Feminist Apps from the Obama Administration?

I just tweeted about a link to another feminist-friendly app challenge from the Obama Administration (found via Feministing):

In the tweet, I also mention the two apps from Obama’s previous apps against abuse challenge: Circle of 6 and On Watch. I haven’t had a chance to check them out much (although some of my students reviewed them for an assignment last semester).

Are these feminist apps? Why/why not?

Who uses Apps?

This past summer, I became fascinated with smartphone Apps. I’m really interested in thinking about their potential for cultivating ethical (and virtuous) practices, particularly in relation to troublemaking and care. I plan to write a lot about apps in 2012: which ones I use, how I use them, how to trouble them, how to read them with/against self-help products. The first app I hope to write about soon is Bloom (first reaction: ugh and self-help is too tied to business and financial success). For now, I thought I’d post some details from Pew Research and an App study from their Internet and American Life Project. These charts come from Part 4: What types of Apps are adults downloading?

For Figure 11, I wonder: why is race only Black and White? Pew Research has had some other studies (like this one) that discuss smartphone use among Latinos. After doing some digging, I discovered that Latinos (Hispanics) are mentioned in the full report. So, why are they left off of the abbreviated one? And why aren’t other races/ethnicities considered, like Asian American? Is it because they weren’t statistically significant (I must admit, I really don’t know much about statistics…)?

Finally, I wanted to add this figure on managing health, because I’m becoming increasingly interested in how people are using apps to care (physically, emotionally, intellectually, spiritually) for themselves.

More sources to archive: Cleaning out my Safari Reading List

The end of the semester is here (well, almost…I still have some assignments to grade) and it’s time to get organazized. I thought I’d start by cleaning out and archiving some links that I put on my Safari Reading list over the past few months. I wonder, should I include all of them so as to document what I found interesting enough to mark, or should I cull the best of these links? Considering I have 40 to read through, I think I might try to be a little judicious. Here’s the list:

1. Education Needs a Digital Upgrade: This source is a NYTimes review of Cathy Davidson’s Now You See It, which I bought right after it came out and have read the first chapter so far. I can’t wait to finish it over the next couple of weeks. Skimming through the review article,  I found this great bit:

To take an example of just one classroom convention that might be inhibiting today’s students: Teachers and professors regularly ask students to write papers. Semester after semester, year after year, “papers” are styled as the highest form of writing. And semester after semester, teachers and professors are freshly appalled when they turn up terrible.

Ms. Davidson herself was appalled not long ago when her students at Duke, who produced witty and incisive blogs for their peers, turned in disgraceful, unpublishable term papers. But instead of simply carping about students with colleagues in the great faculty-lounge tradition, Ms. Davidson questioned the whole form of the research paper. “What if bad writing is a product of the form of writing required in school — the term paper — and not necessarily intrinsic to a student’s natural writing style or thought process?” She adds: “What if ‘research paper’ is a category that invites, even requires, linguistic and syntactic gobbledygook?”

What if, indeed. After studying the matter, Ms. Davidson concluded, “Online blogs directed at peers exhibit fewer typographical and factual errors, less plagiarism, and generally better, more elegant and persuasive prose than classroom assignments by the same writers.”

Yes! I definitely agree with Davidson. Many of my assignments, including my informal writing assignments for my feminist debates class this semester, are based on challenging and rethinking the typical writing a term paper approach by having students write a lot online. I think I need to write a blog entry about this assignment and about writing-as-process assignments for my classes. I’ll have to bring in Davidson and Now You See It

2. fbomb is a really sweet feminist blog created and maintained by teenage feminists. It’s a great resource for anyone who wants one example of how young feminists are organizing/reflecting/acting/critically thinking/connecting online. Plus, their blogroll is really helpful for finding new blogs to check out.

