Essay21Feb

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Alice

Question - is there a deeper, natural connection between women and technology, particularly between women and software? Does software have a gender?

Selected texts:


  • The Future Looms - Sadie Plant
  • When Computers Were Women - Jennifer Light


Abstract: Women have been involved in software, in one form or another, from the beginning. Was their introduction into the technological workforce simply a matter of necessity during the Second World War, or were they always meant to be working with computers? Looking back at examples from Ada Lovelace to the women who worked on the ENIAC computer in the 1940s, this essay looks at the connection between women and technology and whether a deeper meaning can come to light from it.

This essay is meant to compare and discuss two different texts relating to women in computing. One of the first things they have in common is that both essays were written by women, and both were published in 1999. The first text considered here is 'When Computers Were Women', by Jennifer Light, an essay discussing women's contribution into the technology world during and after the second World War. The second essay is 'The Future Looms: Weaving Women and Cybernetics', by Sadie Plant. In this case, the author looks back at the computational icon of the 19th century, Ada Lovelace, and draws the relationship between women and computers through the practice of weaving.

The main thesis of this essay relates to the idea that women and software are somehow interconnected. The two texts take two different approaches to the 'feminine' aspect of software development. One deems it inherent to the female spirit, while the other looks at gendering an occupation, a process that diminished its importance in the eyes of the general public and the media. It is important to note that, even though both texts were written by women, they often present the points of views of the men that were also present in the same context.

To begin with, it should be mentioned that both essays make reference to two real-life examples of women working in technology. Plant focuses her essay on the well-known Ada Lovelace, today an icon of women in computing, who worked with Charles Babbage in the 1800s on his Analytical Engine, a computer that could perform simple calculations. Respectively, the second essay presents the work of women in technology during and after the second World War, particularly on the ENIAC computer, which calculated ballistics trajectories. In both cases, women with great mathematical skills were assigned the software side of the project, while the men were in change with designing and building the hardware. In the case of the ENIAC, a large number of recent female graduates were hired due to the shortages in male workforce. This was a consequence of men being sent to war, a purely practical economical reason for women to replace men in their previous positions. Ada Lovelace, on the other hand, was a highly privileged woman with a natural affinity to mathematics and computing, which led to her involvement with the Analytical Engine. Therefore, we are looking at women from different time periods, contexts and social classes, who got involved in technology for very different reasons. Here, we can also highlight an important distinction between the viewpoints of the two essays—the first one looks at the relationship between women and software from a philosophical perspective, the second one focusing on a more material viewpoint.

The idea that software and women are interlaced is developed in both texts, although from very different perspectives. Sadie Plant dives deep into history, looking at how weaving, a very sophisticated and programmatic practice of arranging threads into a particular patterns, has always been associated with women. Rather than being dismissed as "women's work", as it is in the case of ENIAC, the importance and complexity of weaving is clearly recognized. Moreover, the design of Babbage's Analytical Engine is based on the design of the first automated loom, which used punch cards to record patterns of weaving, much like the algorithms used in programming. Plant states that, since weaving came so naturally to women throughout history, programming should have the same kind of connection. In contrast, the programming work women were doing during World War Two, even though just as intricate, was seen as less important than the work men were doing. The assumption that software simply reproduces the same notions and computations over and over again is clearly meant to suggest that the work that is put into programming is menial and of less importance than that of building hardware. The male engineers at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics considered that doing computational work was a waste of their skills and time, and that these tasks should be assigned to women instead. Thus, women and software both were considered to be working in the service of men, the software being a subordinate of the hardware.

Both weaving and computational work required, then more than now, working in a particular rhythm. Mechanization has generally transformed the natural rhythms in which women were weaving and making calculations by hand, and machines have taken over production in many areas where women used to work manually. When such developments occur, the manual work that came before, and ultimately helped this development take place, is often overlooked. This was the case of ENIAC, whose software was based on, and built through the manual work of women. The machine's achievements were ultimately praised completely independently of all the labour behind it. The software was seen as an invisible layer, hidden inside the physical machine build by the men, working in the interest of the man and his machine. Surprisingly, in the case of Ada, her legacy lived on way further than that of Babbage, through the ADA programming language used by the US Defense Department.

