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Spring 2003 Forum - Shuttle

From Looms to Computers, CWW 

Gathering at the Well Forum Explores Technology in Women's Lives

Today, we might think of technology as a computer or a mobile phone, but technology can be anything from a vacuum cleaner to a weaving loom, anything that by design is supposed to improve a process or task. The discussion at the fifth annual Gathering at the Well Forum, Technology in Women¡¯s Lives: Labor Saving or Enslaving?, looked at all types of technology impacting womens lives from the mill girls of the 1800s to present-day nurses and clerical workers. More than 60 members of the community and University participated in the forum sponsored by the Center for Women and Work (CWW).


Keynote speaker Roslyn Feldberg, associate director of labor relations, Massachusetts Nurses Association, has spent her career interviewing women about their work. She reiterated a point throughout her talk, Technology doesnt make things easier when its used without talking to the people who do the work. She relayed stories about data entry clerks being required to improve efficiency scores and secretaries being pooled-both designed to improve the bottom line. In the case of the data clerks, the women began adding extra spaces to improve their scores. °If management makes up the system, people get very creative. The same is true in nursing where Feldberg described technology such as blood sugar monitors creating more tedious work instead of simplifying the job. The monitor gives the nurse the result immediately, but nurses were required to file an order with the lab to receive a printout for the patients chart – two extra steps. When a supervisor thought that the levels were simply not being checked, he was made aware of the difficulties of the new technology and a more streamlined system was devised. Technology doesnt solve the problem. Talking with the end-user solves the problem, said Feldberg. The event began with earlier examples of technology in womens work. Women have always worked and they have always used the tools and technology of their time, said park ranger Maria Papesh of the Lowell National Historical Park. Papesh talked about the mill girls in Lowell and the impact the power loom had on their lives. CWW staff member Sivan Daniel showed advertisements from the 40s, 50s and 60s from the book, Mechanical Brides. The ads depicted appliances of the day - telephones, mixers, toasters—making life easier for the housewife. Its important to remember that technology is here to serve us, not the other way around, said Daniel. 

Members of the community, including Mayor Rita Mercier, Jeanne Osborn of the Greater Lowell Chamber of Commerce, Maureen Ridge of SEIU Local 285 and Dr. Susan Goodwin were part of the panel discussion. The Forum concluded with an open discussion. The Council on Diversity and Pluralism, the Council of Federated Centers and Institutes and the Bookstore fund the Gathering at the Well.

From mill girls of the 1800s to present-day nurses, the Gathering at the Well Forum covered a broad spectrum of technology and womens work. Forum organizers and speakers were, from left, Susanne Harris, conference coordinator, Center for Women and Work (CWW); Maria Papesh, Lowell National Historical Park; Prof. Meg Bond, director, CWW; Keynote Speaker Roslyn Feldberg, associate director of labor relations, Massachusetts Nurses Association; and Sivan Daniel, graduate student, CWW. Participating in the panel discuss at the Gathering at the Well Forum, Technology in Womens Lives: Labor Saving or Enslaving?, were Dr. Susan Goodwin, vice chancellor of administration and finance; Mayor Rita Mercier; Jeanne Osborn, director of the Greater Lowell Chamber of Commerce; and Maureen Ridge, public services director, SEIU Local 285.

The shuttle 2 May 7, 2003