|Yolande Strengers and Jenny Kennedy||Auto-transcribed by reduct.video|
James Parker (00:00:00) - Okay, thanks so much, um, for taking the time to speak with us today. I mean, I just wondered if maybe you felt like introducing yourselves in whatever terms, um, feel right.
Yolande Strengers (00:00:11) - So I’m Yolande Strengers. I, I would, I would describe myself as a digital sociologist. I’ve sort of pivoted away from the cord social science disciplines in recent years and have now embedded myself and the faculty of it, and very much sort of working in human computer interaction, design space as well. And so I consider myself quite interdisciplinary as a, as a scholar.
Jenny Kennedy (00:00:39) - I am Jenny Kennedy and I’m a research fellow RMI T I am in the school of media and communications. I would call myself a major communication scholar. I, um, have a lot, I don’t know how to, I always get it’s weird, isn’t it. I always get really confused on how to describe myself because media and communications doesn’t often, it’s often really broad. It doesn’t say enough about what we are interested in. Um, I think when you say like I’m a digital sociologist, there’s something already descriptive in that, in terms of you’re interested in the, you know, the sociality of digital devices and media and data and how we engage with them all the time. Whereas media and communications can be, it can be the industry, it can be production, or it can be the type of thing I’m the most interested in, which is how we live with these devices that we have come to, um, just take for granted in our lives and put them under this massive bucket of media and communications from, you know, the, the laptops we browse on the phones we have in our pockets. And now the smart speakers that we bring into our homes as well. Okay.
James Parker (00:01:58) - And how is it that you ended up working together, um, as a digital sociologist and a media and communications scholar? I mean, and, and specifically on, on this idea of the, uh, you know, writing this book together, um, on this idea of the, the smart wife
Yolande Strengers (00:02:13) - We met at a conference, um, I was already, I think, aware of Andy’s work and we were, um, scheduled to be in the same and the panel together. And our work was very complimentary of both presenting on work that had been a longitudinal study of, of device take ups in the home from different angles. We had different, um, objectives in the projects we were doing, but the work we were presenting was both very much about how the kind of work that goes into operating devices in the home is divided up amongst individuals within the home and finding that that was very gendered. And so we started talking about the, of our work from our interest in that, from our work thinking, this was something we could do to combine the projects and see where it would go. And that very quickly snowballed into this fascination with this feminized, um, agent in the home and your land, you already had a very keen idea to write a book about it.
Jenny Kennedy (00:03:22) - And I got very easily roped in.
Yolande Strengers (00:03:25) - I think I was required to write a book about it because, um, the research I was doing was part of my DECRA and on the smart home. And, um, you know, as part of, as part of that project, I had a grade to write a book. So, but the book I thought I was gonna write was not a book that Jenny and I ended up writing, um, because that project was actually more about sustainability and energy effects and smart technologies, but the gender angle was just so big. And, you know, it wasn’t something that either Jenny or I had expected. So it wasn’t the focus about, about projects, which made it even more striking to, you know, for it to kind of stand up without a save and having been looking for it. Um, and then to kind of consider the broader implications of this gendered nigga coming into the home and also all these different gender interactions with these agents. And there was so much to explore and it seemed so significant at the time that it wasn’t being discussed at the level and the depth that it really should pay because you know, these devices are ubiquitous. Now the uptake of them, particularly digital voice assistance, as you would know, I think it has, or is about to surpass the smartphone, which is, which is really, you know, and that is quite significant when you think about the number of days feminized devices and, you know, coming into our homes, the scale and the pace without. Critical attention to what they’re doing and how they’re impacting and affecting their lives.
Joel Stern (00:04:59) - Um, could, could you sort of talk about the moment where you decided to call this feminized, divorce devices, smart wives, it, you know, and, and how you arrived at that, um, formulation and, and, and, and maybe just sort of, you know, introduce the idea of what is a smart wife, um, w w where does she come from, and, and what does she do? Well,
Yolande Strengers (00:05:21) - We’re not the first people to come up with a turn there have been other, uh, digital scholars and, um, media scholars who are associated with smart home with a type of wife figure. And in that smart home research that I was working on with another colleague, Melissa Nichols, we were talking about these devices as a type of wife replacement. And so that’s not why it was sort of a logical extension from that, but a much broader extension, because the way Jenny and I started to conceptualize it, it wasn’t just related to the digital voice assistant and some of the other kinds of devices to be cool appliances in the home that were doing those kind of agenda labor, the vacuuming, or the, you know, remembering the shopping list on the fridge from the smart fridge, that kind of thing. We sort of took it out a lot further and started to think about how pretty much any device you can think of that’s coming into the home robotic or smart is taking up these traditional and stereotypical white relaters. And that’s why we sort of decided to use this broad category of the term smartwatch to, to refer to all of this, this broad collection across a number of different spectrums and a number of different roles of what a traditional wife was expected to do,
Sean Dockray (00:06:36) - Maybe it’s worth, um, actually recapitulating some of those, those ideas of what the traditional wife means and what the traditional one feels expected to do.
