Visionary Week Two: Give In

A few days in, I am going crazy again. Taking the T makes me feel listless all day. I wake up early, run every morning. I struggle to stay awake and wear sunglasses. I take breaks every five to ten minutes, closing my eyes as the world spins and blurrs in and out and the headaches make me want to cry–not from pain, but over how helpless I feel.

My boss and I sit down and we work out a schedule where I am only in the office for part of the day. I’ll go home, and then work more after taking a nap.

At work. I align things on my desk, so I can practice looking at them. They’re positioned so that if I focus with my right eye, things look one way, the object in the front covers the objects and lines behind it in a way different than when i focus with my left eye. I try to get the objects to align in neither way, to find the space in between.

Edges are blurry. NN tells me that babies have trouble identifying edges when they’re learning to see. This is a good sign, she says.

I didn’t want to have to need more dispensations for work. When I leave the office, with everyone else hunched over their desks, I feel like I am cheating. I am doing something I am not supposed to be. I sneak out. I don’t say goodbye or even acknowledge that I am leaving.

When I get home, I take a nap and then pace around the house like a ghost. I work in the stretches I can focus for. I pace. After it’s dark, I go running. It’s the thing I have. It’s the thing I can do. Every day I wait until the end of it, finding comfort in the knowledge that I’ll be able to close my eyes and sleep.

Vistionary Week Two: Work

I return to work on a Monday. It’s been a little over a week since the surgery. The concept of work, the pervasive culture of being an employee, of defining myself by my employer, has consumed me.

When I go to parties, people ask what I do and I in turn ask what they do. It’s small talk, in a form where we hope someone will say something we can latch on to. It’s something we can be genuinely interested in–in the Camberville world where social connections are key to success or in an honest sense of curiosity. Regardless, I have bought into it and I feel bad, deeply, critically bad, for missing out on a week of work.

Missing out.

I return to the office, with eyes still marked from the red blotches of blood and painful black stitches. The sunlight is too bright, and I wear a hat pulled down low over my face. I take the T and I want to sit down, but I don’t, because it is crowded and I look healthy. To someone who doesn’t know how much the world sways and blurs when I try to look at it, I appear healthy.

Everyone greets me in the office and my discomfort is caused not just by the green florescent lights–which I never liked in the first place–but their concern. I warned them, in a short e-mail before my return, explaining that I had surgery, was fine, happy to talk about it, but I’d really like to be able to focus on getting back to work and catching up on everything I missed.

Catching up.

Work doesn’t slow down when you’re injured. Things pile up and wait for you to take them back on and over and over again in my head, over the dizziness, nausea, and headaches, I tell myself that this is what I need to do.

I sit down at my computer and power it up. The text is unreadable.


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.

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:

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]


At work we had a meeting where we were discussing how to get people to know about our big project. One of the bosses said:

We were thinking about doing something like ‘Can you survive the freshman year at MIT?’

I remembered a lot of conversations where my friends talked about advertising and what appeals to people of various genders. (One binary stereotype is that most women are more inclined to underestimate their abilities. A study about GSoC advertisements and applications, comparing gender to advertisement types, noticed the positive correlation between the number of applications from women and language focusing on things like “mentorship” and “learning.” There was a negative correlation between applications from women and language like “rockstar” and “world’s best.” I think this was Hanna Wallach, but I might be wrong.)

In the meeting I mentioned this. The majority of the women in the conversation agreed–some citing their personal experiences.

Today one of the bosses (the one who proposed the advertising in the first place) took me aside and showed me how our internal best practices and mission had been changed to state that while most users are men, we strive to reach out to all people (regardless of gender), and have our practices reflect that.

Sometimes I think it’s really cool to work here.