There Are Other Suns: Ruha Benjamin in Conversation with Cathy O’Neil Imagining Abolitionist Technology

This past October, associate professor of African American Studies, Ruha Benjamin presented on their new book, “Race After Technology: Abolitionist Tools for the New Jim Code” and sat in conversation with author and data scientist, Cathy O’Neil. Who is perhaps most well known for their 2016 bestseller, “Weapons of Math Destruction”. 

The presentation and discussion, held at Housing Works Bookstore in SoHo, centered on “algorithmic bias” an issue of increasing recognition for scholars, researchers, and activists working at the intersections of social justice and technology. The most critical takeaway from this discussion, however might be the need to take a closer look at the assumption that that the technical and the social ever exist separately from one another. It’s this assumption; that technology is somehow a neutral space or apolitical artifact that Dr. Benjamin’s book works to dismantle. 

The event began with D. Benjamin giving a short summary of their path into this research. She gave audience members three provocations to hold unto as she walked us through her conception of the “New Jim Code”. Based Michelle Alexander’s New Jim Crow, Dr Benjamin uses New Jim Code to describe the confluence of coded bias (our inherent bias built knowingly and unknowingly into the machine) and the supposed objectivity of technology (a mixture of beliefs that tech is a neutral tool without politics + the idea that the mathematical operates beyond or outside of the realm of the social); “ [New Jim Code is] innovation that enables containment but appears fairer than ‘more explicit’ forms of racialized bias that preceded it” (Benjamin 2019)

1.”Racism is Productive”

Here Dr. Benjamin pointed to the ways in which sociologists often think of race as “socially constructed”. This means that race and racism are not naturally occurring phenomena, but made, performed and informed by social norms. To a certain degree, particularly now that terms like “intersectionality” have become mainstream, the idea of race along with other vectors of power like gender, orientation and ability as socially constructed isn’t mind-blowing. But the idea of race being a thing that constructs as well as being constructed is. 

“Racism produces things of value to some even as they wreak havoc on others” (Benjamin, 2019)

It should be no surprise then that new forms of racism, that are actually manifestations, expansions or iterations on previous forms come into being, particularly in and around technology.

2. “Race and Technology are Co-Constructed”

Through this provocation Dr. Benjamin asks the audience to consider the ways that race and technology shape one another and inform one another. Particularly within contemporary liberal “diversity” rhetoric, we are taught to think of racism as a mistake or aberration, a bug in the proper functioning of the system of Western society. But racism is not a bug in the machine, it’s part of the software. So we can’t only frame issues of bias in tech in terms of social “impacts”, what’s more critical is considering the social “inputs”  that go unacknowledged but are also fed into the black box. Further these inputs “allow some inventions to appear inevitable and desirable.” 

3. “Imagination is a Battleground”

Dr. Benjamin considers imagination a “contested field of action”. The scope of imagination delimits what forms of social and political relationships are possible, both for the oppressed and those contributing to and profiting from the oppression of others. 

“Most people are forced to live inside someone else’s imagination” – (Benjamin & O’Neil 2019) 

Thinking about the differentials of imagination. The places where we enter or be placed within another’s imagination are site where power operates, Any designed space fiction or other immersive narratives are living inside someone’s imagination as is living within a nation state, within an institution, inside any designed space or interaction. We might ask then who are the imagners 

“The nightmares that many people are forced to endure are the underside of elite fantasies…Racism produces this fragmented imagination; misery for some and monopoly for others”

What does our fight for justice and liberation on the battleground of imagination look like? What does it mean for information professionals to be a part of this battle? For one, we must consider the way bias starts at the point of conceptualizing what problem exists that tech can then be consulted or created as solution to. This means looking at who is doing the imagining and how do the social norms and social fictions they have internalized inform what they can understand as “a problem to be fixed. Further our work has to involve not only critiquing and disassembling current systemic and systems of harm but also imagining and building the alternative worlds and futures we want to exist. Technology can potentially be a critical tool for that work, but that work must be approached through interrogating our own positions within the matrix of domination, and carried out with intention and with the most radical imaginings. I am reminded here of the speculative fiction collection, Octavia’s Brood, edited by community organizers Wahlidah Imarisha and Adrienne Marie Browne and named after the critically acclaimed matriarch of Black Speculative Fiction, Octavia Butler. The major thesis of the collection is the idea that all social justice work can and must be speculative work, because to organize towards liberation is to attempt building worlds that do not exist.  

