Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Christina Dunbar-Hester's "Hacking Diversity"

Christina Dunbar-Hester is associate professor of communication in the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California. She is the author of Low Power to the People: Pirates, Protest, and Politics in FM Radio Activism.

Dunbar-Hester applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Hacking Diversity: The Politics of Inclusion in Open Technology Cultures, and reported the following:
From page 99:
Everyone in the room was enrolled into cryptodancing. One of the first instructions was for people to partner up and one person to lead while the other followed. The leaders were instructed to move around the room, across the floor space, and also shift planes of height: crouching, standing. The leader was supposed to guide the follower, whose eyes were closed, through space by holding her hand… The squawks and squalls of the electronics took on increased urgency, and people moved deliberately into the frame of the camera projecting our movements. Someone extended a hand toward the theremin and an ethereal squeal pierced the room.
This page both is and is not representative of the book as a whole! What is representative is that the reader encounters a detailed and lively description of a very idiosyncratic event—a “cryptodance” at a hacking event in MontrĂ©al, in 2016, where people attempted to embody the principles of public key cryptography through an improvised choreography. Sounds weird? It is. But the event was very interesting, and my description—based on having participated in the event—helps to illuminate some of the main ideas in the book. One of its objectives is to chronicle how people have been thinking creatively and critically about novel ways of engaging with technologies, and “hacking” their cultures to open up participation to new kinds of folks. Needless to say, the cryptodance is a different way of encountering the principles of cryptography than one would learn in, say, a computer science class.

What is not representative is that this page is only a narrative of an event I attended while doing research. It does not contain the wider points of the book, analysis or main arguments, which place the event above and others like it in a wider context of history of computing and hacking.

Page 99 is also not representative in that it does not contain any pictures—though 98 and 100 do!
Learn more about Hacking Diversity at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue