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In honor of Ada Lovelace


Joining folks celebrating Ada Lovelace Day, by writing about one of many women in technology whom I admire.

When I met Carolyn in Moscow in 1992, she was not yet a woman “in technology.” She was editing translations of Russian journals into English for a strange little enterprise, one of several hundred groups named “Intersomething.” I worked there too, briefly, one of an uncountable number of odd jobs I had in those early years in Moscow. Carolyn eventually migrated to working for a law firm, translating documents from Russian to English. For a while she and I worked together translating a business newsletter, while I hosted an English-language radio news show. Then somehow she started doing some “computer stuff” for them, mostly because no one else wanted to. Or because whoever was supposed to do it wasn’t getting things done that she needed so she did them herself. Soon enough she was their IT person.

Then she moved back to California and got a job in a youngish company (what do you call a startup that’s been started up for a few years? An upstart?) that did conference calling systems. To be honest, I never exactly understood what she did, and I only saw her a couple times a year, but after a while I began to notice when I introduced her to friends that she told them she was a developer. And when I mentioned that I wanted to start a blog she offered to host the domain for me. I realized that while I hadn’t been paying attention, my thoroughly humanities-oriented friend had become a full-fledged geek. Just like that. Then a little while back she mentioned she had gotten involved in running an online social network called She and my fiancé have conversations about servers that make my head spin.

What makes Carolyn so cool? It’s not that she’s the most brilliant geek I know (she’s not) it’s that she joined this mysterious, predominantly male tribe with such seeming ease. She proved to me that you don’t have to be male, born after 1980, obsessed with computer games, socially awkward or in any other of a number of stereotyped ways to the manner born in order to be a happy and successful technology professional and enthusiast. No angst required. It seems interesting? There’s an opportunity? You find you’re good at it? Then do it.

I’m writing this late in the evening after all-day meetings with a group of about a dozen folks who work on computer projects. Would like to say it was surprising that the only other woman there does their graphic design, but of course it wasn’t. But knowing Carolyn helps me believe that it won’t always be this way.

We are womyn (and men), hear us ruminate


A fascinating afternoon yesterday at the Berkman Center talking about many dimensions of the intersections of gender and technology. Liana Leahy’s posting links and other good info here, here are just some personal reactions:

Mainstreaming – I’ve been doing it for years! (who knew?) I learned that the stuff we’ve had to do for the past several years in the government grant-funded world is called “gender mainstreaming.” It always caused groans among my ex-Soviet colleagues (female and male) – every grant application must explain how the project will address any gender equity/equality issues that exist and all statistics and reports have to be “gender disaggregated.” Not very hard of course to note the M/F breakdown of a seminar, unless you’re suddenly asked to do it retroactively for the several thousand participants in training and conferences. And at first it all seems silly, until you realize that you do find yourself paying more attention that you used to.

Equity is for other people – As a white, educated and wealthy (relative to the whole population, not to my Harvard class, keep those fundraising calls on hold, thanks) person who happens to be a woman, I find myself quite conflicted about what kinds of solutions I think are appropriate. I absolutely agree with the (male and female) Berkman fellows and staff who started this group that it would be so, so, so very much better if the 12 faculty directors of Berkman were not all men. I am disturbed that only 10 of the 33 current fellows (sorry Rosalie, having enjoyed being a “fellow,” I don’t find the male-ish term is a problem, in fact the opposite, I like “fellows,” “guys” and “folks” as non-gender-determinate terms)  are female. But, do I think the reason Berkman didn’t find a way to continue my fellowship after its original funding ended was because I was female? Of course not. Much as I would like to be still have that nifty “fellow” title, would I have wanted them to find a way to keep me on because I was female? Of course not; I would have been horrified and insulted. When I was juggling lists of folks to speak at my conference, was I annoyed every time someone (always male) suggested that it was a bad thing that an individual panel was all-male? Of course I was.

