Swipe Right on Find/Replace:
Invention, Equity, and Technofeminist Potentials of
Find/replace is a ubiquitous and overlooked digital technology with important technofeminist potentials. We examine the significance of find/replace as an inventive process and offer a case study of the swipe function’s ideological effects in the highly gendered dating app environments of Tinder and Bumble. We describe a playful pedagogy (patagogy) connecting find/replace and swipe technologies to pataphysics as heuristics for exploring ways to create positive, gender-equitable sociotechnical systems.
Keywords: Technofeminism, Gender, Tinder, Bumble, Pataphysics, Find and Replace, Swipe
It's not the tool. It's how you use it...
isn’t telling the whole story about people’s relationships to technology. A simple find/replace and rearrangement of a few words shows how the cliché directs attention away from the tool. The cliché hides “It’s the tool. It’s how it uses you,” concealing the rhetoric in the technology composing its users. The cliché doesn’t describe how technologies determine us and how it is useful to view
technologies not as transparent things but as cultural artifacts imbued with histories and values that shape the ways in which people see themselves and others in relation to technology… Thus, technology is both integral to culture and always already cultural. Just as the rhetoric we compose can never be objective, neither can the technologies we design. Technologies are not neutral or objective—nor are the ways that we use them. (Haas, 2012, p. 288)
“Swiping right” on that cliché matches one to a techno-neutral position where users put the rhetoric on and in the tool, where users are the inventors of technology’s meaning. The focus here is on individual user agency. It’s a techno-masculinist match, emphasizing taming technology, controlling the tool. The cliché ignores technologization of practice: the embedded social conventions that grow and evolve with technologies, which make it difficult to imagine how to use technologies in non-conforming ways (Jones and Hafner, 2012, p. 200). The cliché denies the complicated ways social systems are undergirded through technological practices. The cliché denies what the technofeminist movement seeks to reveal and transform–to describe gender inequity in sociotechnical systems and to create equity in these same systems (Johnson, 2010, p. 12).
It’s also important to remember technofeminism must call for sociotechnical systems that are not just good for women and are gender equitable, but are intersectional systems as well. Angela Y. Davis (1990), though speaking specifically about African American’s contribution to the women’s movement, makes an important technofeminst point: In order to be truly feminist, technofeminism must strive to equitably serve all women of different backgrounds, paying attention to people of color rather than ignoring their unique positions and experiences (p. 9).
As with cliché, it’s often difficult to see the inequities of technology, the ways technology is and is not designed for particular effects and affects. In our current techno-cultural moment there are two related technologies currently being treated like clichés: find/replace and swipe. Their ubiquity makes them easy to overlook and ignore. Find/replace (command/ctrl + f) and its companion, swipe, with their emphasis on discovery, substitution, and selection offer avenues for technofeminist thinking and design.
Our article explores these technofeminist aveneues for thinking and design keeping find/replace in mind. In Technofeminism, Equity, and Empathy, we discuss our understanding of technofeminism as well as a technofeminist ethic and its connection to equity. Find/Replace shows how the find/replace function can lead to critical thinking and invention, how the sociotechnical aspects of the function lead to technofeminist play, and how find/replace is a good metaphor for describing people’s relationships to digital technologies. Swipe and Find/Replacing for Love examines the affordances and constraints of swipe’s find/replace sociotechnical functions. This section serves as a case study in technofeminist potentials. We focus our attention on the Tinder and Bumble dating apps, showing how swipe can be equitably designed in highly gendered dating environments. Patagogies concludes our webtext, describing a playful pedagogy influenced by pataphysics using find/replace and swipe as invention strategies for creating positive and equitable sociotechnical systems.
It may seem we are making mountains out of molehills in analyzing cliché. Clichés, however, are ubiquitous technologies, which serve as “common sense” guides emphasizing particular worldviews. Playing with their assumptions helps in understanding how people make sense of culture. Throughout the essay, we practice find/replace with cliché. We substitute, select, and deconstruct clichés to adjust with their meanings and create new relationships with them as demonstration of find/replace in action.
Technofeminism, Equity, and Empathy
All men are created equal...
is a very techno-masculinist position, relying on the rhetoric of equality. Besides the “men,” which we can easily “swipe left” and replace with “people,” it remains an ideal that does not exist, an ideal that takes place outside of culture and context and gets interpreted to mean something like this: “We all have the same chance to succeed.” When coupled with “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” and “it takes all kinds” it is easy to overlook how people are not the same, do not have the same opportunities, and are not necessarily in the kind of positions they want to be in.
