No audio and the entire thing’s frame rate is god awful. I showed this to friends and they seriously thought this was Second Life, and to be fair, I can’t blame them.
A commenter on the actual YouTube video said:
What is this? This looks like an Older Version of Second Life? Or maybe a Crappy Sims game. AND WHERE IS THE AUDIO!
I’m watching the video now with my jaw ON. THE. FLOOR. in disbelief that they actually released this video. It’s already had 185 views, too.
About halfway through the video, I noticed that High Fidelity seems to have added AltspaceVR-type emoticons over avatars’ heads, which I don’t remember seeing before. A new feature, perhaps?
Sooo… your product supports VR and you’ve got 3D spatial audio, but you’re relying on 2D emoticons over your head to communicate? You chose to emulate one of the corniest features on AltspaceVR, to appeal to your new target market of business users?!??
I commented on my Discord:
Somebody should save a copy of this for posterity. They can’t have put this up without checking it, surely?!
And they seem to have added AltspaceVR type emoticons over the avatars’ heads, too.
UPDATE Sept. 17th: I’ve had a good night’s sleep and I’ve re-read this, and I’ve checked the video again. It’s still up, and now it has 259 views. Isabelle Cheren made the following comment on the automatic cross-posting of this blogpost to my Twitter:
If it’s virtual co-working does that indicate the conversation may have been confidential with the no sound? Just a thought but yeah why put it up on YouTube LOL. Good Lord.
And, even given this extremely charitable, possible explanation as to why there is no audio, I still find it almost impossible to believe that High Fidelity actually posted this four-hour, silent video to their official YouTube channel.
People have been talking about this at length on the #highfidelity channel on the RyanSchultz.com Discord all evening and into the wee hours of the morning as I write this update. Here’s an anonymized sample of what they are saying:
A: I mean, I threw them a bone in saying that they can focus their efforts on making this all work but like… really? I give them a single ounce of a break and then this happens.
B: No spawned media during the entire stream.
A: Wait… I didn’t even look for that. Yeah, they didn’t spawn any media/web entities? Oh boy…
B: I don’t think they realize that remote work apps coming out have [the] ability to share files and screens easily. Or how important that is.
Yes, I was extremely harsh in my assessment. But I am not alone. Many other people are looking at this gaffe and are saying the same things about High Fidelity that I am. Way, way harsher than I, was one comment posted to my tweet by Will Burns, whom I have blogged about before, who said:
SECOND UPDATE Sept 17th: Well, High Fidelity is livestreaming again today, and once again, there is no audio. It’s just up there on their YouTube channel, without any explanation or context whatsoever:
There is one difference from yesterday’s livestream, however. High Fidelity has turned off the ability to leave comments on this video. In other words, they don’t even want feedback on this.
To have this happen once could be seen as a mistake. To have it happen two days in a row is a deliberate marketing decision. I also noticed that High Fidelity took down yesterday’s four-hour livestream video, for whatever reason (perhaps because of the negative comments).
Finally fed up with this nonsense, I had to resort to contacting Jazmin Cano, High Fidelity’s User Engagement Manager, via Twitter (the only way I have at present to reach out to anybody on the HiFi team):
Hello Jazmin! Sorry to bother you again, but is High Fidelity aware that the daily Virtual Coworking Island Cam livestreams they are posting to their official YouTube channel have no audio at all? Yesterday’s didn’t and neither does today’s.
I’ll keep you posted if/when I get any sort of reply from the company.
THIRD UPDATE, Sept. 17th: Well, Jazmin didn’t bother to respond to me, but at least High Fidelity has now taken down today’s embarrassing video.
Sweet minty Jesus, what a circus.
FOURTH UPDATE, Sept. 18th: Well, I finally got a reply back from Jazmin:
Hey Ryan, I’ve got time to message you back now that I’m off work. Please know that this is a personal account and not an official High Fidelity channel, sorry!
So, I still have no idea whether or not the livestreams were intentional or an accident, or if my message to Jazmin was what finally alerted High Fidelity that their co-working island cam livestreams had no audio. At this point, the only possible way I can actually communicate with High Fidelity staff is to post a message to their official user forums, and hope that somebody from the company (eventually) responds. The last time I did that, I waited over three days for a response. This is no way to run a company!
