Articles by: Shreeharsh Kelkar

Airline seating as symbol and metaphor of inequality

Airline seating as symbol and metaphor of inequality

Airline interiors are clearly interesting spaces to think about technology and politics. Sociologist Elizabeth Popp Berman has a nice blog-post on orgtheory where she computes Gini indexes for the interior of different aircraft, based on the space they allocate to different classes of passengers (first, business, economy). Speaking of transatlantic flights, she comments: Unsurprisingly, though, these air-beds take up even more space than a nice comfy first class seat. So if we look again at how the space is distributed, we now have 21% of the people using about 40% of the plane, 27% using another 20%, and the final […]

Science vs. Politics: A pragmatic argument for why this distinction doesn’t work

Science vs. Politics: A pragmatic argument for why this distinction doesn’t work

Recently, I talked to a doctor and public health professional about the relationship between science and policy; he told me, in a vivid metaphor, of how things work, and should work, in the regulatory process. The science produces the facts, which then get funneled through our values through the process of politics.  What comes out of this machine, he said, are policies. It was quite a beguiling vision, but as an STS person, I couldn’t help asking: did he really believe in it? Yes, he said.  I pressed on.  How, I asked, would he explain the controversy over global warming? […]

Where did the flying cars go?

Where did the flying cars go?

Today, I read this remarkable David Graeber essay from 2012, titled provocatively, “Of Flying Cars and the Declining Rate of Profit.”  It asks: why did the flying cars, which we thought would be here by the turn of the millennium, not materialize?  Graeber’s answer, which will not surprise anyone who has read him, is that this is all about capital.  Capital decided that flying cars and robots would actually empower the working class, and therefore switched their energies to other, more frivolous matters (the Internet, say), that give us the illusion of technological progress but are nothing of the kind.  […]

Image credit: Nathan Ensmenger.

Nobro Computing

In a blog-post on Difference Engines week ago, Lilly Irani wrote: By analogy, maybe there’s a feminist STS project that could take similar form [to the People of Color in European Art History Tumblr that she'd been reading] . Women in computing advocates (e.g. Anita Borg Institute) often use the presence of women in computing history as the exception that proves the possibility. I’ve been frustrated for a while about the way well-meaning computing institutions deal with gender in computing by simply attempting to include women (future, present, and past) in the already gendered mold of the contemporary computer programmer. Here’s […]

Actually, Alan Turing Did Not Invent the Computer

Actually, Alan Turing Did Not Invent the Computer

  That’s the bracing headline of Thomas Haigh’s article on Alan Turing that appears, appropriately enough, in the latest Communications of the ACM (Association of Computing Machinery, the premier organization of computer scientists). Since the article is under a paywall, I want to bring out some of its best points.  The first is that the pioneers of the then-emerging discipline of computer science did not want their science to be about building computers (which was seen as the task of electrical engineers), but rather about something more.  And therefore they  reached out into the past and extracted Turing’s first 1936 […]

What is performativity?  What is hegemony?

What is performativity? What is hegemony?

The concept of performativity in STS and the social studies of finance is a powerful one but I’ve also found it problematic, in at least one big way, which is establishing its validity, which has always seemed difficult to me.  Sometimes it just seems like a new term for good, old-fashioned theories of constructivism1.   At other times, itseems like a powerful idea but finding data that demonstrates that something is “performed” seems really, really difficult. For example, Donald Mackenzie’s case for the performativity of the BSM equation [pdf] consists of showing that (a) it was not a good predictor […]

Whatsapp, GPS and the art of urban navigation

Whatsapp, GPS and the art of urban navigation

Jared McCormick from Harvard Anthropology has an interesting piece on the uses that Whatsapp, a messaging application for smart-phones (which I know some of us at HASTS use!) , is put to in Lebanon.  The whole thing is worth a read but what really got my interest was this paragraph (my emphasis): While we all tacitly understand that by carrying a phone we are trackable, this becomes clearer as smartphones allow for a tactile interaction with GPS. What is baffling, often times across class divides, are the ways in which our actual physical location becomes rendered on digital interpretations of […]

Photo from The Commons archive at Flickr here.

Weekend Reading

James Scott reviews Jared Diamond’s latest in the LRB.  [Via Savage Minds.] Kevin Drum  on the debate between economists about why fiscal stimulus works.  How is New Keynesianism different from Old Keynesianism? Using Google Docs in the higher education classroom. On meta-games and containers.  (You should definitely click on this!) An essay on academics hired by Wall Street published in The Nation. Upworthy is just the new mutation of the Internet Chain Letter. Have a good weekend!      

Big Data, Boundary Work and Computer Science

Big Data, Boundary Work and Computer Science

4S 2013 was full of “big data” panels (Tom Boellstorff has convinced me to not capitalize the term).  Many of these talks were critiques; the authors saw big data as a new form of positivism, and the rhetoric of big data as a sort of false consciousness that was sweeping the sciences. 1 But what do scientists think of big data? In a blog-post titled “The Big Data Brain Drain: Why Science is in Trouble,”  physicist Jake VanderPlas (his CV lists his interests as “Astronomy” and “Machine Learning”) makes the argument that the real reason big data is dangerous is because […]

Weekend Reading

This weekend is the HASTS 25th anniversary.  But just in case, you have time, some interesting links to browse through on the weekend. Historian David A. Bell asks if global history can be done better, without over-using the “network” metaphor. Susan Faludi on “Facebook feminism” and the Lean In movement. Annette Markham writes about what it means to do ethnography online. An interesting article, with results from a group of MIT neuro-scientists about how we perceive subway maps. Post in the comments if you love/hate any of them.