These clichés, furthermore, support another technology myth: access + will=success. As we know from Selfe (1999), Warschauer (2003), Selber (2004), and countless other scholars, there are many layers to technological integration besides physical resources (i.e., computers). More holistic approaches are recommended, which takes human resources (e.g., education and literacy) and social resources (e.g., community buy in and feedback loops between stakeholders) into account. Recently, Chamberlain, Haver, and Hartline (2015-2016) have added another important and related layer to technofeminism: the importance of cultivating design dispositions in girls learning to compose in digital environments. The DIY ethic fostered by the myth is not an equitable position. It’s isolating and plays into the techno-masculinity—do it alone, without help or consultation—that seems to be at play in much technological design.
Bronet and Layne (2010), for instance, criticize techno-masculinity in their observations arguing for women’s representation in decision-making panels about technologies designed for them. Bronet and Layne recount the story of how one female designer created the “Eve racing suit” (p. 191) for women automobile racers as an alternative to the “regular” racing suit, which was designed for men. The design of “Eve” would allow women to go to the bathroom and cool themselves off without removing the whole suit, like men are able to. The panel of men judging the need for the suit viewed it as a “‘girl power’ project” (p. 191). The judges were unable to identify with women stakeholders beyond superficial politics. Bronet and Layne highlight the inherent problem with a techno-masculine ethic, namely that equality cannot exist if equality is not represented in design decisions.
Technofeminism, unlike techno-masculinity, is an “all people are created equitable” position, one that acknowledges the layers of culture describing a process for getting to a=b. As an equation, technofeminism assumes a +/- x = b +/- y. In order to achieve equality, unfairness should be acknowledged and sociotechnical solutions put in place that counter inequality through equity, to acknowledge and communicate “the often unarticulated interests and aspirations of masses of women of all racial backgrounds” and to empower “women who have been rendered historically invisible” (Davis, 1990, p. 6). For technofeminists “all people are created equitable.”
A techno-masculinist position often hinges on the “separate but equal” idea interpreted in odd ways with regards to gender. “Feminizing technologies,” where the default technologies are men’s and women’s versions get advertised differently, promote such values. Bic pens for women and “female” razors, for example, are technologies that do not need to be “feminized,” yet, the pens and razors come in “feminine” colors as they are being “dressed up” to “conform to a male-defined ‘feminine aesthetic’” (Layne, 2010, p. 6).
Layne notes how the feminization of technology does not make the technology feminist. In fact she notes it often has the opposite effect, as the technology can end up perpetuating and increasing the gender gap (p. 4). The idea of separate but equal doesn’t it make it into shopping aisles though—consider the “Pink Tax” or the phenomena when either exactly or nearly the same products are priced higher for women. For instance, Excedrin Complete Menstrual costs 50 cents more than Excedrin Extra Strength though both have the same ingredients in the same quantities (Editorial, 2014). The difference between creation and cost of everyday products suggests men and women are separate and unequal rather than people who are different and are socio-culturally equal.
For us technofeminism is empathetic but it is not a “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” position. Such an approach is more techno-masculine in emphasizing the abstract idea of equality as homogeneity. Equality in this case is a more sympathetic position. It isn’t a conversation about understanding but rather the idea that “doings” can and are equal in different contexts. Would it be a fair “doing” or cost-ethic for a person who makes $20,000/year to pay for higher-priced women’s razors and Excedrin as one who makes
$100,000/year? Probably not. Similarly, with regards to design dispositions and experiences with technology, is it fair to “do unto others” and maintain the status quo where classroom environments are subversive to building girls’ and women’s confidence in technological design because they subtly emphasize boys’ and men’s “innate” techno-abilities?
Find/replace as a function and a techno-process is a “stepping stone” for empathy, for discovering and replacing commonplace assumptions about equitable technology.
Don’t care about what people think…
since it’s more efficient to “just do it.” And being efficient is still one of the driving forces behind technology and progress. Any technology whose major “affordance” is effectiveness measured in any number of ways (e.g. time, space, cost, etc.) can be argued to be part of progressive value systems and a cult of efficiency. Reading technologies, for instance, have become extremely efficient. Kindle shows texts as percentages keeping readers constantly aware of how far they've read, and Medium shows the time it takes to read an article. Writing, too, has become more efficient. As Muhlhauser and Kachur (2015) observe, the Like button—and now Reactions —frame “traditional” writing as inefficient in favor of the demands of prefab or readymade rhetoric. Neil Postman (1993) sums the view up well in his description of a technopoly culture (a fusion of technology, progress, and extreme bureaucracy) and how it becomes THE Value system people live by, what Postman calls a Technopoly:
The Technopoly story is without a moral center. It puts in its place efficiency, interest, and economic advance. It promises heaven on earth through the conveniences of technological progress. It casts aside all traditional narratives and symbols that suggest stability and orderliness, and tells, instead, of a life of skills, technical expertise, and the ecstasy of consumption. Its purpose is to produce functionaries for an ongoing Technopoly.
