Gender & Technology

Most of us (should) know that the net is not a particularly nice place. It is a neutral tool that allows all users to go out there and be themselves. Unfortunately the technology also offers people pseudo-anonymity or the illusion of real anonymity. I say unfortunately because this really brings the weirdos out of the woodwork. One of the most casual forms is the misogynist – but racism may be more common.

In an article on Women on the Web, Caitlin Fitzsimmons writes about the way in which men use technology to spread fear against women and approaches ways in which to deal with the issue. Many tend to think that the best approach is to ignore those who behave badly. This approach can be justified in different ways:

1. The simplest reason many ignore the problem is by claiming to be too tired/busy to react. This is usually connected to arguments that there are simply too many things to react to. So in general I agree with this argument except for the problem that too many people use this as an excuse all the time and react to nothing. If you cannot fight against everything then at least pick one injustice and fight against that!

2. Social shunning as punishment. In real life when someone behaves badly we often do not tell them or make a big fuss. Often it is enough to ignore what has happened, in particular if we ignore it visibly. We can, for example, create an embarrassing silence. This is the social equivalent of banishment and the socially aware individual recognizes that boundaries have been crossed and will adjust his/her behavior in the future. The problem with attempting this online is that the offender must feel the need to belong to the group for this to work. Also embarrassing silences only work when the whole social group falls unnaturally silent. This does not work online.

3. The third approach is the concept of the marketplace of ideas. This basically means that it is actually good for the weirdo’s to get out in the open and test their ideas since this will only encourage the opposition to develop better arguments and convince the weirdo’s that they are wrong. In an offline world this may work in theory in an open debate but it is hardly likely to work in practice.  In an online environment this approach is misguided. It also gives the weirdo’s way too much leeway and opportunity to cause pain to others.

Fitzsimmons writes:

The question is then how to tackle the problem. The panellists agreed that while there was no point in engaging directly with hateful comments, ignoring them was not really a viable option.’s Valenti said online misogyny was different to offline abuse in two key respects. “Unlike someone coming up to you on the street, it can be really hard to assess what kind of danger you’re in,” she added. “You don’t know if it’s a 15 year-old in Idaho spouting off or a really scary guy who really is likely to come around and rape you.”

The online/offline worlds are different and attempting to apply theoretical approaches to handling uncomfortable/threatening/harmful situations in the online world may only cause more harm. No I do not have a solution but I really like the way in which blogs like Feministing are using  technology to reach new readers – or actually viewers since Feministing uses YouTube videos (check out their channel here).

I am spreading

So I was looking at Slideshare which is basically a site where lots of people upload and download powerpoints. Besides avoiding other work the reason for me being there was to see whether this would be a good tool to use. Or maybe it’s enough already with the whole 2.0 thingy.

Anyway while looking at all the slick (some are very slick) presentations I saw something I recognized. The first slide in a presentation on How to Describe and Improve your Business Model (not my area at all!!) was one of my photo’s from my Flickr account.

The ppt maker (Alex Osterwalder) has even followed the CC instructions when he used my original image of a silver spire in Dublin (original photo here) and attributed me in the notes section of the slide. Very nicely done. I was surprised to run across myself like that, after the initial surprise I must say I really like it. Wow, Creative Commons works 🙂

Ingelfinger rule

The policy of considering a manuscript for publication only if its substance has not been submitted or reported elsewhere. This policy was promulgated in 1969 by Franz J. Ingelfinger, then the editor of The New England Journal of Medicine. The aim of the Ingelfinger rule was to protect the Journal from publishing material that had already been published and thus had lost its originality.