Overall, though, I came away agreeing (no surprise, because as we already know, he’s always right) with David Weinberger: in fact, even when it’s hard, we should do EVERYTHING, because it is simply depressing and stupid how long we’ve been worrying about this (not just at Berkman but in the world) and things are not changing fast enough. The fact that so many Berkman luminaries made time to join the conversation at some point (leading excellent guest speaker Prof. Seltzer to note that the crowd had impressive numbers of men in it) is heartening. So are the 1000+ members of the Berkman Gender and Technology Facebook group.

So, we are all looking forward to seeing Berkman use its unique position at the intersection of technology, law, academe and business  to take a lead in this. Some of the ways mentioned yesterday (but there are many more) were:

— more Berkman fellows researching how gender difference plays a role in the topics they’re studying (perhaps the question “describe how you will consider gender differences in your research” will find its way into the fellows application? Perhaps they will recruit scholars who focus on gender issues? Perhaps both, and more?)

— existing Berkman research will make sure consideration of gender difference is included (Terry Fisher talked about this)

— hosting small, regular discussions on some of the separate issues

— maybe finding funding for something larger, like a conference?

— looking at how to address the faculty/fellows imbalance

and that’s just the beginning.

Meanwhile, in the media field – female new media entrepreneurshave 11 days left to apply for seed funding from the good folks at McCormick and there’s still time to register for Women, Action and Media, March 27-29 at MIT.

Hat trick


“Andriankoto’s hat looks good, and it attracts attention. And when people ask me whether it’s from Thailand or India, I can tell them it’s from Madagascar, a gift from a friend who’s trying to save his homeland from political violence by planting high-yield rice. And that’s a story I don’t mind telling as often as I have the opportunity.” — Ethan Zuckerman

TED envy, 2009 edition


For the second time since I started my wonderful year at the Berkman Center, I’m devouring my friend Ethan Zuckerman‘s blogposts about the TED conference. (He was delayed getting there by travel nightmares; Erik Hersman did a great job standing in for him on the first day or so.)

Now that I’m back in the world of grant-funded international media development, one of the things I hope to hold onto from my year as Alice in cyberland is the amazing tradition of eclecticism, openness to new ideas and generosity I found among the people I met at and through Berkman. TED is the epitome of this. I’ve never been to TED, but from what I’ve heard and read, it’s an inspirational event where super-smart people from an amazing range of fields talk about what they know, think, do.

A quick selection of quotes from the more than 20,000 words in the 30+ TED 2009 posts on Ethan’s blog gives a hint of what we missed:

“There is no such thing as a viable democracy of experts, zealots, politicians and spectators.”

Ariely filled fridges at MIT with coke cans and tracked their disappearance… and also put in plates containing six dollar bills. The half-life of the coke was very short, and very long for the bills.

Hunting bushmeat means lots of blood contact between hunters and their primate prey.

Jay Walker, the founder of Priceline and the owner of a legendary library, … tells us that the desire for people to learn English is now approaching mania state much as Beatlemania, sports manias or religious manias have swept through populations.

We see a video of a wooden rollercoaster made by eight year-olds.

Ueli Gegenschatz tells us he’s “addicted to air”. What he means is that he’s addicted to jumping off things. He began with paragliding, then moved to skydiving, and eventually to skysurfing – diving with a stiff board allowing him to fall more slowly, and with twists and tricks.

Mary Roach projects a slide titled, “Ten things you didn’t know about orgasms.”

The strategies that get us through childhood alive keep us from growing up.

Willie Smits lives in Borneo, Indonesia, where he works as a forrester and microbiologist. But he’s better know as the guy who saves orangutans.

Don’t worry about octopuses taking over the world – not only is their structure wrong for life outside the oceans, but they have very short memories, appropriate for their short lifespans.

The legs she wears today make her 6′1″, not her usual 5′8″, and she tells us that friends say, “Aimee, it’s not fair that you can change your height.”

Other things I love about TED:

TED is expensive (it costs $6,000 to attend)

TED is free (you can watch and participate online)

TED is a fierce meritocracy (you have to be really good to present there)

TED is egalitarian (they work hard to get people of all kinds)

TED is serious (hey you could win a fellowship of $100k, that’s no joke!)