Though clichés have existed before Postman theorized about technopoly, clichés can be considered part of that system. Clichés are efficient for communicating and “get you off the hook” “so to speak.” They’re “readymade” or copy/paste rhetoric for efficient communication, for “common sense.” They can be emotionally helpful. Sometimes maybe it is helpful to “not care what people think.” “Breaking up is hard to do” and giving oneself a break from scorn, shame, and feelings of failure are significant outcomes of cliché. As copy/paste “readymade” technologies, clichés can be copy/pasted and applied efficiently to many different contexts. For instance, the cliché “there are more fish in the sea” can be said to console someone after a breakup, or to console a high school student after their first college rejection letter rolls in.
Cliché, though, in its copy/paste functionality and contextual malleability is not a very technofeminist technology. The cliché “don’t care what people think” can be pretty harmful. A lack of consequences, a lack of considering stakeholders in design decisions, and a lack of empathy seem to be the dangers of copy/paste culture and its continual overlay of cliché. A simple find/replace reveals a more technofeminist principle, one that is a little more inefficient, but quite empathetic: “Care what people think.”
Find/replace can, of course, be framed as another tool in a technopolist’s toolkit. It is a readymade function for efficient change. Replace colors, numbers, and words in an efficient manner so time is used efficiently. Find/replace, however, is technofeminist in how it’s a function primed for change and being inefficient, for not copy/pasting ideas and frameworks. Command/ctrl + f with words is invention, allowing one to reveal the inequities of culture. For instance, the Chrome extension “Jailbreak the Patriarchy” genderswaps pronouns helping users experience gender inequity in our culture. The extension finds and replaces gender pronouns in web browsers altering a user’s reading of the web. It’s a funny and, for many, an unsettling experience pointing out how genders are, as Tannen (1993) observed long
ago, “marked” differently—revealing assumptions about gender in our culture. There are other extensions like “Search and Replace” that let people find/replace content on web pages with their own terms. Find/replace function, furthermore, asks one to invent, to be creative, and play with concepts and assumptions and altering default perspectives of the world: try “One-size-fits some people,” try finding and replacing “argument” with “agreement” in Andrea Lunsford’s popular textbook on effective communication practices—Everything’s an Argument. Experience how the world changes using find/replace. It becomes less about technomasculinity and more about technofemininity: the joy one feels at coming to understand one another.
The grass is always greener on the other side…
and the green is always grassier on this side except in copy/paste culture where the grass is always greener on each side. A find/replace perspective encourages difference between sides. It encourages aporia, that eerie feeling, where oddness, awkwardness, and paradox are at play revealing disjunctions in logic and our thinking about what we know. One might say aporia is when a cultural script isn’t in line with expectations. For instance, on Tinder, it could be a “swipe right” where one finds a mother or father being into hookup culture or searching for a partner. If the “normal” paradigm is to find people who are not your parents in the syntagmatic process of swiping, then there is an aporia present. It’s a realization for some that parents are interested in sex and romance—an odd feeling for children coming to terms with parents as non-neutral actors in the world. Or it could be when the syntagm is disrupted and you observe your current partner’s status on Facebook changed to single before he/she has broken up with you. It’s an awkward feeling leaving one wondering about what “trust” really is.1
Find/replace isn’t just about creating aporia through word replacement or finding/replacing “traditional” cultural scripts through syntagmatic and paradigmatic alterations, as mentioned previously. Find/replace is also part of artistic processes and programming. Though he doesn’t use the term “aporia” or find/replace, Casey Boyle (2015) articulates well the inventive power of find/replace in his discussion of glitch in art and software, seeing glitch as potential rather than flaw. This potential creates new relationships with regards to mediation:
A metastable orientation is a manner of engaging rhetorical practice that includes but is irreducible to what we can consciously know, see, or anticipate. As the examples described before show, we expand our critical orientations from which we look at or through mediation by also interacting with files, through interfaces, on operating systems, and against hardware (and all other relational combinations therein). (p. 27)
In less dense words, Boyle is find/replacing notions about copy/paste in his prepositional play, enacting a metastable orientation/perspective. Rhetorical practices often occur through one set of relationships, affirmed or agreed upon, based on assumptions and repeated practices, where thoughts are guided by a stability of prescribed rhetorical lenses and ideas. Boyle argues for a disruption of what appears stable by imagining different relationships between objects, subjects, and mediation. Much power in Boyle’s thinking is connected to equity, in imagining and acknowledging different relationships, their combinations, and inventing new ones, though we may not know the results because such find/replace play is uncertain.
