is as much a reflection of the gendered distribution of labor in engineering firms as it is of Losse’s previous writing. I’d also offer – having written about compulsory workplace sociality – that Eggers’ satire merely extends cliches that are already widely available. It does strike me as odd that he would choose not to read ‘any books about any internet companies, or about the experiences of anyone working at any of these companies’ before writing a manuscript on such things, but then, maybe that’s his creative process.
The broader issue is that given the likely audience, the books are similar enough that people won’t make time to read both. Comparing Eggers’ existing profile and marketing budget relative to Losse’s, there is less of a chance that people will hear about the earlier book, let alone read it. This is, after all, the generation that spawned the acronym TL;DR (too long; didn’t read). And it is to every potential reader’s detriment that they would choose Eggers’ book over Losse’s.
Anyone who wants to understand how technology companies operate internally should read The Boy Kings. Since it is explicitly a memoir about working at Facebook, it is hard to imagine a better blow-by-blow account of the contradictions that characterize the company dedicated to ‘transparency’. The goals of the founder and visionary Mark Zuckerberg are admirable enough, to a point. But as a humanities graduate in a world of engineers, Losse is unprepared to accept the cultural insensitivity Zuckerberg’s ambition requires. The book calls out what is simple colonial zeal dressed up as technological revolution.
The longer she spends at Facebook, Losse learns that the only way to succeed is to give over to the pleasure of domination. This is a patriarchal conquest narrative at its purest. It is hardly camouflaged by Harvard insignia.
Losse finds her respite from the firm’s hypermasculinity in the desert: in the anonymous glow of Las Vegas, playing sidekick to her queer hacker friends; in the slower rhythms and ritual of her trips to Coachella. In each case, it is lyricism that keeps her afloat – the wit of an IM, a smart fiction reference (“You look pale”), the chorus of a song. It’s no coincidence that the coders love Daft Punk (“Harder, better, faster, stronger”) while she prefers Frank Ocean. “Super Rich Kids” provides the soundtrack to this memoir.
As a non-native Californian, Losse finds a poetry of sorts in the suburban instrumentality of Safeway and In-N-Out Burger. Describing these ordinary journeys gives us further insight into her worklife, as she she finds herself shopping for groceries at midnight with an overpaid hacker obsessing over bologna prices. Embracing California’s mall culture symbolizes her growing implication in a larger territorial battle, too, as Facebook fends off competitors to command a monopoly over virtual social space. The clean aesthetics of the Silicon Valley tech campus are echoed in the platform’s smooth blue and white boxes, especially in the early years. As success beckoned, and Facebook’s competitors faded, ads and apps quickly encroached upon the original page layout like so many Chipotle and Carl’s Jnr branches on Californian arterials.
The vulnerability at the heart of Losse’s story marks its urgency. For one thing, we feel every banality and inequity of the job itself. Consider that in Facebook’s early years, ‘customer service’ included the reality of answering endless email queries asking what a ‘poke’ is. I’ve yet to read anything quite so effective in conveying the mundane experience of employment in an adhoc start-up workplace. The sheer volume of work, the grind that is the email-heavy job, the endlessness, the thanklessness, the displacement of emotion and any sense of value that the work entails: this aspect of the book is unflinching.
Additionally, Losse writes of a job in which every interaction is better if it is performed to a public. Intimacy is only genuine when it is mediated and witnessed in text and image. The effect of this permanent audience is to turn every relationship into a kind of frieze or tableaux. ‘Becoming screen,’ we are robbed of the chance to register progress or duration. The cues we had for developing depth, nuance and meaning are strangely muted. This makes us doubt what we are feeling because we are never quite sure what is real, reciprocal, appropriate. On this score, if Eggers’ book entertains similar concerns, it does so in a less compelling way. Its hyperbole cannot grant empathy with the millions of users who use social media in spite of – and often precisely to fight – this ontological flatness.