Abolition then  entails not only bringing harmful systems to an end but imaging what we want to come next. By no coincidence, Dr. Benjamin quoted Octavia Butler during Q.A. when two audience members asked one for a timeline of community action around the battle for imagination in technology, while a follow up asked for more clarification on imagination as a call to action. or examples of what reclaiming imagination might look like and why it is important. 

Dr. Benjamin clarifies that her call to imagination is meant to open it up as a space for theory and praxis. She warns that imagination as a productive tool or space can be co-opted by entities and for aims that want nothing to do with building actual alternatives to the status quo. Further, there is a limit to what imagination, on its own, can accomplish. But it must be part of the work. 

In example, Dr. Benjamin firstly brings up a 2018 Stanford psychology study titled “The Numbers don’t Speak for Themselves”. The study hypothesis took up the idea that “rationality” could win over racism, if people we presented with the statistical evidence of systemic racism within the criminal justice system, they would have no logical choice but to accept it’s existence and support progressive policies that worked to undermine it. This data was presented to people living within the Bay Area, not exactly where one imagines secret racist nodes. But racism operates most violently and most insidiously in the banal and well meaning. According to Dr. Benjamin,  what researchers found however was exposure to the data actually made their sample participants more likely to support stronger punitive measures not progressive reform. These findings run counter to the idea that more data draws an inevitable straight line toward social change. Something else is happening, or not happening, within the expanse between the data and transformative change. Some names for this space that were offered include Clauida Rankine’s “racial imaginary” or interpretive frames. People will fill this space, or take from this space the stories that work for the worldviews they already have. The data is not enough Dr.Benjamin’s call to imagination is a call for us to be “more rigorous” about this space.  

“We have to become more deliberate and rigorous about this space in the middle. Whatever you want to call that; you can call it imagination, culture, lenses, frameworks whatever it is. But a lot of times we save our rigor and our investment for trying to produce the data. As if it’s gonna lead in some straightforward way towards to the changes what we hope [for]. 

I think we need to become not only more rigorous but more creative in shaping the stories, the interpretations and not accepting the dominant story about why people are kept in cages. That is exactly what an abolitionist imagination seeks to do. We have to work with that in a more deliberate way instead of hoping people will come to that on their own.” – 

In attempting to define what the goal of abolitionist technologies are and what a liberatory imagination is,  Dr Benjamin refers to herself as a student of Octavia Butler, paraphrasing her by saying “there’s nothing new under the sun, but there are other suns”. The liberative imagination then is about taking on the mantle of building worlds within worlds, models of what futures we want to exist. 

Works Cited:

Benjamin, R & O’Neil, C. (2019, October). Race After Technology. Presentation and Pane Discussion at Housing Works Bookstore, New York, NY.

Observing the Leo Baeck Institute

The information space I chose to observe for this blog post is the Leo Baeck Institute (LBI), my workplace.  The Institute is named after Leo Baeck, a Jewish Rabbi in Germany during the time of the Second World War and a survivor of Theresienstadt concentration camp.  Its mission is preserving the vast collection of documents, books, and artworks created by and describing the history of German-speaking Jewish people. Housed in the Center for Jewish History, LBI is one of five partner organizations that contribute to the expansion of access to Jewish history and culture.  My job at LBI is to physically process books to be added to our searchable collections and then page those books when requested for the reading room. I often get to work with many different people as my job goes through different parts of the museum.

I sat down one day and made notes about the exchange of information going on in the Institute.  Not only do I interact daily with my coworkers to complete tasks and learn new parts of my job, but I also watched how LBI workers interact with visitors and teach them about our mission.  As a reasonably small office, there are very few formal communication procedures between employees. Generally, if we must get in touch with someone that is not only a few desks away, we make use of email.  Usually, though, we can walk over and talk in person about a specific book or database question.

On a typical day, LBI receives about five to ten requests for books to be paged to the reading room that the Center for Jewish History shares among its partner organizations.  For patrons to receive the information they wish to research, they must call the material in Aeon, a workflow management software specifically for libraries. LBI’s website features a complete online collection of our holdings that patrons can browse.  Once they find a book they are interested in, they make a request, and I get an email from the system telling me which volume to pull from the stacks. Once I retrieve that, I bring it down to the reading room, and the librarians there give it to the researcher.  The process is straightforward, and the exchange of information is streamlined.

The Leo Baeck Institute is very privileged at the wealth of materials we have in our collections and available to researchers.  As we are focused on German-Jewish history, the collections librarians must scrutinize the donations we receive to make sure they follow this subject matter.  In the past, when we accepted a gift, the donor would give a whole stack of books, whether they had anything to do with us or not. The current librarians are much more critical of what we take in, but there is still a massive backlog of books waiting to be processed and cataloged.

