In the beginning, there was the pure, innocent love of the craft. Hands on a motherboard, fingers on a keyboard, you marveled at your budding power of creation. Your ability to conjure something that seemingly wasn’t there before.
Then the harder part, earning your stripes, whether it was enrolling in formal education or joining an open source project. You felt uneasy, but maybe that was just nerves or imposter syndrome. It’d shake off in time, you thought, surely you’d grow more confident.
So you moved onwards into the hallowed halls of the tech industry — the Googles, the Apples, the Ubers, and the nameless-but-hopeful upstarts. And that uneasiness couldn’t shake. In fact, it oftentimes got worse. Bad Things happened. You tried to talk to your coworkers about it, but most shook their heads and laughed it off.
You tried to talk to HR about it and they transferred you to another side of the compound. You thought to yourself maybe something *was* truly wrong with you.But then you looked down at your hands, those same magical hands that found pure joy in the craft and then you looked up at your screen. There you saw a dreary spreadsheet or code for some pointless widget or the interface for yet. another. food. delivery. app.
It’s not you that changed; your magic did not fade. Our magic has not faded. We all still have immense power and capacity to harness our time and creativity to bring about solutions for the world’s ills and also enchant our own lives.
So the question is: why don’t we feel it? What is it we are doing that so disenchants us and who/what are we doing it for? What and whose vision are we servicing?
At this point we can’t talk about the Bad Things that go on in this industry as mere isolated events. How many women and people of color and others have whistle blown? How many of us see what happens to them and become too paralyzed to speak up or acknowledge anything—even to ourselves?
And even if we decide to speak up, to whom (and on what platforms), would/do we even make such appeals?
The Bad Things are not anomaly or abnormality. This is capital working towards its own ends. For all its talk about “thinking different” and manufacturing some sort of utopian future, the work we are doing , the people we work for, the VCs, and the banks funding them are doing what they have ALWAYS done. They remain in hot pursuit of ever more capital for capital’s sake, rolling over anyone or anything that gets in their way.
Furthermore, while neoliberal capitalism has evidenced great plasticity in terms of what it can tolerate on the surface while still keeping the gears in motion, any racism, sexism, classism, trans/homophobia etc. that we might encounter or suspect is endemic and essential.
Thus, in their never-ending pursuit of this manifest destiny, the people behind these cutting-edge platforms that many of us have so come to trust — the places where most of us upload our most private information and connect with our nearest and dearest — must deputize vigilantes to police the borders of their new frontiers. These vigilantes often go by the names of “online bullies” or “internet trolls”, but they are merely the low-paid mercenaries at the front, pushing forward the message and the mission of the monied and powerful.
This is not new. We can’t talk about the rise of new formations of internet-based hate groups without at the same time talking about the platforms where they gather and organize and the training grounds like unmoderated community forums, tech conferences that refuse to uphold Codes of Conduct, and HR departments that sweep accusations under the rug. Nearly every time one of those platforms and the execs who run them came to a crossroads where they could draw a line in the sand and create a policy with real teeth, they consciously chose not to.
So while the formidable work of groups like Project Include, Code 2040, Black Girls Code, and Girl Develop It is laudable, I don’t think that integration work alone will transform this industry. In fact, I’d argue that the people and organizations that fund these efforts do so precisely so that they can preemptively neutralize elements that have the potential to be truly disruptive and dangerous. With their money and seats on the board, they control the terms such that nothing ever really changes. The ship will still keep boldly going on the course that was charted long ago.
My goal is not necessarily for anyone to flip a table and walk out. I can’t do that myself, and I know we all have rent to pay and mouths to feed. What I do ask is that you:
- Embrace your discomfort. Bad Things are happening. Unfortunately, the Bad Things are the system functioning as intended. While certain people claim to be regretful that this happened and others are playing the blame game, this is mere a diversion while the elites quietly re-establish order. A few whistleblowers will become prominent, fall guys will fall, deck chairs will be shuffled on the Titanic and nothing will truly change.
- Understand that technology/innovation is not the proprietary domain of the so-called Tech Industry. Much technology and innovation is publicly-funded and open source and accessible to all of us. Even when privately funded, innovation represents the fruits of our labor and we should be able to leverage it all.
- Connect with likeminded folks for mutual support and to start actively thinking about alternatives. Let’s challenge ourselves to build and nurture new, independent projects and spaces to unleash our creativity (I am working on something like this, reach out if you are interested).
- Be not dismayed! Working together, we have limitless power to harness and direct our passions, courage, and skills to reanimate, reinvigorate, and liberate.
“For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change.” – Audre Lorde