Jenny Kennedy (00:06:47) - So, um, I guess, I mean, we did a fair amount of research into the history of the wife that I’m sure you’re familiar when you, when you start on a project, you’re not entirely sure what’s going to actually end up in the end product or project. And, you know, the, the history of the wife is, is fascinating in and of itself in terms of, um, you know, uh, an object of patriarchy of mal possession without autonomy often, um, without rights. And so we were looking at that very long history of, um, of the wife and its problematic, um, political history alongside all these, the archetype or ideals of the wife, and especially the ones that came to prominence in the fifties, the 1950s housewife as being one who, um, the home was her ideal domain. The home was also now this, it was this privatized space before the home had often been a site of both privacy and production, but then the home had become very much about, about the private space and the home, the source of the nuclear nuclear family.
Jenny Kennedy (00:08:09) - And so that was where the wife was located and it was her role to maintain the home, but also to provide any form of care to the family and especially to her husband, the ways in which this 1950s housewife was portrayed was just so beguiling often. And to the point where she’s never actually left popular consciousness, and we’ve even found that this ideal 1950s housewife is not only still present in our popular media, in our TV shows and our movies, but she also comes up in discussions from creators of smart home technologies and robotics. We just can’t get away from this ideal that I don’t think anyone ever truly lived up to.
Yolande Strengers (00:09:04) - to. I just wanted to add to that. And then the flip side of that in terms of the why’s, we were exploring the book is the contemporary wife in gender progressive societies. And we were very much inspired by it and about Kreb’s work on the wife drowns and, uh, how, uh, women in, you know, in Australia and in other, you know, similar kind of kinds of countries have, um, one wives, you know, because the wife is such a critic has been, and has continued to play such a critical role in holding the whole family together. And.
Yolande Strengers (00:09:39) - And so the smart wife is I guess, a market opportunity to put it functionally in a sense that she’s responding to this, this drought in contemporary societies, on this woman that was available to do all the things that Jenny just said. And obviously watch still exists, but they don’t typically have the time or ability to do all those roles that they should have came and performed, which provides an opportunity for technology to step in and potentially do some of that, that work for us and other things, just to mention that the wife is that we did also structure the book around the roles of the wife. So, um, we started, you picked up on this, but we, we go through four domains of widely labors in the home. So we look at housekeeping, um, caring and emotional labor. And then we looked at homemaking and finally sexual labor. And so we kind of actually look at all the technologies that are stepping in to the home, to do one or more of those things as well, which is another kind of way in which we bring the life into our discussion.
Jenny Kennedy (00:10:41) - And that’s one other thing to add to that as well, which is the history of the wife that is most dominant, is a white, middle-class why the history of nonwhite non-metal class wives is often very much missing from our social histories. And that’s one of the, the other, I guess, aspects of the smart, why is this idea of who gets to one who gets to have a wife, but who gets to have a smart wife, there are also inequalities in terms of the types of households that typically have the disposable income to incorporate these technologies into their homes,
James Parker (00:11:21) - Is the smart life, a technology or an idea or an ideology, or, you know, because I’m thinking about the, the, the really prominent role of cultural representations of the smart wife and your book, um, you know, from, uh, I can’t remember the name of the one in the Jetsons, but, um, Rosie. Yeah. They, you know, sort of really iconic, um, I don’t know, even if it’s an early portrayal, but it is a lot earlier than contemporary ones anyway, but you know, in, in so many films and media, you know, there’s a fantasy of the smart wife that seems to be driving so much of so many of these products, which are rubbish comparatively, you know, the smart wives that we actually get are not very smart. So, so what kind of a thing is the smart wife? Is it, you know, is it a technology, um, is it, uh, is an ideology, is it some kind of hybrid, um, how would you describe it as an object of analysis or politics?
Jenny Kennedy (00:12:24) - I like the idea of the Smart Wife being an ideology.
