Before taking this class, I have always thought about discrimination as an “in real life” issue. But over the semester of the class, I was able to realize that there are so many different avenues to explore when discussing discrimination. This issue becomes even more interesting when discrimination against minorities in our modern world is studied in the context of technology. I think that studying the Internet was most exciting because it was something I had never explored before in my academic career.
As someone who has had access to computers and the Internet since childhood, it is easy for me to take these things for granted. The Internet and all the technology that comes with it, has just become a way of life. I never question its meaning or how it was used before this class. I discovered in this class that there was so much I didn’t know. Even though it seems so obvious, I had never considered the fact that not everyone has access to Internet. In my small world of an educated American, typing something into Google doesn’t even take a second. But what I soon realized is that not only do most people not have access to Internet, but also the way the Internet is set up is biased against certain people. This realization not only helped me have a newfound understanding for the biases in technology but also served to inspire me in my final project.
I was fascinated with uncovering the silences of certain minority groups and their relation to the Internet. I had always thought about the Internet as being a ubiquitous platform that was available to all. But after taking this class, my feelings on this were transformed. I realized that the way that technology and the Internet is set up today, houses many silence among minority communities. For example, in the reading, Configuring the User as Everybody: Gender and Design Cultures in Information and Communication Technologies, Nelly Oudshoorn, Els Rommes, and Marcelle Stienstra discuss how the Internet does appeal to everyone’s needs. That is because the Internet is designed by a very homogeneous set of people, there is a struggle to find users outside of that audience. This concept of a lack of diversity in people on the Internet and the people creating the Internet was further emphasized by a video that we watched in class. In the video (shown below), it resonated with me how technology can really affect people’s lives. I took away from the video that because the Wukchumni tribes do not have access to technology to record their language, their culture slowly starts to fade away.The video reiterates the connection between the user and the creator. Because the internet was not created by Wukchumni speakers, the tribes people couldn’t use the internet, and the language was not perpetuated. This video was somewhat shocking to me because I had never thought about how powerful technologies can be.
As I mentioned, one of my major growth spots in the class was a deeper understanding of the many silences in technology in the modern era. I was always interested in Women’s gender studies, so I wondered how I could explore this passion on a technical platform. As a frequent Instagram user, I noticed that there were a lot of fitness pages. I decided I wanted to explore this movement further and determine how it was affecting women and the relationship with their bodies. There has already been a lot of power in the voice of woman countering pressures of body image. I feel that the public now understands that the bodies of rail thin models are not an aspiration young women should be seeking. But, I think people have yet to realize that the extreme health movement is just as detrimental to women’s mental and physical health.
I began to notice a trend occurring around me. Girls were posting workout videos and pictures of green smoothies on Instagram. Gone were the days of posting a picture of a barely visible leg. It seems that now social media users have a new pressure of demonstrating to all viewers that they are extremely physically fit. It seems to show that these people care about their bodies, and those who don’t workout are lazy. The observations I began making were further underscored by the book Body Panic by Shari Dworkin and Faye Linda Wachs about the selling of the fitness lifestyle. I began to realize that indeed there was a silence of women’s voices here. Not every woman has a perfectly toned stomach and barely an ounce of fat. But since these models are now under the guise of “healthy” these voices are seen as lazy and go unheard. My goal of my project was to bring my reader to the same moment of epiphany I had in the class. That is, I wanted my reader to realize that the woman’s body image movement is not as simple as fat versus skinny. There are silences masked by the voices of TV personalities and celebrities claiming the perfect body is reflected of a healthy lifestyle. What I hoped to illuminate was that healthy is different for everyone and working out everyday twice a day and only eating vegetables is not the only way to be healthy.
One of the most enriching parts of the class was that I was able to directly apply what I was learning in the classroom to my everyday life. Every time I logged on to the Internet, I had a new appreciation for the fluidity in which my searches occurred. Like I previously mentioned, one of the biggest lessons I learned was how fortunate I was that it was so easy for me to access modern technology. I also became weary of the Internet. I was made aware that there are certain biases against certain groups. As Oudshoorn et.al. point out, the users experience is directly affected by the creator and vice versa. This creates a cycle that seems impossible to break out of. When specific groups remain the exclusive consumers of technology, creators design technology to fit their needs. This class has made me much more aware of the complexities of modern technology, and its role in the technical space as well as the social one.
Heller, Chris. “Saving Wukchumni.” The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, 22 Sept. 2014. Web. 15 Dec. 2014.
Oudshoorn, Nelly, Els Rommes, and Marcelle Stienstra. “Configuring the User as Everybody: Gender and Design Cultures in Information and Communication Technologies.” Science, Technology, & Human Values 29.1 (2004): 30-63.