‘We Are Technology’ is an experimental interactive video manifesto about women in tech by Niki Scheijen, Transformation Design student at WdKA. In this interview, she tells us more about her project, the importance of this topic and her personal background and experiences.
What made you get into this research? What is your personal relationship with technology?
“I studied IT for 2 years but quit after my first internship, because I didn’t feel comfortable. Being the only female, I was always the exception there and didn’t feel like I was taken seriously. Except for my personal experiences, I see that women in general are not represented sufficiently at all in this field and I think that is a shame. A lot of women are interested in technology but scared to look further into it, because the field is strongly male focused and female role models are missing.”
Why is female representation in this field so important to you?
“It is important for women to have more ownership when it comes to the design and functioning of technological developments. It is a huge part of modern life and therefore female representation is essential. Technology will be used more and more everyday and we have some catching up to do concerning how friendly it is for women and girls. A lot of designs are focused on the male user. You can see this in the size of physical objects like phones, not always suitable for female hands or pockets. But this also happens with artificial intelligence, where most datasets that are used are those of men. This can be very harmful when using A.I. for things like application procedures, as we saw with the algorithms of Amazon that systematically disadvantaged female candidates. Artificial intelligence systems are self-learning mechanisms, but developers, people, decide what data we provide them with. To avoid sexism, and other forms of discrimination, it is important that a diverse range of people is being represented in all facets of technology, from development to research and testing.
How can we close this gender gap?
“I think the first step is showing women that there is a place for them in the field and that we need their input, ideas and talents to create more balance. I want to show them that we can make an impact when we work together and that we hold the power to transform modern digital culture. Women have to see and believe their power first in order to enter the field and make an impact. Role models are essential in this process.”
How do you think WdKA can contribute to this?
“By creating a safe space for everyone to experiment and to be aware of biases around technology and gender. Personally, I always felt like I was taken seriously by teachers when pursuing my interests in technology. I do notice that other female students sometimes have limiting beliefs around their capability when it comes to technology though. Maybe it would help to start an initiative within the academy where women who are interested in tech can meet, exchange ideas and collaborate. It would also be cool to offer workshops in the Interaction Station specifically targeted at women, to lower the threshold of trying out all sorts of technology.”
How did you use this research in your project?
“The project I made is called ‘We Are Technology’. It is an experimental interactive video manifesto where I visualized the systematic feedback loop that represents the gender gap in technology. In a feedback loop, the result of something is at the same time also the cause of something, instead of just a chain of one thing causing another. This makes it more difficult to change an issue like the gender gap in technology, because you need to find a way to open this closed circle up. “
“I don’t want to spoil too much but basically, as a visitor, you walk into a space where you hear old fragments that promote the stereotypes around women and technology and see vague visuals of colored pixels. Once you get closer, the sound and visuals and also the narrative changes. The aim is to showcase that the closer you come, the better you can listen to stories and experiences of others. It is important to unite as women and share experiences to empower each other, but also for men to make an effort to learn and understand. I think in order to close the gap, we have to literally come closer, unite, share, exchange and listen to other perspectives. The more distant you are, the more you maintain those old images and narratives that reinforce inequality.”
Why did you make the installation interactive?
“I wanted to show that every step of every individual does have an influence. We all are part of the feedback loop and take in different positions within this system. Your actions are affecting the situation, either consciously or unconsciously. I hope that people will become more aware of the power they have.”
“I am still looking for locations and collaborations. I would love the installation to be accessible for a broad and diverse audience, so it would be amazing to bring the project outside of the academy into the real world. But for now, I can only share this preview. I hope to invite people to the installation in real life soon."