A quick-thinking viewer did save a copy of the original Sept. 16th livestream for posterity, though, and you can watch it here (remember, there was no audio in the original or in this copy):
OK, I have totally gone down the rabbit hole, re-reading my old Friendster blog, and I am going to share some choice quotes from my misadventures in amassing the largest Friendster network I could muster, from Sept. 30th, 2003 when I started on Friendster with zero connections, through to Feb. 13th, 2004, when I hit the 3 million Friendster mark. Ready? Fasten your seatbelts!
Saturday, October 04, 2003: “You are connected to 111,713 people in your Personal Network”
I must confess that I can’t even quite grasp the concept. At 15 photos per page, there are 6,827 pages. At one minute per page, just for a quick scan, it would take me 113 HOURS to go through 111,713 profiles. That’s FIVE FULL DAYS. This is truly insane! But it’s addictive, and God some people photograph well LOL. Not that I’m jealous (OK I am).
Saturday, October 04, 2003: I can stop anytime I want!!!
Well, this is addictive. I was up until 4 a.m. in the 24-hour Unix lab, surfing through my Gallery, sending notes to various people whose profiles caught my eye, and occasionally requesting to become a link on someone else’s personal network. Went home, slept 5-9 a.m. and I’m back at again Saturday morning.
I bet there’s a twelve-step group for this, a Friendsters Anonymous. Oh, wait…I already have a request in to join that network too 🙂
Monday, October 06, 2003: Jonathan Abrams [Friendster’s CEO] is in my personal network!
…In my bookmarks list so far are comedians Judy Tenuta and Margaret Cho; California candidate for governor and billboard star Angelyne; drag queen porn director Chi Chi LaRue; Douglas Faneuil, the stockbroker’s assistant who testified against Martha Stewart; and five seriously hot gay men 🙂 sounds like my perfect dinner party LOL!
Tuesday, October 07, 2003: Friendster Slut
Well, according to Friendster’s sequential member numbering system, it would appear that the service has grown from 2 million to 2-1/2 million users in one week. That’s another 500,000 people in 7 days. Amazing. No wonder the venture capitalists are throwing money at it. But the word I think of is: “bubble”. No system can contain this rate of growth forever without problems.
Last night, the system was full of bugs; I couldn’t respond to requests from others to add me to their networks; I mysteriously lost a friend from my network; etc. This morning I sign on again and all’s well. Late evening Winnipeg time seems to the be the worst I guess that’s when all the West Coast people sign on. This morning, when all the Californians are still asleep :-), seems to be a much better time to get good system response.
I’m at the point where my network is growing like a yeast infection, about 50-100 people every 10-15 minutes, even if I do nothing but re-log in and check. It’s weirdly fascinating, like watching a slime mold…
Tuesday, October 07, 2003: Reflections on Compulsion
I have an investor friend whom I tease mercilessly for checking his stock quotes several times a day from his PC. But now I’ve fallen into the same sort of trap myself: I have my Friendster home page open in a corner of my PC, and every 15 minutes or so, I check to see by how many people my personal network has grown. Is it up or down? By how much?
Looking at it from an outsider’s objective perspective, I find this behaviour rather disturbing. Somehow Friendster has hooked itself into some deep need of mine….the need to feel connected? the need to feel I belong?? the need to feel that I can help by linking people together, much as I do in real life? (or at least, as much as I think I do it in real life…). My God. This is bringing up all kinds of nasty questions. But I sure the hell am not going to discuss them on Friendster…I’ll be heading to tribe.net to talk about that.
This is my take on the difference between tribe.net and Friendster: In a large, fancy restaurant, ten people are seated around a table, deep in conversation, brainstorming, idea-shaping, etc. There’s a sense of engagement, commitment, (dare I say it?) community. Those are the tribe.net people.
In the next room, one thousand people are speed-dating over cocktails. That’s the Friendster crowd 🙂
Saturday, October 11, 2003: Thirty-Four Kevin Bacons
As it somewhat fitting for such a choatic network, Friendster has no les than 34 people claiming to be Kevin Bacon. You know, I betcha Kevin Bacon is already on here somewhere, under an assumed name, and laughing his ass off.