 3. Sir Ken Robinson on Creativity and Changing Educational Paradigms This link is to a brain pickings summary (and if you scroll down to the bottom of the post, there are some great links to other posts you might like, like this one: 7 Must-Read Books on Education, which lead me to this book–which I’m thinking of checking out: DIY U: Edupunks, Eduprenuers, and the Coming Transformation which I found on amazon and that has some pretty interesting looking “customers who bought this book also bought” selections. Uh oh. I’m going down the rabbit hole here…better stop). Here’s the Robinson’s video, which I may or may not have posted here before?

4. A Queer Culture and Social Media Study Here’s the description on the blog:

The Queer Culture & Social Media Study is a documentary-style project exploring a queer generations relationship to social media and how that has influenced their sense of community and identity.

I haven’t watched  all of the videos here, but it seems important to archive it for future reference; the explicit focus on negotiating identity and community in relation to social media is intriguing.

5. Flip the Media, various sources. The original post that I saved on my Safari Reading List was Is the Rise of Digital Media Helping, or Hurting, Queer Youth? Flip the Media’s Elizabeth Hunter interviews Dan Savage to find out I need to read the article more closely, but my initial response is: That’s the wrong question to be asking. I think this is a good resource + the comments at the end generate an interesting discussion. When I clicked on the home page for Flip the Media, which is the “blog of the University of Washington Master of Communication in Digital Media,” I found another article that I’d like to archive here…and maybe as an “oh bother!” too: Viral Video of the Week–Breast Cancer Awareness Here’s the PSA:

I am bothered by the heteronormativity (assumed heterosexual as natural) and the idea that women should/will be inspired to regularly care for themselves just so they can ogle hot guys. I want to think more about this campaign, because they also have a free App to encourage you to check your breasts. Hmm…an app that is about women and care. My immediate reaction to this app/campaign is “OH BOTHER!” However, I’m willing to think about it some more. I just downloaded the free app and have set it up the reminder on Thursdays at 4 (so in less than 30 minutes). Will I remember that I set this up? Doubtful. Next week, I will get my “man reminder” at some inopportune time and an awkward moment will ensue.

As I was finishing up this post, I got my first Man Reminder. Here it is (I was disappointed that the “hot guy” doesn’t actually speak to me):

An interlude: This cleaning out sources is a lot of fun…and a lot of time. It’s a great exercise for getting inspired, being curious and thinking critically. I think it would be cool to do something like this on a weekly basis.

6. Uses of Blogs TOC This book looks like it’s worth taking a look at…maybe reading ch 1 which is online. However, the book was published in 2006. How dated are these articles? What relevance do they have for contemporary social media/blogging issues? Doing research on social media is a tricky thing, especially when it’s constantly changing. What are the best ways to write about online technologies for a scholarly audience? I know there some great resources for thinking through this question, but that’s another blog post…

7. How Blogging Helps Students Crush the Digital Divide My ability to be curious is failing me right now, so this will have to be the last source I archive right now. Posted on July 21, 2011 on GOOD, it is about an elementary teacher who used blog writing to train a class who had previously had limited access to tech training and writing in English (over 60% were ESL students). A key claim in the article: giving students blog assignments encourages them to be creative and better writers + it provides them with digital literacy skills. While I really appreciate the focus here (and the claim), I wonder: Does this really crush the digital divide?

tracking trouble, day four

confession: I’m a little behind on tracking my virtue. Doing this every day can be difficult. I’m on day four of tracking my practices of troublemaking. I gave myself another 3 for how I did because, as I mentioned in my last post, I don’t like using the ranking system; it just doesn’t seem like the best way in which to reflect/evaluate how or what I’m doing and why I’m doing it. As I write this entry, I’m starting to think more about how to assess my practices. One key aspect of Aristotelean ethics (yes, there are lots of different visions/versions of virtue ethics) is the idea of the mean and balancing virtue between the vices of excess and deficiency. I have a chart of Aristotle’s table of virtues and vices from Nicomachean Ethics that my college advisor, the amazing religion professor Garrett Paul, handed out in an ethics class that I took my freshman year, way back in 1992. I’m looking at it right now. In a framework of virtue (mean) and vices (excess/deficiency), you aim for a balance in which you are neither practice too much or too little of a certain virtue. While I see some problems with using balance as a goal for a virtue like troublemaking, I also find it helpful to be able to evaluate when troublemaking practices are excessive (there are limits to disruption, especially in relation to my feminist vision of social transformation) and when they are deficient. My daughter RJP reminds me (all the time) of the limits of excessive troublemaking. Here’s what I wrote a few weeks ago about it in my post, Really Rosie! and Really, Rosie?