Reflecting on our international theme, LBI has three branches spread out across the world.   The Jewish Museum Berlin has access to duplicate copies of our microfilm collection. Over 4,500 microfilms are housed there, making LBI’s collections accessible to researchers at the heart of our topic.  London and Jerusalem are also home to LBI centers, allowing our organization to maintain and deepen relations with scholars, Jewish Communities, and the wider public.

One of the things I find most interesting about LBI is the people I have met.  Our volunteers are a great source of wisdom and information. Two of whom are in their 90s, they are very sharp still and come in about once a week to work on translating documents from Hebrew and German, as well as telling their own stories from their home countries.  Every year the Institute takes on interns from Austria and Germany who come to New York to study. They translate documents from their original German and process other materials. I find it fascinating the way that their countries have dealt with the events of the Holocaust.  One intern who hails from Austria is working on a project on how her country likes to gloss over Austrian participation in World War II and pretend they were only following Hitler’s orders. She uses LBI materials to prove her view that Austria did, indeed, have a hand in the construction of the Holocaust.

This project reminds me of Sharon Macdonald’s article, “Is ‘Difficult Heritage’ Still ‘Difficult’?”  As a library whose materials deal with the perpetration of atrocities against a people, we must take extra care to adequately respect the subject matter while still being able to work around and with it every day.  Though we represent the Jewish people who have been subjugated throughout history, LBI has actually very few people who belong to that population. This poses a question of not only diversity practices, but what to do when white people represent a religious and ethnic minority.  In Jennifer Vinopal’s “The Quest For Diversity in Library Staffing: From Awareness to Action,” she explores the needs for diversity in library workplaces. According to the International Federation of Library Association’s IFLA/UNESCO Multicultural Library Manifesto, “libraries of all types should reflect, support and promote cultural and linguistic diversity at the international, national, and local levels, and thus work for cross-cultural dialogue and active citizenship.”  Despite the fact that our mission is very close to this statement, LBI would be better prepared to genuinely serve its visitors by employing librarians from the community it aims to help.

Overall, the Leo Baeck Institute is a library that provides valuable cultural and historical knowledge to those seeking to research German-Jewish topics.  Expanding on more than just WWII, LBI preserves the traditions and scholarship of Jewish communities.

Lego Series Play Workshop

As user experience design continues to be identified in almost all fields of media, technology, and architecture; it’s an investment to understand how this field works and the different ways users can be reached from other perspectives. Apps, formally referred to as applications, are used daily to help users achieve a sense of satisfaction depending on the app utilized. For example, they can simply help with setting reminders or keeping us close with loved ones. One aspect that most users aren’t familiar with, is the many ways apps are created from the ground up. According to Norman information and the beginning of design comes from the brain, “One of the challenges, that the brain does not work at all like a computer, also provides us with an opportunity: the possibility of new modes of interaction that allow us to take advantage of the complementary talents of humans and machines.” (Norman, 2008).  Lego Series Play is a collaborative problem solving methods used for designing apps, buildings, and other areas of design. Lego Series Play is a design software that is used to help designers build with empathy, focus on user needs, fix problems, and allow opportunities for new designs. While attending this hands on event there were moments when I the designer felt a deep connection with my build and how the director was able to make myself achieve a deeper emotion and connection through my design. 