Saturday, October 11, 2003: danah boyd and the Definition of a Friendster Whore
danah boyd, of the School of Information Management & Systems at the University of California, Berkeley, is (I believe) the first person to coin the term “Friendster whore”. She is researching Friendster and other social networks tools, trying to understand how people present their digital identity, negotiate social contexts and articulate their relationships.
Her definition, which I have adopted, is taken from her blog Connected Selves, September 1, 2003:
Friendster whores – people who simply collect as many people as possible, including Fakesters.
Tuesday, October 14, 2003: 42%; Tale of Another Friendster Addict
“You are connected to 1,176,695 people in your Personal Network, through 86 friends.” Highest ID number in the New People display: Seah (2796871) Percentage of total friendspace covered by personal network: 42%
I find it interesting that my personal network growth is parallel to the growth of the friendster network as a whole, and therefore my accessible part of the network remains steady at 42%.
“MIKE PARK doesn’t need any more friends. As founder of Asian Man Records, a solo musician and community activist, he has trouble keeping in touch with the ones he’s already got. Recently, however, Mike’s social circle has exploded. In September 2003, he typed Friendster.com into his web browser, and online life for him hasn’t been the same since…
…The day after signing on, Park embarked on an eight-hour Friendster jag, typing in the names of friends randomly, surfing profiles and sending and approving Friendster requests. In two weeks, his list of Friendster friends ballooned to 150.
“I’m addicted,” Park admits. “Whoever came up with this is a genius.” “
This is an excellent overview article, and I recommend it highly.
Saturday, October 18, 2003: Recalculating…
You know, I just realized something: my estimate of the total size of (i.e. number of people in) friendsterspace is too high. What about all the empty spaces where people (fakesters and realsters) have been deleted?
So I decided to conduct a highly unscientific study, checking 40 profiles, from friendster ID=200 to ID=4100, going up by hundreds,. Of the 40 profiles checked, only 2 came back with an invalid ID error., which gives a guesstimate that 5% of the total number of IDs no longer exist. This means I need to subtract 5% from the total size of friendsterspace before I calculate my percent coverage.
O.K. let’s try this…
“You are connected to 1,295,401 people in your Personal Network, through 109 friends. “ Highest ID number in the New People display: Sunshine (2939435) * 0.95 = 2,792,463 Estimated percentage of total accessible friendspace covered by personal network: 46%
That’s better 🙂 …
Tuesday, October 21, 2003: FRIENDSTER CHALLENGE #1: Well, this ought to liven things up a bit…
“You are connected to 1,413,436 people in your Personal Network, through 169 friends.” Highest ID number in the New People display: Sabrina (3041241) * 0.93 = 2,828,354 Percentage of total friendspace covered by personal network: 50%
This announcement was posted on the Rad Librarians and Friendsters Anonymous profiles, and my bulletin board on Friendster; as well as the Progressive Librarians. Friendster Whores, and Friendster Sucks tribes on tribe.net (plus the following global listing):
“Date October 21, 2003 06:12 AM
Title: Looking for Gamesters: Friendster Challenge #1.
Message: Hey, there’s 2.7 million people on Friendster; let’s have some fun 🙂 …
I issue a challenge to those members of tribe.net who still have friendster accounts …and to all my fellow Friendster whores:
The winner of this challenge gets a glowing, over-the-top testimonial from yours truly (what, you were expecting a washer-drier combo?). The challenge: to have seven people in your personal network (that is, one degree of separation from you) where one is from EACH of the seven continents:
1. North America 2. South America 3. Europe 4. Africa 5. Asia 6. Australia 7. Antarctica (YES, Antarctica!)
P.S. All entries will be judged by Sister Ryan of the Home for Wayward Friendster Whores (below):
Thursday, November 20, 2003: danah, Dame Edna, and Buddha…
“You are connected to 1,825,516 people in your Personal Network, through 235 friends. Highest ID number in the New People display: Aileen (3930571) * 0.93 = 3,655,431 Percentage of total friendsterspace covered by personal network: 50%
A couple of days ago, Dame Edna finally accepted an invitation to join my rapidly-snowballing personal network (although perhaps, at 1.8 million, I should start calling it an impersonal network…if I spent one minute with every person in my network, it would take three and a half years…call my receptionist to book your appointment LOL!).