Such uncertainty in find/replace can be seen in the inequitable responses to #blacklivesmatter. Movements such as #alllivesmatter and #bluelivesmatter are actions of find/replace. The movements replace #blacklivesmatter and express equality between types of persons while denying equity between types of persons and experiences in the world. Find/replace is, at least, aporic and “opens the door” to thinking in terms of equity, to understanding that “All men [and women] are created equal” is a myth in so many ways (e.g. biological, cultural, social, economic, etc.) but that in order to create justice one needs empathy, one needs to consider equality and equity simultaneously. It would be better to accept difference and find/replace America’s guiding cultural principles with “All people should be treated equitably.” What we mean is technofeminism emphasizes equality and equity in technological design and use. Find/replace unlike copy/paste is a process for pointing out the difference and asks about the benefits and drawbacks of greeniness and grassiness.
Trust your gut…
because it’s always right once in a while. And “once in a while” is what is easily remembered because a gut was once correct. “Once in a while” is confirmation bias, is copy/paste. It’s the anti-technofeminist notion for confirming one’s own beliefs. The echo chamber also plays into confirmation bias and copy/paste algorithmically as news and advertising suggestions copy/paste the same things over and over—the things that are likely to keep your gut regular and right “once in a while” a lot of the time. As Tom Nichols (2017) observes in The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why It Matters information never goes away. Even if anti-vaccination movements have been pretty much disproved, as he notes, the information lingers around bouncing around echo chambers for a long time. It’s difficult to find equity or equality in such uses of technology.
Find/replace algorithmic technologies can also be used to emphasize an echo chamber as people find/replace alternative views with their own, find/replacing news they disagree with or don’t like with news that fits their value systems. It’s a sort of find/replace to copy/paste. Additionally, algorithmic find/replace technologies like autocorrect and autocomplete suggestions from search engines don’t really help with gut trust either. They, along with the ability to continuously edit online text so there is no “final” version, are gaslighting technologies.
And gaslighting isn’t technofeminist as it makes one feel insecure and distrustful about his/her sanity and his/her abilities. Gaslighting also creates inequitable situations. In popular culture, “mansplaining” can be considered an inequitable gaslighting technology. Men take
advantage of their positions of power by re-explaining something to someone else in a patronizing or condescending way. When that someone else is a women, gender power dynamics comes into play and it can make the person feel angry or that she isn’t capable of communicating well or doesn’t understand the subject. Autocorrect and autocomplete act similarly. Though often helpful, they implicitly alter one’s trust in one’s memory and knowing. With Google’s autocomplete, for instance, questions are supplemented by search engine suggestions. It’s easy to forget what your original intention for a search was. Paul Baker’s and Amanda Potts’(2013) article on Google’s autocomplete search function point out the danger of such find/replace gaslighting technologies. They point out how the find/replace prediction of Google search perpetuates racial and ethnic stereotypes. They observe:
Most people would probably not wish to ask Google about social group stereotypes. However, enough people are doing so to cause auto-complete algorithms to offer these questions. Additionally, the questions could appear inadvertently. For example, if someone wanted to use the Internet to find the answer to the question ‘Why do black holes exist’ when they start typing the question into Google, after the first three words, they would be presented with a number of autocomplete suggestions including ‘Why do black people have big lips’ and ‘Why do black people like chicken.’ (p. 201)
Find/replace, as one can see, does not always “catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.” It’s a technology in dialogue with copy/paste, with reframing what’s come before. Find/replace, though, has to be a technofeminist process. Find/replace is the act of difference and imagining empathy, for understanding different points of view and thinking in more equitable ways.
Swipe and Find/Replacing for Love
There are plenty of fish in the sea…
so start swiping and practice match and release. Swipe, the find/replace dating app function, is changing and challenging the rules and cliché that come with the dating game. More people are choosing to swipe left on outdated and sexist clichés that end up harming relationships. They are swiping right on ideas of equity and romantic freedom. Instead of promoting the idea that users will “meet the one,” swipe in Tinder and Bumble invite users to the possibility of meeting many “ones.” It seems easy to make grand romantic assumptions if you have no basis of comparison, especially if one has been fed romantic clichés and media instructing one to wait for a “knight in shining armor.” Romantic clichés like this further sexist tropes like the damsel in distress and disempower women. Swipe on Tinder and Bumble though are practices at “breaking up” these clichés.