To conclude, it can be said that the two perspectives of the relationship between women and software are extremely different. On one hand, the complexity of software development is inherent to the way in which women have always worked. This viewpoint recognizes the work of women at the level of excellence at which they were performing, as well as the abstract aspect of their work which made it less approachable for men. On the other hand, the repetitive aspect of programming is seen as a form of clerical work with less value than engineering in Light's essay. In this case, "women's work" is no longer considered complex and abstract, but rather menial and unimportant, compared to the work that men were performing, and therefore pushed into anonymity. In both perspectives which look at women's work in software, the work is given a gender, female. I believe the conceptualization of software as weaving is more than a metaphor, but a view based in reality. An example here would be the women working on the Apollo software which was hand-woven to contain all the 0s and 1s necessary for takeoff into space. Dismissing the work of women as simple and repetitive is a gross underestimation of the complexity of the patterns they create. By comparing the two selected essays, the answers remain unclear whether software is inherently female, but one thing that is clear is that the work women have done in the development of software has been grossly overlooked.

Bibliography:

Light, Jennifer S.(1999). When Computers Were Women. Technology and Culture 40(3), pp. 455-483.

Plant, Sadie(1999). The Future Looms: Weaving Women and Cybernetics. Body and Society 1(3-4), pp. 45-64.

Tash

On female authorship in American and Indonesian literary history
Comparing interviews: with Ursula Le Guin and with Melani Budianta

In Western literary history, the exclusion and distortion of female authorship has been a feature of feminist critique for some time. This is not the case all over the world. A country like Indonesia is at a different juncture in the evolution of both their literary tradition and their experience of feminism. Without a history of suffrage but with more volatile political and religious tensions, equality in Indonesia is grounded in a different context. So what is the contemporary role of women’s writing in their respective canons? In her 1995 interview I am a Woman Writer, I am a Western Writer, author Ursula Le Guin discusses this issue, and shares her personal experiences dealing with the male-dominated literary establishment. Twenty years later, in an interview with Jurnal Perempuan (Women’s Journal) acclaimed Indonesian critic Melani Budianta examines similar questions in the context of Indonesian literature. Together, Le Guin and Budianta each help chart the rise, fall and current position of female authorship in American and Indonesian literature.

To begin with, both Le Guin and Budianta express a similar discontent with the representation of women in the recording of literary history. Both stress the way that male writers are more widely recognized and canonized than their female counterparts. Furthermore, in the instances when female writers have entered the literary ‘mainstream’, there is resistance. Le Guin (p.197) is emphatic in her reaction: “It just seems so damn silly to me to leave out half our writers. Nearly half of our fiction has been written by women. Often while they were alive these women were beloved and popular, respected, but as soon as they died the lid went on.” Budianta’s tone is more studied, academic, as she points out that the minimization of women’s writing in literary history has always been a reflection of women’s value in wider society. As such, “…there is no such thing as a golden age for women writers. They rise and then they fall.” In contrast to male authors, the status of women’s writing is never permanent, but requires effort to maintain.

Another issue brought up by both Le Guin and Budianta is the underrepresentation of women in the structures which manage the literary field. The older, more established Western publishing industry is deeply male-dominated. Le Guin points out that though nearly half of American fiction has been written by women, power still lies with the male editors, publishers and critics. Using concrete examples of literary prizes, she points out that “…writing in both poetry and fiction, is about fifty-fifty men and women, but prizes, grants, and awards are nowhere near fifty-fifty.” In much the same way, Budianta laments the dominance of men in Indonesian editorship and academia. Where she does diverge from Le Guin, is her focus on culture as the root of this gender bias. Budianta points out that traditionally, the activities of Indonesian women were restricted to the private sphere, while literature was governed by men – those who could engage in public life, in the workplace, in politics. In this way, men became the gatekeepers of the book as a medium.

With the problems exposed, Le Guin moves on to explore several key feminist responses to the literary tradition. Speaking primarily of women writers of the 21st century, like Virginia Woolf and herself, Le Guin outlines two early approaches: those who imitate men’s writing to become more canonical, to those who passionately defend l’écriture feminine. Of her own generation she says: “We’re learning how to write as women. A lot of us feel that we've found our voices.” (p. 197) For them, the challenge now has less to do with the formation of a women’s tradition, but with inserting this writing into the mainstream. The situation is different for Indonesian women’s writing, however. In her interview, Budianta spends some time speaking of a new crop of Indonesian women writers who are exploring female sexuality and experience for the first time. In 2016, Indonesian women are only beginning to make the transition from object to subject. In this way, the state of feminist literary critique in Indonesia today is perhaps more similar to that of 1970s America.

