In “Scott Pilgram vs. the World,” Scott is faced with having to choose a tea out of many options of tea. He doesn’t understand what they are, and in the end accepts one to impress the girl.

I’ve been in this situation before. Not quite, exactly. But I have been overwhelmed with tea options I didn’t understand. Over the years, I’ve gotten familiar, to some extent, with flavors. I still don’t know the difference between English Breakfast and Irish Breakfast, but I know I don’t like Earl Grey, peppermint, of apple teas.


At my wonderful job I was lucky enough to work on a 21A.350J. In non-MIT speak, this is a mid-level Anthropology course: Cultures of Computing. (MIT uses a numbering system for departments. All departments numbered 21 are humanities.) The J indicates that it is a cross-listed course (“joint”). It also appears in the course listings for STS (Science, Technology, and Society) and WGS (Women and Gender Studies). You can check out the course in full if you want.

When I started working on it, I had a few requests for the reading list. Here is an editorialized version based on nothing in particular. The complete reading list is available on the course ‘Readings’ page. The full readings page is divided into sessions, each of which has a theme or unifying topic. My list does not contain these.

Reading lists provide two things: a curated collection of (arguably) worthwhile readings on a topic, as well as a view into how a society-acknowledged expert believes the subject ought to be studied. (The readings by Jonathan Swift and René Descartes are good examples of this, as well as the concept of relevant and related content, like Ron Eglash’s talk.)

If you ever have any questions about OCW design, language, or use, please don’t hesitate to ask me or fill out a feedback e-mail. I am lucky enough to get to read them. Many of these, in addition to amazon links (which make us money!), link to abstracts, full text PDFs, and Google Previews.

All OCW content is released under a CC-BY-NC-SA 3.0 license, and is exempt from my standard CC-BY-SA.

Amazon logo Channell, David. “The Mechanical World View: The Clockwork Universe.” In The Vital Machine: A Study of Technology and Organic Life. Oxford University Press, 1991, pp. 11–36. ISBN: 9780195060409.

Descartes, René. Discourses 1, 2, 4, and 5 in Discourse on the Method of Properly Conducting One’s Reason and of Seeking the Truth in the Sciences. Translated from the French by F. E. Sutcliffe. Penguin Books, 1968, pp. 27–44 and 53–76.

Amazon logo Swift, Jonathan. “A Voyage to Laputa.” In Gulliver’s Travels. Penguin Books, 1967, pp. 223–31. ISBN: 9780140430226.

Eglash, Ron. “Bamana Sand Divination: Recursion in Ethnomathematics.” American Anthropologist 99, no. 1 (1997): 112–22.

———. “Ron Eglash on African Fractals.” Recorded at TedGlobal 2007, June 2007. TED: Ideas Worth Spreading. Accessed June 12, 2012. http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/en/ron_eglash_on_african_fractals.html

Daston, Lorraine. “Enlightenment Calculations.” Critical Inquiry 21, no. 1 (1994): 182–202.

Amazon logo Winter, Alison. “A Calculus of Suffering: Ada Lovelace and the Bodily Constraints on Women’s Knowledge in Early Victorian England.” In Science Incarnate: Historical Embodiments of Natural Knowledge. Edited by Christopher Lawrence and Steven Shapin. University of Chicago Press, 1998, pp. 202–39. ISBN: 9780226470146. [Preview with Google Books]

Bush, Vannevar. “As We May Think.” The Atlantic Monthly 176, no. 1 (1945): 101–8. Online: http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1945/07/as-we-may-think/3881/

Amazon logo Haraway, Donna. “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century.” In Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. Routledge, 1990, pp. 149–82. ISBN: 9780415903875.

Halberstam, Judith. “Automating Gender: Postmodern Feminism in the Age of the Intelligent Machine.” Feminist Studies 17, no. 3 (1991): 439–60.

Amazon logo Forsythe, Diana E. “Engineering Knowledge: The Construction of Knowledge in Artificial Intelligence.” In Studying Those Who Study Us: An Anthropologist in the World of Artificial Intelligence. Stanford University Press, 2001, pp. 35–58. ISBN: 9780804741415. [Preview with Google Books]

Amazon logo Helmreich, Stefan. “The Word for World Is Computer: Simulating Second Natures in Artificial Life.” In Growing Explanations: Historical Perspectives on Recent Science. Edited by Norton Wise. Duke University Press, 2004, pp. 275–300. ISBN: 9780822333197. [Preview with Google Books]

Light, Jennifer. “When Computers Were Women.” Technology and Culture 40, no. 3 (1999): 455–83.