I knew about the practice but not that it had a name. You learn something new every day – even on Fridays…


Photo Absolutely Nothing is Allowed Here by Vicki & Chuck Rogers (CC by-nc-sa)

Digital Culture book

The book Structures of Participation in Digital Culture is now available for download for free. Here is a part of the blurb:

Structures of Participation in Digital Culture, …explores digital technologies that are engines of cultural innovation, from the virtualization of group networks and social identities to the digital convergence of textural and audio-visual media. User-centered content production, from Wikipedia to YouTube to Open Source, has become the emblem of this transformation, but the changes run deeper and wider than these novel organizational forms…

The contents include some familiar and some unfamiliar names and a lot of chapters that seem worth reading, take a look at this:

  • The Past and the Internet (Geoffrey Bowker),
  • History, Memory, Place, and Technology: Plato’s Phaedrus Online (Gregory Crane),
  • Other Networks: Media Urbanism and the Culture of the Copy in South Asia (Ravi Sundaram),
  • Pirate Infrastructures (Brian Larkin),
  • Technologies of the Childhood Imagination: Yu-Gi-Oh!, Media Mixes, and Everyday Cultural Production (Mizuko Ito),
  • Pushing the Borders: Player Participation and Game Culture (T. L. Taylor),
  • None of This Is Real: Identity and Participation in Friendster (danah boyd),
  • Notes on Contagious Media (Jonah Peretti),
  • Picturing the Public (Warren Sack),
  • Toward Participatory Expertise (Shay David),
  • Game Engines as Open Networks (Robert F. Nideffer),
  • The Diablo Program (Doug Thomas),
  • Disciplining Markets in the Digital Age (Joe Karaganis),
  • Price Discrimination and the Shape of the Digital Commodity (Tarleton Gillespie),
  • The Ecology of Control: Filters, Digital Rights Management, and Trusted Computing (Joe Karaganis).

Download the Entire Book

Online material and copyright

While commenting on the distinction between the professional and amateur Clair from Mummys Bracelet pointed to an interesting discussion (and here) in relation to this topic. The whole thing started when JonnyB was told be a neighbor that he was published in the newspaper The Mail on Sunday. This was news to JonnyB who found that The Mail had printed entire posts from his blog on their Blog of The Week section without permission.

OK – so it’s copyright violation. No biggie, nothing to blog about you might think. JonnyB sent an invoice and the Mail paid up. Problem solved? No, not really. The newspaper paid but it also wrote in response to JonnyB

We generally take the view that blogs published on the internet have already been placed in the public domain by their authors and, in case of amateur writers, most people are happy to have their work recognised and displayed to a wider audience.

The really strange thing that follows from this story is the misguided belief that what is online is somehow in the public domain and that these mistakes are being made not only by amateurs but also be the “professional” media. And this is despite the fact that the discussion on online copyright is almost as old as the internet.

When lecturing to my students I keep trying to push into their minds three steps:

1. Almost nothing online is outside copyright.

2. Assume everything is owned.

3. What risks will you be running by using other people material? (who do you represent)

Maybe I should start lecturing for the news media…

Professionals and amateurs

The distinction between professional and amateurs within many cultural fields is rapidly evaporating. Without being negative towards the amazing professionals out their I would just like to point to the many resources where amateurs are sharing material as a proof of the great work being done for love rather than money.

So what is the difference between a professional and an amateur? This is actually a tricky question which is usually fobbed off with the response that professionals get paid for their work or professionals live off their work. But this is problematic since it says nothing of the quality of the work.

Also many of us do more than what we are paid for – does this mean that we are unprofessional? Van Gogh was a painter but he could not support himself… does this mean he was an amateur? Another question is whether it is better to be an amateurish professional, a brilliant amateur or a maybe even a professional amateur?

One of my photos was published in a magazine recently (ok so it was the university staff magazine) does this mean I can call myself a professional? Should this title come from one lucky shot or the hundreds of photographs that I am more proud of?

Why Nietzsche bores me…

Finally I found the reason. Here is a quote from Nietzsche’s sister:

The days of his youth — of his carefree, merry gamboling — were over. Hereafter he was all solemnity and all seriousness. ‘From these early experiences,’ says his sister, ‘there remained with him a life-long aversion to smoking, beer-drinking and the whole biergemütlichkeit …’ He maintained that people who drank beer and smoked pipes were absolutely incapable of understanding him. Such people, he thought lacked the delicacy and clearness of perception necessary to grasp profound and subtle propositions. (via Noniclolasos)


The Quite Pint by Monster (CC  ATT-NC-SA)

Given the choice between being bored by Nietzsche or a beer I choose a beer anytime.