Yolande Strengers (00:12:30) - I think it was more that she was a, um, an ideal much like the 1950s house wife was an ideal in many representations across culture and also across technology, uh, as evidenced by robots like Rose and the maid, but also in actual real life robots that were designed in her image or to perform roles that she did. So I think she’s, she can be also a technology. And certainly we argue that in the book as well. It’s not maybe, maybe it’s not that she’s one thing will be other, but that she’s something that the industry and culture is aspiring towards as well as a physical representation coming about and being manifested in various ways.
James Parker (00:13:14) - So I wonder if we could direct the conversation a little bit towards digital voice assistance, smart speakers and so on, you know, that’s, that’s, you know, the, the motivation on our end for wanting to speak with you. I mean, on one level I’m cautious about kind of, you know, emphasizing, listening and voice too much because, you know, Listening and voice are always embedded in other histories, you know, so that the history of a digital voice assistant is not just in the voice and then the, you know, the Listening. So that’s really important, but I wonder if you could say something about, you know, what happens with the turn to the voice user interface, like, um, you know, could, could you maybe say something specific about the gender politics of digital voice assistants, like Siri and Alexa and others? And could you say, is it that the digital voice assistant sort of is a key moment in the history of the smart wife or that it, you know, proliferates it, or is it just one amongst many others and many other figures? Um, you know, how important, uh, is the digital voice assistant? And can you say something about it specific agenda politics?
Jenny Kennedy (00:14:25) - I think the, the introduction of digital voice assistance is a significant moment in terms of human machine interaction, in the sense of.The Swift uptake of these assistants, especially through devices that people were already familiar with. So the introduction of Siri through an iPhone that already has significant uptake, paves the way for other forms of voice assistance to come into the home, then you have the decision made by, um, by the, um, the organizations that produce these assistance to code them in ways that they are going to be most recognizable as female. And I think that that is, I mean, we talk also in the book about why, why that those decisions might be made around our, um, how we have been socialized to expect a supportive voice, to be female, how we’re more comfortable with female voices, but it’s still, there was still a decision being made to make these assistants, have a female voice and or a female name.
Yolande Strengers (00:15:43) - One of the things I wanted to add there was that what I think is really pivotable about the voice assistant is it’s its role in proliferating, uh, not only itself, so not only digital voice systems, but acting as a gateway technology for voice enabled devices and robots of many different forms and feminizing them. Uh, so, you know, we’re seeing now the voice of Alexa and Google home embedded in products that extend beyond their own range, their own, their own cylinders, and, you know, empowering or being used to power, a variety of other appliances and robots in the home as well. But also the technology that has enabled voice assistance is being now embedded into other forms of assistance or other forms of robots. Like the sex robots that we explore in the book has actually a lot of similarities in the, the voice, um, software and the voice activation. That’s now being included in these other types of feminized devices as well. So they seem to be this kind of linchpin in bringing about a mass feminization of so many different types of AI and robotics, not just can, you know, contained within their specific kind of niche markets where they started.
James Parker (00:17:00) - Okay. Could I ask sort of a follow-up on, on this idea of feminization in this context, you know, is the feminization the labor or the vocal character of the device, like, you know, obviously there’s been pushes towards, um, gender neutral voice assistance or, or just having the ability to choose a voice of your own, but is that what’s really, I mean, how, you know, how much of a part of the story is the voice of the voice assistant in terms of feminization?
Jenny Kennedy (00:17:30) - It’s just the voice, the feminized voice is just one aspect or layer of the feminization of these kinds of voice assistance. The other significant aspect that has been feminized is the types of care and the types of work these devices are put towards doing, um, because they are often performing forms of care and roles that are intrinsically linked to, uh, idealized as feminized in society. Um, but also, uh, typically undervalued as well.
Yolande Strengers (00:18:05) - And then the other aspect to it as well, is there a feminized personalities, as Jenny saying, you know, it cuts across so many layers, it’s definitely goes far beyond the voice. And actually that’s something we address extensively in the book is while we’re sympathetic to making these devices, gender neutral and to, you know, removing, you know, changing the voice or switching the gender of the voice, we don’t think that completely, completely solves a problem because of the roles these devices are intended to perform. And also because of the feminized personalities that they have, we don’t see a diversity of feminine attributes or feminine personalities on display. We see a very uniform type of femininity being put on show here. And that’s another thing that concerns us because it’s the kind of femininity that is compliant that is friendly, that is likable, that is, you know, ready to serve. And please, and of course there’s many other types of femininity and many would argue is where you do that. That’s actually quite an outdated idea of what women, how women should be uniformly behaving in society in today’s age. So there are many problems with the devices that extend beyond the voice.