TED is silly (I just registered, was offered the chance to identify myself as “atheist, blogger,foodie”)

Let me clear – I’m not saying that people in development or nonprofits aren’t openminded or creative but after a year in Cyberland going to a media development conference (as I did in December in Athens) made me want to hang myself. Even though GFMD2008 was a GREAT conference by the standards of typical conferences (all the right people, some good discussions, very well organized), it could not come close to the chaotic, creative juiciness of the Knight Digital New Challenge gathering (which Ethan liveblogged, of course) organized by my friends at MIT’s Center for Future Civic Media last June.

Many of the people I work with in media development are dedicated, passionate (even obsessed) about their work, and also fun to hang out with. But like most people they draw lines between stuff they love that they keep separate from work, which must remain serious and serious=dull. Whereas, at their best, my new cyberpals consider that everything they’re interested in may be a learning experience, even when silly, and that everything they learn must belong to the world, just in case someone might need it. They actually work incredibly hard (take a look at the output of people like David Weinberger, Doc Searls and Ethan Zuckerman on their blogs and you will realize how much effort it takes) to share it. They understand that they are phenomenally privileged to have the time and opportunity to meet people and learn about things and they feel compelled to give back.

Anyway, thanks people for a transformational experience, hope I can do it justice as I return to life as an electronic paperpusher.

Images: Aimee Mullins‘ amazing legs; Living Skyscraper, Blake Kurasek

Read real people writing about Gaza and Israel


I have found myself feeling simply exhausted and helpless in the face of the deferential-to-Israel news coverage and the relentlessly pro-Israeli opinion in the so-called prestige press in the US. Even when the coverage is fair, I’m too depressed to take in any more reports about the violence against civilians in Gaza and Israel.

I found some relief in this excellent article on Global Voices that highlights two bloggers in Gaza and Israel who are maintaining a daily dialogue and managing to focus on peace and hope rather than blame.

One, known as Peace Man, writes from Gaza:

It is hard to describe what is going on in Gaza , a terrible disaster, where the aircraft do not distinguish between civilians and military and children.

His friend in Sderot, Israel observes:

The war was a great mistake, however it is no wonder that so many people in Israel support it. The ongoing reality of rockets falling in Sderot and other places for 8 years is a terrible reality. Many people of our region have left it for good over the years. Bringing up children in such a reality seems almost abusive and certainly irresponsible.

Go read the whole thing, it should shame us all that there are people living under the falling bombs who are less hate-filled than the commentators here. Thank you, Global Voices, for this and your other coverage of the war, from which the two images here were borrowed.

Images: “We are all Gaza” from a Moroccan blog called the Mirror; photo from eatbees, both via Global Voices.

To the couch! (listen to Radio Berkman)


couchI had great fun having a conversation with my colleague David Weinberger that resulted in a holiday Radio Berkman podcast on the ghosts of media future. One line that made it into the edited version, but is a bit hard to hear because I kind of swallowed it (I’ve forgotten everything my mentors from Open Radio in Moscow taught me) was that part of what I am doing in my paper was “standing up for couch potatoes.” It reminded me that I had used this image in a presentation at Beyond Broadcast to illustrate the exhortation that was part of the original Media Re:public manifesto “Come back to the public (all of them).” Basically, I think that we need to recognize that couch potatoes are potatoes people too. Passive consumers of news still deserve to know what’s going on. So there. You can listening passively to the podcast, where besides some blather from me, there is also some insightful comments from my wonderful collaborators Pat Aufderheide and Jessica Clark, who are the future of public media (which is not just public broadcasting!).

Image: Potato Head – Couch Potato : )
Uploaded on October 11, 2006
by oddsock

Open your ears, your eyes, your mind and your wallet


Why I’m giving money to two wonderful groups bringing international perspectives to American audiences:

Link TV – Global Pulse! A great series, showcasing TV from around the world. Check out the latest –  Must-Watch 5 minutes on George Bush’s legacy as seen by the rest of the world! Like it? Great. It costs money to make – go support it!

