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Thursday, October 11 • 11:00am - 12:30pm
Computing Anxiety

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This panel investigates various manifestations of cultural anxieties about technology. Separately, the authors consider how familiar sociotechnical constructs - the digital footprint, the hackathon, the hacktivist mask, and the hoodie - become symbols through which technologies are understood. Together, the authors consider how these fears are manifest in cultural constructions about those who use technology - people imagined alternately as at risk and disruptive, enterprising and threatening. Papers employ different methodologies (critical cultural analysis, textual and film criticism, and ethnography) to investigate how these cultural anxieties are constructed in and from different places (Mexico, the United States, the United Kingdom). But all four papers investigate how cultural agents-such as metaphors, fashion, films, and hackerspaces-work to nurture and materialize particular anxieties about computing and ameliorate others.

This panel is about ideas, but it is not about "free-wheeling discourse" (Wood, 1998, 399). On the contrary, these papers illustrate how computing cultures connect with the material world of computing and how cultural representation are grounded in institutions, industries, and commodities. The first paper illustrates how the object of the mask in the popular film and novel V for Vendetta worked to inoculate those affiliated with Anonymous from the charge of terrorism. The second paper explores how metaphors including "digital footprint," "digital tattoo," and "digital döppelganger" lend materiality to anxieties about digital traces and visibility, thereby driving the industrialization of online identities and the expansion of markets for image management. The ethnographic research in hackathons and "hacker schools" in the third paper illustrates how meaning is constructed within these spaces and how it ripples through social structures in Mexico. By showing how the British think differently about computing and civic cultures, the fourth paper illustrates how Silicon Valley's unofficial corporate uniform-the hoodie-has taken on different cultural meanings in the United States and United Kingdom, affecting the very structure of the agencies in charge of government computer infrastructures.

Seen together, these papers illustrate the ways that popular images of computing focus on particular anxieties and away from others - the ways it directs and deflects attention. In understanding the cultural assumptions encoded in the artifacts under examination, each of these papers creates space for alternative imaginaries about computing. The first paper considers the different ways we might have understood Anonymous had V for Vendetta not become one of its primary cultural frameworks. Metaphors that embrace a shared notion of risk, the second paper argues, might allow us to rethink norms of personal responsibility around digital privacy. In the third paper, the author suggests manifestations of hacking in Mexico might offer alternative definitions of success than those dominant in Euro-American communities. By showing how the British think differently about computing and civic cultures, the fourth paper pushes beyond American valorization of Silicon Valley and the demonization of government.

Ultimately, through an examination of their role in the production, shaping, and altering of anxiety, this panel illustrates why computing cultures matter.


Thursday October 11, 2018 11:00am - 12:30pm
Sheraton - Ballroom West

Attendees (37)