a countercultural computer scientist
On my spiritual journey, I discovered that my ideas and attitudes about religion and faith were countercultural. So, I guess it shouldn’t be a surprise that my ideas and attitudes about technology and computer science are countercultural as well. Recently, Gary Stager (@garystager) shared a link with me that he suggested would blow my mind. Today, mind blown, I am also a mind freed of previous misconceptions. The article he shared is called “Epistemological Pluralism and the Revaluation of the Concrete” by Sherry Turkle and Seymour Papert from 1990.
epistemological pluralism in a nutshell
“The concerns that fuel the discussion of women and computers are best served by talking about more than women and more than computers. Women’s access to science and engineering has historically been blocked by prejudice and discrimination. Here we address sources of exclusion determined not by rules that keep women out, but by ways of thinking that make them reluctant to join in. Our central thesis is that equal access to even the most basic elements of computation requires an epistemological pluralism, accepting the validity of multiple ways of knowing and thinking.”
The paper goes on to share some of the different ways of thinking and knowing:
- computer as extension vs. computer as tool
- transparent vs. opaque
- soft vs. hard approach
- creative vs. scientific method
- hands-on vs. hands-off
- contextual vs. hierarchical
- connected to objects vs. disconnected from objects
- concrete vs. abstract
- corrections vs. mistakes
- conversation vs. monologue
- negotiation vs. structure
- relationship vs. reason
- playful vs. serious
- attachment vs. boundaries
- relational vs. environmental
- interconnected vs. autonomous
Can you guess which ones are countercultural? I had pretty much given up on myself as a computer scientist. First, I had determined I just didn’t want to play by the rules of corporate America anymore, as they no longer seemed adequate for my life. So when I quit corporate America, what did I become? A wife, a mother, a volunteer, a writer, an activist, a technology consultant & technology teacher. Along the way, I thoughtlessly gave up my identity as computer scientist because I certainly wasn’t fitting the cultural norm. But I still kept teaching about it and wondering why so many women and girls were not involved in it. Now I realize, if the traditional idea of computer scientist is off-putting to someone who’s actually been there, what a giant hurdle it must be for someone who hasn’t.
While we have even further to go than when I was in school as far as numbers of women in computing, there are signs of hope that some are making a space for those who think and know differently. Here are just a few examples:
- The Art && Code conference I attended last year was the most diverse conference I had ever been to and included many non-traditional approaches to thinking about coding.
- Bret Victor (@worrydream), certainly appreciates the soft side of coding and the desire of creators to be hands-on and concrete with their creations as he demonstrates in his video, Inventing on Principle.
- Chad Sansing (@chadsansing), middle school teacher, follows his kids into gaming where they discover glitching then modding and finally coding.
- Ben Chun (@benchun), high school CS teacher, has flipped CS on it’s head - using CS to teach & think differently about other subjects.
- @Thinkersmith is creating a computer science space that is fun and accessible for all to explore.
Any other countercultural computer scientists out there? I want to hear what you are doing to change the world! (@kimxtom)