To gain more of an understanding of what we were doing in this workshop Heidi Brant gave each student a pack of legos. Each pack had the same set of legos found within them. Her first instructions were to use the legos and build a bridge with only rule: to make sure that our hand would be able to go under the bridge we built. We then had to modify our bridge based on how we were feeling at that exact moment. Whether we were happy, curious, or intrigued by what was happening that day. On top of the last modification we had to modify the bridge again based on a division in life that we felt. Whether if it was being homesick, losing a friend, or losing a loved one. This allowed the designers to work and create with empathy to focus on users needs to fix problems and allow for opportunities of new designs. Based off of all the design modifications we did, we now had to collectively work as a group to create an app. We were given a blue base to build on using legos to describe what the app will do and what features it will have. “Wireframing: Sketch your project’s form and interface without focusing much, if at all, on content. Wireframes provides a good sense of how people may interact with your project, and they don’t require any programming. Additionally, there are also opportunities to talk about scope and feature creep (before the project is too far along)” (Jentery Sayers). Lego series play is a different type of wireframing and prototyping. It Isn’t technical, it’s a more physical approach, such as a sketch but instead you are building it out. You have a different visual representation or your app that you are making. For our last build there was a more focused approach into a specific setting for user experience design. Each group was given a task card, our group had to redesign the experience of air travel with small children. We first individually came up with our own ideas on what we could do to improve air travel and we all had a similar approaches. We thought about the aggravation that flyers get when a baby would cry or a child kicking the back seat. We came up with an approach of creating a daycare area for kids, where they would be watched and monitored by flight attendants. Inside of this daycare, children would be able to use different interactive play fields where they can pretend to be flying the plane that they are on at that time and view what’s happening from outside. These designs came from our own personal experiences, all focused around designing with empathy. This was my first time sitting in on a workshop for User Experience design. This opportunity gave me something that I myself as a designer will look forward to gaining  more knowledge about this technique in my future design making. My takeaways from this workshop was designing comes from experience, what yourself and others have gone through. The Negatives that can come out of Lego Series Play can be designing for people who lack a sense of visual, how can you create surrounding their needs visually. I hope that through this workshop we learned how to deal with multisensory designs and better UX designing for blind, and deaf users. Lego Series Designing is on a kindergarten level in the USA compared to places in Asia and Europe. It’s fairly new so I’m curious to see where it goes in terms of influencing design in the US especially major cities.

Transforming Designers – A Review

I attended a panel discussion called Transforming Designers – Not Just Another Working Day. The idea behind the event was to reflect on how the role of designers is changing in modern contexts since designers are no longer limited to their studios and a wide range of organizations are now developing their in-house design teams. The event was part of a series organized in collaboration between the Service Design Drinks Milan and NYC Service Design Collective which are groups of volunteers who bring together service design academics, professionals and enthusiasts. 

The event was hosted at Foursquare.

I had two big reasons why I was drawn to this event. Firstly, I decided to pursue graduate school in the field of design because I believed that public service delivery in my home country of Pakistan needed to be improved through the principles of human-centered service design. So I was curious to hear how service design had fared in the US especially in the public service domain. Secondly, since having started graduate school, I had begun to study the emerging issues of science, technology and society, such as issues of algorithmic bias, surveillance capitalism and digital labour. I had also recently attended a talk on AIGA’s Design Futures project which proposed the idea of ‘environment-centered design’ which is design driven by core values for good. I was pondering over whether these discussions that were happening in academia also resonated with the industry and whether they influenced the professional designers.

The panelists for the event were:

Joanne Weaver

President, The Joanne Weaver Group – UX / Product Design Recruitment

Adam Perlis

CEO, Academy Product Design Agency

Mirco Pasqualini

VP & Global Head of Design, Originate

Tim Reitzes

Design Lead at the NYC Civic Service Design Studio at Mayor’s Office for Economic Opportunity

The panel discussion begins

The discussion followed five main topics which the panelists addressed one by one.

Are designers leading?

The major consensus was that up until a few years ago designers would get pushed around by product and engineering but in the last few years however this has changed a lot in the last few years. Designers are increasingly being seen as change-makers and ‘internal consultants’. Firms have identified the value of their insight. Senior designers are now applying their concepts of design to the designing of organizations and processes. However, on the public administration end this is still harder to do because of bureaucratic red tape. The takeaway was that designers need to identify the value they can create beyond their skills of design and drive this change themselves. 

Given the new roles of designers, what new design skills or areas of study are emerging?

“Design Strategist” is becoming a popular position that companies are hiring for. What they are looking for is basically a hybrid of UX researcher, digital strategist and information architect. A good reflection of this trend is that even McKinsey and Company are hiring for this position in their consulting teams. Voice Experience (VX) design is another upcoming skillset and position as voice interface and assistants become popular.

“Co-creation” is also a skill that’s being sought after, especially in the public service domain. All the panelists emphasized how valuable it is for a designer to know how to manage a co-creation process and how difficult it is to pull off. Adam Perlis gave the example of his company’s approach of trying to “be in bed” with the clients by working in their offices, pairing up with actual employees and shadowing and sharing the actual work. Tim Reitzes talked about the difficulties of convincing public service stakeholders of the value of co-creation.

Another point under discussion was that its a challenge for designers to apply for these new roles because of their legacy job titles. There was some consideration that designers should just give themselves the title they want based on the actual work they are doing. Joanne Weaver being the recruitment expert here suggested that designers can add subtitles to their resume but the actual title should remain the official one.

How do you measure the value of design?