It’s difficult to deny the power of clichés in dating. “Knight in shining armor,” “love at first sight,” and “love conquers all” are still prejudices and assumptions people carry about romance and ideal relationships. Coupled with notions that all women want to be chased and that men must pay for the meals sets up unrealistic and sexist expectations on dating and relationships. And though it seems like media has progressed beyond such positions, even the recent and hailed Wonder Woman (2017) displays and perpetuates these ideas. After watching Diana emerge victorious from a bar fight, a character remarks that he is “both frightened and aroused,” thereby reducing Diana’s feat of strength to a sexual act; it’s almost as if she still needs a knight, even if she can protect herself. Additionally, it seems important that she finds her “one true love.” It is easy to read Diana as never getting over Steve Trevor’s death, remaining chaste over half a century later. Swipe challenges such clichés by enabling women and men to move beyond “the one” idea and its connotations. Swiping for love is empowering and can be considered a find/replace for “traditional” notions of romance.
She was asking for it…
is the view, we assume, of a number of male Tinder users who troll Tinder posting lewd messages. Despite the technofeminist potentials of swipe, the technologization of practice and of straight men can render the technofeminist potentials of swipe obsolete, as swipe can be used for sexist purposes. With the rise of virtual communication has come the rise of a practice called “trolling.” Trolling, defined by March, Marrington, and Jonason (2017), is online communication that intends to be “provocative, offensive, or menacing, in an attempt to trigger conflict and cause victims distress for the trolls own amusement.” According to March, Marrington, and Jonason, “men report more frequent engagement in Internet trolling behaviors and higher levels of trolling enjoyment.” Their app of choice seems to be Tinder, as 90% of the males in March’s study reported using the app in the past or present.2 The amount of trolling that occurs on Tinder is unsurprising, given the founders’ preference for efficiency over safety. Steven Katz (1992) speaks of the dangers of relying on expediency, or in this case efficiency, as he states that:
in our culture, the danger is that technological expediency…can become the only basis of happiness, can become a virtue itself, and so subsume all ethics under it, making all ethics expedients and thus replacing them.” (p. 270)
While we appreciate how Tinder values the ethic of efficiency and how the ethic can reframe romance, we are also troubled in how it ignores an ethic of safety as the company focuses on telling its users to “Keep Swiping” rather than focusing on making the app safer for its female users. While all users are able to block or unmatch with other users they find distasteful, women are still exposed to receiving lewd messages from trolls, seemingly on a consistent basis. Given the history of Tinder’s creation, this lack of concern for female user safety is unsurprising.
Women love bad boys…
At least that’s what “bad boys,” or in this case, investors would like to believe. Recently The New York Times published an article explaining the prevalence of sexual harassment in the techno-sphere. Katie Benner (2017) tells the stories of female entrepreneurs who were denied positions and funding after rebuffing or ignoring the advances of investors and potential employers. Susan Wu, entrepreneur and investor, remarked on the situation, stating that “there is such a massive imbalance of power that women in the industry often end up in distressing situations.” Whitney Wolfe, co-founder of Tinder and founder of Bumble, was one of these women. Wolfe was inspired to create Bumble after leaving Tinder due to the sexual harassment she encountered from Tinder co-founder Justin Mateen. In her interview with Leora Yashari (2015), Wolfe explains that she initially wanted to create a social networking app that was specifically for fostering connections and positivity for young girls, but was inspired to create Bumble instead after Andrey Andreev, founder of Badoo, reached out and convinced her to play to her strengths (Yashari). Wolfe created Bumble, find/replacing the function and technologization of practice (i.e., the rules) of romance. Wolfe argues Bumble is “the first feminist, or first attempt at a feminist dating app” that focuses on “encouraging equality” (Yashari), thereby re-scripting and altering the sociotechnical machinations of the technology.