Yesterday, I accepted a friendster request from Buddha and today, danah boyd of Connected Selves (from whom I gratefully appropriated the term “friendster whore”) added me to her network.
At any moment my co-workers, friends and family are going to break down my door and stage an intervention 🙂 …but I’m smarter than them because I know I can stop anytime I want!. MWA HA HA
Oh, and Friendsters Anonymous is back up (yay!) and the testimonials are just as hilarious as ever.
Sunday, November 30, 2003: Two Million
Hey, I did it! I know, I know, what a geeky-dorky and ultimately meaningless accomplishment, but it’s an accomplishment nonetheless. (Quick, someone call David Letterman and the Guinness Book of World Records!)
Two million friendsters in two months (Sept. 30 – Nov. 30, 2003). That’s like meeting 33,300 new people every day for two months. Hmmm, maybe I should consider a career in politics … or selling Avon hee hee hee…
Wednesday, December 03, 2003: Some Friendster Stats for That Next Cocktail Party…
“You are connected to 2,092,944 people in your Personal Network, through 266 friends.” Highest ID number in the New People display: Rea (4283881) * 0.93 = 3,984,009 Percentage of total friendsterspace covered by personal network: 53%
Since I’ve got access to my Gallery (again.. finally) and to a good chunk of Friendsterspace (hey, what good is a HUGE network if you ain’t gonna use it?), let’s have some fun and run a few stats: (assuming that the half of Friendsterspace I *don’t* have access to is pretty much the same as the half I *do* have access to…)
In all cases, the first number is the result when doing a search on my gallery; it is followed in parentheses by the estimated percentage of Friendsterspace that matches that result.
People who indicated that they were men: 862,398 (41%) People who indicated that they were women: 835,240 (40%) … which means that 9% weren’t really sure WHO they were… People who are “just here to help”: 327,533 (16%) People who are looking for activity partners: 932,953 (45%) People who are looking for friends: 1,339,616 (64%)
Thursday, December 04, 2003: …and 100% who like to sit and wait for a minute or two after they press the Enter key…
“You are connected to 2,097,997 people in your Personal Network, through 266 friends.” Highest ID number in the New People display: Celestine (4294446) * 0.93 = 3,993,834 Percentage of total friendsterspace covered by personal network: 53%
A few more fun stats from the Friendsterwhore Institute of Statistical Trends (F.I.S.T.):
People who are looking for a date with a woman: 394,641 (19%) People who are looking for a date with a man: 298,385 (14%) People who are looking for a serious relationship with a woman: 289,652 (14%) People who are looking for a serious relationship with a man: 216,602 (10%) People who are single: 1,067,620 (51%) People who are in an open marriage: 48,444 (2%)
And, once again, “Your personal network is temporarily unavailable…” *sigh* oh, wait, it’s come back….
People whose name is “Kevin Bacon”: 33 (0.002%) People whose name is “George Bush”: 28 (0.001%) People whose name is “Jesus Christ”: 147 (0.007%) And people whose name is “Ryan Schultz”: 14 (0.0007%), hmmm, maybe we should start a very exclusive club 🙂 ….
Thursday, December 04, 2003: Driving Along at 833 FPH…
“You are connected to 2,101,102 people in your Personal Network, through 266 friends.” Highest ID number in the New People display: Sasha (4300785) * 0.93 = 3,999,730 Percentage of total friendsterspace covered by personal network: 53%
When your network gets to over two million friendsters, strange things start to happen. For one thing, your friendsters begin to multiply like Star Trek Tribbles…I added 100,000 friendsters in five days (Sunday to today, Thursday); that works out to 20,000 friendsters a day, or 833 friendsters per hour (FPH, hey now that’s one term we should adopt… but officer, I was only going at 60 FPH!).
Put another way, my personal network is now growing at 14 friendsters per minute, or one friendster every five seconds.
Hmmm, I better set up the hide-a-bed 🙂 ….
Thursday, December 04, 2003: Not a lot of Streisand fans out there….
