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how to be a feminist geek

"I just think that their flight from and hatred of technology is self-defeating. The Buddha, the Godhead, resides quite as comfortably in the circuits of a digital computer or the gears of a cycle transmission as he does at the top of a mountain or in the petals of a flower. To think otherwise is to demean the Buddha... which is to demean oneself." Robert Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance - An Inquiry into Values

historic perspective

In a presentation at a Macromedia (now Adobe) Higher Education Leadership Forum, American Association for Higher Education President Clara Lovett offered an historical perspective on “Innovations in Teaching, Learning, and Technology,” urging acceptance of the fact that we are in the third wave of a revolution that will not stop. Twenty years ago, the first wave in post-secondary education saw initiators engaged in using technology for research in very specialized ways. During the 1990s, the second stage focused on distance education for continuing adult students and students who lived in remote communities. What’s different now? The revolution is about today’s learners. For younger students, learning is not linear and sequential. Learning is ubiquitous. The culture of the academy is not pushing back against the technology; faculty are willing but need more training. However, a model of faculty using technology and accepting IT people as peers is not part of the traditional academic culture to which many people are attached. Lovett argued that educational technologists have an obligation to help faculty to have less fear, to see themselves as mentors to their students, and to help them to see the advantages of change.

I have done my best to keep up with computer technology as it developed through each of these stages. Early on I had fears about losing data, and I have been humbled by a computer virus and a hard drive crash or two. I am still a cautious feminist geek. Yet a calm attitude toward computers has helped me to persevere through a multitude of computing challenges - and come back for more. In addition to early exposure, I credit taking to heart the lessons Pirsig offers in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance for providing an enabling perspective on technology.

12 steps...

To be one with one's computer, an aspiring or accomplished feminist geek is advised to:

  1. Remember that a computer is "just" a machine and, at least at this point in time, it does not have a mind of its own.
  2. Recognize when you need outside help with your computer, and know where to find it. Yet, do learn to maintain your computer yourself. It is not rocket science and prevents a lot of frustration.
  3. Realize that computer maintenance, using an analogy to Pirsig's description of motorcycle maintenance, "proceeds by reason and by laws... which are themselves underlying forms of thought and behavior," philosophically a classic vs. romantic style. "The classic style is straightforward, unadorned, unemotional, economical and carefully proportioned. Its purpose is not to inspire emotionally, but to bring order out of chaos and make the unknown known." Try to stay calm when you encounter challenging computer issues.
  4. Have the proper tools and find the time to learn to use them creatively and effectively.
  5. RTFM - A geek acronym for "read the manual". Companies spend a lot of resources to produce them.
  6. Explore the web; play with it. Look at how others use technology. Determine how you can use the technology to make your work and life easier, more productive, and fun.
  7. Use the technology only when it meets your personal and professional needs. This makes it easier to commit time to learning and doing technology.
  8. Do not be intimidated by technology. Try to maintain an almost naive wonder at the wealth of resources that the Internet and computers provide to us.
  9. Backup your work regularly. Know that it is okay to print out really important documents. You may not be able to read them with a computer program in 15 years.
  10. Do not put total trust in technology. If you have an important presentation, bring a one-page handout that you can use if the technology fails.
  11. Know that you will never be up-to-date on everything, so figure out what is important to your life and focus on those things while keeping abreast of innovations that may be valuable to you.
  12. Be patient with yourself and with new technology. Remember that "the reward of patience is patience."

These steps are still are "work in progress." Comments or suggestions to are welcome.

Many thanks to the following feminist geeks for their constructive criticism of the 12 steps: Nick Puz and Thelma Estrin.


Copyright 2005-2011 Susan Kullmann