Passionate scientists

Explaining what scientists do is complex, and it doesn’t get easier if you are one of those scientists who hasn’t got a lab coat. Occasionally, when asked, I just say that I am a teacher which everyone “gets” and has an easy, positive relation to.

Peter Medawar wrote in Pluto’s Republic that:

Scientists are people of very dissimilar temperaments doing different things in very different ways. Among scientists are collectors, classifiers and compulsive tidiers-up; many are detectives by temperament and many are explorers; some are artists and others artisans. There are poet-scientists and philosopher-scientists and even a few mystics.

I love this quote and use it regularly in my teaching. But there is one factor which unites many scientists across different scientific disciplines and that is passion – most scientists are passionate about what they do (some maybe a bit too much)

A nice example of the passion science inspires among its practitioners (yes we are proud to be geeky) is represented in Carl Zimmer’s Science Tattoo Emporium:

Underneath their sober lab coats and flannel shirts, scientists hide images of their scientific passions. Here they are revealed to all.

Only a truely passionate person would get tattoos such as these


This is a formula called the Y Combinator. It is a fixed-point combinator in the lambda calculus and was discovered by Haskell Curry, a rather prolific mathematician and logician whose work helped start Computer Science.

“What this formula does is calculates the fixed point of a function, which in turn allows for recursion by calling on that fixed point; recursion is perhaps the single most important concept in Computer Science. Being a computer scientist and a mathematician, this formula is very important to me and represents the innate beauty of computer science and mathematical logic.” –Mark

…and only those who share a passion (but no the subject) understand and enjoy them!

Sleep & Work

Finally an explanation! I knew that I was doing something wrong. The only problem is that it doesn’t say how to get off the cycle. I guess that I will just wait until after surviving the next couple of all-nighters…


Phd Comics by Jorge Cham

The dumbest generation

A new book that may be a good read is Mark Bauerlein’s The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future (Or, Don’t Trust Anyone Under 30) – another recommendation by Kevin at Question Technology (his recommendations are always worth looking into).


From the book’s website:

According to recent reports from government agencies, foundations, survey firms, and scholarly institutions, most young people in the United States neither read literature (or fully know how), work reliably (just ask employers), visit cultural institutions (of any sort), nor vote (most can’t even understand a simple ballot). They cannot explain basic scientific methods, recount foundations of American history, or name any of their local political representatives. What do they happen to excel at is – each other. They spend unbelievable amounts of time electronically passing stories, pictures, tunes, and texts back and forth, savoring the thrill of peer attention and dwelling in a world of puerile banter and coarse images.

The book argues that this is not the typical elder generation complaining about, or not getting, the younger generation but it is a serious problem.

To those of us outside the US its no point in laughing at the Yanks – the evidence shows the same trends even in Europe and based upon my (non-scientific, anecdotal evidence) students – I cannot say that I am impressed.

On the other hand, for as long as I can remember, I have been hearing how the great thinkers have all gone. As a young PhD I was taught that the pace of life and the realities of academia no longer allow for the great works – we have to force research to create publications. Reading is almost frowned upon and when was the last time you could sit in your office and just think?

Still I see plenty of evidence of thought, and great thought at that. No, it is not in the same pattern as the old thought. It is more communicative – it must be to catch the reader who is not allowed to read and think. To enable this depth may, sometimes, be sacrificed.

If we look to the past it seems populated with genius – but this may be because we tend to forget the idiots, unless they were spectacularly idiotic. But if we look around us we seen the idiots but cannot see the geniuses, this may be that they are working instead of appearing on talent shows for the untalented.

ps trust me, I am 41 today 🙂