By Rosie Perera | March 3, 2014 at 1:17 am
I had let this blog get broken because I postponed upgrading to the latest version of WordPress for too long, and so it was lying dormant and unusable. Apologies to the many who pointed this out to me who liked to read my thoughts on faith and technology.
Well, the blog back up and running again. Still one kink to iron out (the Search box works only from the Home page, not from anywhere else on the site; but you can always click “Home” to get back there and search from there). Will try to figure that out soon.
By Rosie Perera | January 21, 2013 at 2:32 am
By Rosie Perera | January 8, 2013 at 3:13 am
By Rosie Perera | December 13, 2012 at 10:30 pm
I witnessed a very discouraging thread today on a forum frequented by Christians. It is a very active forum with almost 100,000 users and nearly half a million posts. The forum is meant for asking and answering questions about Bible software, and theological debates are forbidden by the forum guidelines. Sadly, with many people coming from vastly different theological positions, it is inevitable that things flare up from time to time. But in this case the hurt came from common online behavior that had nothing to do with faith.
A newbie user who had never posted before asked a simple question about how to find something in the software. She posted in all caps, as many newbie online users do. Another user posted right after her, ignoring the content of her question: “MIGHT I SUGGEST IN ALL HUMILITY AND AS A BROTHER IN CHRIST THAT YOU FIRST FIND THE CAPSLOCK KEY. all caps is hard on the eyes, and in internet culture is akin to yelling. I’m sure you weren’t yelling at us as your first post (intentionally). Any how, welcome!”
Needless to say, she did not feel welcomed, and a flurry of other posts from others added insult to injury, including the initial poster directing the newbie to http://www.networketiquette.net to learn “how not to be rude on the internet.” She ended up signing off with: “This will be my last posting, I appreciate the people who truly have acted like CHRIST, and I am truly sorry if I have offended anyone. I do find it incredible, that all I asked for from a community of ‘Christians,’ was some advice and received such a negative response. My idea of Christianity is to be as courteous on the web, as you are in person. I teach a Bible Study and my group tonight were as shocked as I was earlier today. This is why I have never opened myself up to forums on the web, and I usually do not make the same mistake twice. JESUS said, “Do not cast your pearls before swine, lest they turn and rend you.” I expect maltreatment from the world, but not from a forum geared for ‘Christians.’ “
Perhaps the initial responder was really trying to be “helpful” in educating her to understand internet culture. But the way he expressed it was awful. YELLING RIGHT BACK AT HER. And the timing of it was even worse, like a slap in the face.
I think we need some remedial training in “etiquette among Christians online” which goes above and beyond the usual netiquette sorts of sites. Yes, it’s true that CAPS LOCK is a convention that means yelling, but the only time it’s ever referred to that way is by people chiding others who didn’t know that. Since all who are experienced Internet users can recognize a newbie making that mistake, perhaps we should just overlook it and not assume they are yelling. Telling them off for it is more offensive than someone actually intentionally yelling with ALL CAPS would be.
As Christians, we should be above calling people out for misunderstanding what everyone else who has been on the ‘net for years knows well. It isn’t a helpful habit and does not bond people together in Christian community. There could be a neutral place for general instruction about such matters as the caps lock convention, but certainly not as an immediate response to somebody just asking an innocent question.
It makes me weep that we as the body of Christ do not know how to love each other through the medium of technology. It probably carries over from not knowing how to love each other very well in person either, but technology brings its own unique challenges.
But to brighten my day that was otherwise sullied by that experience, someone else told me the title of the person who does their church’s website work. He’s the “web minister” as opposed to “webmaster” — I love that! One can never really “master” the web anyway; it tends to master us. But we can minister to others on it and through it. And let us all strive to learn how to minister to newbies, not by “educating” them in “netiquette” but by truly loving them as Christ would.
By Rosie Perera | October 31, 2012 at 1:10 pm
“I fear the day when the technology overlaps with our humanity. The world will only have a generation of idiots.”
And indeed, I’m already becoming part of that generation, because I can’t find the source of that quote. It’s all over the Internet, attributed to him, but no information about where or when he said it. And as well all know, “the trouble with quotes found on the Internet is it’s difficult to confirm their authenticity” (Abraham Lincoln).
By Rosie Perera | October 11, 2012 at 1:11 am
Marshall “Soulful” Jones critiques our digital culture through a slam poetry performance of his piece “Touchscreen” at TEDxMontreal. He also would make a pretty good mechanical man living statue.
H/T Leif Hansen for the video link.
By Rosie Perera | September 27, 2012 at 9:58 pm
Recently I have come across two amazing and redemptive stories that took place in the nexus between cyberspace and “RL” (real life).