Sean Dockray (00:19:18) - Um, I don’t know if it’s too, too much of a digression, but, uh, in the way that you were describing this history of the life leading into the Smart Wife, uh, and it reminded me of this kind of, you know, informal longstanding kind of, uh, balance of power or agreement between corporations in the state where, you know, in order to reproduce labor power, uh, the wife and the home become the kind of factory for, uh, reproducing workers. And, um, and you kind of hinted at that with the, with the acknowledgement that, um, you know, women, uh, have not been in re Muna rated for that work that they’ve historically done, particularly in that period from the fifties. Onwards. And in the smart wife in these devices, sort of taking on some of these care giving little aspects of, of caregiving, I guess, that that shifts the relationship. But one thing it does is it turns, uh, this uncompensated work into a service that we pay for. And I guess what I’m wondering is what happens to, we still need that same work to happen, right? People still there’s still care. That’s given that’s that actually helps in like, uh, allowing us to live and have an emotional life and all of these kinds of things. And I don’t think these devices are actually providing, even if they’re stepping into that role. Um, and so what’s happening to that, like, um, relationship between, I don’t know, like what, what’s the division of labor or something that’s happening in the household now between the, these devices, these smart wives and the actual, um, uh, reproduction of labor power that happens in the home? Um,
Jenny Kennedy (00:21:03) - No, I think, I think, I think you’re raising a really important point, which is how these device devices are part of larger capitalist structures that we bring into our homes. And there are also already divisions of labor within the home that are problematic and bringing these devices in as a presumed, um, solution to the conflicts around division of labor in the home. And they’re not, they’re not being able to live up to that ideal. And mostly it’s because they’re attempting to displace that labor rather than equalize it amongst the members of the household. And what often at the moment happens is Annabel Crabb, the book, um, inland you mentioned earlier, um, as Annabel Crabb talks about is that most of that care labor falls to women in the house when they’re in a heterosexual household. So by bringing devices in, it’s not actually, it’s not necessarily meaning that for the men and women in the home that they now perform an equal amount of labor.
Jenny Kennedy (00:22:12) - What often happens is, and this is, this is what came out of the research. And Andy and I were doing that brought us together. Was it often when the, when devices come into the home, one person in the household takes on the kind of curating managing, overseeing role becomes the tech expert. If they’re not already. And they are the ones who set up the devices who maintain the devices. And often, especially when you have a complex household that the operation of this interoperable system takes a fair amount of work. So instead what you end up having, having is instead of the care labors that are necessary to be done in the home being divided amongst everybody, you now have an additional set of labors required in the home. That is about the care of these devices. And it’s still not addressing the gap in terms of the intimate care labors that are required.
James Parker (00:23:11) - I just, I’ve just got this, um, this, this figure of like the Hi-Fi guy in my head, you know, as I’m listening to you. And then that suddenly makes me think, Oh, a smart speaker. It’s another kind of Hi-Fi for Hi-Fi guy.
Jenny Kennedy (00:23:29) - That’s it. That’s it.
Yolande Strengers (00:23:29) - What Jenny didn’t say there didn’t say there was that the digital labour that comes in with smart home technologies and networked devices, in our research at least and other studies as well, it’s more commonly falling to men, and that’s interesting as well. It’s actually quite an invisible labour in the sense that no stats on housework that we could find track this labour. So we commonly know that women do the majority of typical housework in a heterosexual couple. But there’s this new form of labour that’s coming in that could potentially change that. One of the things we were concerned about there was that if men are taking up more time taking care of devices in the home what does that mean for other labour in the home that needs to get done? That has traditionally fallen to women. Again, you haven’t necessarily reduced the labour with the smart wife. You’ve potentially created more and changed the dynamic again in the home and possibly not in a more equal way. So there’s a whole lot of labour politics there in terms of what these devices are meant to solve and what they may actually end up doing.