Another point of difference between American and Indonesian literature is the state of documentation of women’s writing. While Le Guin provides several examples of how feminists have uncovered and promoted women writers over the last fifteen years, Budianta notes that there are many blind spots in Indonesian literary history. Much of the country’s more informal writing ephemera have never been archived, and the first novel by a female author to be included in the National Library was only written in 1930. Budianta asserts that “It is now our task as literary critics to document and question these practices and attitudes.” That there are more successful women authors in Indonesia today than ever before, and more women in academia, are encouraging developments.

To round up her analysis of the current position of Indonesian women writers, Budianta also mentions the country’s political climate. Having spent most of the last 50 years under a dictatorship, one of the things which makes Indonesia’s literary history so distinct to America’s is its experience with government censorship. During Soeharto’s presidency, censorship was mostly focussed on restricting political and ideological language. Coming out from under this media environment, Indonesia experienced a period of significant growth and prosperity. However, in the last ten years, new forces are coming into play: that of religious extremism and social censorship. Budianta notes that today, there is a tension between the more progressive urban population and the more conservative majority. The obstacles that face Western writers are more subtle. In America, Le Guin is certain that things are changing, but it’s not so much about who is writing and what is being written as much as who is reading. It’s about fighting the assumption that “If it's about men everybody wants it; if it's about women it's only for women.”

In conclusion, though they speak from different times and of different cultures, Le Guin and Budianta are both feminists challenging a male-dominated literary tradition. They both speak of the rising status of women authors in literary tradition, and the feminist work needed to maintain this trend towards diversity and equality. Ultimately, what is clear is that the Western context is more developed in both directions – in that it has a more established male-dominated canon (making it in one way, more difficult to reform) but also a stronger tradition of feminist criticism (which at least provides the tools for change). For Indonesian writers, history presents less resistance. The key challenge instead, lies in overcoming contemporary political and religious censorship.

References:
Walsh, W., Le Guin, U. (1995) I am a woman writer; I am a western writer: an interview with Ursula Le Guin. Kenyon Review 17(3/4).

Wijaksana M. (2016) Melani Budianta: Merekam Perempuan Penulis Dalam Sejarah Kesusastraan. [Online] Available at: http://www.jurnalperempuan.org/9/post/2016/03/melani-budianta-merekam-perempuan-penulis-dalam-sejarah-kesusastraan.html (Accessed 02/12/18).

Joca

Using the stereotype

Could mechanisms that excluded women from information science, empower them now?

Totally different worlds; This is what you encounter when comparing the student body of a course in library science with a programme focused on information science. Although both disciplines are closely related, librarians are framed to be mostly female, while information science is the domain of men. This gender divide is changing however.

In Information Science: Not Just for Boys Anymore Jennifer Gilley (2006) compares the male/female ratio of different information science courses in the United States. Although this discipline traditionally has a higher percentage of male students, some schools have a 50/50 split. There are however significant differences in student population when comparing master's that are accredited by the American Librarian Association (ALA) with non-ALA-accredited programmes. The ALA designated programmes have a higher than average percentage of female students, while the opposite is true for information science courses that have no affiliation with any library science programme.

Gilley dives further into this phenomenon and finds out that this is a side effect of the growing convergence of library science and information science. Library schools are merging both disciplines to adapt to this development. The label of librarian influences the image that prospective students have of a specific information science master's degree. A course inside a librarian school, with an ALA accreditation, emphasizes the values traditionally connected to librarianship: The commitment to help people, though now in a more technology-oriented context. According to Gilley, the focus on this service ethic makes the field of information science more appealing to women. She mentions that studies show that the ability to help people is one of the main characteristics women look for when choosing a career.

This is quite a paradoxical situation. To empower women to enter a male-dominated discipline, one of the mechanisms that degrade work typically done by women is used: Putting an emphasis on the caring aspect of the job, and the notion that the work is not done for status, but out of a 'vocation to serve'. It certainly has a positive result for the number of women in information science education, but to what extent can we use this strategy to improve the image of the librarian?