What is most remarkable about Losse’s book is the love story. The friendship she shares with Thrax, a star recruit who hacks his way to employment, is the intriguing subplot that lingers. Together, they develop a cocoon that suits the strangeness of the world they are building. It is a conspiracy of care that typifies a prophylactic atmosphere.
For several years, we slept this way on work trips or social ones – they were one and the same: connected, but not quite, like the physical enactment of the AIM messages we tossed back and forth just to show each other that we are here, online, simultaneously together and apart. In retrospect it seems that this, a tangential state of connection, never total, never lost, always there at midnight when you are bored or lonely and need a slight, subtle reminder that you are loved, was one of the things Facebook was about, and it was our job as employees to embody it. Thrax’s and my insistence on a noncommittal proximity was the perfect manifestation of what we were creating for the whole world: a system devoted to potential connection, a way of being always near but never with the ones you love, a technology of forestalling choice in favor of the endless option, forever.
What does it mean for a group of people to grow up thinking they can’t risk being physically intimate? What is the sensibility that led to this? Granted, there are plenty of examples that would question this as the dominant register for online intimacy – within queer lifeworlds, in particular. But the passage above is troubling not least because it describes an even more intense notion of work’s intimacy. Here the subjectivity imagined by the employer-platform is inhabited by an employee whose personal life is compromised but not compensated.
Losse’s friendship brought to mind the hundreds of students I taught in gender studies courses in Australia: young people who saw their love lives reflected in Illana Gershon’s studies, whose relationships had only ever been experienced through technology. The Boy Kings makes me worry about the emergence of a permanently anticipatory sexual identity, one in which the precarious college student meets the inarticulate programmer.
In the move to a prophylactic culture, philosophers see a world that is isolated and protected by comforting interiors or bubbles. Screen culture is a means for us to create safer worlds to protect us from our passions so that we don’t hurt or break. Meanwhile engineers often imagine we can avoid social glitches and problems by designing them out of existence. This vision makes it possible to develop a world in which there are no dislikes.
Losse’s voice, by contrast, communicates affect. She adopts the <3 sign in her online interactions as a way to break protocol. <3 marks the emptiness that is the ultimate hangover from the stunning range of emotion expressed through social media: the panopoly of aches, anxieties, crises and crushes. These are disregarded, distracted and disowned desires that, even as they accumulate in server space, rarely materialize as profitable reflections of our own speculative thinking.
Facebook turns out to be a way to live the lives we aren’t able to enact, a repository for the necessary projections, fantasies and displacements that ease the here and now. But as Adam Philips shows, we avoid acknowledging these wishes at our peril. Fantasy’s function is to stand in for the lives we think we are avoiding, but to the extent that it succeeds, we lose the option of exploring our potential.
What remains instructive about Losse’s book is the historical curoisity that we have allowed ourselves to share so much affect in such a way that it both escapes our recognition and becomes the basis for a proprietorial cloud. This is the definitive affective economy: using social media, our fantasies are suspended out of reach, are owned by others, and become subject to algorithmic inspection.
The risk that Losse takes, in leaving Facebook and daring to explain why, illustrates the kind of courage she would like to see in more of us. She urges her readers to find other ways to touch each other beyond the convenience of the click. The decision to write a book about Facebook becomes a refusal of the very forms of attention embodied in the platform; of unthinking, anti-humanist, short-termist, superficial, unimaginative, unsubtle connection. In these accelerated times, Losse reminds us why writing at length is, as ever, a political act.
Posted on | November 24, 2013 | No Comments
The article gives a brief overview of some larger conversations we’ve been having in and around Intel and the ISTC for Social Computing as we figure out the business models, labor practices and collective politics enacted by hackathons. While there are many kinds of hackathon, Carl and I are especially interested in how civic hackathons draw on a longer tradition of public duty, voluntarism and doing good. This ties in with previous work I did back in Australia, considering the arguments around civic infrastructure investments like the National Broadband Network. This new work benefits from Carl’s design expertise and experience in local community initiatives.
