Self-Evaluation

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GIST Final Reflection

            My initial impression of GIST was a combination of the title “Gender and Technology” with the cross-listing in English and Computer Science. As an English major at Haverford I found it really neat that a course was being offered with a foot in two very distinct disciplines. The course’s title in the catalog “Gender and Technology” also caught my attention because it immediately evoked another dimension of the interdisciplinary approach already clear from the cross-listing: a look at gender studies and the study of technology—along with information and science as I would later find out—and the interactions and intra-actions between such seemingly separate fields. Upon entering the course in January, my appetite was whetted for a very unique course which not only covered, but integrated and engaged, a wide range of disciplines.

            The first section of the course devoted to the “Science and Technology of Gender” was wholly new to me. I had never before taking any courses in Gender and Sexuality Studies and was very much looking forward to my first engagements with the field. I was thoroughly surprised by the approach, however, which looked at gender through the lenses of science and technology. The thoughts we formed as a class—and I formed as an individual—around gender and identity was uniquely contextualized within the science and technology of constructing, reconstructing, deconstructing one’s sense of self. I was by far the most intrigued by this notion of “making and remaking ourselves” through available science and technology. Andy Clark’s “Natural Born Cyborg” was instantly accessible and rewarding. Rather than pique my usual discomfort with technological advancements—and their subsequent “de-humanizing” effects—the article enlightened my conception of a cyborg; Clark’s understanding of technology as tools which are extensions of ourselves made the close interaction and interdependence between humans and technology seem less unnerving and more advantageous, and, as Clark even suggests, natural.         

            The concluding sections of this course—“enhancing gender identity” and “gender identity”—were for me the most interesting parts related to gender.  I was extraordinarily intrigued by the ethical implications embedded in the science of technologically constructing gender. Consequently, I wrote my first paper on the ethics of shaping gender in intersex infants. My first experience posting on the web was extremely rewarding: I was pleased to get a helpful comment from Elizabeth Reis on the history of gender altering technologies for intersex children. Overall, I was most attached to these social and ethical implications of gender in such a technologically advanced world.

            The next section on the “Science and Technology of Information” was probably my favorite. I have always been fascinated by information—particularly its transactional and communicative properties—and this section of the course widened the scope of my knowledge in this area. I very much enjoyed the written excerpts and write-ups from Katherine Rowe’s and Paul Grobstein’s talks on information. I found myself intrigued by the notion of a decoder and the transformative process of understanding information; and the notion—suggested in Grobstein’s talk—of information as existing in a potential state only actualized after the process of decoding. I particularly liked the dovetail between information and the discussions about hyper-reading and close-reading. As an English major I am used to reading only closely and had never before really considered hyper-reading as an effective option. However, after reading Hayles’ articles on the digital humanities and trying to do the readings for the class on the internet, I found that there was a very unique and rewarding aspect to hyper-reading. I was surprised by the patterns I was able to trace when I hyper-read that I may have missed when I stuck to traditional close reading. I also really enjoyed music’s introduction into the conversation about information and noise: the discussion of what music, sound and noise are. Additionally, the panels were very engaging for this section and I found it very neat to represent Watson the IBM computer designed to beat the best jeopardy contestants—I learned a lot from my research into how the computer worked. Additionally Watson’s appearance, name and sound piqued my interest in the notion of gendered robots which primed me for my second web event: “Watson: A Gendered Robot?”

            The next section on the intra-actions between GIST was really interesting. Karen Barad’s notions of entanglement and objectivity, though challenging, were exceedingly rewarding for me. I was really fascinated by her Bohrian approach to objectivity where the observer is not separate from the phenomenon he/she observes, but rather is entangled with it; objectivity is preserved by the presence of marks on the object being measured with which to record results. The second group of panels was also really interesting and I found it especially engaging to represent a group of people rather than a person (or robot). I chose to represent psychiatrists because of the various implications of the field today in for gender, information, science and technology. I thought that the field’s interesting position between the social sciences and the hard sciences would be an interesting intra-action to explore. The study of this field aroused my interest in a combined look at Barad’s piece on entanglements with the practical field of psychiatry. The final section, “Creative collaborations in GIST”, was also really interesting. My favorite part was the discussion of Chorost and his notion of a future World Wide Mind. The notion of enhanced communication, understanding, and interconnectivity between humans was really intriguing.

          I very much enjoyed the ongoing dialogue in the class. I think the class as a whole--because of its size--was more difficult to participate in as a whole, but I tried to speak up when I felt I had something contribute. Although on the quieter side I had the opportunity speak up in the small groups quite often. I liked exchanging ideas with my peers and hearing their feedback. The panels also provided a unique opportunity to interact with one another. The group postings were also very engaging and once asked to respond to other posts I found myself interacting with peers in a very different, yet rewarding way. It was cool to interact in person and online with my classmates. I tried to respond often to comments for the weekly postings in order to have an exchange, I also posed a question once which was thoughtfully answered by another classmate. As a whole I appreciated having the weekly blog posts to reflect on the work we did and information we covered in the previous week. I also really valued the web-events and the opportunity to thoroughly reflect on topic that interested me. I enjoyed beginning to learn how to make web papers more "web-friendly" and less traditionally academic, or wholly humanities-driven. I think that GIST has helped me to broaden the scope of my knowledge and has greatly enhanced communication skills in a unique way. In the beginning of the semester I had a very limited and constricted knowledge of Gender, Information, Science and Technology as most of my knowledge of these areas was contextualized within each of the separate fields. I originally brought my experience of close-reading and the study of English to the class, but I ultimately left with these skills in addition to new skills that are infinitely helpful for any future study: being able to see the connections, interactions, and intra-actions among even the most distinct disciplines, subjects, and ideas. 

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