10 Things I Learned from Jaron Lanier’s “You Are Not A Gadget”

I have been wanting to blog about this book for three months now. o.0

Jaron Lanier is known as the father of virtual reality. Essentially the book asks the reader to think about the design of the internet and Lanier also asks the reader  to question the idea of the wisdom of the crowds. Lastly he asks you to interrogate the role that engineers play in creating hardware and software.

I have listed quotes below. Some of them have comments that I have left. My words are italicized.

#1: On the Power that Engineers Have on the Internet

It only takes a tiny group of engineers to create technology that can shape the entire future human experience with incredible speed. Therefore, crucial arguments about the human relationship to technology should take place between developers and users before such direct manipulations are designed. This book is about those arguments.

#2 The Concept of “Lock In” and How it Shapes Software and Hardware

“Lock in” is a term that describes how older software can shape how newer software is created. He goes on to use MIDI as an example.

The brittle character of mature computer programs can cause digital designs to get frozen into place by a process known as lock-in. This happens when many software programs are designed to work with an existing one. The process of significantly changing software in a situation in which a lot of other software is dependent on it is the hardest thing to do. So it almost never happens.

#3 Why Humanistic Web Design is Important

He lists several things that you can do online to “be a person instead of a source of fragments to be exploited by others”.

His reasoning for humanistic web design is that:

Emphasizing the crowd means deemphasizing individual humans in the design of society, and when you ask people not to be people they revert to bad moblike behaviors….

….But in the case of digital creative materials, like MIDI, UNIX or even the World Wide Web, it’s a good idea to be skeptical. These designs came together very recently, and there’s a haphazard, accidental quality to them. Resist going into the easy grooves they guide you into. If you love a  medium made of software, there’s danger that you will become entrapped in someone else’s recent careless thoughts. Struggle against that!”

#4 Making a Connection Between Chess and Computers

…Modern computers were developed to guide missiles and break secret military codes. Chess and computers are both direct descendants of the violence that drives the evolution  in the natural world, however sanitized and abstracted they may be in the context of civilization.

#5 How are Facebook and No Child Left Behind Connected?

What computerized analysis of all the country’s schools tests has done to education what Facebook has done to friendships. In both cases, life is turned into a database. Both degradations are based on the same philosophical mistake, which is the belief that computers can represent human thought or human relationships. These are things computers cannot currently do.

#6 The Significance of Small Spaces on the Internet

This had particular relevance to me, and my thinking about my blog as I work on new, more expansive and collaborative ideas. He has forced me to think about how I want to grow this space, on my own terms, and to be explicit about what that growth looks like.

I worry that any little special place on the internet can be ruined if it gets too much attention….

The places that work online always turn out to be the beloved projects of individuals, not the automated aggregation of the cloud….

It is the people that make the forum, not the software. Without the software, the experience would not exist at all, so I celebrate the software as flawed as it is.

Page views are not the same as community. Honestly, audience is not the same as community both on and offline. The above quote reminds me of this distinction.







#7 Lack of Curiosity on the Limits of Crowd Wisdom

The wisdom of crowds effect should be thought of as a tool. The value of a tool is its usefulness in accomplishing a task. The point never should be the glorification of the tool….

…There’s and odd lack of curiosity about the limits of crowd wisdom.

#8 Rethinking Digital Economies

..instead of copying digital media, we should effectively keep only one copy of each cultural expression- as with a book or a song- and pay the author of that expression a small, affordable amount whenever it is accessed…as a result, anyone might be able to get rich from creative work. The people who make a momentarily popular prank video clip might earn a lot of money in a single day, but an obscure scholar might eventually earn as much over many years as her work was repeatedly referenced. But note that this is a very different idea from the long tail, because it rewards individuals instead of cloud owners.

This is interesting in that it discussing another way of structuring economies within digital spaces. As a feminist I am CERTAINLY interested in how this impacts both women in general, women of color in particularly. #equity.


#9 Online Chatter {as a Parasite} feeding off of Old Media Cultures

It is astonishing how much of the chatter online is driven by fan responses to expression that was originally created within the sphere of old media and that is now being destroyed  by the net. Comments about TV shows, major movies, commercial music releases, and video games must be responsible for almost as much bit traffic as porn. There is certainly nothing wrong with that, but since the web is killing the old media, we face a situation in which culture is effectively eating it’s own seed stock.

Honestly I had never thought about this before. I am aware that a blog can serve it’s audience OR it’s advertisers, rarely both (shout out to Rafi).

#10 The Limits of Open Source Software

Open wisdom-of-crowds software movements have become influential, but they haven’t promoted the kind of radical creativity I love most in computer science. If anything, they’ve been hindrances. Some of the youngest, brightest minds have been trapped in a 1970’s intellectual framework because they are hypnotized into accepting old software designed as if they were facts of nature….I am not anti open source…but the politically correct dogma that holds open source is automatically the best path to creativity and innovation is not borne by the facts.

He cites the fact that the iphone was created in a “closed” environment as an example of how the most significant tech innovations don’t always occur in open source settings.

