Okay, I’ve neglected this thing for too long.
In class two weeks ago, we talked about Tulsa’s information infrastructures: the arrival of railroads, churches, radio, television, the Internet, etc. I’m always drawn to things outside the mainstream, and I started thinking about alternative information infrastructures, information subcultures, the information underground. Those information infrastructures that aren’t major to the majority, but are significant to some populations.
A couple back-alley information infrastructures occured to me, “hobo symbols” for one. Individuals who rode the rails and settled temporarily in tent cities across the country used these symbols to leave messages for other wayfarers. Many of them weren’t literate, or wanted to leave messages that even the uneducated could understand, and so they left pictographs scratched on rocks, fence posts, barns, what-have-you, to help others passing through. One picture scratched on a fence post might tell other travelers that a scary dog lives in this yard, so watch out. Another symbol might indicate a nice lady lives in this house who will provide food. This information infrastructure might be very old and rather crude, but it was significant and widely recognized by the drifters of the time. I wonder if today’s homeless populations still use those symbols?
Another more current information infrastructure, developed in the last 30 years, I think, is similarly low-tech, but nonetheless effective. When I worked for Domestic Violence Intervention Services, I learned about the “bathroom cards.” Women living in abusive relationships are often kept on a short leash by their abusers, not allowed to go anywhere unsupervised in public. Abuse is about power and control, and this is just one way abusers seek to control their victims. Somewhere along the way, some advocates developed the idea of the bathroom card. The ladies’ restroom is one place where men cannot go, where a female victims can temporarily escape the watchful eyes of male abusers. Advocates leave bathroom cards in ladies’ restrooms as a way to reach women in need. The cards contain phone numbers to call for help, strategies for escape, and a list of things a woman should bring with her when fleeing an abusive relationship, like identification, birth certificate, social security card, change of clothes, toothbrush, etc. A woman can slip the card in her purse or pocket, where hopefully her abuser won’t find it. These cards are very effective for conveying information to those who are cut off.
Granted, this only works for heterosexual couples, and unfortunately, abuse exists in all kinds of relationships. I’m not sure what methods are available for subtly reaching gay victims.
These are just a couple information infrastructures that lie off the beaten path. Others include graffiti, gang symbols and colors, and display of name brands to communicate status. It’s an interesting topic of study.