My next interview was with Erna Kotkamp, who is at U. Utrecht where she has been doing work on gender studies, and more lately on technology. Erna described her use of technology in a way that, so far, more closely resembles the “classic geek mode” than any of the other people with whom I spoke. She said she was most comfortable with a screw-driver in hand, tinkering with a computer’s guts. At the same time, even she was not completely comfortable saying she just found it fun, admitting any frivolous reasons for her use of tech. And she noted herself that it was interesting to find such an old gender old still affecting her so much.
Though Erna is not focusing explicitly on gender in her current research, which is on open-source software and e-learning, it was more explicitly part of this interview than in many, maybe because she notices that aspect in her work as a matter of course. She mentioned that 10 years ago, it was still common for people in humanities disciplines to feel comfortable ignoring tech or even announcing their ignorance of computers. At that time she was the “tech-y one” in Women’s Studies at U. Utrecht and was often called on to help others do things with computers, even to make PowerPoint slides. Now people are not so comfortable admitting techno-illiteracy, but Erna still feels some she knows need to be more savvy, and more importantly to recognize that knowing how to use tech and how to think critically about it are both essential basic skills now.
This conversation seemed to be be much more organic (that is to say non-linear and recursive) so this write-up will also be that way and also since I thought I was recording it and the device turned out to not work, I will probably have to come back and edit details later. 😛
Though Erna is the most inclined toward hardware hacking and of the women I’ve spoken with so far, one of the most proficient at coding, she seemed to get started sort of incidentally. Her family always was much more focused on arts and humanities kind of stuff, so neither she nor her brother were encouraged to do much with math, science, or tech. So though Erna feels her strengths lie in these later areas, she never really had much chance to develop them (or maybe even recognize them?) until by chance she took computer classes during her BA studies.
Anyway, Erna had quite a few insights into her own use of technology, the open-source scene, and the impact of gender…but that will be in the next post because in fact i have to go do family stuff myself right now!