Do you know Jaron Lanier’s work?

Fascinating no?


On Seeing Black Women’s Genius: For Whitney Houston

One of the things that surprised me most about the death of Whitney Houston was the vitriol directed at her in some White mainstream Internet spaces. Many of the comments struck me as being both racist and sexist.  I understand that both racism and sexism exists, but I always leave room for myself to to be able to wince when someone comes out of their face sideways. I also try to occupy the space between acknowledging the pain caused by sexism and racism but to also not spend hella emotional labor reacting to the fact that it does in fact exist. It is what it is.

Two books by Black women scholars and professors have helped me to think about the public reaction to the death of Whitney Houston. The first is The Suffering Will Not Be Televised by Rebecca Wanzo and the other is If You Can’t Be Free, Be A Mystery by Farah Griffin.

I have been thinking about Griffin’s book because it is about how the genius of Billie Holiday is perpetually overlooked because of her struggles with addictions. I read this book nearly two years ago and was really floored by how Black women’s knowledge production and Black women’s genius tends to be largely overshadowed by their struggles with addiction in ways that the genius of Black men historically has not been. ( This isn’t limited to only Black women, as I remember comments around Amy Winehouse’s addiction struggles and trust, Frank was genius.)

For example, Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, John Coltrane historically have had very public struggles with addictions, however their genius has not been denied.

Black women’s history is central to US history. To erase or deny their genius is to erase US history, and I am not having that.

To reduce their genius to their struggles with addictions is to fail to see them as whole human beings who are both fragile and dynamic.

Listen to the first 90 seconds of her version of  “I Will Always Love You” in a quiet room on a Sunday morning. #genius.

Having watched Oakland become consumed by the crack epidemic as a kid in Oakland I saw the city that I loved eaten from the inside out in many ways by the dope game. I watched many family members struggle with addiction, recovery and addiction and recovery again. You want to go through some pain, watch a family member relapse after watching them claw their way, one day at a time to sobriety.

As I watched people on in social media spaces speculate about who is responsible for Ms. Houston’s “downfall” I couldn’t help but think that is this what people who don’t know how to grieve? What does grieving look like in this moment? What does it mean that it is easier to emote in social media spaces rather than to look at ourselves, at our own dark side’s or to call a family member who is struggling with dealing with an addiction right now and let them know that they are Loved and that you want them to stay alive.

As I stated earlier, Wanzo’s The Suffering Will Not Be Televised helped me to make sense of a lot of the comments around Whitney Houston’s life and death. In her book Wanzo argues that,

some stories of African American women’s suffering in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries are widely circulated and others dwell in obscurity. African American women are frequently illegible as sympathetic subjects for media and political concern, and unpacking the difference between the widely disseminated suffering stories and the invisible ones demonstrates why some stories of suffering gain prominence and others never gain a national stage.

After Ms. Houston’s death I thought, why was it so hard to see her as a sympathetic subject? Why didn’t she have “political currency”? Does she have political currency in Black online spaces? White online spaces? Why or why not?

I’ve had a theory for about three years about shiny Black girls. Shiny Black girls are talented, ambitious and fly. Their hair stays whipped, faces be moisturized and when they enter a room, they turn heads. #blackgirlsarefromthefuture.

Ms. Houston was a shiny Black girl. In our current cultural climate shiny Black girls have to protect themselves, their bodies and their spirits in order to stay whole human beings.

I guess, at the end of all of this I am wondering how many shiny Black girls are in our midst at this very moment who may need our help but don’t want to or don’t know how to ask? What is our obligation to them?

What do we do?


On How “The Secret Life of Bee’s” Used 4 Black Women to tell a White Girl’s Story

I saw The Secret Life of Bee’s (TSLB) yesterday and I couldn’t helped but be struck by two things. First, the tone of TSLB was extremely similar to the tone of The Help. From the color palate of the sets, to the language and how folks moved and the music.

TSLB was directed by a Black woman, and The Help was directed by a White man.

This morning when I got up I KNEW that I had to write about TSLB. I am good for watching a movie and telling the screen “I don’t believe you Gina”. Meaning I don’t believe the characters, the story is underdeveloped, the character is underdeveloped, that the editor was being lazy, the director was being lazy or the actor was being lazy. That someone didn’t push it to a space to take it there.

The moment that I didn’t believe in the film was in Dakota Fanning and Jennifer Hudson showed up at Queen Latifah’s door, and Fanning had done all the talking. Now Hudson had just gotten beat publicly beat a White man for pouring sun flower seed hulls on his feet in public and threw her to the ground and demanded that said apologized. She refused and was taken to jail. This scene is a direct nod to the scene in The Color Purple where Oprah’s character hits the White woman who asks her if SHE will be her maid…let’s just say that it was traumatic to watch.

So when they show up to Latifah’s door, and Hudson just kinda stands there letting Fanning talk, I was like what the fuck is this Gina. This woman has just gotten her ass beat, and head cracked open by White men, and given the time period she was probably raped, consequently she is lucky to be alive, and she can’t speak for herself. I was not interested in what Fanning had to say to Latifah, I wanted to hear what Hudson had to say for herself and to Latifah. It rendered Hudson a child in that moment.

