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Cathy Davidson introducing keynote speaker Sasha Costanza-Chock at HASTAC 2023. Photo credit: Margaret Rhee

This past weekend, 500+ individuals came to beautiful Pratt Institute in Brooklyn to participate in the 20th (ish) anniversary conference for an organization I cofounded and have directed or co-directed for twenty (long, long . . . ) years. 20 years! When we began HASTAC (called, a trifle annoyingly, “Haystack” by those who know), we had no idea how long there would even be a need for a lose, user-generated, academic social network dedicated to serious creative, critical thinking about and with technology. Certainly in 2002 or 2001 (cofounder Anne Balsamo turned up minutes to a meeting even earlier than the first website and earlier than its name!), we knew–absolutely–that technology, without critical thinking and creative, nonprofit, socially-equitable development, would run amok. We envisioned and advocated that every computer science and computer engineering program would require–yes require–some serious study and maybe even certification in the ethical, socially responsible development of technologies.

Well, that didn’t happen. And HASTAC, twenty years on, is more necessary than ever, as is serious certification in the ethical, social implications of the powerful technology one is developing and deploying.

For those who do not know: HASTAC is an acronym that stands for “Humanities, Arts, Sciences, and Technology Alliance and Collaboratory.” At one point, it was “Advanced Collaboratory” because our first funding came from the “Advanced Collaboratory” initiative at the National Science Foundation. The inimitable Ruzena Bajscy, then Director of the Infrastructure Division of NSF, invited us to come and gave us our first organizational funding. A “collaboratory” is a center without walls, without institutional barriers, without disciplinary obstacles. So we have been, for 20 years, never charging dues and never, ever using, abusing, misusing, selling, or even giving away our community’s private data. We’ve been supported by institutions, foundations, grants, and hours and hours of volunteer labor. NSF has dubbed us “the world’s first and oldest academic social network.”

Maybe. It’s possible. In any case, more than 500+ scholars, profs, teachers, librarians, students, and artists–mostly digital artists of one kind or another–came together, 20 years on. So I guess we’re still relevant. Technologies potential perils are greater than ever.

The photograph accompanying this blog post was taken on June 9, 2023, as I delivered some of the introductory remarks (along with HASTAC Co-Director Jacque Wernimont) before a rousing, important speech on design justice by trans activist, author, and designer Sasha Costanza-Chock. Twenty years on, Sasha’s message was the one with which HASTAC began: if we don’t intentionally design technologies with justice and equity as a goal, we will end up with technologies designed to rob, manipulate, exploit, marginalize, and hurt us. Yes.

20 years. HASTAC keeps on keeping on.

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Cathy N. Davidson

Cathy N. Davidson

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