Love knows no boundaries...
but men should, especially when it comes to online dating. By find/replacing Tinder, Wolfe was able to change the original social script of Tinder by giving men boundaries and giving women the power over conversation. Wolfe explains her reasoning:
For the first time in the tech space, the woman has been encouraged to be on an even playing field. In terms of how these conversations play out, how women feel on the [app] and how they feel about themselves on the dates, it’s really crazy the level of respect they’ve garnered from the men, and the way the men behave in such a different way…. On Bumble, by having the lady make the first move, [the man] doesn’t feel rejection or aggression—he feels flattered. (Yashari, 2015)
By having women make the first move, Bumble is challenging the sexist idea that men must take charge in romance while also making the app a safer place for women to be. It is too early to tell if Bumble is a complete success in the dating app world or as a technofeminist technology. For instance, Bumble (2016) caused a stir in the news after publicly banning user Connor for losing his cool on one of Bumble’s female users. The screenshots attached to Bumble’s open letter reveal Connor accusing user Ashley of being a gold digger for asking about his job as a part of a conversation. It is difficult to tell if such negative reactions or trolling is becoming rampant or if Bumble’s unique function and rules actually do limit trolls and lewd or hurtful comments due to the newness of Bumble and the lack of studies comparing Tinder and Bumble. However, it would be difficult to deny that Bumble is a positive force in the world of online dating. Wolfe has both challenged the status quo of romance while helping female “gendered bodies” navigate the troll filled and “oppressive” world of online dating. Not only was Wolfe able to re-script a sexist app into a technofeminist one, but was also able to reclaim swipe as a technofeminist function.
Love is blind...
Swipers of color face another disadvantage. Though they are less likely to get matches, they’re more likely to get racially targeted messages asking about their country of origin or for intimate details about their personal lives. On top of this, even just the action of swipe can be considered a systemic microaggression, allowing users to judge a book by its cover and quickly swipe left of those who don’t fit in with their preconceived racialized notions of beauty and attraction. As Sarah Wachter-Boettcher (2017) argues, these small digital microaggressions “reinforce biases and embolden bad behavior in the rest of the population” as “technology and design… increasingly inform culture” (p. 196).
There is a light at the end of the tunnel where one can see changes in systemic dating demographics, however. According to a recent study (MIT Technology Review, 2017), researchers found that the rate of interracial marriages has increased rapidly, and while they cannot prove causation between the rate of interracial marriages and the use of dating apps, they do hypothesize that dating apps may have lead to this demographic change. Not only did “the percentage of new marriages created by interracial couples increased rapidly” after the introduction of one of the first dating websites in 1995, but the percentage increased again “shortly after the creation of Tinder,” according to researchers. While society still has a ways to go in terms of racial equity both in the world of technology and the real world, it’s comforting to know that change may slowly be coming in how people select partners.
Love may not be as blind as we hoped it was, and sadly it’s sometimes pretty heteronormative as well. Bumble, while being hailed as a feminist app in some respects, which we agree with, only has two options for gender. Users, according to Bumble, are either “Male” or “Female,” and can only match with other Males and Females (making Bumble’s option to swipe right on “everyone” seem ironic).
The use of “Male” and “Female” is also not very inclusive, as it narrows users down to the dominant categories of biological sex, rather than gender. The connotation of the move fixes ideas about biology to gender. Gender and even sexual fluidity is concealed in this very cisgender move. Users are also only able to change their gender designation twice, which limits those who are transitioning or experimenting. Despite this gender conformity, there is again a light at the end of the tunnel, at least with Tinder. Tinder, in a move towards equity in gender identification, has recently rolled out a new gender feature allowing users to select either “Man,” “Woman,” or “More.” “More” leads to a larger list of specific gender options (such as agender, bigender, gender variant, etc.). Tinder’s use of “More” rather than “Other” is a great equitable feature, as it makes those whose gender don’t fall within the traditional binary feel like an included “More,” rather than an excluded “Other.” Users also have the option to search for other users of the same gender. This feature, if adopted by other dating apps, has the potential to help those in the LGBT community find partners even more easily. Already, online dating has become the most popular way for LGBT couples to meet, according to the recent article in the MIT Technology Review (2017), and with the implementation of this gender search feature, it has the potential to become even more helpful for those outside of the heteronormative circuit to find love.