In the first story, a Reddit user snapped a picture of a Sikh woman with an unusual amount of facial hair and posted it on the site in order to mock her, and the woman responded with pure grace. Look at what resulted from that gesture and the education that ensued. The story has gone viral.
Here’s the first place I read about it; granted not a great headline, but it includes the full text of the exchange between the two and is a slightly easier way to read it than how CNN presents the information: Reddit Users Attempt to Shame Sikh Woman, Get Righteously Schooled
In the next story, a blogger and his wife are harassed and their lives made into a living hell by an internet troll. He tracks down the troll, meets him in person, confronts him, and ends up forgiving him.
Would that there were more stories like these! I bet there are a few from time to time that don’t get as much publicity. But sadly there are just as many, if not more, stories of heartache and abuse. Folks, the online world is just an extension of our real world lives. Who we are in person is the same as who we are in a forum or on Facebook, even though we might choose to hide some aspects of ourselves in such public places for safety. So we should treat each other in virtual space with full awareness that there is a flesh and blood individual behind the avatar.
By Rosie Perera | September 14, 2012 at 1:42 am
I sometimes joke that I have Attention Deficit Disorder. That isn’t literally true, but what is true is that there is too much that interests me, particularly online. I find myself following a never-ending flow of rabbit trails, finding articles I want to read but quickly skipping on to others that those ones linked to, before I’ve had a chance to read much. The result is I churn through so much of my day doing discovery, and flagging things to come back to, that I almost never get around to coming back, and I often don’t even get around to doing the important tasks I needed to get done that day.
I’m suffering not from attention deficit, but attention overload. I am engaging in what Linda Stone calls “continuous partial attention.”
Michael Sacacas proposes a discipline of “attentional austerity” as a corrective to the habits that keep us overloaded. He doesn’t give specific recommendations of practices that might foster attentional austerity. He merely calls us to it, and bets that “the advantage will go to the person who is able to cancel out the noise and focus with ferocity.” Yes, but how? How to say “no” when I find all this stuff so interesting?
I have several ways of keeping track of things I want to go back and read. One lazy method is to keep them open in tabs in my browser. My browser then gets cluttered with open tabs and I need to make notes of what they were before closing them. I used to keep a “To Read” folder of browser bookmarks. I’ve used Delicious to flag sites I want to go back and explore more. I was using the Read It Later app (now called Pocket) for a while (it lets you mark web pages while browsing on your computer that you can then read later on your tablet when you have some more of that elusive substance called “time”). For years I’ve also kept a kind of Internet “travelogue” file of links to interesting places I’ve stumbled upon that I might want to find again. In the beginning I even had time to write notes about each one and boldface the sites that had substantial content and might end up being good reference resources for me in the future. But now I barely have time to copy and paste the URLs. All of that “continuous partial attention” has left me feeling that “The hurrier I go, the behinder I get.” I inevitably abandon the tools I was using to keep lists of reading matter.
What I am learning (I’m a slow learner) is that rather than all these tools to manage lists of what I want to come back to, I need to cut back on all the interesting things I might want to read later. I need to close browser tabs more frequently without reading them and without copying and pasting their URL somewhere for later.
One of the motivations for writing this blog post (apart from more procrastination on what I was really supposed to be doing today) was that many days ago I had opened several browser tabs stemming from Michael Sacacas’s interesting blog post on attentional austerity (which I actually did read), and it was time to close them and move on. I had kept them open because I wanted to blog about the topic. Well, I’ve done that now, so I can close the tabs.
Now next time I see something interesting that I want to blog about when I really should be doing something else, will I have the discipline to close the tab without making a note for myself to come back and read it or blog about it later? Oh, attentional austerity is so hard! Maybe I do have a touch of ADD after all.
By Rosie Perera | May 23, 2012 at 5:23 am
There’s a great conference coming up in Seattle. I will be one of the panelists, and there are some excellent keynote speakers and other panelists. Click on the image to read more details.
By Rosie Perera | May 10, 2012 at 2:14 pm
I was encouraged by this article to see that tech companies are recognizing the value of hiring top notch women programmers and resisting the all-male culture that was once common in Silicon Valley startups (and still exists in some). I’m also encouraged to see more women going into the field and gaining leadership roles lately. There are so many women who have made an impact and are inspiring more girls to go into computer science. It’s become “cool” to be tech savvy (probably thanks in part to Apple), so girls are not as turned off by that occupation as they were in previous decades.