“You are connected to 2,104,547 people in your Personal Network, through 266 friends.” Highest ID number in the New People display: Alvin (4307013) * 0.93 = 4,005,522 Percentage of total friendsterspace covered by personal network: 53%
(* …and a voice from the back yells: “MORE STATS!” *)
Number of people who live in the New York City area (within 25 miles of Manhattan): 150,803 (7.1%) Number of people who live in the San Francisco area (within 25 miles of the Castro): 130,341 (6.2%) Number of people who live in the Los Angeles area (within 25 miles of Beverly Hills): 146,626 (7.0%) …and number of people who live in the Winnipeg area: 1,375 (0.065%)
Number of people who list “wine” as one of their interests: 22,361 (1.1%) Number of people who list “beer” as one of their interests: 23,066 (also 1.1%) Number of people who list “milk” as one of their interests: 1,818 (0.086%)
Number of people who list “reading” as one of their interests: 193,545 (9.2%) Number of people who list “shopping” as one of their interests: 108,703 (5.2%) Number of people who list “sleeping” as one of their interests: 77,421 (3.7%, including Jonathan Abrams)
Number of people who say Celine Dion is one of their favourite singers: 3,174 (0.15%) Number of people who say Barbra Streisand is one of their favourite singers: only 566 (0.027%)!
DAMN! “Error: Temporarily unable to perform your search. Please try again in a few moments.” Oh well, it was fun while it lasted…
Sunday, December 14, 2003: More Friendster Statistics from F.I.S.T. (the Friendsterwhore Institute of Statistical Trends)
“You are connected to 2,228,509 people in your Personal Network, through 278 friends.” Highest ID number in the New People display: Nadiah (4527170) * 0.93 = 4,210,268 Percentage of total friendsterspace covered by personal network: 53%
danah boyd asked me to shake a few more statistics out of my personal network, and I was happy to oblige her (but I would like a mention of F.I.S.T. in the thank-yous for your Ph.D. thesis, Danah 🙂 …O.K. on with the show…
Straight vs. Queer (percentages based on then-current network size: 2,139,475):
Women looking for women (dating or relationship): 71,929 (3.4%) Women looking for men (dating or relationship): 207,756 (9.7%) Men looking for women (dating or relationship): 336,776 (15.7%) and men looking for men (dating or relationship): 103,580 (4.8%)
…which means that over 8% of Friendsters (3.4 + 4.8) self-identify on their profiles as queer (gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans*, etc.). The figure is likely a bit higher because of all the queer folk who indicated that their status was single, married, in an open marriage, or “just here to help” (Ryan puts up his hand).
Photos on Profiles (percentages based on then-current network size of 2,143,637):
Men who have photos: 651,808 (30.4%) Women who have photos: 572,371 (26.7%) Total number of people who have photos: 1,224,183 (57.1%)
Where Friendsters Come From (percentages based on then-current network size of 2,154,381):
ranked from highest to lowest total number of friendsters according to their profiles… and a warning that these figures are biased by the fact that most of my personal network contacts are in North America…I’d love to see someone from Singapore or Malaysia do the same sort of statistics so we can compare. Philippines: 286,699 (13.3%) Singapore: 159,760 (7.4%) Malaysia: 82,406 (3.8%) United Kingdom (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland): 33,645 (1.56%) Hong Kong: 20,666 (0.96%) Japan: 7,176 (0.33%) Germany: 4,687 (0.21%) Taiwan: 4,225 (0.20%) Indonesia: 3,949 (0.18%) France: 3,395 (0.16%) South Korea: 2,906 (0.135%) China: 2,724 (0.126%) Netherlands: 2,351 (0.11%) Brazil: 1,896 (0.088%) Ireland: 1,491 (0.069%) Mexico: 1,303 (0.060%) India: 1,085 (0.050%) Belgium: 1,003 (0.047%)
Note that I can’t do similar stats for Canada or the United States because Friendster requires that you enter a postal code as well as the country name for these two countries.
Wednesday, January 07, 2004: “Six Degrees of Enough Already”
This morning, on a whim, I sign in (I have noticed that early morning, when the West Coast is still waking up, can often be a good time to use Friendster).
Slow as molasses. Personal network sizes unavailable. Gallery searches still unavailable. Feh.
