A post in honor of Ada Lovelace Day
What a strange thing to say: Until about ten years ago, I was not deeply influenced by women outside of my family or books. My mother and grandmother inspired me to pursue dreams no matter the obstacle: my grandmother because of her will and independence and role as unofficial doctor for her town (she never made it past high school), my mother for her affair with creativity (“Every day unfolds as a work of art,” she would say) and with women’s and civil rights as a state legislator in NH when women and Democrats were rare sights. My sisters-in-law (all three of them–filmmaker-activist, educator, and MD-epidemiologist) for their work at the margins. My daughters for just about everything these remarkable young women do. Otherwise, it was the women in and of books to whom I turned. My grade-school and middle-school teachers were largely a nice lot of friendly female faces–then I entered a nearly all-male bastion of a prep school and college that just went coed. I had three female teachers during those eight years. Three. And none in graduate school.
Perhaps this explains my particular fierceness. My rejection of schools as they are now.
Perhaps this explains my delight in being inspired by women.
Especially in technology.
So so many have taught me how to think, how to explore, how to listen, including those from whom I have learned from afar: including Jill Walker Rettberg, Mimi Ito, Elizabeth Daley, danah boyd –and those I have had the pleasure of working with: my fearless cohorts Barbara Sawhill, Laura Blankenship, Leslie Madsen-Brooks and Martha Burtis for their brilliance across many fields, their deep humanity, their perseverance in a world that does not always see what they see, and their willingness to take me on when they think I’ve gone too far; Jennifer Jones for her great good sense, her ability to go straight to the heart of things, and her willingness to share her deep know-how in technology, in parenting and now in fiction-writing; Beth Kanter for her tireless pursuit of knowledge and ways for nonprofits to improve their services through social media. And there are many more: Josie Fraser, Sarah Lohnes…I could go on…for many pages.
How different this world is from the one I grew up in.
Then there is Nancy White, that woman-in-technology-whirlwind who has taught me more than I can say, and not just about technology. About how to be in the world. Just watching her in a room filled with people is a lesson in teaching, is an adventure in thinking deeply about the ways in which technology intersects with our lives–its influence, its promise, its perils. And that she does all this outside of school is truly inspiring–her gifts reach anyone who wishes to venture onto her blog or wiki, or who has a chance to meet her or see her present, lead a workshop or facilitate graphically. No institution hoards her lessons. Learning from her blog, her wikis, her presentations, her emails about how to think about technology in our time, in our world, in our own lives has pushed me out of easy answers. She takes risks, willing to tweak and to experiment–but she does so from a careful foundation, a plan, always thinking about the outcome for the audience, the viewer, the reader of her blog.
Her work in online facilitation–in using a full range of social media tools mixed with expressive media (she understands the importance of the visual as few do) is extraordinary. And like my fearless friends, she calls me on my shortsightedness, my glibness, my over-the-top passion, my impatience, my lack of understanding. She also makes me lighten up and laugh–to enjoy the moment even when I face complete chaos, disaster and failure. I love her sharp intelligence, her ability to see the big picture, to synthesize and theorize, to be both practical and dreamy, to laugh wildly and embrace silliness, to dance and to draw, to shower everyone around her in warmth, to love chocolate, to be herself in a world that can be not-so-nice.
Hats off to all my mentors in this field who to the last one reach out, share, speak out and do not fall for their own reflection. Thank you thank you for all you bring to the world, to the field, to me.