Monday, October 13, 2014

Nerd Culture & Non-technical Users

So I'm a bit put off. Here's an article that the arduino community thinks is fantastic.  I agree with some of his points, but he links to this article.  And that article is full of itself.

Let's start with the biggest invalid point in the original article "Nerd Culture Must Die".   He complains about inequality in programming as a profession.  He doesn't mention that same inequality in other professions (like healthcare where women are nearly 80% of the industry) or even that the inequality may be more associated with an overall inequality in the engineering industry where there have always been fewer women.  Perhaps it's a cultural issue, where boys are given electronics and girls are given dolls as children.  To leap to the conclusion that it is my fault as a "nerd" is inconsiderate of the massive effort I make every day to encourage the spread of knowledge.

But then there's Jessica.  That article made me very angry.  It's not that it wasn't true.  It absolutely was true.  I meet people every day who use computers in the way Jessica did who have similar issues and lifestyles.  My problem with the article stems from the sense of entitlement that is implied about Jessica.  "What was her sin?"  the writer asks, as if she is completely blameless in what happened to her.  Of course, I'm getting ahead of myself.  Let me explain why I'm so frustrated.

First, it is clearly emphasized repeatedly throughout the article that Jessica uses the older beat up computer for updating her facebook status and checking email and nothing else.  What that bit of information means, that the writer blatantly ignores, is that that means the computer is a toy to her.  A toy is not a necessary part of life.  It's a bonus.

Second, it's more than evident that this girl does not need a computer.  I'm not being insensitive.  Millions of people on the planet get by without a computer every day.  Heck, in central Africa, many people currently get through an average day without food.  I know that's an extreme comparison but it is important to understand that this girl is not suffering, she is fortunate in the long run.

Third, the article implies that ownership of the computer is not enough, but by saying "What's her sin?" it implies that she also should take no responsibility for how she uses it.  She is certainly sinful (and not just in the moral sense--seriously, why is this girl using a pc to email nude pics to her boyfriend, doesn't she own a phone?) because she feels utterly entitled to use a device without responsibility for her actions.

Now this may seem extreme.  I mean, it's just a computer right?  Let's replace it with another device that many people in the first world own.  Let's pretend that Jessica's toy is a circular saw.  Jessica doesn't take time to find out how to use it safely, she just wants to cut a pretty board for her boyfriend.  She slips and cuts off her finger.  Do you think that should be her responsibility?  What if it were a gun and she accidentally shot and killed her boyfriend (something we hear about all too often)?  Should she be responsible for her actions then?

But those scenarios can also be called "extreme".  I mean, in the end all that happened is some hacker got nude pictures of her, and her banking information, and her passwords to all her accounts, and all her email, and probably her SSN.  I mean, it's not like she was in danger of losing a finger--just all of her worldly possessions.  Yeah, that might be a bit more than it sounded like at first.

Let me be abundantly honest, the internet is a dangerous place.  No one is denying that.  But the article about Jessica makes the argument that freedom is a bad thing, because then you're forced to be responsible.  The alternative is less software, less technology, and waiting for the dumbest person on the planet to catch up before the rest of us move forward.  No thanks.

Yes, education is important.  Yes, we need to work on making everything more user friendly.  Yes, we need to make software as secure as we can.  But no, it is not our responsibility to tie Jessica to a chair and forcibly teach her something she admittedly has no interest in.  Jessica has to manage her own life.  If keeping things private is important to her, she'll take the time to learn how to do that.  If it isn't she won't, and occasionally bad things happen to good people.

So let me reiterate.  Jessica does not need a computer.  She has one to "keep up with the Joneses".  She should spend time to learn about tools before she uses them--no one would let her drive without learning about that first.  She is responsible for what she does with the computer.  And it is not my fault that she feels entitled to use a computer (and take no responsibility when things go wrong) without learning about it first.