For the first half of Tara McPherson’s chapter titled “U.S. Operating Systems at Mid-Century,” I repeatedly found myself understanding the point McPherson was making, but not understanding its significance. In all the reading on various data-related topics we’ve done this semester, this is the first time I’ve simply not seen the relevance of what an author was writing (Danielewski’s Only Revolutions is an exception for obvious reasons). From what I gathered during the early portion of the chapter, McPherson placed a great deal of importance on the relationship between the simultaneous developments of UNIX and race culture. As I read on, McPherson seemed to be developing an extended metaphor between these the increasing modularity of technology as it advanced and the modularity of scholars/scholarly works in American culture. After finishing the article I understand that McPherson’s believes that “computers are themselves encoders of cultures.” Even then, I am having difficulty grasping the significance of McPherson’s argument.
To me, when McPherson writes, “We need new hybrid practices: artist-theorists; programming humanists; activist scholars; theoretical archivists; critical race coders,” it seems like the whole chapter was a very round-a-bout way of stating this one point. She spends pages and pages explaining details about programming in the UNIX operating system and going over how the modularity (a type of independence among parts) that developed in the technological world relates to the modularity of race culture in the United States. This essentially all goes into the “critical race coders” part of the quote from above, so this is where my confusion comes from: why is McPherson spending so much time talking about this one example of her larger argument without developing the argument overall?
Furthermore, I wasn’t thoroughly convinced by her arguments. She clearly develops the link between the modularity of coding and race culture as I’ve mentioned, but she doesn’t spend much time considering the possible downsides of “hybrid practices.” I’d argue that looking to human attempts at hybrid animals and plants, some things just aren’t meant to mix. For example, some experiments result in shorter lifespans or strange behaviors in the offspring. While this is a pretty generic example, it demonstrates that research should be done before bold statements about what should and shouldn’t be hybrid can be made. I’d look to McPherson’s specific example of “activist scholars” and ask how scholars can produce the work of the same quality if their time is also spent being an “activist”.
McPherson is a scholar and I am a freshman studying Engineering at college, so I understand the clear discrepancy there. However, I still feel that McPherson’s argument could have been structured differently to better get her point across without creating some of the confusion I experienced.
Like I said, some hybrids just weren’t meant to be.