When Virginia Eubanks visited Montreal a couple weeks ago, she stayed at my place. Before she left, I asked her to sing her book for me. At the end, she said: "And thanks for teaching me what hacktivism is."
If I were to sign a book for Virginia, I would say: "and thanks for teaching me what popular technology is". I'd rather explain.
"The Digital Dead End - Fighting for Social Justice in the Information Age" is an awesome reading for every type of reader. It is easy to understand, full of anecdotes, and yet.. very scientificly grounded. What is it about?
The book describes in detail the way we "magically think" technologies today: from the utopian optimism to the desparate pessimism, and yet beyond. It provides a point of view, in which terms such as "digital divide" (with priority to access), and "information society" are not only inadequate, they are pretty wrong.
The information society, basing its policies and activism into the "middle-class values and experiences", ignores completely the struggles and the reality of the poor and working class people, says Virginia. She insists that this way of seeing the technological development and policy making provides a strong "myopia shaped by race, class and gender inequality."
In her seven years observation and "participatory action research", Virginia provides an idea, a turning point in thinking technology, activism and gender in our society - something she calls "popular technology".
After breaking with her own stereotypes, percieving poor people as technically poor, Eubanks realized that the working class people have a rich array of experiences with technology, too. These are not the disconnected and non-users ones, but on the contrary -- these are often participants in the technical development, by performing low-tech, assemblying, and other type of work. That they have access to technology, but that this technology for them is a source of disruption - a surveilance tool, for control or imposing power and limitations to basic human rights.
By proposing the popular technology approach, Eubanks proposes to turn the viewpoint, and see the valuable resource these people provide by "thinking collectively and critically about the relationship between among technology, politics, citizenship, and social justic."
"Popular technology entails shifting from vocational approaches that teach technology skill to popular education approaches that focus on nurturing critical technology citizenship."
Virginia suggests that this shift can have a significant impact on the scholarly policy making, and social justice work, as well as improve the everyday lives of poor and working class women and their families.