Reflection from Marc Aidinoff

While reading an Obama Administration report on the need to expand broadband access, my students expressed outrage. First at the obtuse writing style of economists, then at the myriad ways that the technological environment reinforces structural inequality, and finally at the failure of the those recommending public policy to understand the local realities of Rosedale, MS. Despite the possibilities high-speed Internet access may offer, the students remained suspicious of online education. Those whose high school Spanish class had been a series of virtual lectures appeared hardened to the excitement of MOOCs. “What types jobs do these online job search websites offer?” one asked. “Are they for us?” Citing Donna Haraway, one student reminded the class, “technology is never neutral.”

Recognizing the politics of technology (and the technology of politics), opens up new avenues for analysis, and more importantly action. Taking inspiration from Langdon Winner and Dolores Hayden, students are beginning final projects that examine the embedded politics in their community—and take steps to imagine a new built reality. A few turned the classroom map “upside down” so that Mississippi no longer sits “at the bottom” of the United States. Another student proposed a new system of time that is not a force of bourgeois control. (I have to credit Professor Shareef’s Marxism course for helping to spark that radicalized move!) Over the next two weeks, we will continue to shape these projects into meaningful visions for social change.

I came to Rosedale excited to expand my understanding of technology, specifically the experience of Internet policy in a rural Mississippi community. My students have indeed pushed my frameworks for evaluating technology policy. But the more important revelation for me has been a reconceptualization of politics. The Freedom Projects offer a model of change not simply through materiality, but more importantly through community. After we have debated our cyborg identities, corporate control of data, and the federal government’s obligation to expand Internet access, we form a circle and thank each other for the day’s work. Then together, many of us off key or off rhythm, we sing songs inspired by the 1964 Freedom Summer. For a moment, the cynicism washes away and the world feels changeable.  It’s exhausting work, but we will be back at it tomorrow.

Marc Aidinoff is a Ph.D. Candidate in MIT's HASTS program (History, Anthropology, Science, Technology, and Society). His course is entitled "Technology and Identity" and asks students to reconsider technology through a political lens. 

Emily Gowen