Orange Unit: A Person-Centered Launch
3A: The Unknown Tech Innovators
Background Knowledge Probe
- Draw a picture of an innovation in the process of being innovated.
- 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. 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. The co-creation happens when uses of technology are done in ways that amplify our individual and group actions in the world. 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. This led me to co-develop a list of critical questions for Community Informatics in practice. 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”
With this historical context in mind, in the next session we will consider the evolution of computers and their “building blocks.”
- Articles and chapters:
- Sinclair, Bruce. “Integrating the Histories of Race and Technology.” In Technology and the African-American Experience: Needs and Opportunities for Study, 1–17. Boston: MIT Press, 2004. https://mitpress.mit.edu/books/technology-and-african-american-experience.
- de la Peña, Carolyn. “The History of Technology, the Resistance of Archives, and the Whiteness of Race.” Technology and Culture 51, no. 4 (October 2010): 919–37. https://muse.jhu.edu/article/403272.
- Wolske, Martin, 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. http://www.ci-journal.net/index.php/ciej/article/view/1325.
- A few sources about women and people of color in technology, past and present:
- The White House: President Barack Obama. “The Untold History of Women in Science and Technology.” Accessed February 9, 2020. https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/women-in-stem.
- Biography.com. “Famous Black Inventors.” Accessed February 9, 2020. https://www.biography.com/people/groups/black-inventors.
- Adams, Genetta M. “17 Black Internet Pioneers.” The Root, February 12, 2012. https://www.theroot.com/17-black-internet-pioneers-1790868134.
- Black Enterprise. “List of the Most Influential Blacks in Technology – Black Enterprise,” November 9, 2018. https://www.blackenterprise.com/list-of-the-most-influential-blacks-in-technology/.
- McDonald, Clare. “Computer Weekly Announces the Most Influential Women in UK IT 2018.” ComputerWeekly.com, September 26, 2018. https://www.computerweekly.com/news/252449081/Computer-Weekly-announces-the-Most-Influential-Women-in-UK-IT-2018. (Especially note #8, Carrie Anne Philbin, director of education at the Raspberry Pi Foundation.)
- Key highlights about the Raspberry Pi Foundation, Adafruit Industries, and their respective teams:
- ElectronicsWeekly.com. “How They Make Raspberry Pi in the UK – Electronics Weekly Visits Pencoed. Metropolis Multimedia.” YouTube, September 11, 2013. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tza6Hl8wSJ0.
- Raspberry Pi Foundation. “About Us.” Accessed February 9, 2020. https://www.raspberrypi.org/about/.
- Raspberry Pi Foundation. “Raspberry Pi Foundation Annual Review 2018.” Raspberry Pi Foundation, 2018. https://static.raspberrypi.org/files/about/RaspberryPiFoundationReview2018.pdf.
- Raspberry Pi Foundation. “Raspberry Pi Foundation Strategy 2018-2020.” Raspberry Pi Foundation, 2018. https://static.raspberrypi.org/files/about/RaspberryPiFoundationStrategy2018%E2%80%932020.pdf.
- Adafruit Industries. “About Us.” Adafruit Industries. Accessed February 9, 2020. https://www.adafruit.com/about.
- NYC Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment. “Her Big Idea, Featuring Limor Fried.” YouTube, November 6, 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cwpIx7n6UYg.
Key Technical Terms
- Core hardware components of a computer, including the , the and other , types of short term and longer term , and input/output devices
- Core software components of a computer , including the , , , and the top level .
- The history and overarching principles of the three major types of operating systems used today, Linux, Mac OSX, and Microsoft.
Professional Journal Reflections:
- How has your consideration of digital technology and digital innovation changed after this reading of the texts and of the contexts?
- 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?
- 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?
- Judy Wajcman, "Feminist Theories of Technology," Cambridge Journal of Economics 34, no. 1 (January 1, 2010): 143–52. https://doi.org/10.1093/cje/ben057. ↵
- 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. https://doi.org/10.4018/978-1-60566-264-0. ↵
- Kentaro Toyama, Geek Heresy: Rescuing Social Change from the Cult of Technology (New York: PublicAffairs, 2015). ↵
- See, for example: Gurstein, Bruce, Campbell, and Eubanks, all available at http://www.ci-journal.net/index.php/ciej. ↵
- 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. http://www.ci-journal.net/index.php/ciej/article/view/1325. ↵
The printed circuit board found in a computer, which contains the principal components, along with ports and connectors to other devices. The term "motherboard" arose at a time when it was paired with one or more supporting printed circuit expansion boards, often referred to as daughterboards or expansion cards, in order to achieve the full general functioning of the computer. The motherboard is sometimes also referred to as system board or mainboard.