Passions, Patagogies, and Technofeminism
Necessity is the mother of invention…
because Technology is the father of inequity. Or, as we’ve argued, mom’s relationships to technology are often responses to dad’s default techno-machinations. Technofeminism is that response, is that necessity and invention for equity in a gender imbalanced culture. Creating “necessities” to inspire invention is not always easy, however. Seeing through the default and recognizing inequities at play in technologies of gender takes practice and its own set of technologies. As we’ve shown in our play with cliché, the find/replace function and ethic is a helpful heuristic for exposing the default, for imagining equity, and for locating inequality. Our inspiration for such play comes from the disruptive, quasi-artistic movement out to challenge objective truth: pataphysics.3 Developed by Alfred Jarry in the 1890s, pataphysics has influenced many schools of thought including surrealists, situationists, Oulipians, and postmodern thinkers. Pataphysics is fundamentally find/replace and aporic in its process, of disrupting cultural scripts. At its heart “‘pataphysics is an imaginary science that provides literary, artistic and linguistic methods for exploring the world, as opposed to the empirical methods of the hard sciences” (Dennis, 2017). For us, pataphysics is an invitation to play with rhetoric and composition. It’s the algorithmic act and instinct one develops to find/replace the default and discover the exceptions to rules and rhetorics of equality, which are rarely equal and scarcely equitable.
To be a little less abstract, anomaly looks for exceptions or differences in systems that “value the norm of equivalence” (Bök, 2002, p. 11); syzygia is an alignment or surprise that occurs when things that seem different conjoin, to equate things in systems valuing the “norm of difference” (Bök, 202, p. 11); and clinamen is an unexpected swerve that seems irrelevant but points us to something else; Hugill (2012) points out clinamen is like the situationist’s “detournement” in which texts are recontextualized and given a new meaning often the opposite of the original (p. 16). It’s culture jamming, in other words.
In rhetorical terms/technologies, examples of syzygia are puns and adianoeta (that trope for passive aggressive behavior). In a pun two, three, or four meanings of a word might align bringing together things considered different—equating them. With adianoeta the literal meaning is supplanted with a passive aggressive one: “For how you live, your house is clean,” for example, equates a
positive statement with a negative subtextual one. Both puns and adianoeta count on carrying both meanings, not necessarily applying the contrary, like with irony. The swerve in a clinamen is using chiasmus and antimetabole to detour meaning and adjust an aphorism for unexpected results: “it’s one small step for mankind and one giant leap for man” has swerved meaning away from Neil Armstrong’s intention with a new, less positive meaning. Anomaly is irony in pointing out contradictions, implying a challenge to equivalences. Paralipsis, for example, points out anomaly by pretending to pass over something, which is not equivalent: “It would be unseemly for me to dwell on Senator Kennedy's drinking problem, and too many have already sensationalized his womanizing…” (Paralipsis) Our play with cliché often relied on antithesis in our juxtaposing of contrasting words and ideas to find anomalies in generalizations.
With regards to digital technology, there has been work done in creative computing using pataphysics. Hugill et al. (2013), for instance, have been playing with pataphysical find/replace technologies to inspire invention in search engines. Disappointed with the echo chamber and how search engines retrieve basically the same results for searches, Hugill et al. imagine developing a “syzygy surfer” or pataphysical search engine based on “patadata.” The search engine is a sort of subjective engine that retrieves results for search that are syzygistic, anomalous, or clinamen. The emphasis is not on utility but on surprise, new associations, and a “web search can facilitate inspirational learning through an exploratory search journey…” (p. 249). In a similar vein, Hugill and Yang (2016) are working on PRASCAL, a pataphysical computer programming language similar to PASCAL. The goal, again, is to introduce pataphysical concepts into computing, to introduce surprise and creativity by using pataphysical principles like syzygy, anomaly, and clinamen.
Though we aren’t computer programmers, we feel like command/ctrl + f function and its ethic is a powerful way to be pataphysical and to invent—to anamolize, sygizize, and clinemanize. So we find/replaced a pataphysical search engine with “feminist” search engine and it led us to a number of wonderings and wanderings. How could a feminist search engine differ from Google or Bing? How could it be equitable? How could a feminist search engine challenge the echo chamber? If a feminist search engine exists, a search engine that brings back equitable results, what would be the indicators of such results? What would autocomplete look like in such an engine?
Would information be presented in a syzygistic way, perhaps, with a table of popular results and less popular results side by side in a modified hierarchy? Could anomaly be used to by juxtaposing findings with with Google to show systemic biases in search and culture more clearly?
Along similar lines, we find/replaced a little more and wondered what a feminist autocorrect could look like. Could it find/replace constructions of real and real constructions? In other words, what would be the syzygistic consequences of replacing terms like men and women with men and “men” and women and “women”? This might be an effective way to communicate embodiments of cultural values (without “”)—how they are real performances—and simultaneously their constructedness—as performances of real. What if autocorrect acted like a clinamen and swerved language by completely constraining the use of passive voice in favor of active, in favor of more clarity than obfuscation, of consequences, rather than a scientific or bureaucratic veil?
