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Adolescent Diary Weblogs and the Unseen Audience

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The Performativity of Naming: Adolescent Weblog Names as Metaphor

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New books are added but reading status is rarely accurate.

January 05, 2006

What computer fields value

See Jane Compute has a post that should be required reading for all CS, Informatics, and Information Science faculty and students - there are probably other disciplines that need to hear this too. Her post is titled Women in CS: the dance remix version, make sure you read the comments as well.

As a women in a technical field I can stand squarely behind many of her statements about what is expected for students and what is not as highly valued. You see I am a consummate nerd and a sort of a geek but I don't code on any respectable level, even after many hours of classes I am only a rough beginner. I am, and have been for many years both vocationally and avocationally, a go-between. And believe me that is a required position but like most negotiators the skill set is not as highly valued as the ubber-geeks who do that actual "work."

pjm at the blog Flashes of Panic has a really interesting post up today about the shortage of women in CS. The post is partially a response to a recent Boston Globe article on the subject and partially a response to an earlier post of his. It's definitely worth reading.

One of the most interesting aspects of pjm's post is that he is speaking from the perspective of an non-stereotypical CS male: someone that's not a hard-core geek in the traditional sense. And as a result, his points and concerns echo some of the concerns I hear from my female students. And this is something I've noticed as well: some non-stereotypical males have an equally hard time fitting into the CS culture, and fight to come to terms with that. The culture hurts everyone, not just women and minorities.

I want to highlight a few things from pjm's post:

[pjm]There's no room for [turning off interested students] because it's not just about computers. It's about what computers can do for everything else. It's about sequencing the genome; it's about streamlining business processes. It's about changing the way we share information.

A friend of mine, who teaches at a liberal arts school, makes the same point: Computer Science is *the* quintessential modern Liberal Art, because it touches on so many other fields. Want to be a scientist? You increasingly need to know how to program a computer. How about a policymaker? You need to understand technology (in an ideal world) before you can start legislating it. And so on. This, I believe, is how the CS field needs to position itself for the future: not as a means in and of itself, not as a neat collection of technical trivia, but as the key to innovation in many other fields. CS needs to position itself so that everyone understands its relevance to almost all aspects of life today: work, leisure, culture, etc. And frankly, so far it's doing a pretty poor job of that--witness the declining number of majors in most programs, even though it's becoming more important than ever to be technically literate.

The other aspect of this is that even though those of us in the CS-related fields need to embrace this message and move forward with it, we still don't value it. I think of the students that are held up as "models" around here, or the ones we discuss the most, and nine times out of ten they are the ones who, well, look and act like stereotypical computer scientists. They know a lot of arcane technical stuff. They are not well-rounded. They live and breathe CS. We ignore the ones who are utilizing CS in many interesting ways: the double CS/Music majors, the political science concentrators, the English majors that show up in our upper-level electives. Until we start practicing what we should be preaching, the culture will not change substantially.

Are the limitations of the CS culture why we have new disciplines like Informatics? In Indianapolis I spend my days around these amazing visual artists, and musicians who have embraced the things that computers can bring to their work but have not lost their sense of identity as an artist, and trust me some of these folks are ubber-computer-geeky. They know a lot about the underlying technologies of their computer environments and manipulate them with abandon.

Way back when I took Gender and Computerization, my first class with Susan Herring, we had a guest speaker who talked to us about women and computer science. Someone asked him what it would take for things to change in the field. His answer, very straight faced answer I should add, was, "A bunch of people are going to have to die." Sad but true. Though it's good for us in the more progressive disciplines...until we get to well entrenched.

p.s. You know when I write posts like this it really irritates me that in none of my clip art do I have a good set of drawings of women using computers in their various forms, go figure.

Posted by prolurkr at January 5, 2006 08:18 AM

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