Jenny Kennedy (00:24:43) - Yeah, you’ve created another excuse for not doing the washing
Joel Stern (00:24:46) - Anecdotally. I can confirm that that has happened precisely in my household and we’re trying to work against it. But, um, the amount of time that I’ve spent recently, um, caring for the maintenance of the devices that I’ve brought into the home.Which sort of stopped functioning and then kind of have to be repaired and, and, and sort of, yeah, it’s a, it’s a disaster and has produced a lot more unnecessary labor and not necessarily equalized. It makes me think of another figure in your book. Um, resource man. And I was wondering actually, because the voice assistant in your book is, um, where you sort of pivot towards, you know, Amazon and the destruction of planetary systems, you know, capitalistic activism and so on. And you have a whole section in the book there on eco-feminism and the relationship between that discourse and, and the smart wife. So perhaps if there’s a way of drawing out, you know, link linking those stories together, um, that would be great.
Yolande Strengers (00:25:54) - Oh yeah. Resource man is, is similar to that digital housekeeping we were talking about in the sense that, uh, and this comes from my energy work with other colleagues. And what we were finding in that work is that there’s, again, typically one person and typically a man in heterosexual households who takes up the labor of sort of managing energy systems. If they have, you know, solar panels or, uh, energy feedback and monitoring systems or batteries, or, you know, kind of some of the more high-tech energy technology, that’s now coming into homes, automated system and stuff like that. But their efforts were often in vain to try and save energy or use it more efficiently, uh, because you know, other members of the household more or less did what they want when they wanted. And it was, I guess, the story of resource, man, it’s one of caution that, you know, just bringing smart technologies into the home doesn’t guarantee that you’re going to save energy.
Yolande Strengers (00:26:45) - And in fact, uh, in some cases it increases energy because these devices require energy themselves or, um, some automated systems, you know, allow you to do more than just save energy. They provide new conveniences and new, new lifestyle opportunities as well, that actually increased consumption. Uh, and I guess that’s part of a bigger story of a smart wife in that she is often entangled in these capitalist systems and the, the face or the voice of, you know, companies, huge, huge companies like e-commerce companies like Amazon, whose intention is to embed us in their markets and to sell people products. And most of the algorithms that these devices have are oriented towards those objectives. I mean, Google’s objectives are slightly different. They’re about, you know, they’ve data company, but Amazon is, is very much about e-commerce. Uh, and so, you know, the femininity there serves another purpose, the femininity of the devices that is, which is to, uh, make us comfortable with having a major corporation, you, our homes suggesting things that we should buy and should do.
Yolande Strengers (00:27:58) - And obviously it’s, it’s a relatively effective strategy. Maybe some would say a very effective strategy, uh, but not necessarily good for the planet or for many marginalized people. And, and this was also a turning point for our arguments around gender equality in the book, because, you know, Jenny and I were quite confronted with this, what we had, what we came to realize was that arguing for sort of more feminist smart wife may only serve the interests of, of white feminists and, you know, women like ourselves, for example, whereas there are many other women and other marginalized people in the world who are sort of entangled up in these systems of labor and environmental extraction and environmental waste that these devices depend on whose lives are unlikely to be served in any positive way by these systems expanding across the globe. So, um, yeah, it was, uh, a moment where we, we questioned whether the SmartLife was actually a good idea for anyone at all. And
James Parker (00:28:59) - How did you answer that question?
Yolande Strengers (00:29:02) - Well, we, we, we said that it wasn’t a good idea, uh, but that we recognize that, you know, two people writing a book about it was probably not going to stop, you know, five or six, or probably more like 10 or 20 companies around the world from making these devices all from the millions of consumers from buying them. So we, uh, we acknowledged that it was not a good system as it currently stands. And then the remainder of the book is really focused on what we can do to improve it.
James Parker (00:29:35) - It feels like that’s a stance we sort of increasingly have to take. I mean, in our own thinking around Machine Listening more broadly, you know, it’s a double bind where you have to say on some level, you know, I’m an abolitionist or, uh, or a lot of have a certain, you know, more positive Stripe than is often represented, but that just can’t be the, on the frontier of political action.
James Parker (00:30:00) - I mean, I feel like it’s possibly a little bit too early to get to the, sort of the normative project of the book. Um, but you, you are quite explicit about it, you know? So, um, the idea of producing a feminist smart wife is one of the horizons of the book, but you, you have like a whole number of sort of ways forward or routes forward out of this double bind that you, you mentioned. I wonder if it’s just, um, as a neat segue worth getting into some of them.
Yolande Strengers (00:30:30) - Yeah. So we have, we have nine proposals we end on in our
James Parker (00:30:34) - Not 10? It makes it fell more authentic, you know, if it’s nine.