Amazon logo Adam, Alison. “AI in Context.” In Artificial Knowing: Gender and the Thinking Machine. Routledge, 1998, pp. 34–68. ISBN: 9780415129633. [Preview with Google Books]

Amazon logo Wilson, Elizabeth. “Introduction: The Machine Has No Fear.” In Affect and Artificial Intelligence. University of Washington Press, 2010, pp. 3–24. ISBN: 9780295990477.

MacKenzie, Donald. “Computing and the Cultures of Proving.” Philosophical Transactions: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences 363, no. 1835 (2005): 2335–50.

Rosental, Claude. “Certifying Knowledge: The Sociology of a Logical Theorem in Artificial Intelligence.” American Sociological Review 68, no. 4 (2003): 623–44.

Pfaffenberger, Bryan. “The Social Meaning of the Personal Computer: Or, Why the Personal Computer Revolution Was No Revolution.” Anthropological Quarterly 61, no. 1 (1988): 39–47.

Coleman, Gabriella. “Hacker Practice: Moral Genres and the Cultural Articulation of Liberalism.” Anthropological Theory 8, no. 3 (2008): 255–77.

Amazon logo Kelty, Chris. “Inventing Copyleft.” In Making and Unmaking Intellectual Property: Creative Production in Legal and Cultural Perspective. Edited by Mario Biagioli, Peter Jaszi, and Martha Woodmansee. University of Chicago Press, 2011, pp. 133–48. ISBN: 9780226907093. [Preview with Google Books]

Amazon logo Wark, McKenzie. A Hacker Manifesto. Harvard University Press, 2004. ISBN: 9780674015432. [Preview with Google Books]

Amazon logo Miller, Daniel. “Preface,” “Marriage Dun Mash Up,” “Community” and “The Invention of Fasbook.” In Tales from Facebook. Polity Press, 2011, pp. ix–xiv, 3–27 and 158–63. ISBN: 9780745652108. [Preview with Google Books]

Amazon logo Papacharissi, Zizi, ed. “A Networked Self.” In A Networked Self: Identity, Community, and Culture on Social Network Sites. Routledge, 2010, pp. 304–18. ISBN: 9780415801805. [Preview with Google Books]

Schleiner, Anne-Marie. Parasitic Interventions: Game Patches and Hacker Art. 1999.

Amazon logo Gershon, Ilana. The Breakup 2.0: Disconnecting over New Media. Cornell University Press, 2010. ISBN: 9780801448591.

Stephenson, Neal. “Mother Earth Mother Board: The Hacker Tourist Ventures Forth across the Wide and Wondrous Meatspace of Three Continents, Chronicling the Laying of the Longest Wire on Earth.” WIRED 4, no. 12 (1996): 1–56.

Amazon logo Gabrys, Jennifer. “Shipping and Receiving: Circuits of Disposal and the “Social Death” of Electronics.” In Digital Rubbish: A Natural History of Electronics. University of Michigan Press, 2011, pp. 74–98. ISBN: 9780472117611. [Preview with Google Books]

Helmreich, Stefan. “Artificial Life, Inc.: Darwin and Commodity Fetishism from Santa Fe to Silicon Valley.” Science as Culture 10, no. 4 (2001): 483–504.

Sundaram, Ravi. Recycling Modernity: Pirate Electronic Cultures in India. 2001. (PDF)

Amazon logo Thacker, Eugene. “Biocomputing: Is the Genome a Computer?” In Biomedia (Electronic Mediations). University of Minnesota Press, 2004, pp. 87–114. ISBN: 9780816643530. [Preview with Google Books]


Every month I take 10% of my gross income and put it into my savings account. However, when someone asks me about my savings and survival plans (should I lose my job, or end up in a bad situation), I shrug and say I have none.

