My Spark Story

The computer always lived in a corner of a room. Living room, basement, bedroom–it didn’t matter. That beige box and its bulky, buzzing friend the monitor were always wedged between two walls.

I type this as I sit in the middle of a room, on a bed, composing on a tablet a sliver of the size of my first Apple IIe. When I was six, I couldn’t believe an entire game of Little Brick Out could fit on a single floppy disk. Now I get aggravated that I have to buy additional space on iCloud to hold photos of my cats.

Such is the technological revolution. The pace at which these advances are entering our lives is so great that we expect for this technology to solve all of our problems. If futurists are right, that might be true for a lot them. Imagine a world where we can use stem cells from our own bodies to repair genetic disorders. Imagine a Thanksgiving where our perfectly balanced meal is “cooked” on a 3D printer using the basic building blocks of food. Imagine a tiny chip implanted in the brains of those with mental illness that could regulate chemical levels and stabilize moods.

Are these the dreams of science fiction? Nope. This fall alone, I heard experts talking about these near-future advancements, some of which are already in development. In her talk at October’s Science Soiree, stem cell researcher Kristen Baldwin speculated that the work she’s doing now will in five years’ time revolutionize the world in as monumental a way as cell phones have.

I thought a lot about these changes when I was recording this video for the Global Fund for Women’s campaign called IGNITE: Women Fueling Science and Technology. The call for videos asked two questions: When and how did you discover your passion for STEM? And who sparked your interest in STEM?

To find a specific moment when I became interested in STEM, I had to wrack my brain long and hard because–like the computer in the corner of the room–it seems like it’s always been there. This slower (perhaps inevitable?) evolution into STEM and now, more accurately, STEAM advocacy led me to make this:

A second GFW call for videos, Visionaries, asked women to respond to this prompt: Imagine a world where women and girls have equal access to and control of technology. Regular readers of this irregular blog know I’m not usually short on words, but for this question I felt flummoxed. A world like this would change everything: health care, education, transportation, housing, poverty. Then I thought about the current debate in feminist communities deriding women like Cheryl Sandberg for teaching women to act like men in order to succeed in business. Would women’s access to and control of technology bridge that rift or cause further cleaving?

These inquiries, I don’t think, are meant to necessarily beget immediate solutions. But I think they ask important questions that will shape all of our lives because behind that access and control lies a human intention. What people do with the technology they have could be the savior or the death knoll of humanity.

There may come a point of singularity where (wo)man and machine have fully merged–in fact, some speculate this is the only life form in the galaxy we may encounter. But until then, considering the consequences of advancements in technology and our relationship to that new technology is vital to preserve social justice and ecological sustainability. After all–at least for now–it’s just a computer in a corner of a room.

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