I’d like to talk about a book I read last semester. It’s called Virtual Gender: Technology, Consumption and Identity Edited by Eileen Green and Alison Adam. It was published in 2001, and is a collection of essays. My major thought when reading through this was my amazement at what has changed in the past ten years.
When I think back ten years, the world in my memory doesn’t seem that different. Unless I look at the details. I didn’t have a blog then, but I think I was just starting this new thing called Livejournal. I had a cell phone (I think), but almost never used it. I didn’t have a laptop. I did have AIM, but that was the only messenger system I used. So as I look at the details, I see a pretty significant change.
I also see that change when I look through this book. When I read the chapter by Greg Michaelson and Margit Pohl titled “Gender in email-based co-operative problem-solving” and they mention findings that men talk more than women, that they tend to interrupt more, and that women are more supportive in conversations (28), I think that it’s a naive view of things. And when they describe the 1995 and 1998 experiments of e-mailing back and forth to solve a problem, they present it like it’s a new thing; I’ve done that exact thing at least a dozen times in the past 24 hours. But at the time, one continuous e-mail chain was a new thing. Now, it’s a standard feature of gmail.
And I move on to “Lives and livelihoods in the technological age” by Kate White, Leslie Regan Shade and Jennifer Brayton. I really like it when they write that “Technology is typically conceptualized in society as a neutral tool whose use determined whether it is positive or negative” (47). That seems like a great statement, one that I agree with and that I think is somewhat timeless. But then, later that same page, they start talking about ‘buzzwords’ like cyberspace, or world-wide-web; neither of which seem particularly ‘buzzworthy’ anymore. They’re just standard parlayance.
Linda Stepulevage has a similar great statement in “Becoming a Technologist: Days in a girl’s life” when she writes “Technology does not always have a distinct presence; it is interwoven into everyday life and involves continuous engagement” (80). Another timeless statement, one that I can see evidence of when I look around now, and can remember evidence of ten or even twenty years ago. When I was very young, I still knew that technology was everywhere. It was in my wrist watch that not only worked as a calculator, but also transformed into a little toy man. It was in the television, or the fancy new CD player that was roughly the size of a Buick. And it’s here now, in the laptop sitting on my lap, in the ipod a few feet away that has more music on it than I had even HEARD twenty years ago, and is nowhere near full. But what doesn’t track for me is the gender differences that Stepuvelage and others are presenting as far as access to the internet goes. Ten years ago, not everyone HAD access. (Still not everyone does, but a whole lot more than used to.