All of the panelists agreed that this is a difficult question to answer in most circumstances. It’s the “white whale” of design, everyone is looking for the right answer but no one has figured it out. However, the general agreement was that KPIs are important and they should be chosen on a case-by-case basis. Some additional metrics may also be needed such as ‘how many opportunities did you create as a designer?’ or ‘how many minds did you open?’ with the focus being capturing the impact the designer has had.

Data & creativity – which drives what?

This is where I was most surprised by the position of the panelists. The question was in your design process, do you first start with your creativity and come up with some out-of-the-box concepts and then validate them using data or do you first use the data to find the biggest problems and then use your creativity to solve them? I expected the panelists to say that it’s a bit of both but they had a consensus that it was important to start with the data first. This is the most efficient or cost-effective way.

What is the role of ethics in design today?

All of the panelists agreed that it’s become very important for designers to understand and be aware of the ethical implications of the products they design. The panelists highlighted how technology is influencing our social fabric, there are dark UX patterns everywhere and attention is the new currency. The panelists urged designers to think and list out all possible unintended consequences of their design decisions and the long term sustainability of the solution. Adam Perlis made a point that often clients may push you away from fairness and transparency and that becomes a very difficult space to manage.

It was exciting to hear that the role of designers is expanding into areas of strategy and leadership. There was a palpable excitement in the room full of designers about the future of products with designers on the decision making table. It’s also quite empowering that the nature of this expansion of the role of designers largely lies in their own hands. Apart from that, it was also encouraging to find out that the industry professionals were also eager to think critically about the impact technology is having on our society and they acknowledged the severity of the major issues which need to be addressed.

Why more people should be critical of WhatsApp

One of the theses presented in the Pew Research Center’s report on the Future of the Internet is that by 2025 the Internet will become “invisible” and we will no longer think about “going online”. One clear example of how that has already happened is that of WhatsApp and how widely common it has become in Pakistan. Its ubiquity combined with the advent of 4G network coverage means people now expect to be instantly connected on WhatsApp and there’s no more “going online” as it runs in the background. Is this a good thing for everyone? For this field research, I tried to find people who have actively avoided using WhatsApp in order to understand if it can have any negative effects on its users. The findings show that some people have serious concerns with using WhatsApp but it has become increasingly difficult for them to avoid using it. The conclusion is that it’s important to be critical of the role WhatsApp plays in our public and private conversations.

This research involved four semi-structured interviews. All participants are current students or alumni of my former school. Participants were recruited through a social media group and shortlisted on the criteria that they must be smartphone users and they must have actively deleted or uninstalled WhatsApp from their phones. The goal for this research was to find answers to the following questions:

  • Are there people who have deleted their WhatsApp accounts? What were the reasons that drove them to this point?
  • What was it like for them to quit WhatsApp? What challenges did they face? How did they deal with those challenges?
  • Did they go back to using WhatsApp? Why or why not?

The common reason why all four of my participants had deleted their WhatsApp accounts was because they didn’t want to be “accessible”. They felt that as long as they were active on WhatsApp, they were considered “always available for a chat”. However, the reasons for seeking a break from this constant availability varied according to each person’s context. One of the participants shared that she was struggling with social pressure and anxiety and in all of this WhatsApp became one of the triggers for her panic attacks. She could see a direct correlation between how anxious she felt and whether or not she was using WhatsApp. On the other hand, another participant felt that keeping up with the conversations on WhatsApp took away too much time from her. This manifested in the form of never having time left for her non-work interests and prevented her from finding the right work-life balance ultimately leading to resentment and stress.

“…I just don’t like being that accessible. Unread messages bother me, I have to reply immediately, otherwise I start feeling terrible…its just something that never ends” – M, one of the participants of this study

Despite having such serious concerns with using WhatsApp, none of the participants have been able to stay away from it for too long. In fact, all four of them now have a sporadic on-and-off relationship with WhatsApp wherein they uninstall it from their phones every few months and then eventually ending up coming back. This is primarily because it’s just become prevalent and necessary in professional settings. One of the participants detailed an incident when she was on her longest hiatus from WhatsApp for around three months but she had to make her account again because one of her professors was using it to communicate with her class! Another participant stated that it was needed to communicate with their international team at work. When asked why their team could not use any other tool for this communication, they said the culture of using WhatsApp was already built into their organization and it just wasn’t possible to convince everyone to stop using it. 