Service as the essence

Maria Mary Ferreira describes some of the stereotyping mechanisms that influence the public image of female-dominated jobs in O profissional da informação no mundo do trabalho e as relações de gênero (2012). Traditionally a lot of the work done by women is not considered to be an economic activity. Examples of that were household activities and agricultural work. When women were allowed to enter the professional workforce, the social constructs around domestic work were transferred to professions done by women: a non competitive culture and a lower social and economic status.

Librarianship started to be positioned as a female profession by the end of the 19th century. Charles Dewey, the founder of the first library school and the decimal classification system used in many libraries today, believed that it was the perfect career for women who graduated from college; they had the right combination of intellectual capacity and social skills to provide service for users of the library.

Dewey laid the foundations of modern librarianship and his principles were followed in other countries. Ferreira goes deepter into the situation in Brazil. She cites Castro (1997) to show that the development of female librarians started in Brazil from the 1920's, as the 'institutionalization of the profession coincides with the feminization of it.'

Although the societal position of women improved at the time, the choice of careers for women was limited. The options left, like librarianship, were part of the process of modelling female professions after domestic work done traditionally by women. The hierarchical relation between dominant men and serving women was part of the education, and steered the possible career choices. Girls were stimulated to look for jobs that focus on giving care, and 'not focus on the use of reason.' (Belotti, 1987) This made the public image of Library Science similar to a discipline like Pedagogy.

Dividing the profession

Before the 'feminization' of Library Science, the field was the territory of male intellectuals, who were often at the same time writers and early information scientists. In contrast to modern librarianship, these people had not the aim to primarily help library users. Their focus was on the organization of the library, the categorization of information and the development of a complete collection.

Librarianship had an image of skilled work at the time, but this changed when the concept of the modern librarian was developed. One of the examplary cases of that according to Jennifer Gilley is the Williamson Report. This research from 1923 had the aim to create standards in library education. The outcomes were a division between skilled work and clerical work, and a recommendation to professionalize the discipline by obligatory higher education and a bigger influx of men.

After this report, librarianship got seperated into two disciplines. The librarian would do the clerical work, and help the users in the library itself. This work was mostly done by women, who got a short education to train them for the technical skills required for the profession. The skilled work went to a field that evolved into information science. This field attracts more men, focuses on organizing information on a more abstract level and has a higher status then library sciences.

In the 90's an effort to counter this development started. To illustrate this redefinition of library science and information science, Gilley refers to KALIPER: the Kellogg-ALISE Information Professions and Education Renewal Project. It enabled four library schools to create courses that include an education information science, starting in 1994-1996. In 1998 all curricula of schools in this discipline were analyzed, to examine the state of library science education. KALIPER did not contain an analysis of the gender issues in the field. Feminist librarians like Suzanne Hildenbrand and Sarah Pritchard warn that the increasing role of technology in librarianship could have the same result as the Williamson Report: the enforcement of male-dominated hierarchies that result in a difference in status and salary.

Gilley argues however that the current number of female students in information science programmes is a proof of the opposite. She thinks that differences between librarians and information scientists in terms of gender division, public image and salary, will disappear in the future, because library science and information science merge into one discipline in which both men and women are equally represented.

Creative solutions

It seems that it is effective to disguise information science as a field that appeals to the traditional female image, especially when the outcome is a better image of the librarian and the information scientist in the end. Isn't it that 'the formerly negative image of the "feminine" profession can be transformed if both sexes cooperate in recognizing problems and offering creative solutions'? (Freedman, 1970)

But is this really going to happen? Ferreira draws a number of conclusions from her research on the Brazilian librarian from the perspective of gender. She believes that discussing the gender issues, means to reevaluate the work of the female librarian. To improve the image of the librarian, the profession and the society needs to change its position towards the value of women's work. In that respect, even the female preference for careers in care and service is not set in stone. As Ferreira states in her article, girls were educated to have this preference.

Taking these considerations into account, it is counter productive to attract more women to information science highlighting the ability to help people using the discipline. At least as long as the social and service aspects of a profession are seen as typically female and inferior. When these factors don't change, the result will be that people start to undervalue the now 'feminized' work of the information scientist. A scenario that looks uncanningly similar to what happened to library science in the past.



