ada lovelace day: malala yousafzai

This is my fourth post for Ada Lovelace Day, when we pause to honor the women who most inspire us in the fields of technology, science, engineering, and math.

I haven’t missed the day since it was launched in 2009. That year, I celebrated Johanna Drucker and Bess Sadler. Johanna, who taught me letterpress printing, helped me deepen my practical and embodied engagement with technologies of text. From Bess I came to understand the global, ethical dimensions of open source software development and why it is so important for me to advocate for it and support it every day in the Scholars’ Lab. The next year, I honored Leah Buechley of MIT, whose Lilypad Arduino and other “high-tech, high-touch” wearable, embedded, and frankly beautiful soft circuits–part of her tireless and smart promotion of technology education for girls–were my entree into physical computing. And last year, I wrote about humanities computing pioneer Susan Hockey, so far the only female winner of our highest digital humanities award, the Busa Prize–and I discovered a fantastic old photograph of her, to boot.

Reuters thumbnail image, Malala YousafzaiThis year, it’s Malala. By now, everyone has heard the story of Malala Yousafzai, the fifteen-year-old Pakistani girl who was shot in the head and neck by the Taliban aboard a school bus, for daring to say that children should have the opportunity of an education regardless of their gender. The news this morning, one week after the attack, makes her survival seem more possible–but we have yet to learn at what cost to her sharp mind and brave heart.

I think of Malala on this Ada Lovelace Day not because she pioneered a new technology, but because she had the courage to use the technologies available to her: agreeing, at the age of eleven, to blog about her school life for the BBC; appearing on television, radio, and a filmed documentary to speak out; posting actively on Facebook under her own name, until the danger became too great; and doing this all with such self-possession and critical awareness that she became active in Take Back the Tech, a global initiative urging all of us to exert our influence and control over technology in order to end violence against women and girls.

I don’t know if my past posts for Ada Day have actually inspired anyone else to do something–explore a new technology, share one with the women in their lives, create new opportunities for girls and junior colleagues (or at least stop shutting doors behind them), or just be more forthright about their own contributions in a scene that can feel far too discouraging, sometimes. Think of Malala Yousafzai this year, and do something.