Stitching a Patchwork of Presence in Digital Place (2020)


In my last love letter to you I spoke about the stitching-as-community-building that we do across timezones and geographies in the space of our digital screens.  I used the metaphor of the everyday patchwork wrapping cloths made by women in Korea, who craft their “bojagi” from collections of discarded, overlooked and unused pieces of cloth, as a way to visualize how we craft our community – a digital patchwork made from “the collective scraps of intersecting concerns that structure the continual becoming of our group. Our digital bojagi is wrapping presence with each other, resisting the privileging of standard modes of authorship, rather, embracing acts of embodied co-creation – this is the way we build trust in transnational networks”.  This is the structural metaphor for the design of one of the tech platforms we created for world-making and well-being – Media Map and where we gathered together in May, 2019 to share our first letters.  We continue to create this digital patchwork from our situated and distributed places of living, through the act of being present, through the act of coming together periodically and often in asynchronous and piecemeal moments of time, when this act is as simple as adding a thread to a conversation in Slack.  This way of flocking together, in pieces, in small moments, has crafted itself into a greater whole comprising different patterns of presence over the past five years, patterns that express our community’s history, connecting the bits and pieces of what’s been happening in our lives into something that sustains us.  The way we craft our community with digital thread acknowledges the lineage of expression by diverse craftswomen including the narrative quilts made by artists such as Faith Ringgold whose quilts are “a tangible bond between present and past” and vehicles for telling community stories, connecting bits and pieces of life-stories into a whole. (1)  Each moment, each way that we flock together in digital place is a stitch and a trace that we add to our distributed community, in order to keep the connections in place.  

This flocking, this stitching in digital place has become even more precious and perhaps more precarious during the time of coronavirus.  Precarious because as we now spend so much of our time in front of screens, struggling and stretching to engage and be engaged with our students, institutions, and social lives, what does it mean to sustain ourselves using these neoliberal technologies whose relentless demands often seem at odds with the nurturing of body and spirit?  Precious because I find that being present with our community means even more during these times of deep anxiety and uncertainty.  Technology is a tool we may use to connect across our kitchen table but what sustains us is our collective presence expressed in the bits and pieces of our lives collectively shared, in stolen moments on different platforms we use agnostically as a means to keep our community in touch, especially now in these touch-less times.  This digital witchcraft works not so much through the technology itself but through the intent of conscious care and nurturing cast between us.

(1)  Dunn, Margaret M., and Ann R. Morris. “Narrative Quilts and Quilted Narratives: The Art of Faith Ringgold and Alice Walker.” Explorations in Ethnic Studies 15, no. 1 (January 1, 1992): 27–32, 27.

You’re just in time!


This letter was harder to write than I imagined it would be. How do I write a love letter to you? How do I succinctly and affectively communicate what you mean to me and why you mean so much to me? How do I translate into words what is it that we DO? How do I ensure I do what we do justice with this letter? How do I ensure that the love I feel for you manifest materially along these lines? I am spiraling. I am anxious. I am letting external measuring criteria confine us. I am judging instead of loving. I am deviating from us. Let me try again.

This is a love letter to you. You, SCRAM, are a place to me. A place made up by familiar faces, warm bodies, affective energies, chill screens, visiting pets, connected signals, visual cues, shared locations, broken interfaces, generous intellects, cold drinks, vivacious laughter, confused looks, intimidating circumstances, horrifying stories, caring words, and time spent. You are a place in time, where I spent a lot of time, and a place where I want to spend more time. Time, and time again.

Like those times. I am reminded to think and speak primarily to you, and you alone. Like those times, when you showed me that it is each other and the people we hold and carry by extension that makes our work matter. Like those times, when you taught me how to make the disembodied structures work for our survival instead of the other way around. Like those times, when I joined our scheduled meeting late because of other obligations and I was feeling completely annoyed at myself for not meeting the expectations of time keeping I have internalized and held for myself, I was not met with contempt but instead smiles. Like those times, when you told me, “you’re just in time!”

What does it mean to be just in time? What happens when we’re not in time? Time is a commodity. Time is measured to calculate our outputs. Time is managed to maximize production. Time is used to evaluate our worth. Time is a technology that is used to organize us and that we use to organize ourselves. We use this technology to project scripts for how we ought to or should orient ourselves from one moment to the next. It is a narrative we write to bridge past, present, and future. When combined with other technologies that prescribe priorities for capital accumulation and circulation, time is most often an internalized parameter for disciplining our bodies to serve. But the question is, serving what and whom?