References

Ferreira, M. M. (2012). O profissional da informação no mundo do trabalho e as relações de gênero. Transinformação, 15(2).

Gilley, J. (2006). Information Science: Not Just for Boys Anymore. American Libraries, 37(6), 50–51.

Angeliki

Comparing the somatic involvement in the creation of knowledge objects of oral and literate cultures.

In this essay I deal with the question on how repetitive bodily tasks, seeing as medium, affect the knowledge production and distribution in both oral and literate cultures. What is the somatic involvement or, in other words, what are the activities of the body, separated from the mind, that are engaged into the knowledge production? The body in motion was always connected with the storytelling, but how different is this in the two cultures? I develop the topic, more specifically, in the relation between the primary orality and the literacy being developed with the aid of typewriters.

According to Ong (2002, p. 29), orality was the primary stage of literacy. Speech was its main medium and writing was unknown. As the author (Ong, 2002, p.31) would claim, oral cultures exist without the need of writing, texts and dictionaries. They don't depend on a library to ‘look up’ words for creating a text, instead they “‘call’ sounds back-’recall’ them”. The structure of the oral poem is based on rhythmic formulas, the memory and the verbal interaction, while a text is built on ‘lines’ and words, as I will discuss further below.

But first of all, I would like to approach the topic not by focusing on the stage of progression these cultures have or the affection between each other but on the “mediality in general” as Kittler (1999, p. xi) would say and specifically on its corporeality. In both texts the somatic component is strongly involved in the production of the story. The tedious tasks of typing of the previous century, for example, needed the hand activity. As Heidegger says: “Man himself acts [handelt] through the hand [Hand]; for the hand is, together with the word, the essential distinction of man. (...)Through the hand occur both prayer and murder, greeting and thanks, oath and signal, and also the ‘work’ of the hand, the ‘hand-work,’ and the tool” (Kittler, 1999, p. 198). Similarly oral memory “has a high somatic component” (Ong, 2002, p. 66) which is also related to the hand. According to Ong (2002, p. 66,67) working with hands on something, while narrating a poem “is natural and even inevitable” and more specifically he declares that “traditional composition has been associated with hand activity” and he gives the example of the aborigines of Australia and other areas who often make string figures together with their songs, whilst other people manipulate beads on strings and bards include stringed instruments or drums.

From my point of view, bodily activity helps the memory to locate and store the formulas of sound in the private embodied sphere, through rhythms. The connection of the body movement and the memory is highlighted in the text of Ong (2002, p. 34): “Jousse (1978) has shown the intimate linkage between rhythmic oral patterns, the breathing process, gesture, and the bilateral symmetry of the human body in ancient Aramaic and Hellenic targums”. The difference with the literate cultures is that the bodily activity of bards, for example, are visible to their audience, while writers are hidden inside a room. Their audience needs a distance from them by reading the written text to feel their emotions and thoughts and “the reader is normally absent when the writer writes and the writer is normally absent when the reader reads, whereas in oral communication speaker and hearer are present to one another” (Ong, 2002, p. 167).

The persistence on a copied and printed knowledge, being passed through the years, is deeply rooted in the literate cultures. The emergence of typewriters' technology accelerated even more this process and this machine became “nothing but a miniature printing press" (Kittler, pg. 228). From handwriting we passed to typing and the words could be written down with the aid of a machine, keeping the functionality of the hands. On the contrary, the oral cultures use different methods for maintaining their stories. And at the same time maintaining doesn't seem to be their main purpose, as long as it doesn't satisfy the present audience or oral poet. Although they try to narrate and copy the story of another poet, the way they produce knowledge is fundamentally different and the outcome unique. The oral narratives are based on the previous ones keeping a movable line to the past by adjusting to the history of the performer, but only if they are important for the present. Or as Ong would say: “Narrators narrate what audiences call for or will tolerate. When the market for a printed book declines, the presses stop rolling but thousands of copies may remain. When the market for an oral genealogy disappears, so does the genealogy itself, utterly” (2002, pg. 66).

