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Sexism in tech reporting
By Dave Winer on Friday, December 09, 2011 at 9:54 AM.

A picture named whistle.jpgIt's always bothered me when people say they're making software for their mom, because that's a not-very-subtle dog-whistle that they're making it for people who are not technologically sophisticated. And that's being polite. I think often it's much more than that. It's one of the few forms of sexism that's still tolerated and defended. After all, how do we know that the author's mom isn't actually the person the software is designed for. Maybe they're making it for sophisticated users who happen to be women? Uh huh. If you believe that I have a nice bridge to sell you. Hardly used. :-) #

The way to tell if something is sexist (or racist or ageist or whatever ist) is to change the gender, race or age, and see if it still works. #

For example, there is a story in today's NYT that says the new-new Twitter interface was designed for the author's sister. Never mind, for the moment, what the article says about his sister -- what is this headline supposed to convey? Would it convey the same idea if it said the product was designed for a brother? Obviously, not. #

Now, diving into the piece, here are some of the words the author (a man, btw) uses to describe his sister:  #

1. A new user who finds Twitter confusing. #

2. She simply didn't understand. #

3. She found it incredibly confusing.  #

4. She's a non-techie. #

5. To her the @ and # symbols don't make much sense. #

6. She thinks the characters are used in place of swear words in comic strips. #

7. She's afraid of the @ and # symbols. #

He concludes that this new design makes sense for his sister. Which I find fairly incredible (as in not credible). Most of us haven't been able to try the new interface. Has the author's sister already tried it? #

Which raises a couple of more issues. #

1. Is this a marketing piece or a news piece? He accepts the company's premise without offering any judgement, any criticism, balance. Would the Times review a movie, book or any other creative act in a similar way? When I say that the general media is in awe of tech, this is what I mean. #

2. I hate that large tech companies manage to completely control the initial discussion of their products by controlling who can see it. I still have not gotten access. Perhaps this is because I won't write a puff piece. I might like it, it's happened before. But I might not. Why do we put up with this? Again, would we tolerate it from other creative forms? A new art gallery that was open only to people who regurgitate the marketing message? I don't think it works that way. it's time for tech to grow up, and imho for the reporters covering it to stop playing the exact tune that the company execs call.  #

And stop using women as examples of confused computer users.  #

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