Women's Studies 30

Women and Technology

Carlton Davis's Personal Statement 02-18-02

I've never really been much of a technology buff. I suppose that stems from my parents and the way I was raised: the VCR we have at home is a good fifteen years old, I think we've got to be one of the only families left in America without a DVD player, and we still have the same refrigerator dating back to when the house was built in 1949. We have never really had a need for any new technologies around the home, and so far we have gotten by fairly well.

I remember the story my grandmother once told me about my dad. She was driving him to school one cold morning and told him to go outside and warm the car up. So sure enough, five minutes later she gets in the car and the engine wasn't even on. When she asked my dad why he didn't turn the heat on, he replied that he had, and promptly showed her the heat dial turned up. What he didn't do was turn on the engine- he didn't understand the connection between the car and heat being on. It's still like that today. When the television is on the wrong channel because I've been playing video games, he always yells loudly until my sisters or I come running and fix it for him. This has happened dozens of times, yet he still has not learned what to do. In an era where males are supposedly the technological innovators and users, my dad certainly doesn't fit the mold.

My mother does everything around the house. She does the traditional women chores of cooking, cleaning, and the laundry. She never complains, she likes taking care of us. It is the other chores that bother her. She ends up installing new light bulbs, fixing the bikes, building handy little containers, and other small tasks such as those. My dad has never been a handy man and that has trickled down to me. I remember once mom told me fix a problem with our Jacuzzi, and after looking at the problem, reading the manual, and finally calling the company, it was fixed. Three weeks later. This prompted mom to come up with the stupid joke, "How many Swarthmore students does it take to fix a Jacuzzi?" with the response being "One, but it takes him three weeks to get it done." A dumb joke indeed, but one that she consistently finds amusing. It boils down to the point, though, that if she wants something done around the house, she has to do it herself. Time and again she will buy new tools to fix things and be proud of her accomplishment when she is finished.

I remember back to when we got our first computer at home. It was in the seventh grade, but it was at least two years after all of my other friends had gotten theirs. My mom kept insisting that a computer wasn't really necessary and we shouldn't have to spend the money on it, but I kept arguing back that it would make things a whole lot easier. When the computer finally was purchased, I enjoyed it immensely. I learned how to do email and type up papers for school all by myself (though most of it I had learned previously from friends). \ was infatuated by the machine and spent countless hours on it playing games and communicating with friends.

It was a couple years afterwards that my sisters finally began using the computer. The only reason they did so was out of necessity; as they enrolled in higher grades the papers they wrote became longer, so they turned to the computer to facilitate their writing. The computer meant little else for them, however. Even today, several years after first learning how to use the computer, my sisters use it for little else other than writing papers and talking with friends.

For years my parents were completely computer illiterate. I remember talking on the phone late at night and on the computer at the same time, hogging both phone lines. My dad would come down and threaten to turn the computer off if I didn't get off the phone, and my response would always be "fine". Every time he would always wave his finger in front of the screen and then ask, "Which button is it?" He's clueless, and still is. But that is fine with him. His government job doesn't require him using a computer, and though he says he's learning (there is now one in his office, but I don't think it has ever been turned on), I don't believe him. My mom is a doctor, and she has never had a use for the computer either. When I went off to college, however, she took it upon herself to learn how to write email, and now she loves doing so. She writes to friends and family, and occasionally she will type up a paper for one of my sisters. She thinks the computer is a great invention which endless possibilities, and even though she is just scratching the surface of what it can do, she enjoys every minute of playing with it.

I myself have never been eager to have any of the latest technologies. Sure all these new video game systems are great (and I wouldn't mind having one, I just don't care if I don't), but I would rather invest my time and money in doing something else. Last year I went to the Consumer Electronics Show out in Las Vegas. I went with my dad, so it wasn't an event I really wanted to go to, but at the same time the opportunity was too good to pass up. I remember very distinctly all the gadgets and gismos that were on display, all the latest technologies and a million devices (all very expensive) that would make my life so much easier and so much more fun. It was fascinating to see the latest technologies before they were out on the market and talk to some of the minds behind the creation of these technologies. It was not until I first enrolled in this class, however, that I think back to that time and remember that just about every single one of those people was a male. In addition, the visitors to the show were overwhelmingly male, and I would assume that most of the people purchasing the goods that were on display would be male, as well. This caused me to think back to my AP Computer Science class my sophomore year in high school. I remember very clearly how, on the first day of class, I counted twenty-four boys in the class as opposed to only three girls. I didn't think anything of it at the time, other than it was an interesting statistic, but recently I have given that fact more thought.

One of the reasons I enrolled in this Women and Technology class is to answer the question "Is there anything wrong with the fact that society seems to be technologically dominated by males?" I don't know the answer to this question; I am inclined to think that of course there is, why is it that the vast majority of CEOs of Fortune 500 companies are male, and at what point along the way, if at all, have women been discriminated against? At the same time, however, our society is functioning very well with men at the helm. Still, the question lies, what could women contribute that they aren't due to circumstances beyond their control?

Not surprisingly, I am the only male enrolled in the class. To be honest, I never really thought much of Women's Studies until recently. One of my close friends decided to choose the topic as her major, and initially I laughed at her and rolled my eyes. In addition I have become more frustrated with her as she has become more liberal and feminist with her views. I took this class with a recommendation from my mom to try something new and completely different. I wish to expand my mind and think about issues that have never crossed my mind before, and women and technology is certainly one such issue.

I hope that by learning more about the issues important to women, why certain technologies are targeted specifically for them, and why there seems to be a large gender split in our society even today along technological lines, I can gain a better perspective of how women think. Some day I hope to pursue a career in public service, and by learning something new today, in this case women, technology and the history behind it, the payoffs tomorrow will be all the more rewarding. I feel that college is supposed to challenge the mind and teach one to think. My hopes are this class will do exactly that by forcing me to concentrate my mind on a certain aspect of society, women, that I have previously overlooked.

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last updated 2/28/02