What seems interesting in both methods is that the automation and repetition of the process becomes necessary component for the distribution of the message. Patterns and formulas are stitched gradually together, creating a unique outcome every time: “Basically the same formulas and themes recurred, but they were stitched together or 'rhapsodized' differently in each rendition even by the same poet” (Ong 2002, p. 59 ). The body is strongly involved in the repetitive and rhythmic process: “Protracted orally based thought, even when not in formal verse, tends to be highly rhythmic, for rhythm aids recall, even physiologically” (Ong, 2002, p. 34). In the case of typewriters the automation is even more present because of the mechanizations and the speed of the machine. Kittler (1999, p. 222) refers to it by giving an example: “At its high point, typewriter literature means repeating ad infinitum Minnie Tipp's proper name or the advertising slogan on her office door”.

Is is also noticeable that the outcome and the material is different. In literate cultures the object produced is a set of words, lines separated and isolated from the creator “a 'word' as a discrete entity apart from a flow of speech seems somewhat text-based” (Ong, 2002, p. 60). For oral cultures the outcome is a “rhythmic unit”(Ong, 2002, p. 60) or an utterance, flexible and in a formula. Every performer appropriates previous material and adjusts it in his/her own experiences and methods (utterance), keeping a continuous line with the past but adapting on the present: “In recalling and retelling the story, he has not in any literate sense 'memorized' its metrical rendition from the version of the other singer—a version long gone forever when the new singer is mulling over the story for his own rendition”(Ong, 2002, p. 60). The typists, instead, are transcribing or copying original texts without changing them and automating the process as much as possible so the text to be exactly the same, as a machine would do. But is there not always the risk of error when human action is involved in an automated process? So is the typewriting process never the same because of the human and somatic involvement? Continuing the conversation about the concept of copying both cultures are aiming to transfer the knowledge “word” by “word”. Writing down a temporary and momentous thinking of the writer is like a performance for the bards, singing an instant and unique song.

In conclusion, on the one case the body is mediated and important for the functionality of the machine while in the other is an important element of the narrative and used with its full natural potential. The story is being performed and bodily augmented, thus the audience can remember it through the memory of gestures. What makes a big difference between the two cultures is the methods; memorization and narrations for the oral poets and typing down for the writers. When an oral poem is being made, together with the message other information is passed on, like sounds, movements and gestures. In contrast to oral memorization, which functions in the present, the maintaining of a printed matter seems passive and separated from the body.

In Kittler’s text the concept of the machine and mechanization is the main topic of discussion. The machine (typewriter) is the mediator between the body, of the writer and the reader, and the text. But in both cultures the bodily entities are working as machines by adopting techniques, developing skills and adjusting. In the case of oral cultures this function is more free, natural and takes into consideration the importance of the unique and personal embodied sphere in this process, even though they try to create the same song: “by listening for months and years to other bards who never sing a narrative the same way twice but who use over and over again the standard formulas in connection with the standard themes” (Ong, 2002, p. 59). While for typing the body is supplementary to the machine and adjusts to the reproduction of the same element:“the typewriter makes everyone look the same” (Kittler, 1999, p. 199). But also, the element of memory is used differently. When typing you are outsourcing memory and in the mind remains the abstraction of the text. Thus, dictionaries and books are being created. While, in orality your body becomes a portable storage of memories, which you can recall. As Ong (2002, p.34) observes: “The memory feats of these oral bards are remarkable, but they are unlike those associated with memorization of texts”. And “to solve effectively the problem of retaining and retrieving carefully articulated thought, you have to do your thinking in mnemonic patterns”.

Last, the body of the community is important for the creation and preservation of a poem or even a series of thoughts. First because the audience plays an important role on keeping a story alive, as I discussed earlier, and second because “sustained thought in an oral culture is tied to communication”(Ong, 2002, p.34 ). More than one persons are necessary for an articulated and complex thought to be developed, when solving a problem. Thus “an interlocutor is virtually essential: it is hard to talk to yourself for hours on end” (Ong, 2002, p.34). On contrary, in the writing culture, the text is created in a silent, sometimes dark, room isolated from the noise and distractions of the outside world. The machine becomes part of this need: “And since, during office dictation, ‘ a self-regulating machine somewhere in the head chops up the meaning of what the hand, antenna-like, receives,’” (Kittler, 1999, p. 222). Similarly, the reader needs a similar privacy to read the outcome of this process, like a book.


References:
Ong, W.J., 2002. Orality and Literacy, Routledge, London.
Kittler, F.A., 1999. Gramophone, Film, Typewriter, 1 edition. ed. Stanford University Press, Stanford, Calif.