As far as I’m concerned, these funds aren’t mine: I’m just holding them for someone else. I tithe. According to wikipedia, tradition Jews call this ma’aser kesafim. In fact, a lot of religions have a version of a tithe (a 10% tax). I don’t do this out of some sense of traditional Jewish identity. I do it because I think it’s a good thing [for me] to do.

I don’t -have- to live month to month, but I choose to. Inspired by the parents of a friend, I chose “personal tithing” as a good way to help others.

Housemate M has a cavity. While talking about it, I offered to pay for him to go get it filled. He said no, and I thought he was saying this because he knows I live month to month. I explained to him my personal tithing system. We ended up having a conversation that well mirrored one I had with R when we first talked about this.

The argument I come up against is this: It is better to pay off my loans more quickly. I will then be paying less into a damaging financial complex that perpetuates a form of indentured servitude, which results in little more than the inhibited growth of individuals and our culture and a deeper divide between classes. I would better serve the world by paying off my loans as quickly as possible and then, with my increased income, I would be able to help more people later.

My response: People need help now.

People will need help in the future–that’s the state of the world we live in–but choosing to focus on helping people (or other causes) in the future, shows a disregard of the suffering and problems that occur now. I also believe in preventative work. If I can fix someone’s cavity now, they won’t need to have a tooth pulled later. If getting the cavity fixed leads to a discussion with their dentist about dental care, maybe they won’t need to have all their teeth pulled and then dentures or no teeth at all. Regardless of trying to stave off potential futures, I find it personally unconscionable to allow others to suffer when I can help them.

But there is this really good point about trying to give less to the student loan business–that that in and of itself would make a difference. By the end of the year, my 10% tithe could pay off half of a loan I have with an interest rate of 10%. I would have less worries, which would help my health and give me more time to do other things that could help people. Additionally, I would, in general, have more resources to give to individuals or causes in the future.

In the spirit of moderation, I will say that neither is right, or wrong, but they are simply different approaches to one particular way of helping others. It doesn’t really matter what you do to help others, as long as you’re aware of what’s happening and you do something. Even if it’s just to blog or sign your name on a letter.


Waiting in line at Heathrow customs, I looked around and saw that the man behind me was wearing a Steelers jersey. I considered for a moment before raising my hands up to a head level high five and said, in a stadium voice:

Let’s go Steelers!

He broke into a wide smile, took the same stance, and said in his own stadium voice:

Let’s go Steelers!

After this, he paused, eyed me up and down, considering. Then, more uncertain:

Let’s go Panthers?

I grinned wide.

Let’s go Panthers!


The month of May wrapped up a man throwing his own intestines at cops. This was only the latest in a string of incidents that make clear the zombie apocalypse is upon us. At least, that’s the story. Because people love zombies.

I used to love zombies too. I am enamored with the idea of apocalypse scenarios because I am enamored with the idea of survival. Of struggle. I think there’s a lot of value in working every day to have what you need. The thing is–unlike people all over the world(1)–I’ve never had to do any of that, which is probably why I think it’s such a lovely idea. I’ve only ever lived in cities. I work a desk job. I am soft and squishy and a bit round.

This is why I would die in a zombie apocalypse. This is also why it lost its appeal.

One day I was biking up my hill, slow and plodding through the dark night, when I heard a noise. At that moment I realized that on that bike, on that hill, I would be fucked if something was chasing me. I was not, am not, fast enough. I’m not strong enough, physically or emotionally, to do what needs to be done during a zombie infestation. I probably could not kill. I have no tools that could be useful. I have no skills that could be useful. I can cook and fix basic bike problems and make courses and play bassoon. I cannot grow food or climb over things or run fast or even eat an animal. I can’t dodge or fend off an attacker or shake off someone holding me. I could not allow someone else to suffer by stealing their supplies or leaving them behind.

Basically, I would die right away, and in the unlikely event I somehow managed to hide in a tree from the hungry demons, I would die soon afterwards due to my inability to survive.

Plus, man, zombies are just gross. I mean, seriously rotting flesh? This isn’t to say I don’t enjoy zombie fiction, or even zombie survival fantasies, but I do not look forward to the disease starting, spreading, and humanity fighting against the undead menace.

(1) I in no way endorse or know about these links that point to charities or projects. I honestly just googled for random examples.