This morning, I knew what fucked me up about The Secret Life of Bee’s. In this movie four Black women serve as a midwife for the spiritual transformation of a young White girl who has been abandoned by her mother and verbally and physically abused by her father.

Why in the hell is an all star cast of four awesome and talented Black women serving as fodder for the spiritual transformation of a little White girl. When was the last time we saw four Black women serve as fodder for their own spiritual transformation? Cough, Waiting to Exhale? Cough.

Movies matter because they tell us what is important. Movies also matter because they tell us how some people see history.

Honestly, those women were reduced to four mid-wive mammies, to the extent that the White Hollywood imagination see’s Black women’s bodies in film. You all KNOW I Love watching Queen Latifah. I sat in a hotel room in North Carolina on Christmas and had the time of my life watching Latifah. THAT FILM WAS ABOUT A BLACK WOMAN’S PERSONAL TRANSFORMATION. HER JOURNEY, not someone else’s.

This is not to say that Queen Latifah, Jennifer Hudson, Alicia Keys, Sophie Okendo (check out Skin if you haven’t) did make it twerk, because they did. In fact Latifah is able to work in some #blackgirlfromthefuture juju with the story behind her honey business and Okendo story was probably the most developed and most emotionally textured.

In someways The Secret Life of Bee’s objectified Black women in some of the similar ways that rap music video’s do, because it treats them as objects that are merely there to move the story along and not as subjects with their OWN STORY TO TELL.

You see the movie?

Why do we move other people’s story along but not our own?

Don’t we do the same shit in real life too? Putting our children, our husbands, our girlfriends, our wives, our boyfriends, our work, our mommas ahead of us, and never us first? When will this stop?

On Black Women’s Sexuality


The second time that I saw Pariah I decided to change my paper’s title, or even to give it a proper title because of the direction  the paper is taking. The working title is “I am Not Broken, I am Open: Toward  Hetergenous Representations of Black Women’s Sexuality”.

After walking around with a notebook and several drafts two Saturdays ago, and reading and re-reading what I wrote, it became clear that I was not only interested in how Black women make choices about their sexualities, but that I was interested in the politics of Black women’s storytelling both on a day to day basis and on film. In fact, my interest in the politics of Black women’s storytelling is probably why I chose oral interviews as one of my methods of the paper that I have been working on.

There is a parallel between Black women’s lives and Black women’s films when it comes to how and when we are able to represent ourselves. In fact, now that I think about it, I am completely invested in interrogating how public and private marketplaces shape how Black women make choices about their sexualities AND how they shape the stories that Black women are allowed to tell publicly, on a large scale to other Black women.

Gina, this is not what I set out to write about, but this is what nags at me both in my day to day life, and it keeps coming up as I read the paper, so rather than fight it, I will embrace it. I realized, only two weeks ago, that the paper is about these two things. I am not sure what to do with it, now that I have recognized it, but I know or at least I hope that there is some way for me to address it in material ways.

I chose the I am not broken, I am open for a few reasons. First  because it is a line of a poem that Alike says in Pariah. I also use it because Dee Rees wrote the poetry for the film. The third reason is because that line in the film speaks to a previous idea that I have stated which is that “Being read as deviant has fractured the space for Black women to discuss their sexuality”. I have a host of ideas about saying this both on my blog and saying it publicly. I am simply not certain that Black women can re-claim something that has suffocated their humanity. Even as I write that I ask, is that binary thinking, do the films that I have watched, the interviews that I have conducted and even the conversations that Ih ave had with my friends about Black women’s sexuality tell me something different?

I don’t know.

On Mambu Badu and Black Girl Problems Tumblr x Essence’s New White Male Editor

Earlier this year I said that Mambu Badu was the freshest thing since Honey Magazine. The Quirky Black Girl magazine from 2000 that articles on Lil Kim and Lauryn Hill. The articles seemed to reflect a vision of Black girls that wasn’t as focused on racial uplift, natural hair guides, and finding a “good Black man” in the way that say- Essence is.

Mambu Badu is significant to me because it appears to be made with the explicit intent of centering the lives and art of Black girls. Where else is that?

Furthermore it is unique in that it doesn’t seem to be in response to an event. It appears to be an endin and of it self. That kind of work is powerful.

Disclosure, two of the creators are my homies @alice_wonder and @dascruggs. The third creator is the awesome @kameelahwrites.However, the whole time they were working on it, I had not idea of the scale of it. I say they should do a limited printing of 100 copies and sell them.

On to Black Girl Problems on tumblr.

@Afrolicious put me on to Black Girl Problems on tumblr. I Love this blog because it demonstrates a particular Black girls subjectivity- a point of view and lived experience.

This blog resists the erasure of Black girls and for that reason it is hella fresh.

Oh. Essence just got a White male managing editor. #Ummh. Talk about the importance of Black girl subjectivity.

You up on Mambu Badu? What did you think of it?

Black Girls Problems? Thoughts?