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Berkman lunch: Anne Balsamo on Designing Culture

Anne Balsamo from U of Southern California and the Annenberg School is giving a Berkman lunchtime talk, called “Designing Culture: The Technological Imagination at Work.” [Live blogging, paraphrasing. And Anne is talking about deep themes. So, these notes will be especially inadequate, as well as getting things wrong, missing stuff, etc.]

Her book touches on technological imagination (how we engage the materiality of the world), technological innovation, and the reworking of culture. She’s particularly interested in the importance of training the technological imagination. Her book discusses designers who explicitly consider culture throughout the design process. The book speculates about what it would take to train imaginations to create new cultural possibilities as they are at designing new technologies. This is the responsibility of educators as well as of engineers, etc.

Chapter 1 does some framing. Chapter 2 is called “Gendering the technological imagination,” extending the topic of her previous book. “Technology was always gendered. We just didn’t recognize it as such.” It draws on feminist theories of reproduction as the basis of all technologies as reproductive. Chapter 3 (“The Performance of Innovation”) draws on her time at PARC designing a museum exhibit on the future of reading. It focused on how we perform innovations, rather than discover them. Chapter 4 (“Public interactives and technological literacies”) reflects on the literacy a designer must always take into consideration when designing interactive pieces, and how interactives draw upon existing literacies and require new ones for the future. It then looks to the ethics of designing public interactives. Chapter 5 (“Working the Paradigm Shift”) is on the labor of creating this shift. It draws on Henry Jenkins and calls on people to do the hard work of shifting the paradigm. People have to learn how to engage deeply under the hood, as well as the policy work. Chapter 6 is a coda (“The Work of the Book in a Digital Age”) about why she’s writing a book in the age of the digital. The book is transmedia and includes a multimedia documentary (“Women of the World Talk Back”) she co-authored about 15 yrs ago, a Web site, and some other pieces. She also is working on a new thesaurus that maps technology as a cultural ensemble.

She talks about working the paradigm shift. We have failed to bridge C.P. Snow’s two cultures. We need to do so through practices. New participants (esp. women) and new commitments. We need to learn to be learners, not to be the smartest person in the world. And we need more collaborative teams and new spaces where people can work together on technological things. We need places that aren’t owned territorially but are places where people can come together from multiple disciplines.

She is working on a new MacArthur project. Scholarship will be distributed and networked, Macarthur understands. Part of her new grant is understanding the technology to enable this to happen. Learning is happening in distributed fashion, not in any one place. She is looking at how museums and libraries will function as part of this distributed learning environment. She’s starting with the portfolio of reading devices developed at PARC for the museum exhibit. She is looking at digital learning objects, mixed reality learning environments (body-based, gesture-based), and thinking with objects (DIY … but, Ann asks, as the digital divide mainatins, will the poor get access only to the virtual while the affluent learn how to solder, weld, saw…).

Libraries and museusm are important for presreving culture and bring it into new understandings.

She leaves us with the question: What about the future of libraries and museums?

Discussion begins, but I’m not going to try to capture all of it. Here are some random points:

Ann says that we need to be smart about our metadata, recognizing that there is always a narrative there. If we don’t think about this, the semantic web will be stupid.

Ann thinks books will continue to be printed. But libraries may be about more than lending books and CDs/DVDs. They could lend tools, toys… [Great vision!] A library is also a stage where people can perform and participate in their culture. [Tags: ]

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