Digital Dead End

Book cover for Digital Dead End

“Rendering oppression visible makes it available for intervention and change” — Virginia Eubanks, Digital Dead End, p. 28 

As I sat reading Digital Dead End earlier this week, I overheard a conversation between some of my friends who were in the same room. They were discussing the availability of keyboards, “mouses,” and other hardware at a local charity. I listened purposefully, then, as the conversation turned toward the lack of available software. My friends did not discuss the lack of available training, although I know that is an issue for the many people with economic struggles in my area. And that, in essence, was the most important concept I took away from this text: Distribution is not the problem as far as ensuring access to technology. The much larger problem is how we think about technology in combination with social justice. Eubanks alleges that “continued emphasis on the development of science and technology as the route to greater prosperity and equality for all American is a familiar but dangerously underexamined species of magical thinking” (p. xv). In other words, if we are to work toward social justice as digital rhetoricians and technology scholars, we must work toward structural change–and this includes changes in our ways of thinking about technology, what it does, and what constitutes “access.” 
Eubanks also includes a powerful passage about interpretations of objectivity. Most important for me in this late section of the book was her observation that “While none of us are perfect interpreters of our own experience, the gaps in the knowledge of the powerful are systemic and significant” (p. 148). Unless technology scholars are willing to listen to those who exist outside dominant patterns of access and use, changing our habits of thinking will be nearly  impossible.  

Finally, Eubanks introduces popular technology as an organizing term, suggesting that technology scholars must take a wider view of how people interact with technologies. We must include those who work in data entry as well as those who work in assembling and disassembling computers. What are the social justice implications, for example, for those who interact with technology by disassembling computers with no protective gear? Eubanks argues that “The real work of popular technology was contextualizing everyday experiences in the information age through collaborative research and education projects. … Popular technology’s model of justice is cognitive, not distributive” (p. 127) 

Eubanks, Virginia. (2011). Digital Dead End: Fighting for Social Justice in the Information Age. Cambridge, MA: MIT. 

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