In the PIT practitioner world we are a little bit removed from the emerging PIT academic world. So speaking with Deb Donig at Cal Poly gave me a really great view into the academic side of PIT. Ever since that conversation I have been thinking a lot about how we might be able to move the conversation about the ethical considerations of public interest technology beyond academia and into practice.
There are already a number of people doing this work, but usually when you are building something in the public sector, it is already a lot to just get the thing built in a way that helps real people, you don’t always have the luxury of thinking about how something might be used down the road. But that is a critical piece of the PIT puzzle. It was really thought provoking to spend time exploring these issues on the Technically Human podcast .
If we weren’t in the middle of a crisis I would write my own witty copy for this, but between trying to help with the pandemic response in different ways, pointing out where and why the response isn’t working, and living through the pandemic, there is no longer enough time in my days for witty copy. The short version is that I was on a podcast talking about the latest piece I wrote for Fast Company.
“The public sector is scrambling to address the massive public health and economic crisis driven by the COVID-19 pandemic. As policymakers and bureaucrats at all levels of government have sought to ameliorate harm and spur an effective response, the performance of many government programs and systems—in terms of meeting demand for fast changes, increased use, and more flexible operations—has been rocky at best. New legislation designed to provide trillions of dollars in relief has met, at least initially, with several challenges that may be reducing the speed and effectiveness of intended aid. Hana Schank joins to discuss why the rollout of relief has been a challenge, the roots of the public sector’s struggle to deliver aid more effectively, and what Congress and other policymakers can do to improve future performance.”
We’ll be Solid State Books on June 28th, discussing THE AMBITION DECISIONS with Rebecca Rosen, Senior Editor at The Atlantic (who edited the original Ambition Interviews series). Read more about the event >>
ParentMap is running a series on how women think about ambition, inspired by The Ambition Decisions. For their first piece, they interviewed me on ambition, writing, parenting, and my ground-breaking decision not to send back the MANDATORY school communications survey this year. Read the whole interview>>
THIS is how happy Liz and I were to see our galleys last week. If you know me you know I’m not much of a smiler, but even I couldn’t contain my excitement at seeing the physical manifestation all of those weekend writing sessions, late-night interviews, and over three years of work. I’m so thrilled that this book will be in readers’ hands soon – I’ll be posting updates here as we near publication.
I’m so pleased to announce that The Ambition Interviews, a seven-essay series on women, work and ambition is live on The Atlantic. This was a labor of love, undertaken with my college friend and fellow writer Elizabeth Wallace. It took us two years and countless smoothies, coffees and hours to interview nearly 40 extremely busy women, categorize the content and write up our findings. Here’s hoping the result provokes some interesting conversations.
Just a note to say that I haven’t fallen off the face of the earth. I’ve been working on some longer pieces, which will be out shortly… stay tuned!
Last week I published an essay in Salon on how I’d come around to casting my vote for Hillary Clinton because in her journey I recognized my own. I’ve had pieces go viral before, but nothing like this. My best friend from third grade emailed to say she’d seen the piece. People started emailing my parents. The article so far has received thousands of comments and hundreds of thousands of shares. Two people who are not US citizens, who don’t live in this country, emailed me about the essay. Out of this overwhelming response I’ve realized two things.
- Women who work in technology read this essay as a story about what it’s like to be a woman in an industry that, frankly, makes it difficult to be a woman. I hadn’t thought of the essay that way when I wrote it – I saw it more as my personal journey from someone who believed we lived in a post-sexist world to one who understands that of course sexism is alive and well, it just looks different. I haven’t worked in an industry other than tech so i can’t speak to other industries, but I will say that the emails from the other women (and a few men) in tech are especially meaningful. They make me realize that I’m not alone, which I knew on some level but now I understand the scope and breadth of the problem, and I see that not only am I not alone, I’m surrounded by a tidal wave of women who have also felt devalued, overlooked, and occasionally stomped on. And while I love knowing that it’s not just me, obviously that knowledge is also gut-wrenchingly depressing.
- Personal essay is a powerful medium. This might sound obvious, but essayists are constantly being criticized for being self-involved navel-gazers. I don’t think I’ve ever published an essay where someone didn’t comment something like “This author needs to worry about more important things,” or “This is a bunch of worthless nonsense.” But the truth is that I write personal essays because I want to give voice to the issues I see around me. These essays may have the aura of a diary entry, but the hope is that I can use the lens of my life to help make sense of the world, and that by extension that will help others to make sense of their own lives, or their own worlds. That may sound grandiose, but I don’t think too many people write essays simply because they want to hear themselves type. The ultimate hope is to get people talking, thinking, and ultimately to elicit change. I don’t know if my essay will change anyone’s vote — and my intention wasn’t to change votes, because I understand that different things are important to different people — but I do hope it will let other women know they’re not alone, that we’re not living in some kind of post-sexist utopia, and that it’s okay to stand up and scream loudly.
For a recent article for GOOD’s Project Literacy section, I got the chance to speak with people around the world who are working to help educate visually impaired kids. As the mother of a child who is visually impaired, I don’t think I’ve ever felt as grateful to live in the United States as I did after speaking with two incredible women in Senegal. The cultural expectation there is that if you have a child who is legally blind, that child will not leave the house. Ever. It’s shameful, that you’ve produced such a child, and as a courtesy to others you don’t let them look on your offspring. Eventually, the child will go on to beg in the street.
This was aid so matter-of-factly by the two women I interviewed who work with visually impaired kids in Senegal that I had to ask them to repeat it. “The kids grow up to do what?” I asked. And then when one of them said it again and the other confirmed it, I needed a moment to collect myself. How lucky I am to be spending my days reminding my daughter’s teachers that she needs to use her iPad (which incidentally, is paid for by the city of New York) instead of concealing her from the world.
After I processed this information, I felt like an asshole asking about what kinds of technology the kids, who are now attending school only after their parents have been convinced that they can do more than panhandle, are using in school. But, hey, journalism.
“They sit in the front of the class,” one of the women told me. They also use extra dark pencils. Sometimes they get glasses to help improve their vision. I’ve never been to Africa (unless you count a few touristy parts of northern Africa) but I got the sense that these children are not only going to school in a different country, they’re going to school in a different time. How lucky I am, and how lucky my daughter is, to live in a place where we are aware enough to know that she can grow up to do nearly anything. Except become a fighter pilot or a sharpshooter. How ungrateful I am to ever feel one ounce of pity for her or her situation. And how unfair the world is, that my daughter and a six year old half way around the world with the same disability can lead such radically different lives.
A few weeks ago Longreads picked up my story on the lack of women in chess, which led to the article appearing in the New York Times Now app. Since this was my first foray into combining personal essay with heavy reporting, this was pretty exciting.
So I was thrilled when they also ran an excerpt of my Kindle Single, THE EDGE OF NORMAL, last week. I’ve been a fan of Longreads for a while now (and if you haven’t read them you should check them out – they find terrific stories from all corners of the web) so it was a mini dream come true to see my e-book on there.
The excerpt is titled In the Grand Scheme of Things.