Next, Global Voices. Why? My latest reason is this wonderfully silly story about a Costa Rican collaborative Christmas video, reminding us that not all world news is depressing. The opening line sets the tone: “Costa Rican online collective which translates into ‘I can´t pronounce the R’…”

Plus what other truly worthy nonprofit would dare use a LOLcat to ask for your money? Support Global Voices here!

Full Disclosure – I have friends working at both these great organizations. But that’s why I know about them, not why I donate. I donate because the work is terrific.

Extra! Extra! Media Re:public papers available now!


Media Re:public is out! Everything you need is at

168 pages. Yikes. For those of you who don’t have time – just watch the video. It’s only a minute long. Tells it all. Or almost.

The ADHD version is:

* Participatory media is great, has lots of potential.

* But it’s not doing everything we have counted on  journalism institutions to do and left to its own devices, it never will.

* Those journalism institutions, never perfect, are in serious trouble. Many will save themselves, as businesses, but there is no guarantee they will maintain their commitment to doing the journalism we need.

* People who for whatever reason (time, money, skills, desire) are not taking charge of creating their own online news diet still deserve to have access to comprehensive credible sources of news.

* The U.S. media system was not handed down from the heavens on tablets. It’s time to look at models from other countries – stronger public media, newspapers less dependent on advertising, etc.

* We do a lot of studying of online activity, but we don’t know nearly enough about how real people in the real world take in information from many sources and what that means for how journalism in the public interest needs to evolve.

* We, the people who care about the public getting the information it needs, must take the best from both worlds to build the media we need.

Audiophiles – Your subscription to the Radio Berkman podcast (if you’re not subscribed, do, immediately! Find “Radio Berkman” via iTunes. It’s free.) will soon feature David Weinberger quizzing me on what it’s all about.

Still reading? Stop! Go to the site, download the papers.

And thanks again to everyone who helped, especially the Berkman staff who pulled stuff together in the last few days — Seth Young, Dan Jones, Sebastian Diaz, Lexie Koss, Jillian York, and of course the indefatigable Rob Faris.


The past year has been an amazing learning process and a wonderful collaboration with far too many people to thank properly. The Berkman community of fellows, staff and affiliates is an inspiring place to work. I am especially grateful to John Palfrey, for his patient and insightful guidance, Colin Maclay for his excellent questions and unusual metaphors, and my co-author Rob Faris for his patience and perserverance in getting it right. John Bracken and Elspeth Revere of the MacArthur Foundation were much more than sponsors – their thoughtful perspective and their passion for these issues informed and inspired the work. They were instrumental in helping to gather 100+ remarkable people at USC Annenberg in March 2008 for the Media Re:public forum. A special thank you to everyone involved, whether you presented, moderated, listened, tweeted, blogged, or negotiated with the caterers and booked plane tickets (special thanks to Catherine Bracy, for that and everything else you make look so easy, and to Carey Andersen for her cheerful help with everything).

The research and this paper were much improved by the thoughtful critiques and expert advice of many generous and smart people within and without Berkman, including: David Ardia, Pat Aufderheide, Charlie Beckett, Josh Benton, Sasha Costanza-Chock, Jessica Clark, Carol Darr, Bruce Etling, Melanie Dulong de Rosnay, Dan Gillmor, Christine Gorman, Jon Greenberg, Eszter Hargittai, Andrew Heyward, Keith Hopper, Ellen Hume, Colleen Kaman, Beth Kolko, Dori Maynard, Ann Olson, Geneva Overholser, Jan Schaffer, Stephen Schultze, Doc Searls, Wendy Seltzer, Jake Shapiro, Ivan Sigal, Tom Stites, Lokman Tsui, David Weinberger, Lisa Williams, Ernest Wilson III, and Ethan Zuckerman. Thanks to all my research assistants, but especially Khadija, Dan and Matt, who worked harder and more cheerfully than could be imagined. I am also indebted to the dozens of media professionals, technologists and researchers for the interviews and conversations both formal and informal that shaped and challenged my thinking.