Being beside Rosie is always very helpful for my own thinking about troublemaking. Much like me, her troublemaking usually comes in the form of an insatiable curiosity and a refusal to merely accept what she is told. Because she asks so many questions and always demands explanations for why she must do this or believe that, she reminds me that engaging in troublemaking (or being around someone who is making trouble) can be exciting, exhilarating and exhausting. Indeed, troublemaking has its limits and shouldn’t be uncritically embraced as that which we should do all of the time. And when it is practiced, we need to remember how it can drain us or those around us. Throughout the past two and a half weeks, Rosie has prompted me to exclaim with joy, “Really Rosie!,” one minute, and then utter in annoyed disbelief, “Really, Rosie?,” the next.

What if an app had a ranking system in which you aimed for the mean instead of a high number? That allowed you to focus on finding the balance between extremes? Can I (mis)use this app to do this? Speaking of (mis)using the app, the first thing that I wrote in my reflection box for day four is: Just realized that I might be hacking this app!? Am I using that term correctly? I’m thinking partly of the collection, Hacking the Academy, and their invoking of hacking–but what do they mean? Need to find a good definition. By hacking, I mean that I am troubling this app (critically questioning it and using it in ways that were never intended in order to practice troublemaking and to achieve my goal of tracking my trouble). I wonder, (how) are other people hacking their apps? I can think of some ways, mostly involving advanced technical skills (jailbreaks). What other ways are people using apps subversively?

Tracking Trouble, Day Three

I’m on my third day of tracking my virtuous troublemaking. While I still don’t think their focus on daily rating your virtuous behavior  is the most effective approach, I have enjoyed how using this app enables me to think about what I want in a virtue app and also what the practice of virtue on a regular basis might look like. I did my reflection/evaluation for day three this morning (on day four) because I didn’t have time or energy last night. In the summer–maybe because of the heat?–my brain shuts down around 4 PM. Oh well. I ranked myself at a 3 out of 3, partly because I’m over the ranking system and partly because I did spend a lot of time during the day thinking critically and creatively about the world and my work. I even mapped out an outline for my troublemaking book (next step: find a publisher!). Here are my thoughts from the reflection box: Another somewhat arbitrary ranking here. I put it at a 3 because I did get to write about troublemaking a lot today. Should writing count? Is tmaking just about thinking? Did I challenge anyone else today? Connections with an in relation to others? Still stuck on evaluation here. My reflection here is helpful for me in thinking through how often we should practice tmaking.

One key concern I keep coming up against with this app is its lack of guidance in helping the user figure out what virtuous practice is and whether of not they are engaging in it. What resources does the user have to draw on when developing their own plan for tracking and reflecting on virtue? I suppose the most obvious answer to this question is Ben Franklin. But, what about other sources? The brief quotations that they provide from Franklin don’t offer enough substance for really thinking through virtuous practice. I find this to be a big problem with self-help/self-improvement products (books, apps, etc) in general; they provide quick answers without any larger vision to back them up. 

As an aside: for some reason, I seem to be fixated on self-help this summer. I am struck by how self-help can take philosophical/intellectual/dense ideas and makes them more accessible to a wider range of audiences. Unfortunately, this accessibility quite frequently comes at the expense of complexity/deeper vision and is done for the purpose of selling products/ideas/ideologies. What are some other ways to make critical self-reflection and virtue ethics accessible (and compelling) to folks outside of the academy? What about care of the self? I’ve found a couple of sources on Foucault and self-help that I need to check out, including this one:

Rimke, H. M. (2000). Governing citizens through self-help literature. Cultural Studies, Volume 14, pp. 61-78.