In future writing, we aim to explore the intersection of design and speculative thinking in hackathons, and the forms of labor and value exchange taking place in these events. For now, this first piece highlights some of the ambiguities in digital citizenship. We welcome feedback from other participants and observers.
Posted on | November 10, 2013 | 1 Comment
Notes from Adam Philips (2012) Missing Out: In Praise of the Unlived Life, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York
We make our lives pleasurable, and therefore bearable, by picturing them as they might be; it is less obvious, though, what these compelling fantasy lives – lives of, as it were, a more complete satisfaction – are a self-cure for. Our solutions tell us what our problems are; our fantasy lives are not – or not necessarily – alternatives to, or refuges from, those real lives but an essential part of them (xvii)
So we may need to think of ourselves as always living a double life, the one that we wish for and the one that we practice; the one that never happens and the one that keeps happening (xvii)
Knowing other people, in psychoanalytic language, can be a defence, the defence, against acknowledging their actual existence, and what we need their existence for (74)
Psychoanalysis, as a treatment, is an opportunity to recover the freedom not to know or be known, and so to find out what people might do together instead. One of its aims, one disclaimed by Freud, was to reseparate sex from knowing (75)
…you can know a person but the one thing you cannot, in any real sense, know is their sexuality; partly because they do not know about it themselves; and partly because it is not the kind of thing that can be known (it isn’t information) (76)
…insofar as we can accept people… as sexual we have to concede that knowing them in any conscious way may not be the best, the most promising, thing we can do with them. We may know what food they like, their favourite colour, their artistic tastes and distastes, and these are things we can know. But it amounts… to very little; in fact, what all this knowledge of people discloses is how little knowing can do for us, and, indeed how anguished other people make us (77)
[…as Proust wants to persuade us] this wish to know is more pernicious, less clueless… what one wants to know about the other, unconsciously, is what will cure us of our desire for them (77)
Not knowing someone, not getting it, then becomes integral to the project of sustaining desire (78)
Can we learn how not to know, as well as how to know, and what could be the benefit that might accrue from this? Or, in which area of our lives does not knowing, not getting it, give us more life rather than more deadness? (80)
…getting out of things is all too easily a form of spurious omniscience. It is as though when we get out of something we know too much: we act as if we know far more than we could – about what would happen if we stayed. That in order to free ourselves from certain things we have to fake an omniscience about the future; and acknowledging this need not be a (masochistic) counsel to endure oppression, but another way of thinking out alternatives. Sometimes, perhaps more often than we realize, we live as if we know more about the experiences we don’t have than about the experiences we do have. And sometimes we need to be able to do this in order to free ourselves (114)
My supposition is that sometimes – perhaps more often than not – we think we know more about the experiences we don’t have than about the experiences that we do have, ‘frustration’ being our word for the experience of not having an experience (117)
…the satisfaction has already happened in fantasy. So, at least unconsciously, there is nothing about which we are more certain than the nature of our satisfactions; or, to put it another way, Freud describes how much work we do to ensure that our satisfaction is no surprise. And this leaves us with a paradox, which has to take the form of a question: when you already know what satisfaction is, how can you possibly find out what it is like? (139)
Fantasy is the medium in which we jump to conclusions. And the conclusions we jump to are about satisfaction, and are themselves satisfying. Imagining satisfaction is a way of not thinking about wanting, not thinking about the experience of wanting (140)
The something about wanting that is unbearable is transformed into the something about being satisfied that works. We need pictures of satisfaction to make bearable, to make plausible, to make attractive, to make viable, our desiring. They are like adverts for desiring. How strange this is; the ways in which fantasy at once blackmails or seduces or lures us into going through with our wanting and at the same time pre-empts our going through with it; that we have to do this to ourselves, as though we are at best resistant and at worst phobic of wanting, of acknowledging our wants. We have to be attentive, in other words, to what we use fantasy to do; whether it becomes, as we say, an end in itself (141)