Persephone Miel
Cambridge, MA December 2008

Research assistants – Khadija Amjad, Dan J. Levy, Matt Hampel, Tihomir Tsenkulovski, Michael Mylrea, D. Yvette Wohn
Designer – Monica Katzenell
Copy editor – Nany Kotary
Additional editing/graphics – Jillian York, Lexie Koss, Tim Hwang, Brendan Ballou

Athens – 12 days of protests, not Christmas


My trip to Athens for a conference (the Global Forum for Media Development – a terrific event, see earlier posts) was long by normal conference trip standards – 5 nights.  And now it feels like I’ve been back for a long time, lots has happened. Yet the riots, which started the night before I left for Athens, are still going on. Twelve days is a long time.

On our last day, some of us finally left the hotel during daylight, walked around the Acropolis (closed, due to a completely unrelated strike) and through downtown. Next to the Acropolis, we passed a TV crew. As soon as we stopped to look at the view they came to ask if we spoke English. So 3 of us agreed to give interviews – they were thrilled we think to hit the jackpot. My friend Manana said “As a Russian, I am deeply envious of the Greeks. That people would go out on the streets, so quickly in such numbers, because of the death of a single boy, not famous, someone they didn’t know, is amazing to me. Of course, I don’t like the violence, but I watched the funeral, which was peaceful. So many people! In Russia, this many people wouldn’t come out even for a famous journalist who was killed.” (don’t believe her? Believe the BBC: Thousands of mourners have attended the funeral in Athens of Alexandros Grigoropoulos, the 15 year old boy whose killing by a policeman, has sparked four days of rioting across Greece.12/9/08 vs. Hundreds of mourners have attended the funeral in Moscow of the investigative reporter Anna Politkovskaya who was killed on Saturday 10/10/06).

Near the Acropolis we bought some RADICALLY reduced souvenirs. Tthey had lots of kitschy stuff with the popular gods and goddesses, but only one depiction of Persephone, a heavy marble statue of her and Hades which I had decided to resist because it was 37 euros, but then they told me it was marked down to 15 so I had to do it.  Then walked through the shopping district to the square where the city’s big xmas tree had been burned to a crisp (we had been invited to join the Mayor at its lighting ceremony Sunday night  – that got cancelled of course).

Saw a few protesters basically hanging out in front of Parliament, at one point a small group (couple dozen) started chanting something and marching toward the driveway. A group of riot police reluctantly scrambled into formation, making a line across the driveway with their big plastic shields and the demonstrators stood and yelled at them. It seemed as if they had become street theater for the tourists. Apparently later in the day there were some skirmishes again and the taxi driver this morning told me there were related protests in other cities in Europe.
Xmas postcard forwarded by a friend, all other images by my pal Marjorie Rouse, more here.


Happy birthday, human rights declaration


Sixty years ago today, on 10 December 1948, the adoption by the General Assembly of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights launched a new era. Lebanese scholar Charles Habib Malik described it to the assembled delegates as follows:

Every member of the United Nations has solemnly pledged itself to achieve respect for and observance of human rights. But, precisely what these rights are we were never told before, either in the Charter or in any other national instrument. This is the first time the principles of human rights and fundamental freedoms are spelled out authoritatively and in precise detail. I now know what my government pledged itself to promote, achieve, and observe. … I can agitate against my government, and if she does not fulfill her pledge, I shall have and feel the moral support of the entire world.

Lend your moral support to someone who needs it today.


Persephone in Athens

Image: Dengcoy Miel, see more drawings at the SKETCHING HUMAN RIGHTS CARTOON EXHIBIT. I swear I didn’t notice till after I downloaded it that I share a last name with its artist, who is from Singapore. Greetings, Dengcoy!

UDHR 60 Logos in many languages here.