Yolande Strengers (00:30:46) - Time for one more down the track. Um, and it’s interesting that you said they were quite specific. I mean, yes they are, but there are also proposals that are things to build on. They’re not like, you know, you must do this and you must do that. They’re ideas they’re, um, they’re meant to be inspirational. And they’re meant to sort of get people thinking about different angles of how we could sort of approach and explore this and, and improve the current situation. Yeah. And, and they, they, they all explore quite different aspects, really. Some of the, about the design and how we, you know, we created a smart wife, how we design a feminist smart life and others are about the industry and, and what we do to get more women into coding and it, but also how we actually change what the it disciplines are. And to bring more social sciences into the design of artificial intelligence and think about them as social projects and social designs, not just technical ones. And then others are about how the devices are represented in the media and how they’re also developed in science-fiction and popular culture and how those provide inspiration for the roboticists and, and the versions that we see in our home. So we, we, I think they’re quite far ranging in terms of the, the areas that we go to and how we can improve the current situation.
James Parker (00:32:03) - Could you, could you say, for instance, what it means, what it might mean to queer the smart wife
Jenny Kennedy (00:32:08) - To queer the smart life we’re talking about trying to get away from the very narrow idea of femininity that the smart wife currently is portraying to them. Um, and to think more about what other forms of feminine too, there might be. So this idea of the smart wife, always being softly spoken or polite or subservient, maybe she can be a little bit more boisterous or, um, affirmative and can do so in ways that are still positively feminine. Whereas often what we come to do is attribute certain, um, associate certain attributes, either negatively or positively with femininity. This also ties into this idea of, we need to see smart wives perhaps in like in popular culture or in devices that are the, just giving us more range. And that are not part of the current heterosexual construct of their subservient, 1950s housewife
Yolande Strengers (00:33:24) - And queering. We do talk about currying femininity mainly, but we also talk about querying more broadly in terms of, you know, all genders, you know, potentially being part of this, this story. And, you know, and there is a part of the book where we look at a number of, uh, feminine robots, boy bots, and also kind of more cartoon inspired or animal inspired robots as well. But again, it quite similar in the cuteness and in their, um, the form of femininity or FMI femininity that they, they portray. And so even there, we, we think there’s an opportunity to queer, not just the forms that we’re seeing, but also yeah, the personalities. And it doesn’t mean that they all have to be evil and destructive and rude. Uh, there are there, you know, there are many different types of people that we interact with in our lives. Why is there only one type of personality repeated over and over again, and the types of technologies we interact with?
Sean Dockray (00:34:30) - Hmm. That’s a great question. Earlier, when you were, when you were kind of talking about the, the, the attempts to like, sort of cement into our relationship with, with Amazon, I was thinking about the ways in which the devices kind of prepare the young generation to enter into the market and that relationship with these big services and some thinking obviously of children. And since we’re like at this point in the conversation where we’re thinking about ways forward, I just wanted to ask you to talk a little bit about the, this relationship between children and the devices. You sort of mentioned that in the promotional material, you know, that they’re often shown answering children questions and.
Sean Dockray (00:35:08) - Yeah, that’s clearly how they’re, how they’re sort of used. But I was wondering if you could both talk about the relationship that children have to these devices and also imagine or reflect on whether actually some of these strategies that you’re talking about about possible ways forwards might be particularly relevant for, for, um, kids who are, I think are quite open to other ways of thinking and being, and living. So
Jenny Kennedy (00:35:34) - I think one of the, one of the things around the idea of children using these devices is that children are very open to the possibilities of these devices. They are quick to assimilate them into their day to day lives and they do so from the perspective they have as true children, which is, this is, this is kind of a toy or something fun or something I can engage with, but what they don’t have is the critical thinking around what type of ecosystem this device is part of and how their way of kind of engaging with it is actually forming a data profile on themselves that they are not yet able to take ownership of. So children engaging with, um, with devices, listening and learning to sleep to them. Um, so today my daughter managed to tell Google how to turn the TV on. I haven’t explicitly told her the command on how to get the TV turned on, but she’s been listening to me, engaging with Google and over time practicing, I was encouraging her to go outside and play and she stormed off inside say, I want to watch tele.