When I worked for Microsoft I was one of a very small number of women in techie positions (programming, testing, program management). There were more women in other roles like user education and marketing (Melinda French, who later became Bill Gates’ wife, was a marketer in my product team). But Microsoft was actively concerned about how to recruit women back in those early days. I remember being invited to a meeting with Applications Division VP Mike Maples, along with a handful of other women programmers and techie types (maybe 8 or 9 of us in all – less than 10% of the techie employees), and asked “What are we doing wrong? What could we do better to make this a welcoming place for women or to find great women programmers to hire?”
It was a puzzling question. We didn’t really know what to suggest. Part of the problem was that those of us females who did work there back then didn’t mind much about the all-male culture since we fit into it. We were all pretty stereotypically geeky (I suppose I can only speak for myself, but I do think most of us were) and got along fine with the guys. So it didn’t turn us off. The guys we worked with, as I recall, were mostly nerds, all very friendly as colleagues, and did not engage in sexist remarks or harassment. They respected us for we were their equals in our technical abilities. We didn’t have any “brogrammers” — that concept is so very new.
For a while I was part of a group of women techies that formed at Microsoft to encourage our professional development, help with ideas for recruiting women, and for camaraderie. It was named “Hoppers” after Grace Hopper, a pioneering computer scientist who developed the first compiler for a programming language and coined (or at least popularized) the term “debugging” after some of her colleagues found a moth stuck in an electrical part of a computer which had been causing it to malfunction. But I eventually took myself off the email list when conversations on it degenerated into complaining about how Microsoft ought to supply free tampons in the ladies’ rooms to make it a better workplace for women, and other such drivel. Maybe I would have been more tolerant of such “girl talk” now, but back then I didn’t think it was helping matters any.
There was also a problem at the supply end. Only 10% of the graduates in computer science from my university my year (1985) were women. Girls were not being encouraged to study math and computers at a young enough age to make them interested in majoring in it. And the nascent software industry already had a reputation of being filled with geeky guys who stayed up all night working in computer labs (dungeons) to crank out code (think The Soul of a New Machine), so most girls would not have been drawn to it. The numbers improved for a few years in the late 80s to early 90s, but that didn’t last. On a recruiting trip back to my alma mater I visited my old friend professor Andy van Dam, who was as concerned about the lack of women going into computer science as anyone could be. He told me there was an even lower ratio of female students in the department than when I had been there.
I’m happy to see that the Brown CS department now has three female faculty members out of 28, plus four adjuncts out of ten, whereas there were none when I was a student.
Please encourage any girls you know who seem to have any interest in numbers and gadgets when they are young to learn about programming and aspire to be whatever they want to be. It is simply not true that male brains are better at this stuff than female brains. We direct kids into stereotypical pursuits based on our expectations of what they ought to be good at. Sometimes we don’t even give them half a chance. I wrote a paper for a psychology class in college on women and math anxiety, and concluded that much of it is culturally imposed.
I am forever grateful that my parents encouraged my love of math and all things geeky, the things usually only boys were encouraged in back then. My dad taught me to play chess at a young age. My parents gave me a Radio Shack (Tandy) Science Fair Digital Computer Kit when I was about 14, and I had hours of fun with it, learned so much. They gave me gave me a programmable pocket calculator for my 16th birthday. They let me take a BASIC programming class in summer school when I was in high school, and paid for me to take a FORTRAN class at a nearby college when I’d outgrown what my high school could teach me. They also sent me off to a summer program for high school math geeks called HCSSiM (Hampshire College Summer Studies in Mathematics) when I was 16. All of these things provided an enriching environment to grow up in which led me to become a software engineer.
So what can I say to companies now who want to recruit more women software developers? You’ve got to get them when they’re younger. Work to continue changing the cultural perception of computer programmers as anti-social geeky men. Sponsor girls in science fairs. Encourage your own daughters to play with math and science toys and puzzles. (Rubik’s Cube was a big part of my teen years.) Take them to Maker Faires.
Some other good articles/posts on this topic:
- Female Programmers: Read This Book
- Women Needed to Fill College and University Information Technology Programs
- Computer girls make a comeback
- Girls Go Geek… Again!
- 5 Tips for Raising Your Girl Geek
- Tech Executives See Paths for Women, Especially Geeks
- IT gender gap: Where are the female programmers?
- The Programming Women’s Dress Code
- 15 Developer/Hacker Women to Follow on Twitter
- NEW: An Imbalance; Casting a Wider Net to Attract Computing Women
Some resource websites for girls/women interested in programming:
- Women in Technology International
- Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology
- Girl Geeks
- She’s Geeky
- The Mary Sue: A Guide to Girl Geek Culture
- Geek Feminism Wiki
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