I admit, I didn’t and don’t always use time to serve you, me, or us. I have come to realize how much I am bounded by time, or perhaps the lack thereof. I am scared, a lot of the times. I am scared of standing out when I interrupt the room full of people for arriving late. I am scared that my brother will wither away there while I am lost trying to find my way here. I am scared that I am doing this wrong. I am scared that one semester is not enough to convince my students that representation in games does matter. I am scared that I am a traitor for spending time over here instead of over there. I am scared of that tenure clock that keeps ticking while I can’t get words out onto pieces of paper. I am scared that I am not working hard enough and fast enough to stop harm from happening. I am scared that I am working too hard and too fast that harms. Most importantly, I am scared that I am not using enough time to serve those I love and believe in, like yourself.  

What does it mean to be just in time? More importantly, what does it mean to be told that you’re just in time when other markers of time indicate otherwise? It provides validation for one’s presence and that presence alone. It disregards other preconceived notions about time to emphasize the present. It stops time in the sense that it disentangles time from other technologies that we devise to serve an ambiguous end. It recenters time to serve the bodies that are present. It calls our attention to recognize that we made it to share this moment in time and this time is not a given. Instead, it is a present. It is a present we keep on giving each other. It demands us to forgo previous expectations, disciplined responses, and internalized critiques about time to consider what we want to and could do with this found time. We made it! Yes, and?


Note: Written while thinking about you and Wajcman, J. (2015). Pressed for time: The acceleration of life in digital capitalism. University of Chicago Press.

A Love Letter to SCR+M


In case you all didn’t know this. I freaking love you.

It’s been several years now, since we all found each other through FemTechNet … and I’m so glad I did. I think I remember being recruited to the network by Liz Losh in 2013 when I was a postdoc at UCLA. I was in an Asian American studies department and in a transnational studies postdoc program where no one did digital stuff. I was living in the Valley. All of my friends were really far away.

Frankly, I was pretty miserable.

In many ways FemTechNet gave me something to cling to. Maybe it was the same for you? I think we all, as women and non-binary folx of color, found ourselves in what was then the “Ethnic Studies Committee”, which later became the “Critical Race and Ethnic Studies Committee”, and then later transformed into our little haven, “SCR+M”.  Even at its peak, there were never that many of us who regularly met in that group, and in a network of hundreds (over 2,000 if you count the members of our Facebook group), we’re the only ones remaining. We’re the ones who show up.

Every two weeks. We meet in virtual space—a Bluejeans room provided by the University of Michigan that feels like the swankiest virtual conferencing space because it was a virtual conference provided by the University of Michigan—from our respective time zones in California, Arizona, Texas, Minnesota, Michigan, South Africa, Singapore, Taiwan, wherever we are. For almost all of us, we’re the oddball “other” in our units, departments, or institutions. That one BIPOC woman or gender non-conforming person interested in race, gender, sexuality, and technology. This Bluejeans room is where we gather to plan talks, write projects, mastermind grant applications, conference proposals, digital projects; to share the latest drama in our lives, to squeal over the newest puppy, or to complain about the weather.

These meetings are where we’ve engaged in what we’ve come to call, “hang-based pedagogy.” We like each other. We love each other. We trust each other. The collective learning and teaching we engage in together only happens through intentional sharing of time and space. To facilitate this hang-based pedagogy, we conspire to find ways to unite in person and produce teaching resources and scholarship—these are the things we have been able to leverage to bring us together, in person, at conferences and symposia. This is how we survive the academy, a system that would cannibalize us and our work if given the chance. This is the method to our “survival praxis.”

In the end, we’re the ones left to transform the network, break it, reorient it, and reshape it into the organization we need and want it to be. We keep coming back to the network that others grew out of or didn’t have the time or capacity to continue with. It perhaps started out of necessity because we needed the support network, the space to vent, but the work we’ve accomplished, the way we work, and the innovative ways in which we get this done (READ: hacking platforms and resources beyond their original intent) speak volumes about our commitments and politics:

I will bullet point four of those commitments here:

  1. We make decisions based on our needs, our abilities and capacities, and we do it with consensus, and not because of external pressures placed on us by others (our institutions, funders, our mentors, etc.)
  2. We moved FemTechNet’s summer workshop to the Allied Media Conference in Detroit as a single-day Network Gathering –transitioning away from traditional academic conferences and venues and into an open, inclusive, community-centered, collective environment that explicitly names its commitments to the racialized, gendered, class-based struggles of the people of Detroit.
  3. We diversified our funding structures beyond traditional institutional funding to support our work. 100% of this credit goes to Alex, who helped us reimagine fundraising as a commitment to each other and to the struggle by  hacking the Honeyfund.
  4. We reframed our own history, narrative, and archive through our bojagi MediaMap to produce a non-linear, selective, subjective archive of SCR+M that highlights those moments and achievements that are important to us.

Like the network itself, and the map, we are a work in progress. We will change as we change and grow. We’ll make mistakes. We’ll figure stuff out. But, we’ll do it together, and we’ll do it with love.

So, SCR+M friends. I’m proud of us. I love you all and I’m looking forward to breaking stuff and building things together for a long time yet.