It is worth wondering what happens to our erotic life, or to our sociability with each other and ourselves, when certainty becomes our picture of satisfaction. And what happens to our satisfaction, to our possibilities for satisfaction, when it does (145)
How do you know what your desire is? It is that which makes you feel guilty when you betray it; not when you betray someone else, but when you betray yourself; indeed, for Lacan self-betrayal, the self-betrayal of giving up one’s desire, is the source of guilt. We suffer from failures of ruthlessness (147)
The ways we cure ourselves of frustration are the ways we cure ourselves of satisfaction. And the ways we cure ourselves of satisfaction are through too knowing, too efficient pictures of satisfaction. We use satisfactions to cheat us of our satisfactions. …Whatever else he has done Freud has exposed our avoidance of love as an avoidance of satisfaction. We need, as he suggested, to have better – more interesting, more enlivening, more satisfying – conversations about our frustrations (168)
Posted on | November 5, 2013 | No Comments
• Take brief time outs throughout the day
• Treat delays as found time
• Do nothing on a regular basis
• Nap if possible; should inhibition keep you from doing so, confront the inhibition
• Take an occasional bath
• When hurried, ask yourself, “Do I really need to rush? What’s the worst thing that can happen to me if I don’t? Is that worse than what it’s costing me to hurry?”
• Distinguish between necessary haste (late for an appointment) and mere impatience (one-hour photo developing)
• Make a conscious effort to not always take the faster path; use stairs at times instead of elevators; walk rather than drive; cut and grate food you used to process
• Reduce background noise (noise contributes to that hectic feeling and makes it hard to hear important information)
• Listen to your body; it’s giving you good advice
From Ralph Keyes (1991) Timelock: How Life Got so Hectic and What You Can Do About It, New York: Harper Collins
Posted on | September 22, 2013 | No Comments
This week I’m heading to Georgia Tech to host a ‘metahack’ – an event where we learn about hackathons by adopting many of their features and practices.
Over the past year a number of ISTC-Social researchers have been studying hackathons as unique socio-technical encounters. Fieldwork across different US cities and internationally is showing that these sites for information, enthusiasm and labor exchange produce new relationships, identities and communities as much as they do demos.
The social work of the hackathon is only partly to do with its role in normalizing an ambiguously rewarded model of binge production by adopting the values of the hacker ethic. Their additional work, as I am arguing in a paper with Carl DiSalvo, is to provide space for experimental subjectivities that can briefly enjoy the fantasy of competent civic services and the experience of data flânerie.
ISTC-Social researchers will be sharing some of this work at 4S in coming weeks; one of our postdoctoral researchers, Silvia Lindtner, hosts the second Hacked Matter workshop in Shanghai next month; and I’ll be speaking more about the Obama administration’s contradictory stance on hackers at the Apps and Affect conference later in October. In the lead up to these conversations, and to widen participation, we are starting a new space for discussion to accompany events like these. More on that soon.
Like any hackathon, Friday’s metahack will issue challenges at the start of proceedings. Here are the ones I’m most keen to see succeed:
1. The data drive: The first challenge is to develop a bibliography on hacking and hacker culture – an inventory of how the terms have evolved over time. We want this to be cross-disciplinary when it comes to academic resources, but we also want to include texts and practical materials from within and outside the formal tech sector. What are the key references on hacking / hacker culture in your field? Sign up for the hackathon and we’ll pool the resources on zotero.
2. Assembling an audio/visual archive: We want a long list of books, articles, art works, industry mythology, anecdotes, media coverage, political activism and personal reflections on what the terms hacking/ hacker mean. In addition to sharing these resources, on Friday we want people to be creative, perhaps by recording conversations with co-workers, colleagues, friends and mentors to capture the legacy of hacking and ‘hacktivism’ in different cultural contexts. We can have fun with these files.
