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DAC 2009

The international Digital Arts and Cultures conference is being held at UC Irvine this year, Dec. 12-19. Subtitled “after media: embodiment and context” it looks like being an exciting event. Among the dozens of presenters and session leaders are Nell Tenhaaf,  Andrea Polli, Nina Czegledy, and Katherine Hayles. There is an associated exhibition at the Beall Center for Art and Technology, as well as a concert. Come one, come all…

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Coyotek Immigrant Safety Technologies

“Artivist” Ricardo Dominguez and his Chicana Coyotek Gangs are building a GPS tool for US-Mexico border crossers for the simple purpose of helping crossers not die. It’s called the Transborder Immigration Tool and it is out of CalIT2 in San Diego.

In an OC Register article about the work is not surprisingly focused on the anti-immigration activists the project enrages or annoys. Dominguez seems to have been somewhat successful in staking out a common ground of human decency. The Minuteman border guard agrees: “I’m sure his intentions are good. He doesn’t want people to die in the desert. I don’t want people to die in the desert either.”

It is cool to see technologies around mobility that go beyond the typical suburban imaginary of technology startups and the ubiquitous computing field. (For a critique of how ubiquitous computing conceives of mobility, check out Dourish, Anderson, and Nafus paper “Cultural Mobilities.”) Immigration is a sort of mobility arguably more important to the American economy than the pub-crawling that fuels foursquare and certainly more demanding of bodies, precisely as it is pushed underground because of its illegality.

It’s also rad to see this sort of work being done in a California public institution.

Be Careful What You Wish For?

I am impelled to write this out of fury as I watch American women’s right to affordable birth control (including abortion) get sacrificed in the Democrats’ push to pass a health care reform bill. I don’t even have much new to say on the subject that hasn’t been written elsewhere (see for example this post on In California, where I live, we have become used to watching a minority—Republicans—hold the will of the majority hostage through the rule that a 2/3 majority is needed to pass anything through the Legislature. This is exactly what is happening at the national level—a very small handful of Congresspeople—in this case, Democrats—has succeeded in holding the health care reform effort hostage to their outdated and misogynist views on birth control. Over 90% of American women use birth control at some point in their lives, and all of these women and their partners—representing a substantial majority of the country’s population—are going to be harmed by this perceived need to pander to a few legislators.

The phrase “be careful what you wish for” suggests that when one gets what one wants, there are usually unintended consequences that turn the moment into a Pyrrhic victory.  Certainly this looks like one of those moments for American women: take a big hit in the pocketbook, or even be forced by economic necessity to give up birth control altogether—which will be a catastrophe for many women and their partners—in order to get reform of a health care system that already discriminates against women (for example, in its pricing mechanisms). Yet even as I am placed in this double bind by Congress, I don’t find myself wishing I’d “been careful” and hadn’t supported the push for health care reform.  “Be careful what you wish for” implies an irreconcilable choice, but there is no sound reason why 100 million adult American women should not have both health care reform and insurance coverage of birth control.

I see this as a classic case of a technology that doesn’t have a powerful enough interest group behind it. Which suggests both that American women still have a long way to go in owning their fair share of political power, and that people should be much more skeptical about the socio-political mechanisms by which new technologies get adopted. If a small group can derail such an important and widely used technology, then in the case of a successful technology one should always look for the power groups that pushed it through and not just assume that it was bound to happen that way.

I find myself fantasizing about a last-minute rescue of the birth-control provisions of the health care reform legislation, or about some kind of constitutional challenge eventually going forward to the Supreme Court. The first fantasy is pathetic and the second—given the present makeup of the Roberts Court—seriously deranged. But fantasy is one of the pernicious side effects of political impotence.

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