Demystifying Meaning Systems and Technology for Marginalized Groups

Throughout the semester, I’ve contemplated ways in which this course’s topics and theories tie in with not-so-abstract scenarios and settings. Packaging such dense and mind-blowing content into a 14-week course is no easy feat. Thankfully, connecting the dots between meaning systems and cultural contexts is almost second nature for me now, but I wondered how attainable such a-ha moments are (and could be) for those outside this CCT course.

For my final research, I want to delve into how complex meaning systems and computational thinking can be the key to demystifying technology for minorities in/outside the classroom and facilitating social change strategies for marginalized. This idea is a fusion of topics around distributed agency amongst marginalized groups (Week 9), a medium’s technical impact on communication (Week 8), semantic differentiations associated with language (Week 7) and how meaning systems operate within the world of music and art (Week 6). Millennials, especially from the African-American community have been responsible for creating and popularizing phrases and terms that were rooted in regional or even subcultural contexts (i.e. bling, twerk, fleek, etc.) However, historically there has been a disparity in access to computer science and technology education for minorities, as is evident in the lack of diversity in those respective workforces. The fundamentals of such disciplines like computational thinking and deblackboxing sociotechnical systems can be essential to spearheading social movements and rebuilding disheveled communities.

This week’s reading from Conery simplifies the definition of computation to being a “sequence of simple, well-defined steps that lead to the solution of a problem.” His approach is accessible and applicable to situations transcending that of modern computer programming or software interactions; the definition’s inexactness and comprehensibility lends itself to other arenas – meaning it is less unnerving for those newly exposed, uninterested or wary to this cognitive method. By describing algorithmic processes as static descriptions or blueprints for computational action in the manner that Conery has, understanding for arenas like music development, filmmaking and visual art can be readily achieved.

The basis for understanding media theory, technological development and meaning systems is to recall that all signs and technologies to which we are exposed are derivative of previous instances, thus meaning that no matter how tangential two signs may be are – a network connection or path is shared. Moreover, as Dror and Harnad explain, the boundary between the user and the tool disappears, as the technology is an integral part of the cognitive state itself. This exemplifies the relationship between African-Americans, social media platforms and their identity-centered participation in digital communities and discourse. It is also within these communities that transitive states occur between humans interacting with applications (humans on Twitter) to spark a social transition (grassroots demonstrations, knowledge sharing, communal self-esteem elevating practices, etc.).

With the advent of new approaches to cognition and action, we must remember that the advances of technology we witness are grandfathered by basic human interaction methods. As we discussed a few weeks ago, it’s not a matter of man against the machine or technology versus culture; but instead, the machine inspiring, awakening and molding the (marginalized) people for the betterment of himself, their community and society.