Tracking my troublemaking through the Virtues App

After my post yesterday about troublemaking apps, I decided to customize the Virtues app with troublemaking. So, for the next week, I am tracking my practice of troublemaking. I’m very skeptical of this approach, but thought I would try it (and maybe make trouble for it!).

Here is a shot of the virtue detail screen:

Check out my definition of troublemaking. Not sure if it is the best description of what I’m trying to do, but I put it together really quickly. Also, I wanted to make it short so that it would fit into a screen shot. A key part of this app is the ranking system. At the end of every day, you reflect on how well you did in practicing your chosen virtue by ranking your performance on a scale of 1 to 5. The scoring is subjective; you determine what you think your target score should be and also what counts towards achieving that score. Since they recommended not making your target score too high when you are first starting the app, I went for a 3.0. Seems arbitrary. In their about section, they advise you to “be honest with yourself” about your ranking because “only you know.” How do you know and what should you base that knowing on? “Only you know” doesn’t seem to fit with such a scientific and logical approach (with numerical ranking). Maybe there should be a box on the virtue details page where you can write in your criteria for reaching your target number? Not sure. What I do know is that this ranking system really puts me off. I’m willing to give it a chance; hopefully by the end of this week I will have figured out more why it bothers me so much and/or developed my own system for evaluating (or reflecting on…does reflection = evaluation? my own troublemaking behavior without target numbers.


Here’s my first day of evaluation. Of course, I’ve already screwed it up. I forgot to “reflect” last night and had to quickly do it this morning. I gave myself a 2.5. Why? I was curious and critical yesterday, but not that much. As I began thinking through and typing out why I chose 2.5, I found myself asking lots of questions about the app, some of which are included in this screen shot. Here are the rest: When is it too much? How does this app account for excessive practice of certain virtue? Where do you establish criteria?

Hmm….maybe I’m using this box to practice some troublemaking instead of merely reflecting on it…One last thought: Underlying all of these “self-help” tools is an ethos of (hyper)individualism where self-improvement is almost only about the Self, without any awareness of others/Others. Is this built into any virtue system OR more the result of the specific virtues that we value? Still pondering this one…

Troublemaking? Is There an App for That?

While I wrote last spring about how much I love my iPad right after I got it, I really haven’t had a chance to play around with it that much. I don’t have that many apps for it. I also don’t have that many apps for my iPhone. Maybe that’s partly because the few times that I have actually gone to the app store, I have been overwhelmed by the number of (cr)apps that are available. Yet, I can’t stop thinking about how a troublemaking app, one that enabled you to practice the virtue of troublemaking (being curious, thinking critically, asking questions, disrupting common sense assumptions), might be fun and useful. I am still uncertain about the value of an app. Is is the best platform for what I want to do? Why is it better than just using a blog? Since I imagine my app to be connected to a larger vision of public pedagogy and making ideas/theories about troublemaking accessible to a wider range of folks, is an app, which usually (but doesn’t always) cost something, the best approach? Sigh…like a “good” academic, I need (and want, because I am a nerd too) to do some research on these questions. Hmmm…I wonder where I can find some critical essays about smartphone apps? Suggestions?

So what would this app look like? I’m really not sure. As I imagine the possibilities, I thought I’d archive my thoughts about some apps that I’ve encountered:

In early June, I started running with one of the many Couch to 5K apps: C25K. note: A few weeks after starting the program, I found a blog post about it on ProfHacker. Here’s how it works: You run with the program three times a week for 30 minutes–or, as I am doing it, every other day–and gradually build up strength and endurance as you alternate between walking and running. The program tells you when to run, walk and cool down. The simple format (which thankfully has few extra, pointless features) coupled with an underlying philosophy of the repeated and deliberate practice of gradually building up good habits, seems like a great model for an app.  Repeated and habitual practice is key for my own thinking about cultivating virtuous troublemaking; you need to ask questions regularly and practice thinking critically, subversively, transformatively, creatively all of the time. I also like how it uses GPS to map your route so you can see (and share with others) your route and archive it for later. It also has a journal, so you can write about and archive the run (how it went, the weather, terrain). Finally, you can share your progress with others on facebook or twitter.