The CPU is the central processor of a computer. It is built of an ever-growing number of electronic circuits enabling it to carry out the basic arithmetic, logic, controlling, and input/output operation instructions for the computer. Over the decades, more electronic components have been placed on a single and increasingly small integrated circuit (IC) chip. Today's CPUs are actually multi-core processors, with one chip being constructed of two or more CPUs called "cores." It is on the CPU that instructions for the vast majority of programming code is actually run. The CPU uses three main steps: fetch, decode, and execute, after which the instruction is returned to a memory integrated circuit.
An integrated circuit that interfaces with one or more other devices on a printed circuit board. Besides the CPU, this can include input/output controller(s) and a graphic processing unit (GPU) controller. The Raspberry Pi Model 3 has two controllers, the System-on-Chip (SoC) controller that includes the CPU and computer memory, and a controller interfacing with the wired Ethernet and four USB ports.
Memory is the part of a computer in which data or programming instructions are stored and retrieved. Memory is constructed using high-performance integrated circuit chips to increase performance as compared to storage devices such as hard drives and lower performance but less expensive flash drive integrated circuit chips. Much of this type of memory is volatile Random Access Memory (RAM), in which data is lost when power to the computer is turned off. There are multiple types of RAM: The higher cost but faster performing static RAM (SRAM) is used with the CPU to increase CPU performance, while the less costly but slightly slower dynamic RAM (DRAM), or more recently double data rate synchronous dynamic RAM (DDR SDRAM) is the main memory of computers. The Raspberry Pi Model 3 comes with 1 GB (Gigabyte) of DDR, while the Raspberry Pi Model 4 is available with 1GB, 2GB, or 4GB of DDR, making it very similar to today's smartphone and Chromebook computers. Many laptops today come with 4GB to 8GB of system memory.
There are a range of different data storage devices: hard drives (HDDs) constructed using magnetic charges placed on a set of spinning platters, DVDs using pits on a spinning platter read via laser, and flash memory integrated circuit chips, such as Solid State Drives (SSDs), USB flash drives, and SD cards, provide computers with long term storage of data and software applications. Storage devices are relatively slow, so programming instructions need to be moved from storage to memory using integrated circuits to be fetched, decoded, and executed by the processors of the computer. The Raspberry Pi kit includes an 8 GB MicroSD card storage device, although 16GB, 32GB, and 128GB MicroSD cards are available and can be used with the Raspberry Pi. In addition, it is sometimes helpful to make use of USB flash drives or USB hard drives with the Raspberry Pi to provide even more storage.
The core software bundle of a computer. The OS supports different aspects of a computer’s basic functions, overseeing the coordination between the physical electronics of the computer and the many software applications that allow us to do our daily computer-based activities. While the physical electronic components of most personal computers support multiple different operating systems, only one OS can be run on a computer at a given time since it is the central control system of those physical electronics. That is, the OS has the final word on how software interacts with hardware when the computer is turned on and functioning.
The kernel is the heart of the OS, and for the most part remains hidden from view. On the opposite side, the Graphical User Interface (GUI) serves as the visual mechanism for interacting with a computer, whether via keyboard, mouse, and monitor, touchpad, or something else. All modern computers also include a Command Line Interface (CLI) such as a terminal window in which applications can be run and data is displayed using text. Indeed, for higher-level programming, research and development, and systems management, a combination of GUI and CLI interfaces used in parallel prove essential.
The heart of the operating system. It is the go-between from applications between input/output controllers, memory, the Central Processing Unit (CPU) and storage devices.
This is the part of the graphical user interface that communicates with the kernel. Many operating systems allow remote interfacing with the window system, either directly or through third-party applications.
The desktop environment is a collection of software that provides a predictable look and feel. Includes a Window Manager that controls the placement and appearance of windows, support icons, menus, etc. For some operating systems, such as Windows and macOS, the desktop environment is the branded look of the operating system and cannot be changed.
Pre-set packages containing graphical appearance details. Supported in some versions of Windows and Linux. Available as third-party applications in other cases. Supported for many applications like web browsers. Changes the look and feel of many features at once (e.g. background colors, text font and size, icons, mouse cursor, etc.).