I had my Italian media début today.
About a month ago, Marta Serafini, technology reporter at Corriere della Sera, invited me to participate in a panel on ‘women, technology and innovation at the 2nd Il Tempo delle Donne event, which took place at the iconic Museo della Triennale on 1-4 October 2015. I was delighted to say yes. Today, I was joined by the other four guests: the prominent Derry De Kerchove (sociologist), James Essinger (author of a biography about Ada Lovelace), Michela Balconi (Professor in Neuropsychology and Cognitive Neuroscience at Cattolica University in Milan) and Elisabetta Caldera (Head of Human Resources at Vodafone Italy). Even one of my favourite Italian singer Elisa was interviewed in the same session.
Italian was the main language (and rightly so), but I was allowed to answer in English. In the limited time I was given, I shared my long-term research into “hacker cultures” focusing on participants in female hackerspaces and their relationship with ‘hackable technologies’. By ‘hacking technologies’ I mean those who can not only use technologies, but also take a step further to change the original design of the technologies. Although digital technologies do empower women (and minorities), I think the biggest challenge in including women in hacker communities lies in the mindset and the value system. The ability to code and the knowledge about software engineering have always been treated as a priori and prioritised in hackers communities; there was hardly any space for different types of knowledge. My main argument is that, we need to value different types of knowledge (tacit or explicit, coded or uncoded, individual, local) and embrace diversity in order to broaden the horizon of present knowledge in hackers communities. Exactly because of her experience with mechanical looms in the female circle, Ada Lovelace was able to shed insight into the invention of algorithms and computers. No knowledge is too trivial! I used OpenStreetMap and the mapping parties I organised (by women and for women) as example to show how Point of Interests (POIs) collected by female participants served as valuable data and contributions to the Wikimap widely used for different purposes. The slides are here.
Marta selected this video ‘Is Gender Real? – 8 bit philosophy‘ to end the session. It’s hilarious but on the other hand summarised our discussion quite nicely. In light of Butler, gender is indeed a fluid concept, and biological differences (or any differences exist between human beings) should not be excuses of excluding anyone from using or developing technologies.
I could have given more examples about women who code, women who game, women who map, women’s relationship with manipulating and configuring hardware, but we did not have much time. In fact, I would have wished to stay longer to have a deeper conversation with my fellow panellists, but I had to dash off to Milan Malpensa airport to catch a flight to Sofia for the Media & Education conference taking place on the 5th of October.
I was one of the 12 women whose faces were featured on the event website (along with Elisa!). It’s definitely an unforgettable experience and it encourages me to make my research more accessible to different audiences around the world. I hope next time if invited again I would be able to explain my thoughts in Italian 🙂