The personal site of Tom Coates, co-founder of Product Club

Technology

On being adult about childish behaviour…

03/30/2013

I promised myself I wouldn’t get involved in the whole debate about Adria Richards, but as it drags on and more and more articles are written about it, I find myself troubled by the extent of the polarisation going on.

On one side we have the people who are arguing fundamentally that Adria Richards over-reacted to what appear to be a number of clumsy and childish jokes – jokes that (from what I’ve read at least) appear to be of the ‘he’s got a big dongle’ variety. My opinion? Yeah, I think she massively over-reacted, made a performance out of the whole thing that was entirely unnecessary and got a couple of people told off at a conference who maybe over-stepped the line but probably didn’t deserve that kind of public kicking.

On the other side we have the people arguing that Adria was treated absolutely abhorrently afterwards and that the sheer depth and violence of the things said about her and thrown at her – the volume of the vitriol she had to experience – went way beyond blunt sexism. These people are arguing that this demonstrates structural misogyny, clear discrimination, the horrible consequences that meet a woman who prominently stands up and makes a stand. My opinion? Yeah, that all makes sense too. She was indeed treated awfully. All of us working in the industry should be ashamed of the whole situation. It’s been hideous, horrific. Beyond that. It’s morally wrong.

But here’s the bit that puzzles me. Both of these positions seem to me to be entirely correct and both of them seem to be completely compatible as well. It seems to me to be a vanishingly small proportion of people under fifty who would be legitimately offended by a big dongle joke. It also seems to me to be a tiny proportion of the people in the industry who seriously think that death threats, rape threats and massive sexist comments are something to be encouraged.

So why has it all become such an ungodly fight? We seem to have approached a point where any actual sensible discussion of questions raised by this situation is borderline impossible. The positions are polarising to such an extent that—rather than just accepting what the vast majority of us must surely know to be true—everyone’s being pushed, or pushing themselves, to the edges. The arguments now appear to be that either Adria fucked up and for this reason she deserved to get rape threats, or that since she got rape threats she cannot possibly have fucked up.

These are both ridiculous positions! These are insane positions! These are totally irrational positions! In our attempts to find meaning in this event we’ve got people trying to find a neat narrative that wraps everything up elegantly and cleanly. But such an attempt is doomed to fail here. No one comes out of this cheerfully. There is clumsy human self-importance on the one side and a great swathe of unpleasant, unwashed, dickish, abusive and disgusting morons on the other.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’d never for one minute suggest that Adria’s actions and the responses to them are commensurately awful. The horrific attacks on her remain beyond the pale, where her behaviour (in my opinion at least) was merely a bit eye-roll worthy. It’s just important to remember that the extent of the venom she’s had to endure does not in itself make her an infallible saint – any more than the error she made in any way justified the demonisation she’s experienced.

The world is more serious and flawed and nuanced than these narratives would make us believe. The tech industry is not 90% full of sexist arseholes desperate to drag all women down. Nor is it a magical meritocracy in which all the right people achieve riches. Over-simplifying things to this degree makes it harder to solve the problems that we have as a culture. It makes it harder for us to fix things. We can’t afford to just react like this. It helps no one. We have to be adult about childish behaviour.

On the OLPC Movement…

02/20/2008

A couple of months ago I was asked by Icon Magazine to write a review of the OLPC XO laptop for the developing world. You can read the finished article in their January issue or on their site (OLPC review on Iconeye.com). However, since then, I’ve been thinking a lot about the context and background Read More

Yahoo! Messenger vs. Safari 3.0 Beta

08/25/2007

I use Yahoo! Messenger for the Mac a lot at work and I have to say that there’s really very little wrong with it at all. I don’t like using Adium or those combined clients. They seem clumsy and tacky. Plus, running Messenger separately means that when I go home in the evenings I can Read More

Social whitelisting with OpenID…

01/24/2007

My ex-colleague Simon Willison has recently been doing some profoundly good work out in the wilds of the Internet promoting and explaining OpenID. In fact, the best articulation I’ve seen anywhere on the Internet of the OpenID concept is his screencast which I think neatly sums up the value of the concept as well as Read More

On Wattson and Electrisave…

11/12/2006

Thanks to a fascinating conversation on haddock the other day, I’m now completely obsessed with a brand new class of personal lifestyle gizmos – a class that is very much in sync with the emergent energy puritanism that I find myself unexpectedly interested in after An Inconvenient Truth. The class of objects is ‘things that Read More

The unusual flakiness of the MacBook Pro…

10/22/2006

I have had four MacBook Pros and even more power supplies for MacBook Pros since the top-of-the-range Apple laptops launched in March. I love the machines, but hot damn has my experience of them been unusual. Let’s start with the pins inside the MagSafe plug deciding not to extrude: The only solution here was getting Read More

An Inconvenient Truth…

09/16/2006

My politics are pretty well known to people who read this site, I suspect – I’m basically economically centrist, believing in the the necessary efficiencies of a free market curbed from excesses and derailment by regulation at the extremes. I hold a simultaneous belief that vulnerable individuals should be protected from the occasionally inhuman logic Read More

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