When I tell people about my PhD—that I research ways to make technology more engaging for women—I usually brace myself for a reply like this: “Why would you bother to do that? Everyone knows men are just better with technology. It’s science!”. It happens more often than you would think, and more often than I’d like. And then I get into a whole conversation about why this isn’t true. So I thought I’d lay out the arguments against biological determinism—the idea that ‘male’ and ‘female’ bodies are in some way built to have different competencies in doing maths, designing bridges or operating computers—so I can point people here instead. And then there turned out to be a lot of arguments to cover and this turned into a pretty long read.
A key problem created by gender imbalances in the tech and engineering industries is that it means fewer women than men have access to the means of designing and producing technological artefacts. If most programmers and engineers are men, then most software and hardware is going to be designed by men.
In the first episode of the Freakatoms podcast I look at the world of DIY biology. Featuring interviews with Nicholas Ritzroy-Dale of London Biohackspace; Phillip Boeing, co-founder of the Bento Lab home DIYbio kit; and Dr Jack Stilgoe, lecturer in science policy at University College London. Music provided by onlymeith and Doxent Zsigmond.
I spent the past couple of weekends getting my geek on at EMF Camp, a camping festival for hackers and makers, and Nine Worlds, a fan culture convention that covers everything from Joss Whedon to roller derby.
One of my favourite things about the maker community is how it brings artists and scientists together under the same banner. I recently spoke to a few artists who are collaborating with scientists in more traditional locations—in labs, in libraries, in research groups—to find out more about their work and how collaborations between art and science benefits both fields.
I hate gender-specific job titles with the power of a thousand suns. As well as perpetuating the idea that there are only two genders that everyone has to fit themselves into, it seems so derogatory to shove an ‘-ess’ on the end of a regular job title just because somebody who identifies as a woman is doing it.
A strong thread of reflexivity has run through the maker movement since its birth around a decade ago in the mid-2000s. Neil Gershenfeld, creator of the first FabLab at MIT, heralded personal fabrication as a “coming revolution on your desktop”; Cory Doctorow tempered this with a utopian/dystopian (and just barely fictional) vision of making in the near future; and Chris Anderson lauded the Maker Movement (with capital ‘M’s) as nothing less than the New Industrial Revolution.
This year’s Brighton Mini Maker Faire was produced on somewhat of a shoestring, with reduced funding available both from public grants and from private sponsorship compared to some previous years. Despite this we were able to produce our core event (minus a few bonuses) and attract a wide range of makers from many and varied fields through a focussed production effort and the benefit of word of mouth from our previous four events.