Zalán

In solidarity with Library Genesis and Sci-Hub


A spiritual successor to Aaron Swartz is angering publishers all over aga

Both synopsises “In solidarity with Library Genesis and Sci-Hub” and “A spiritual successor to Aaron Swartz is angering publishers all over aga” deal about the effects of two young web activists Aaron Swartz and Alexandra Elbakyan. In the first one the topic is highlighted from a more general point of view making a comparison between Antoine de Saint Exupery’s Little Prince and western businessman, referring to to the one of the leading scientific journal publishers Elsevier.


The online article “A spiritual successor to Aaron Swartz is angering publishers all over aga” written by David Kravets for the onlineblog (X) describes the story of the the two activists in a very informal way by almost using street language, which is less pleasant to read. In comparison to this article the online letter was written and signed by world leading researchers, scholars, designer, artists, lawyers, hackers such as Dušan Barok, Josephine Berry, Bodó Balázs, Sean Dockray, Kenneth Goldsmith, Anthony Iles, Lawrence Liang, Sebastian Lütgert, Pauline van Mourik Broekman, Marcell Mars, spideralex, Tomislav Medak, Dubravka Sekulić, Femke Snelting. As a reader you experience the differences of writing style and the well thought true structure.


Moving to the middle part of the article and the open letter both share the similar citation methods such as in the case of “In solidarity with Library Genesis and Sci-Hub” the authors take statements out of the Harvard reaction about the expensive publishing house Elsevier: “We faculty do the research, write the papers, referee papers by other researchers, serve on editorial boards, all of it for free … and then we buy back the results of our labour at outrageous prices."


The online article quotes first the statement of the young Russian web activist, Alexandra Elbakyan describing her motivation of founding her online library SciHub: “I started the website because it was a great demand for such service in research community. In 2011, I was an active participant in various online communities for scientists (i.e. forums, the technology preceding social networks and still surviving to the present day). What all students and researchers were doing there is helping each other to download literature behind paywalls. I became interested and very involved. Two years before, I already had to pirated many paywalled papers while working on my final university project (which was dedicated to brain-machine interfaces). So I knew well how to do this and had necessary tools. After sending tens or hundreds of research papers manually, I wanted to develop a script that will automate my work. That's how Sci-Hub started. The first users of the script were members of the online forum about molecular biology. At first, there was no goal to make all knowledge free. The script was simply intended to make the life of researcher easier, i.e. to make the process of unlocking papers more fast and convenient. But this turned out to be such an important improvement it changed the way research was accessed in our community. After some time, everyone was using Sci-Hub.”


The open letter uses one statement of the Russian hacker, where she expresses her thoughts about the court case, where Elsevier suit her for more billions of dollars: "If Elsevier manages to shut down our projects or force them into the darknet, that will demonstrate an important idea: that the public does not have the right to knowledge." An other similarity between the two texts is the description of the sad ending of Aaron Swartz, who after downloading millions of scientific research papers from the JSTOR account at the MIT got into a court case and during its process–he committed suicide. Both writings share parts of Guerrilla Open Access Manifesto, which was written by him: “Information is power. But like all power, there are those who want to keep it for themselves. The world's entire scientific and cultural heritage, published over centuries in books and journals, is increasingly being digitized and locked up by a handful of private corporations. Want to read the papers featuring the most famous results of the sciences? You'll need to send enormous amounts to publishers like Reed Elsevier.


There are those struggling to change this. The Open Access Movement has fought valiantly to ensure that scientists do not sign their copyrights away but instead ensure their work is published on the Internet, under terms that allow anyone to access it. But even under the best scenarios, their work will only apply to things published in the future. Everything up until now will have been lost. That is too high a price to pay. Forcing academics to pay money to read the work of their colleagues? Scanning entire libraries but only allowing the folks at Google to read them? Providing scientific articles to those at elite universities in the First World, but not to children in the Global South? It's outrageous and unacceptable."I agree," many say, "but what can we do? The companies hold the copyrights, they make enormous amounts of money by charging for access, and it's perfectly legal—there's nothing we can do to stop them." But there is something we can, something that's already being done: we can fight back. Those with access to these resources—students, librarians, scientists—you have been given a privilege. You get to feed at this banquet of knowledge while the rest of the world is locked out. But you need not—indeed, morally, you cannot—keep this privilege for yourselves. You have a duty to share it with the world. And you have: trading passwords with colleagues, filling download requests for friends.”