For us Bumble’s response to Tinder is a wonderful example of find/replace pedagogy in action—an imagined solution that became a successful technofeminist practice. Bumble can be thought of as a practitioner of anomaly in how it reframed swipe as a tool and the practices for swiping to create a more equal, equitable, situation for genders in dating environments. We find/replaced a little though in Bumble and wondered if it there could be a syzygistic element added to Bumble to further increase its technofeminist potential. We wonder if Bumble’s empathy would increase if it showed rejects as well as matches. Would the empathy of the user increase once confronted with the syzgistic feature of seeing those deemed “unattractive” or “unworthy” alongside those who received a right swipe? And what if the rejection pile reveals a larger number of one race over another, could that issue of systemic attraction be rectified with the syzgistic feature? Finding answers to these questions is a pataphysical exercise, an attempt to create technofeminist solutions regarding equitable treatment to those swiped left on, an attempt to increase the empathy of an already empathetic app.
Of course we understand there is more to technofeminist success than just a find/replace patagogy. Chamberlain, Gramer, and Hartline (2015-2016) note the gap between male and female representation in STEM is due to “the confidence gap,” which is caused by adolescent girls’ underestimating “their own abilities” and having “higher anxiety in science and technology.” To close this “confidence gap,” technofeminist theorists Almjeld and England (2015-2016) propose that mentorship may be the key in helping young women unlock their potential and help change their dispositions surrounding technology. Gorenstein (2010) argues similarly in her work equitable technology about a positive feminist disposition:
But what if a feminist agenda directed the process from the outset? An initial feminist agenda in the development of a technology requires more than that actor groups be advocates of or sympathetic to women’s social and political rights...instead of addressing industrial market goals first and those of a disadvantaged group second, the goals are addressed simultaneously. In feminist-agenda action, engineers, designers, manufacturers, and marketers of technology attempt to mitigate an aspect of gender inequity in the very places of inequity. (p. 211)
By trying to find and replace the default, to reveal the anomalous at the source, is something a find/replace ethic and patagogy could be a heuristic for. Find/replace can in fact help create positive dispositions by helping people feel agency in imagining the as if possibilities of technology.
As we have shown throughout our piece, the find/replace tactics of pataphysical disruption are both “how the tool uses you” and “how you use the tool.” They are about identifying and disrupting technology’s affordances and constraints as well as identifying and disrupting how the technologies are framed. In more words, find/replace tool and ethic are helpful technologies for disrupting the default actions of technolgy and for unsettling cliché, for unsettling ideologies and beliefs about technology. After all, “ideology is thus
practically pataphysical (differing from the bizarre science of Jarry only insofar as ideology must disavow its own imaginariness, forbidding and deliberate suspension of disbelief” (Bök, 2002, p. 100). And though pataphysics can certainly “enable ideology…the ruses of ‘pataphysics can also expose ideology, revealing it for the illusion that it is” (Bök, 2002, p. 100).
For us a patagogy, a pedagogy drawing on elements from pataphysics and using find/replace technologies, is technofeminist action. It asks people to practice thinking about the world in terms of the as if and as ifn’t instead of the default as is and as isn’t. Using find/replace is our simple way of using technology as feminists and practicing patagogy. While certainly there are ethical issues that may arise, unexpected pairings, and consequences that may not lead one to feminist practices, the goal is moving towards a better as if, to transforming the as is.
It could be worse. Yeah…but it could be better.
1. A syntagm is “the orderly combination of interacting signifiers which forms a meaningful whole” (Chandler, 2016). A paradigm “is the set of associated signifiers or signifieds which are all members of some defining category, but in which each is significantly different” (Chandler, 2016).
2. While it could be argued that Tinder has a higher frequency of trolls due to the stereotype of the subculture surrounding the app, we will not be discussing hookup culture or its side effects in this essay. Instead, we focus more on the technology and how Tinder differs from Bumble.
3. As Shattuck (1960) and Hugill (2012) observe, it becomes paradoxical to define pataphysics itself since it would then become a rule of application to all situations, rather than exception. Jarry's (1960) definition describes the rule well: “‘Pataphysics will examine the laws which govern exceptions, and will explain the universe supplementary to this one; or, less ambitiously, will describe a universe which can be--and perhaps should be—envisaged in the place of the traditional one, since the laws that are supposed to have been discovered in the traditional universe are also correlations of exceptions, albeit more frequent ones, but in any case accidental data which, reduced to the status of unexceptional exceptions possess no longer even the virtue of originality.” ( p. 131).
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