Technomama – Ana Sisnett — my tech heroine for Ada Lovelace Day

March 23, 2009

Ana Sisnett (1952-2009) was Executive Director from 1998-2006 of Austin Free-Net, a community technology center. But her pioneering on the internet began earlier when she co-founded Technomama with Gisele-Audrey Mills. Technomama worked with the Institute for Global Communications (IGC) and the Association for Progressive Communications (APC) back when the text-only internet presented more opportunities for social justice activism than for consumerism. Funded in part by the Foundation for a Compassionate Society, Technomama trained women left out of the digital revolution and viewed equal access and ability as an international human rights issue.

An early adopter who delighted as much as the next geek over a new application or gadget, Ana nevertheless always thought through the complex questions of access, training, and ability. If the technology excluded, well, then…where’s the fix? She admired the work of Knowbility, whose annual AIR-Interactive (Accessible Internet Rally) features a web-design contest focusing on assistive technology and accessible design.

Over the last three years, Ana struggled with ovarian cancer, and she passed away on January 13. She leaves behind many, many people who were touched by her vision of a usable and just technology that bridges differences and helps us realize our better selves.

the blessed sound of change

March 20, 2009

Is there anything that signals more radical change than Obama’s message to the Iranian people and its leaders? Watching the address, I wonder what rabbit hole we’ve fallen into — Bush’s 8 years have done just that much damage. What’s the shift? Listen to the speech. It’s short. But here’s my list of indicators that we are finally on the right track — this is what Obama does:

  • he addresses the Iranian people and Iran’s leaders, but he speaks just as much to Americans
  • by naming the New Year celebration of Nowruz, Obama starts by honoring a foreign tradition and educating Americans. There’s no condescension — just a matter-of-fact use of a term most Americans will need to go look up. Obama is a teacher at work.
  • he begins with knowledge and a history lesson that demonstrate respect. Obama names the venerability and ancientness of Iranian culture and history.
  • he maintains emphasis on commonality and coalition. The people of Iran and the U.S. share desire for peace and prosperity for themselves and their children.
  • he puts the responsibility for peace on Iranian leaders and is clear that the path is diplomacy and not violence.
  • he ends by reiterating his best wishes for the New Year and then repeats these best wishes in Farsi. That one Farsi phrase at the end of this short address will likely do more to heal Iran-U.S. relations than anything that’s been done in the 20th c.

Joseph Harris’s Rewriting

March 16, 2009

I just finished Joseph Harris’s Rewriting: How to Do Things with Texts. I want so much to talk with someone about this book but haven’t found anyone yet — so I’ll talk with myself here. Why do I like this book so much? It’s not that it’s stunningly new — Harris references Elbow, for instance, and Harris’s emphasis on social construction of writing and knowledge echoes Bruffee. I guess it’s that it makes stunning turns in thinking — or, that this book is stunningly useful. You get my drift — there’s something stunning about this book, even if I can’t quite fix that stunningness precisely. By rewriting and revising familiar terms (summary becomes “coming to terms,” for instance — although that’s a simplistic take on Harris’s project), Harris helps us re-think what goes on in college writing classrooms. Or, rather, what needs to go on in writing classrooms.

Obama’s Dreams from My Father

March 16, 2009

Last week, I finally read Barack Obama’s Dreams from My Father. I expected it to be good — several friends had recommended the book. I know the man delivers a mean speech! But I did not expect the poetry, the storytelling. It’s one thing to be a powerful rhetorician and speechmaker; it’s another thing to craft a memoir that sings. This voice weaves, skips, mends, reaches, and sanctifies. A clear and deep voice for complex and difficult questions.

Encountering Disgrace

March 16, 2009

Some of my earlier posts discuss my attempt to work through an article on J.M. Coetzee’s Disgrace, and now that piece will appear this April as “Dis(g)race, or White Man Writing” in Encountering Disgrace: Reading and Teaching Coetzee’s Novel, edited by Bill McDonald. The collection has a lot to offer the solitary reader wishing for some kind of discussion and the perplexed teacher wondering how to work with this contentious novel.