3. Historicizing hacktivism: To begin to understand the ideological work that the term ‘hacker’ performs, we want to develop a pool of links to good journalism/ news items/ published articles that mention or draw links between Edward Snowden, Aaron Swartz, Julian Assange, Daniel Ellsberg and previous ‘hacker’/whistleblowers associated with the materiality of information. This is in line with key themes of our center which focus on ecosystems to explain the power relations and infrastructures of computing. This language takes us away from territorializing accounts of data flow that are focused on defensively protecting the institutions of the past. To dis-articulate hacking from negative perceptions is one way to appreciate some of the bigger cultural shifts that are upon us.
By organizing the metahack, we are suggesting that hacking deserves the kind of analytical attention that, at an earlier moment, the Birmingham Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies applied to ‘mugging’. In Policing the Crisis, the politics of a new era were revealed to have been synecdochically transduced on to the figure of the mugger, whose actions shouldered the anxieties of a particular class formation.
With the tools of collaborative open source software at our disposal, we are perhaps even better disposed to perform this kind of shared analytical project today – not least because of the work of hackers in establishing these channels of communication for us. So, this is an invitation for anyone wanting to be involved with this work and to take part in the ongoing commentary… please get in touch this week in the lead up to Friday.
Posted on | September 6, 2013 | 6 Comments
When I think of the maker movement, I can’t help but think of three things that the current wave of interest doesn’t refer to:
• Making do (an antipodean sensibility; if you don’t have access to something in the first place, you improvise around that absence. That’s why women were so good at sewing where I grew up. They didn’t have access to cheap clothes)
• Make do and mend (the war-time slogan, now captured in posters sold in fancy design stores)
• Home makers, home economics and the history of domestic science (gender matters in deciding what counts as making).
People are forever making. So why is it fetishized now?
The difference with making today is the source of the cultural and financial investment, namely Silicon Valley. The notion that ‘everyone is a maker’ keeps the hacker ethos alive while drawing on the more recent elevation of ‘you’ as the active pro-sumer. In addition, venture capital and media coverage translate to serious corporate and institutional resources. If ‘make do and mend’ served the propaganda needs of a state-sanctioned war machine, it was ideological state apparatuses (education primarily) that determined the curriculum and gender norms for home economics vs. trade classes.
Today’s maker ‘movement’ is an evangelist’s response to the deficiencies of the state. The standardization of schooling to meet performance metrics has led to a drain on the manual and creative aspects of education, such that learning is limited to knowledge that can be tested. This is one way that data exerts agency on institutions. Metrics matter more than content. By contrast, maker kits and a culture of making beyond the classroom each offer a solution to pedagogical anemia, a set of tools for an emerging trade.
The broader impact of off-shoring in the US economy has turned manufacturing into a problem: when it exists at all, (non-creative) making is outsourced to the so-called developing world. Wage discounts are sought wherever they may appear as companies chase tax breaks and legal loopholes. These multinational conglomerates profit by commanding the trade routes, protection zones and brand names that materialize the need for all this making.
In the US the maker ‘movement’ is a response to austerity, as opposed to scarcity. It bears a relation to the expense of war time commitments (Iraq, Afghanistan, among others) – in the sense that this impacts government spending on education – but it also fits the broader move towards financialization that comes with our dependence on hyper-consumption.
Making reappears as a perverse reaction to overconsumption. In wealthy countries, we are invited to relearn our making skills when the need to make has been obviated. Meanwhile, in ‘developing’ countries, making is the short-circuit towards entrepreneurialism and modernity. This is why the tech industry calls these countries ‘emerging markets’.
So who are the makers? Who is making what? Which forms of making are valued? How will an investment in STE(A)M in the US change the idea of manufacturing as it currently exists, both for workers experiencing it and consumers benefiting? Will it leave the creative dimensions of making reserved for an elite and educated few, continuing the legacies of colonialism that carved up the laborers of the world according to profitable routes? Or will it mean that an appreciation of ‘making’ will be championed at every level of the service and supply chain, so that its rewards may be equitably distributed?keep looking »