Jenny Kennedy (00:36:53) - And I stayed outside thinking, this is fine, cause she won’t fail to turn it on. I’ve got my phone with me, but I came in 15 minutes later to her sitting very smugly on the sofa because she had to given the command to Google and it had finally responded. So there’s a quick to become. Children are quick to become familiar with these devices in their home when they see adults engaging with them to, and see them as being potentially useful. But they’re not fully aware of what they’re engaging with. And also they’re not yet familiar with what the limitations of what they’re engaging with. Uh, so they, you know, understanding that how it’s connected into perhaps different devices or how the Google, your, or Alexa that you’re speaking to on your smart device is the same Google that you using on your smartphone. For example,
Yolande Strengers (00:37:54) - That’s also something that we explore in the book is the research that shows how, uh, children are, um, less likely to be able to distinguish between a computer that’s like a human and a real human. So that was another concern of ours is, or is another concern of ours is, is how, you know, if children are again only seeing this one form of femininity and early and are interacting with it on a regular basis just as they are with other members of their household, what effect is that going to have on them in terms of how they save women? Because you know, most of the engaging with these devices, with the feminized feminized voice, unless you actively choose to change it on some devices and you want that, what is that going to mean for the way that they then interact with, with other people? Uh, because if they’re not making that distinction between machine and human, then it’s all kind of one in the same learning process. Uh, so that’s, um, another issue that we raised
Jenny Kennedy (00:38:55) - And children also, uh, they’re seeing that the device will do what you’ve asked it to do, regardless of how politely you ask it, which is another crucial aspect of that. Not being able to differentiate between words and they’re talking to a device or to a human they’re not learning the repercussions of inappropriate social interactions.
James Parker (00:39:19) - Yeah. Well, when my son tries to, he typically wants to get the phone to show him pictures of poor patrol. You just escalate, like when it doesn’t understand, he just starts shouting at it. I mean, that’s probably, he probably gets that from other places too, but actually, but it makes me think of, so one of the things that, you know, we’re interested in in terms of the politics and Machine Listening is both the politics of when Machine Listening works and the politics of when it doesn’t work. And that’s, uh, you know, there’s a whole chapter in your book about this theme. You know, one of the problems with smart wives is.
James Parker (00:39:55) - That they work too well, and they offer too seductive a, a figure of, of domestic labor that, you know, normalizes and entrenches a sort of a regressive four, uh, uh, idea of, of womanhood, um, or domestic labor. But another problem is that they stuff up all the time and it’s not just, um, um, miscomprehension but other things too, in, in, in, in the book, you talk about provocatively bitches with glitches. And I just wondered if you could elaborate a little bit on that idea, what you think the politics are of the failure of the smart way.
Jenny Kennedy (00:40:33) - I think we’re going to get t-shirts printed with the slogan bitches with glitches. It seems to be a very popular title. Um, capitalism, why not? Um, I think the bitches with glitches, I think it brings together so many of the things that we’re talking about about this very limited idea of how feminized this feminized idea of the smart wife should be behaving and how quickly we are to turn when it doesn’t do what we expect it to do, but also the way in which then we discuss that or talk about that. So it becomes very gendered the language. We don’t talk about a technology failing. We talk about a feminine entity failing and use gendered descriptive terms as to how that technology has faded. So there are, you know, one of the examples we talk about is a robotic device Cleo, who is an LG device, who has a malfunction during a, um, a tech show.
Jenny Kennedy (00:41:41) - And instead of saying, you know, there was a malfunction and the device didn’t respond, the device is it said that the device was giving the male presenter, the silent treatment as the, you know, this kind of idea of, you know, this, the wicked femininity that it’s not the technology. That was the problem. It’s the very kind of feminine essence of the technology. That was the problem. So that’s one aspect of bitches with glitches is the way in which any, um, limitations of the technology is reframed as kind of this wicked femininity. But then the other aspect of the bitches with glitches is the way in which these technologies can provoke Berry gendered violence, basically in terms of abusive language, insults sexual comments, because they’re subservient personalities, but are not able to stand up against any kind of abuse.
Yolande Strengers (00:42:46) - We liken that to, um, the everyday sexism movement and other sort of similar campaigns that have called out, you know, uh, abuse and small infringements as Laura Bates, I think calls it, uh, that, uh, that are gendered and, and directed at women and, and, and make the link, uh, in terms of not obviously in terms of direct abuse to women, because obviously it’s a piece is directed towards devices, but certainly feeding into that culture, that everyday sexism culture, which is, is very much gendered and questioning what impact that might have then on broader society where, you know, on mass or going around and providing gendered comments that aren’t very appropriate or friendly to our feminized devices. We’re also concerned about the irony here, really because the industries that these technologies are coming out from all of their male dominated industries, you know, particularly the frontiers of technology, we see, you know, the highest numbers of men.