Reading these lines the following questions arise about aspect of the activities of the two young activists: do the two hacktivist have a point? Should scholarly academia—science journals in particular—be behind paywalls? Both writings describe the difficult current situation of nowadays in the field of scientific knowledge sharing. In the end I would quote the final statement of the open letter: “Share this letter - read it in public - leave it in the printer. Share your writing - digitize a book - upload your files. Don't let our knowledge be crushed. Care for the libraries - care for the metadata - care for the backup. Water the flowers - clean the volcanoes.” In my opinion knowledge should be accessible for everyone for free, and we should not allow that big corporations that those ones would control our massive knowledge commons. The time of resistance has arrived!

Alex

comparison between Database as Symbolic Form & New Narratives

Narrative in New Media

Main question? What is narrative in the new media?

This essay investigates on the question how new media changed the narrative. Therefore I'm going to compare the two texts »Database as Symbolic Form« by Lev Manovich and »New Narratives« by Ruth Page and Bronwen Thomas. The comparison is especially interesting as Manovich is looking at the topic from a media-critique point of view while Page and Thomas are approaching it as writers and storyteller.

From the book to new media The digital brings new ways to structure this world to the foreground. While a book is read in a linear manner, with the computer comes the hyperlink and the possibility to tell stories differently. For Manovich this is based on databases, for Ruth Page and Bronwen Thomas this is another way to construct and perceive narratives. Though both of them agree that the perception of text is different through new media. It changed how text and images are perceived and created.

The database? Lev Manovich calls the predominant form of new media the database. He sees this as a clear break from the linear narrative for example from the book or the cinema. The classical narrative can't be simply translated into the digital. Because the medium is different – it is so different, that Manovich calls the both of them enemies. The database »represents the world as a list of items«, while the narrative »creates a cause-and-effect trajectory of seemingly unordered items«. He sees the database as the enemy of the narrative, as they both claim the exclusive way of explaining the world, they are not able to co-exist. In contrast to that in »New Narratives« the background of the text is not really considered. They still talk about the narrative as it was before, just with very new possibilities. They see the narrative more in a way of development, that adjusted to the digital medium. They say that the new media helped to shape and proof the existing concepts of narrative. An essential point Manovich criticises about that: He thinks the use of narrative in the digital environment is wrong. As he states »we have not yet developed a language to describe these strange new objects.« Instead Manovich mentions the database and the algorithms as the primary way to understand this issues. Lev Manovich offers an essential definition for databases and narratives in his text that help for the understanding of the topic.

The interactive narrative When hyperlinks came up narrative could be constructed in an interactive way. Everyone can now construct their own story. The two texts agree that there arose a new genre of the narrative: the interactive narrative. Although Manovich is very radical with his database idea, he still admits that there exist hybrid forms of narrative. He is talking about narratives that are for instance created trough computer games. Thats similar to what Page and Thomas say when they talk about hyperlinked stories. And there is no binary how a narrative looks like. The New Narratives book describes as an example that one could also read a book interactively by looking up the end of a story before reading the whole thing. A narrative also is never stable or fixed in the digital sphere – so say both of texts – that the content can always be edited and adjusted and the result is never finished.

The cinema Both of the texts bring up comparison to the cinema when talking about narratives. Page and Thomas find cinematic qualities in text, when talking about how movable images can become part of a text and the other way around. Manovich also takes the example of the cinema to compare forms of narratives. He describes the example of the editor of a movie, that constructs, just like a interactive narrative would propose, a narrative out of a set of given data.

Conclusion Manovich is approaching the topic from another perspective than Page and Thomas. He is way more radical in his idea about the underlying structures that build a narrative. I think he is right when he is talking about database and that its form is totally different from those of a narrative. Page and Thomas don't consider the media-theory aspect at all. They just take the form of the digital as granted – what is somehow careless when dealing with text. But even though I think their approach towards the transformation of narrative in more hybrid forms is totally right. I think they are right when saying the narrative can have several new forms in the new media but does not really compete with the database – it can still exit simultaneously