The Autumn 2021 Reading/Listening Post

I’m writing from the passenger seat of my wife’s car; the fun thing about being out in the middle of nowhere is having time to get some work done, and I seem to have better luck with that from this seat than in my actual office. I decided to do some document management and realized I could mine this process for content, so with that in mind, here’s my reading list for autumn 2021.

Reading for Telephone Girl

  • Fischer, Claude. “‘Touch Someone’: The Telephone Industry Discovers Sociability.” Technology and Culture 29, no. 1 (January 1988): 32–61.
  • Green, Venus. Race on the Line Gender, Labor, and Technology in the Bell System, 1880-1980, 2001.
  • Herlihy, David. Opera Muliebria: Women and Work in Medieval Europe. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1990.
  • Lipartito, Kenneth. “When Women Were Switches: Technology, Work, and Gender In the Telephone Industry, 1890-1920.” The American Historical Review 99, no. 4 (October 1994): 1074–1111.
  • Martin, Michèle. “Hello, Central?”: Gender, Technology, and Culture in the Formation of Telephone Systems. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s Univ. Press, 1991.
  • McKinney, Cait. Information Activism: A Queer History of Lesbian Media Technologies. Sign, Storage, Transmission. Durham: Duke University Press, 2020.
  • Pool, Ithiel de Sola, ed. The Social Impact of the Telephone. MIT Bicentennial Studies ; 1. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 1977.
  • Zeavin, Hannah. The Distance Cure: A History of Teletherapy. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 2021.

I’m working on Telephone Girl, an attempt to join the apparent revival of feminist and queer conversations about telephony, and as a result I’ve been digging through works from both the new wave of work (McKinney and Zeavin) as well as, for want of a better phrase, “first wave critical telephony”. Herlihy comes in for his discussion of the physical spaces in which women worked in the classical and medieval periods, and it’s extremely tempting for me to draw a line from the gynacaeum to the beguinage to the telephone switchroom. Workers in each were, in one sense or another, weavers, and both kinds of weaving were presumed to be work for women. I’m planning on doing more reading about all these kinds of workspaces soon, but there were some other topics that demanded my attention.

Bookending the Giggle phenomenon

  • Keyes, Os. “The Misgendering Machines: Trans/HCI Implications of Automatic Gender Recognition.” Proceedings of the ACM on Human-Computer Interaction 2, no. CSCW (November 2018): 1–22. https://doi.org/10.1145/3274357.
  • Scheuerman, Morgan Klaus, Madeleine Pape, and Alex Hanna. “Auto-Essentialization: Gender in Automated Facial Analysis as Extended Colonial Project.” Big Data & Society 8, no. 2 (July 2021): 205395172110537. https://doi.org/10.1177/20539517211053712.

I’m cutting a passage from the first chapter of Telephone Girl that deals with errors of misrecognition as a shared behavior between human and machine interfaces, and, if you’re transfeminine and writing about misrecognition, it’s almost too on-the-nose to write about misgendering. Between this writing and the seeming undeath of weirdly-cissexist dating/social app Giggle, I thought it worth reading Scheuerman et. al., and by way of that, revisiting Keyes. The more recent of the two includes a damning postmortem of Giggle, and the earlier is by its very existence stark proof that these were known issues prior to Giggle’s emergence. Alas, even the bluntest exhortation not to build AGR shit is powerless in the face of the combined power of capital and transmisogyny.

Cybersyn

  • Beer, Stafford. Designing Freedom. Concord, Ont.: Anansi, 1993. http://site.ebrary.com/id/10376400.
  • Medina, Eden. Cybernetic Revolutionaries: Technology and Politics in Allende’s Chile. First MIT Press paperback edition. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 2014.

Ah, Cybersyn, the wistful nostalgic fantasy of every contemporary socialist techie, myself included. Medina’s intervention offers a detailed history of the Allende government’s attempt to make the entire Chilean economy susceptible to cybernetic total awareness and control. I’m far more impressed by the deployment and off-label use of teletypewriters than the flashy (and ultimately unused) control room often depitcted in media discussing Cybersyn; there’s something neat about using essentially a fancy phone tree to outmanoeuver right-wing strikes.

The trans in the machine

  • Pow, Whitney (Whit). “A Trans Historiography of Glitches and Errors.” Feminist Media Histories 7, no. 1 (January 1, 2021): 197–230. https://doi.org/10.1525/fmh.2021.7.1.197.
  • Stone, Allucquère Rosanne. The War of Desire and Technology at the Close of the Mechanical Age. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 1995.

Telephone Girl’s next moves, after discussing the history of feminist and queer engagements with telephony, will be to try to find a girlhood, a femininity, inside the switching machine. To that end, I’m doing a bit of reading that plays with cyborg femininities (and cyborg transfemininities in particular) and queerer kinds of machine-being. About wept reading Stone, for what it’s worth.

A Week of Wark

  • Wark, McKenzie. A Hacker Manifesto. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2004.
  • ———. Capital Is Dead. London ; New York: Verso, 2019.

Finally, some candy, because reading McKenzie Wark is always a treat. Here, I’m primarily interested in her work in describing the class and labor relations of the information society, particularly in her description of the hacker class and its accompanying subject position. It’s a little bit selfish, as a knowledge worker who could be a part of that class, to read Wark to figure out my whole… thing(and I absolutely am reading her selfishly!). Theory isn’t a life manual, but I’ve always read it like it is one, at least a little bit. It’s never failed me in a way that wasn’t a result of my having misread. A little bit of Wark is going to work its way into the second draft of Telephone Girl chapter one, specifically the idea of a “hacker history” as it relates to existing writing about telephony.


I want to do this periodically, not out of some vain belief that anyone is terribly interested in my reading habits (though perhaps you, dear reader, should be…), but because I’d like to have a ready answer the next time someone asks me what I’m reading, because I will forget if I don’t have a list.

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