Yolande Strengers (00:43:50) - So it’s actually men designing and programming these technologies mainly on the whole, and yet when they go wrong, we’re blaming the feminized technology, which is Eddie’s quite all really, but also kind of quite unfair when you think about it, because women are essentially getting blamed for something that is not, you know, the responsibility of that gender. And then again, sort of is feeding into this culture of women being slightly imperfect and glitchy, whereas kind of diverting the attention away from the people who are designing and making these technologies. We also talk about how, uh, in the media, this is also, this also happens and we talk about headlines that actually, uh, blame the devices and, and, you know, it has comic value and it’s quite entertaining to say, Oh, Siri needs to wash your mouth out with soap and water, because, you know, she’s says all this racist, dirty stuff, but in a way that again, just reinforces our point. That is sort of blaming these feminized.
Yolande Strengers (00:44:50) - Entity or device rather than saying, well, the programmers who, you know, have created algorithms that are racist and sexist, they need to have a hard look at the technology they’re designing. So it extends beyond the interactions in the home. It’s also about the ways that we’re discussing these devices in the media and in popular culture as well.
Joel Stern (00:45:11) - I was really glad that you proposed, um, sort of feminist coding and, and, um, you know, women programmers as one of the reboots as one of the sort of necessary rebids and, and actually, um, girls who code that they are located in the same building as, as liquid architecture where I work in, in Collingwood at Collingwood art precinct. Um, I was sort of wondering if I could ask him a more sort of speculative question about where you sort of see this going in the coming years, whether you’re kind of optimistic that these kinds of feminists re re boot of the voice assistant is possible. And, um, you know, and also with relation to coding, uh, a voice assistant that has been programmed by girls, by women, for women or for you, you know, but what would it sound like? What would it do? And, you know, the kind of, I think that we, uh, um, likely to see, um, that kind of thing happens soon
Yolande Strengers (00:46:15) - Is actually already a lot of inspirational work happening in this space in terms of how we might design more feminists or just better devices and smart wives for our homes. And there’s already, you know, a move in the industry to hire anthropologists and sociologists and other social scientists and bring them into the design phase and, and really start to think about gender issues. So there is positive change happening, I think, but unfortunately, a lot of it’s also quite superficial and, you know, it’s, it’s about sort of just like, we’ve been talking about neutralizing the voice or changing the voice and saying, okay, we fixed the problem now. And so, you know, let’s not worry about the gender question anymore, whereas the issues we’re raising in the book go much further than that. And in terms of looking at the personality and the devices, we’re bringing into homes and also the roles that they’re intended to perform and how that in turn, then changes and displaces and disrupts the, um, agenda labor that already exists in homes and society.
Yolande Strengers (00:47:14) - So there are, there are many deeper layers to go is what I would say there. And I think, uh, there are, as I said, a number of people who are starting to do that work and some great examples out there in terms of what it would look like. Well, hopefully it would be really diverse. I mean, that, that’s where we didn’t put prescriptions in. It was, you know, that’s where the whole concept of queering is about broadening and diversifying and moving beyond the very uniform types of products that we currently have on the market and experimenting and being playful and coming up with different personalities and ideas. I don’t think it’s that we need to design the one ultimate perfect smile. One, if it’s actually that we need, if this market’s going to exist, you know, we need to diversify it and diversify the personalities and the agendas and, you know, the forms that we’re seeing in our homes and also the labor’s and the roles that they’re intended to perform. And also having a fairly serious think about whether they are a good idea, and if they are going to come in, you know, what other impacts I might be having. So it’s quite a far reaching set of questions and considerations, I think in terms of how the industry moves forward here. And, um, that’s why we did put forward so many different proposals to kind of look at this from a number of different angles.
Jenny Kennedy (00:48:31) - I can just say that I fully concur with what your client is saying. Um, I think that we are moving in the right direction and the fact that there is a market for this book is an indication that these are ideas that are starting. We’re not the only ones who are looking at the current smart home industry, thinking something has to give here. Something has to change that there needs to be more diversity. And we are seeing initiatives, maybe not to the scale we want to see, but I think the broader social currents happening in society right now indicate that they should get better. And I am an eternal optimist at heart. And I also agree in the, we don’t yet know what this looks like. And that’s for very good reason, because the hope is that it’s not going to be one of the very few options we have available to us right now. There’s going to be more than one option and all that optimistic.