I’m really interested in thinking through how to use new technologies, like smartphone apps, to develop and practice virtues. So I decided to check out what virtue apps already existed. After searching for “virtue iPhone apps” on google, I found Ben’s Virtues. In this app, which is based on Benjamin Franklin’s chart of 13 virtues (temperance, silence, order, resolution, frugality, industry, sincerity, justice, moderation, cleanliness, tranquility, chastity, humility), you can chart your daily conduct. According to the “about” page on the app (unlike C25K, I have not tried this one out, although I did download it–it’s free), you review your conduct in relation to one of the 13 virtues at the end of the day (you do a week on each virtue). If you fail to practice that virtue–for example, industry (“Lose not time; be always employ’d in something useful; cut of all unnecessary actions”), you tap the day’s date to place a mark. This app is based on Franklin’s own chart for logging his virtuous behavior. It doesn’t offer any additional features, like posting your failure to follow a certain virtue on twitter or facebook. Wow…can you imagine if an app like this did have such a feature? Confessing your moral limits through social media? In case my tone isn’t clear, I find this idea to be extremely problematic, yet interesting from the perspective of how we develop our moral selfhood in relation to others. I haven’t spent that much time looking through this app (and I haven’t spent much time critically reading/reflecting on Franklin’s virtues–are they the basis of Franklin planner stores…ugh?), but I find both the set of virtues (masculine, business-oriented) and the format of the chart/app to not be useful for my own project of troublemaking (a practice of daily reflection = marking digressions on a chart doesn’t fit with my own undisciplined approach). Additionally, the app doesn’t give you much guidance on what Franklin’s virtues actually mean (they do suggest buying Franklin’s autobiography at Powell’s books) or how we are supposed to interpret what is or isn’t an unnecessary act (see definition of industrious above). It makes me wonder about what other ways people can think about using apps to promote and cultivate virtuous practices? Instead of having a chart to mark, what other features could an app offer that would allow you to critically reflect on your day and how virtuous behaviors work in relation to a broader ethos (like social justice or feminist models)?

After doing a little more research on the interwebz, I found some other bloggers writing about Franklin’s chart and his virtues, like Merlin Mann’s 43 Folders (a STA/room34 favorite) and their post, Ben Franklin: Keeper of his own ‘Permanent Record’, and the Art of Manliness and their 13 week series on Being Virtuous the Ben Franklin way. I also found another app, Virtues, by Equilibrium Enterprises. While Ben’s Virtues was free, this app costs 99 cents. It is based on the same chart and the same description of virtues, but it has many added features, including a much lengthier description of how to use to app and what to to with the chart. It also allows you to develop your own rating system (out of a scale of 5.0, pick your “target” number for a certain virtue) and your own custom virtues (should I add troublemaking, perhaps?). When you rate yourself, you are required to type up a few comments about your rating, your day, etc. I like that you can customize the app with your own virtues and that daily critical reflection = evaluating yourself with a number rating + typing up some thoughts (as opposed to the Ben’s Virtues’ approach of only marking your failures in a chart). However, I don’t like using a numerical ranking system (how do you evaluate a day’s virtuous behavior on a scale of 1 to 5?). Even though I’m not sold on this app, I might just have to try it with a customized troublemaking virtue.

Well, I’m not even close to being done of my research/reflection on what a troublemaking app could/should look like, but I need to end this blog entry now. For next time, I want to spend some time discussing feminist troublemaking apps by starting with bitchmedia’s Revenge of the Feminerd: There’s an App for That and the app, Hollaback!