All of the participants also talked about how they were pressured into coming back to WhatsApp by their family and friends. WhatsApp becomes the default place where people coordinate their social engagements and share links, files and photos with each other. Even though the participants tried to convert their connections to other solutions like Telegram which is a similar but less common app or websites like FileBin or Google Drive for file sharing or simply going back to email, these were not long-lasting solutions. Other people did not consider the ramifications of using WhatsApp serious enough to convert to these solutions. Consequently, the participants felt a difficult trade-off between their own privacy and peace of mind and keeping in touch with their social connections. 

Nearing the end of the discussion, I asked each participant to think about what they would change in WhatsApp to make it easier to use for themselves. This led to some interesting ideas for potential features. The justification for each feature reflects the kind of problems the participants faced and underpins our conversation on the limitations of the app. Some of the most interesting feature ideas are listed below:

  1. “Ghost mode” – Travel through the app like a ghost so that you can peacefully access all of your conversations, media and documents which are saved on the app but no one should be able to see you online or message you;
  2. Archive forever – Archive a conversation or a group forever which means you will not see them in your immediate chat list but the person or the group on the other end will not know that you have archived them;
  3. One-on-one – Conversations work more like real life so, for instance, users are only able to send one text at a time and have to wait for the other person to respond before they can say something again;
  4. Chat requests – People have to send you a request if they want to be able to chat with you on WhatsApp, they can’t automatically message you when they have your number and you have the power to turn off requests.

This report highlights how the widespread use of WhatsApp and the way it is designed can negatively influence some of its users and contribute to anxiety and stress in their lives. It is, therefore, important that we adopt a critical view of using WhatsApp, becoming aware of its drawbacks, seeking people’s consent before we engage them on it and carefully considering whether it is the best platform for our next public or private conversation.

Locating Queer History with the Addresses Project

I recently sat down with Gwen Shockey in her Brooklyn home to discuss her work on The Addresses Project. Gwen, at 31, is one of the youngest LGBTQ historian-artists in the field. 

The Addresses Project geolocates over 400 current and former queer and lesbian bars in New York City and positions queer/lesbian stories in New York City history. Points on a map provide information on a particular location, including former and current names, its dates of operation as a queer community space, and relevant excerpts from interviews. In addition to an interactive map, the Addresses Project is an oral history archive to which Gwen uploads transcripts of interviews with figures from queer New York history. 

Entry for Bagetelle, a lesbian bar in operation in the 1950s.

Gwen came to this project after the fatal Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando in 2016. Wanting to do something with her restless sense of despair, she began work on an oral history archive. She was drawn to figures who have done community forming work in their lives. The map naturally emerged as a central grounding point for the oral history. The bars and clubs where queer community members gathered for nightlife often because spaces of consciousness-raising, organizing, and sharing resources.

Gwen looks to the New York City LGBT Historic Sites Project map as an aspirational source. She describes the website as super easy, intuitive, and searchable. The Addresses Project is on its way there. Gwen has done as much as she can on a hobbyist’s budget, using free tools such as Google Maps to bring the project to life, but wants to add functionality such as filtering in the near future. 

I asked Gwen about how her personal media management practices affect her work. Although the Addresses Project is separate from her artistic and professional work, it is prominent in her online presence. She uses her personal platforms to amplify the work she’s doing with the Addresses Project to raise awareness and increase the likelihood that other historians can use it in their own research. 

Gwen borrows time from her day job to work on the Addresses Project during the weekday. Behind the browser window with her work email, and administrative tools are tabs running Dropbox and Google Docs. She listens to interviews, which she records on her iPhone, and transcribes them in long-form. 

While the Addresses Project has been making steady progress since its inception, Gwen would like to see it continue to expand and improve. For example, visitors will notice that the main page of the Address Project directs them with two separate links to the map and oral histories. The archive of oral history interviews is hosted on Squarespace, while the map itself is hosted on Bluehost. This is a pain point for Gwen, as she wishes she could merge the simplicity of a blogging interface that Squarespace offers with the flexibility of the map’s interface. 

Landing page for the Addresses Project on Gwen Shockey’s Squarespace site.

Gwen’s next steps in expanding the archive will involve photography and possibly producing a podcast. On her Instagram page, she writes: “Every time I’ve been lucky enough to do an oral history interview with a lesbian/queer community leader for Addresses Project I’ve regretted not working with a photographer to capture each person’s portrait in the bar/nightclub/community center etc. they risked all to create for other lesbians and queer folks.” She has begun working with a fellow queer artist, Riya Lerner, to document her subjects in the spaces that they made homes out of for their queer communities.