I am really looking forward to catching up on what the Young Rewired State teams produced during the 2011 event, which happened in the first week in August (search for hashtag #yrs2011 on Twitter). Teams of young people (“young” = under 18 years old) at a number of locations did some great things with open data in the space of a few days. The youngest – the team of under-10s in Ipswich – coded a game (video about it by mentor Pixelh8 aka Matthew C Applegate), and produced my favourite quote of the event thus far: “Oops! I just destroyed a county!”
Although I have not yet seen the outcomes of all the projects, I think that the mentors must have been as impressive as the Young Rewired Staters. Harry Harrold of Neon Tribe was modest when some of us congratulated him on being a mentor to the team working at the Norwich centre who won the ‘Best in show’ prize (see image above).
However, I think that it takes some special people to organise things so that young people are enabled to do these projects. I suspect that apart from providing a space congenial to working on digital projects, believing that the youngsters can actually do it is part of the magic. The mentors also did other very practical things. For example, I saw a number of calls go out on Twitter for information or data that others in the digital community could contribute. Obtaining and giving people the tools, then standing back a bit and letting them get on with it, is not an easy thing to do.
Of course I am biased in favour of Young Rewired State because I know, like and admire some of the people (the over-18s) involved in the project, including, of course, Emma Mulqueeny (aka @hubmum). I have met a few of the past Young Rewired Staters at other events. I think that Young Rewired State is an excellent event and tell other people about it. It is a great idea to give young people an opportunity to work with real data, learn some new things, have fun; and to meet other young people with whom they have something in common.
I have also taken part in a Rewired State event myself: Rewired Culture. It was great to spend time with people who did not back away with uneasy (or even fearful) expressions on their faces at the mention of structured metadata, controlled vocabularies and information standards in heritage.
Before Young Rewired State 2011, I noticed tweets from the various mentors and other organisers about needing to get more girls involved. This was something that we had noticed last year. I am not sure how many girls there were this year, but I do know that some of the centres had none amongst their Young Staters. I know that someone is looking into why girls were in such a minority again, and that the findings will be shared.
It echoes conversations that I have had with others over the past couple of years with various people including Dr Sue Black. I have commented on the lack of women at hack day events, even those focusing on public cultural institutions, some of which have a predominantly female workforce. Women are commenting on the lack of other women at various events about digital technology. Martha Lane Fox tweeted to us from one event that she was looking out from the speakers’ platform and could see no other women in the room. I was delighted to observe more women in the main hall at the Thinking Digital conference in 2011 than there had been in 2010. I really wish that it had not been something even to note.
I have always assumed that women were as capable of coding as men. There seems to be nothing intrinsically masculine about coding. Photographs of women using computers, carrying out programming, have been around for decades. The first computer programme was written by a young British woman, Ada Lovelace, between 1842 and 1843.
So, why do we not see more female coders – at Young Rewired State or elsewhere? Where are all the girls? What can we do to encourage girls to participate in events? Are there insufficient images in public spaces or popular culture of girls or women using computers? Do we need more women being seen and heard to know about digital technology, to provide more role models for girls? Do we need to do some other types of events to foster interest and confidence amongst girls so that more will sign up for Young Rewired State events in the future?
Half the population is female. Girls use computers at school. Women use computers at work. Half, or nearly half, our coders and developers should be female.
How do we achieve that?
By the way, if you are interested in getting involved with Young Rewired State 2012, the sign up page is up and ready for you.
Emma Mulqueeny has written a thoughtful post in response to lots of us being a pain and asking about the girl/boy balance at Young Rewired State (and elsewhere).
Please read it: Year 8 is too late – and note that she has set the hashtag for the topic as #yr8is2late – and will gather those tweets together.
Can’t vote but can put a wind in government’s sails [press release], Young Rewired State, 5th August 2011.
<http://youngrewiredstate.org/2011-08/cant-vote-but-can-put-a-wind-in-governments-sails/> Last accessed 7th August 2011.
<http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/pda/2011/aug/04/young-rewired-state> Last accessed 7th August 2011.
<http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/2011/aug/05/young-rewired-state-opensource-government-data> Last accessed 7th August, 2011.
<http://youtu.be/8v_hxyGUKQY> Last accessed 7th August, 2011.
<http://youngrewiredstate.org/yrs2012/> Last accessed 9th August 2011.
Sym Roe ‘Programmable Games,’ symroe’s Posterous [considers issue of encouraging girls to code]
<http://symroe.posterous.com/65013675> Last accessed 11th August 2011.