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Orange Unit: A Person-Centered Launch

3A: The Unknown Tech Innovators

Background Knowledge Probe

  1. Draw a picture of an innovation in the process of being innovated.
  2. Looking at your completed drawing, consider the following:
    • Describe the innovation in your drawing. What might be its uses? What might be its impact once it is released to the target population?
    • Who is doing the innovation? Why? For what goal(s)?

Who Shapes Technology?

“A Critical Social + Technical Perspective” and associated essential resources highlighted ways technologies are a seamless, indivisible combination of social and technical components that are co-created by everyday users. But as Wajcman notes, those things white, male, and middle- and upper-class innovators primarily focus on creating are specific “male machines” rather than broader, everyday life technologies.[1] When workshop and class participants are asked to draw a picture of “an innovator innovating,” many draw individual white men innovating the modern digital technology machine. This tendency towards drawing innovations and their innovators in this way is a representation of the current dominant narrative in much of U.S. culture.

We also considered how once developed and made available for broader use by people, technologies do not remain static, but rather are adapted and co-created to fit within ever-changing contexts.[2] The co-creation happens when uses of technology are done in ways that amplify our individual and group actions in the world.[3] While this mutual shaping of technologies is ongoing, we often think of the digital technology product itself in the more static conceptualization. As such, often in these drawings of an innovator innovating, it’s a certain subgroup of initial innovators, and does not include in the drawing the intermediary and everyday co-creators of a digital technology. Nor do we include in the drawing those who are shaping the innovation and design as part of the engineering, coding, marketing and distribution, and other stages of the product’s life cycle.

Take a moment to review your picture of an innovation in the process of being innovated, and reflect on your considerations of the questions above. In what ways might your readings and works so far in the book have influenced your response to the Background Knowledge Probe?

Broadening our Understanding of Creating

Today’s Maker movements often emphasize a broader set of activities in the process of making something. While some of these spaces emphasize specific digital technologies, many others view this more broadly as craft-making. Bruce Sinclair considers how the work of engineering requires skills developed through rigorous, formal instruction in areas such as physics and mathematics and maintained through ongoing readings of published literature. Sinclair goes on to contrast this to crafting, which depends primarily on unwritten and on-the-job development of knowledge and manual skills, typically done in a broader community of practice.

Throughout U.S. history and continuing today, people of color and women have often been kept from educational opportunities, particularly in areas such as engineering, and more recently, computer science. And yet, hidden are the myriad ways elite occupations have been successfully done via these very same people while mainly white males are given the credit for the accomplishments made by the broader group of innovators, designers, and creators.

Carolyn de la Peña has highlighted how finding these hidden stories regarding the design and innovation of technologies by white women have required challenging but essential meta-historical narratives through personal papers and the records of their and their husbands’ activities. Finding the records of people of color are even more challenging. To proceed, de la Peña notes:

Rather than imagining “race” as a term that describes particular individuals marked as nonwhite, I want to suggest we think of race as an epistemology at play in all technological production and consumption. This concept makes it possible to see the significance of the obvious: that white people have race. And they make it, sustain it, and protect it in part through technology. More importantly, this approach suggests that it is not only the problem of source that keeps us from integrating race fully into our analyses. Instead, the real difficulty occurs in tandem: difficult-to-locate sources combine with our own tendencies to fail to see all that can be found in what is available, and to creatively engage and interpret in order to draw race out of the archive.

Carolyn de la Peña, “The History of Technology, the Resistance of Archives, and the Whiteness of Race”

As a white, cisgender, heterosexual male scholar working at a higher education institution in the United States, it is essential that I recognize the ethical dilemmas involved in writing this book introducing networked information systems within the information sciences. In doing so, I continue to work to identify ways in which I am building from, and integrating into this work imperialist, patriarchal, and racist ideologies which are embedded within general Western and specific United States culture and practices.

In order to broaden my understanding of digital technology design and innovation, I have drawn heavily from Community Informatics (CI) practice, a field that seeks to make “effective use” of technology through a practice of community inquiry, participatory design, popular education, and asset-based development to enhance quality of life.[4] This led me to co-develop a list of critical questions for Community Informatics in practice.[5] As related specifically to the philosophy of technology, rather than bringing forward the digital technologies we think are essential for information seeking and sharing, we need to instead consider:

What everyday technologies might be unseen and displaced because of an overly narrow definition of what should be considered an appropriate technology? Who are the local innovators whose technologies might be championed as part of a CI project?… How might the voices of technology skeptics and traditionalists inform adoption, or non-adoption, of a CI project? What important insights regarding culture, values, and history are these perspectives bringing to the engagement?

Martin Wolske and Colin Rhinesmith, “Critical Questions for Community Informatics in Practice from an Ethical Perspective”

Lesson Plan

With this historical context in mind, in the next session we will consider the evolution of computers and their “building blocks.”

Essential Resources:

Professional Journal Reflections:

  1. How has your consideration of digital technology and digital innovation changed after this reading of the texts and of the contexts?
  2. Who are some of the unknown innovators of your everyday technologies? Why were they unknown until now? How might they still be partially unknown by you, or by others?
  3. In what ways have you been an unknown innovator of a technology? Why were you unknown until now? How might you still be partially unknown by yourself and by others?

  1. Judy Wajcman, “Feminist Theories of Technology,” Cambridge Journal of Economics 34, no. 1 (January 1, 2010): 143–52.
  2. Bertram Bruce, Andee Rubin, and Junghyun An, “Situated Evaluation of Socio-Technical Systems,” in Handbook of Research on Socio-Technical Design and Social Networking Systems, eds. Brian Whitworth and Aldo de Moor, Information Science Reference (Hershey, PA: IGI Global, 2009), 2: 685–98.
  3. Kentaro Toyama, Geek Heresy: Rescuing Social Change from the Cult of Technology (New York: PublicAffairs, 2015).
  4. See, for example: Gurstein, Bruce, Campbell, and Eubanks, all available at
  5. Martin Wolske and Colin Rhinesmith, “Critical Questions for Community Informatics in Practice from an Ethical Perspective,” The Journal of Community Informatics 12, no. 3 (2016): 236–42.


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A Person-Centered Guide to Demystifying Technology Copyright © 2020 by Copyright © 2020 Martin Wolske. Copyright “Ideating and Iterating Code: Scratch Example” © 2020 Betty Bayer and Stephanie Shallcross. Copyright “Introducing the Unix Command Line” © 2020 Martin Wolske, Dinesh Rathi, Henry Grob, and Vandana Singh. Copyright “Security and Privacy” © 2020 Sara Rasmussen. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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