And the January 2004 issue of Wired puts it best, on its regular feature, the Hype List. On the way DOWN:
Six Degrees of Enough Aleady: Social networking sites from Friendster to Friendzy are sucking up VC (i.e. venture capital) cash. Merge ’em all and call it DoubleClique.
Tuesday, January 27, 2004: “Being your friend is hard work”
“You are connected to 2,769,765 people in your Personal Network, through 307 friends. “ Highest ID number in the New People display: Dan (5632041) * 0.93 = 5,237,798 Percentage of total friendsterspace covered by personal network: still hanging in at 53%
Overwhelmed by the amount of work necessary to keep up with all my friendships on Friendster, Orkut, and all the other social networking sites, I’ve posted a job opening over on craigslist for a personal social coordinator:
Permanent full-time position for a personal social coordinator for a New York-based web designer. Your primary responsibility will be managing my accounts with various online social networking sites including, but not limited to, Friendster, LinkedIn, Tribe, Orkut, Ryze, Spoke, ZeroDegrees, Ecademy, RealContacts, Ringo, MySpace, Yafro, EveryonesConnected, Friendzy, FriendSurfer, Tickle, Evite, Plaxo, Squiby, and WhizSpark.
Friday, February 13, 2004: Three million Friendsters… yawn…
I don’t know whether I should cheer for myself for hitting 3 million, or feel sorry for myself for engaging on this futile endeavour in the first place… God what a waste of time and energy.
I shut down my blog the next day, and walked away from Friendster. I don’t remember exactly when they shut down, but I wasn’t too surprised when they did.
What I do find interesting is that many of the things that people are still talking about today on Facebook, were things that were first brought up in the context of Friendster: who is your “friend”, what does befriending somebody mean on a social network, fake profiles, spamming other people, compulsively checking your social network for updates, etc.
The more things change, the more they stay the same. But back then, social networks were still fun, fresh, new and exciting. Everybody wanted to jump on the bandwagon, it seemed. And many did.
Nowadays, it’s much more likely that people want to jump off, not on. And, just like Friendster, Facebook will likely have its heyday, then fade into obscurity as people leave to join whatever the next big thing happens to be. Mark Zuckerberg might not like it, but it’s inevitable. People in North America are already leaving Facebook in large numbers. Teenagers won’t touch Facebook with a ten-foot pole because their parents and grandparents are on it! (Some of them probably haven’t figured out yet that their favourite hangout spot, Instagram, is also owned by Facebook.)
Warning: I was young and ignorant and I used some language on that blog back then, that absolutely makes me cringe today. I’m truly sorry. I can’t go back and edit those posts, and frankly that old blog is a historical document that shouldn’t be edited after the fact. So please consider yourself warned, and forgive me if the 2003/2004 Ryan Schultz causes any offense. I would like to think I am becoming a better person over time, as I learn from others.
danah asked me to run some statistics on the Friendster network I had amassed of 3 million people, to get a better sense of who was using Friendster and why (she has done a fair bit of research on teenagers’ use of the various social networks). I had data, and I was happy to help out. (I wrote more about my crazy Friendster days here.)
danah boyd asked me to check how many friendsters gave their (underage) ages reversed: “61” (16) and “71” (17). The answer: surprisingly few (I bet most of them just lie and say they’re 18):
61: only 821 out of a total of 2,809,843 71: just 665 out of 2,836,990
(I did the samples at different times whenever Gallery stayed up long enough to give a result 🙂
You see, Friendster had a feature called the Gallery, where you could search for various things (like those profiles that said they were male or female, married or single, etc.), and it would pull up a list of profiles in your Friendster network that matched, with a count of the total number of matches. The Gallery went up and down like a yo-yo, especially in the later days of Friendster when it buckled under the sheer onslaught of people using it, but when it was working, I would search for various things, either on my own initiative or at danah’s request.
All of this is a very roundabout way of getting to the point of this blogpost, which is the fact that danah recently received an award from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and she gave a speech that you will definitely want to read.
Last night, I was honored by the EFF. As I reflected on what got me to this place, I realized I needed to reckon with how I have benefited from men whose actions have helped uphold a patriarchal system that has hurt so many.
The story of how I got to be standing here is rife with pain and I need to expose part of my story in order to make visible why we need to have a Great Reckoning in the tech industry. This award may be about me, but it’s also not. It should be about all of the women and other minorities who have been excluded from tech by people who thought they were helping.
