This post is undertaken for the Ada Lovelace Pledge.
I’ve been fortunate to work with a number of brilliant women in technology. Mostly those I met at the BBC including Paula La Dieu, Alice Taylor, Anne Fairbrother, Priya Prakash and Anno Mitchell and those I only met fleetingly but who’s reputation and work was well known, like Fiona Romeo and Kim Plowright. (The BBC had a clutch of women who were outstanding and perhaps this rubbed off on me as I nominated a meeting room at the BBC to be called Ada Lovelace. It was.). Beyond my immediate working environment I’ve been influenced by writers like Geniveve Bell and Kathy Sierra (tho better in print than speaking methinks) and of course danah boyd. I would choose danah for this Ada day but I imagine she’s incredibly popular already and doesn’t need another blog post. Someone less well known who’s been at least as significant an influence as danah is Susan Leigh Star and she doesn’t get mentioned much, so here you go. I’m a fan of Actor Network Theory and Susan Leigh Star was someone who took that methodological approach to look at technology in all it’s forms. She deconstructed it and rebuilt it again in some marvellous ways.
Her book “Sorting Things Out” is still an inspiration in looking at people classify things and the daily politics involved in that classification process. It’s not Technology with a capital T and I think that’s what I learnt most from Susan’s work. Technology doesn’t exist as such, it’s just in-human stuff, not that calling it that denigrates it in any way, rather it serves to empower it by showing that materials have the potential for effects rather than being ‘objects’ subservient to humans with ‘agency’. I wouldn’t usually advocate an academic, because on the whole I think they’re not that useful, but Susan’s work has stood out for me as being practical and insightful and despite its subject matter not always being that sexy she manages to make her work interesting.
That’s it. Well done Susan, there’s a trophy waiting for you in Sheffield.