The first blog post I ever wrote was about my own sexual assault. It was 1997 and my audience was two people. I didn’t even know what I was doing would be called blogging. Years later, when many more people started reading my blog, I erased many of those early blog posts because I didn’t want strangers to have to respond to those vulnerable posts. I obfuscated my history to make others more comfortable.
I was at the MIT Media Lab from 1999 to 2002. At the incoming student orientation dinner, an older faculty member sat down next to me. He looked at me and asked if love existed. I raised my eyebrow as he talked about how love was a mirage, but that sex and pleasure were real. That was my introduction to Marvin Minsky and to my new institutional home.
And so, if my recognition means anything, I need it to be a call to arms. We need to all stand up together and challenge the status quo. The tech industry must start to face The Great Reckoning head-on.
My experiences are all too common for women and other marginalized peoples in tech. It’s also all too common for well-meaning guys to do shitty things that make it worse for those that they believe they’re trying to support.
If change is going to happen, values and ethics need to have a seat in the boardroom. Corporate governance goes beyond protecting the interests of capitalism. Change also means that the ideas and concerns of all people need to be a part of the design phase and the auditing of systems, even if this slows down the process. We need to bring back and reinvigorate the profession of quality assurance so that products are not launched without systematic consideration of the harms that might occur. Call it security or call it safety, but it requires focusing on inclusion. After all, whether we like it or not, the tech industry is now in the business of global governance. “Move fast and break things” is an abomination if your goal is to create a healthy society.
Taking shortcuts may be financially profitable in the short-term, but the cost to society is too great to be justified. In a healthy society, we accommodate differently-abled people through accessibility standards, not because it’s financially prudent but because it’s the right thing to do. In a healthy society, we make certain that the vulnerable amongst us are not harassed into silence because that is not the value behind free speech. In a healthy society, we strategically design to increase social cohesion because binaries are machine logic not human logic.
Bravo to danah for speaking her truth, and using her acceptance speech to point out that we still have a long, long way to go to make things better for women, for minorities, for everyone, who works in tech.
The Great Reckoning is in front of us. How we respond to the calls for justice will shape the future of technology and society. We must hold accountable all who perpetuate, amplify, and enable hate, harm, and cruelty. But accountability without transformation is simply spectacle. We owe it to ourselves and to all of those who have been hurt to focus on the root of the problem. We also owe it to them to actively seek to notbuild certain technologies because the human cost is too great.
My ask of you is to honor me and my story by stepping back and reckoning with your own contributions to the current state of affairs. No one in tech — not you, not me — is an innocent bystander. We have all enabled this current state of affairs in one way or another. Thus, it is our responsibility to take action. How can you personally amplify underrepresented voices? How can you intentionally take time to listen to those who have been injured and understand their perspective? How can you personally stand up to injustice so that structural inequities aren’t further calcified? The goal shouldn’t be to avoid being evil; it should be to actively do good. But it’s not enough to say that we’re going to do good; we need to collectively define — and hold each other to — shared values and standards.
People can change. Institutions can change. But doing so requires all who harmed — and all who benefited from harm — to come forward, admit their mistakes, and actively take steps to change the power dynamics. It requires everyone to hold each other accountable, but also to aim for reconciliation not simply retribution. So as we leave here tonight, let’s stop designing the technologies envisioned in dystopian novels. We need to heed the warnings of artists, not race head-on into their nightmares. Let’s focus on hearing the voices and experiences of those who have been harmed because of the technologies that made this industry so powerful. And let’s collaborate with and design alongside those communities to fix these wrongs, to build just and empowering technologies rather than those that reify the status quo.
I don’t have a huge audience for this blog, but I wanted to use what little platform I do have to amplify danah’s message. Thank you, danah, for speaking up and speaking out!
After much anticipation, video tutorial series, guest blog posts and a global SDK bootcamp, the 2019 Decentraland Game Jam has finally kicked off. Over 2000 digital creators are currently flooding into the Metaverse for two weeks (Sept 16–30) of intense creative development and collaboration, competing for over $250k USD in prizes. Their efforts will form a lasting contribution to the evolution of Decentraland.