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Nevertheless, Maureen Coded... ✨

maureento8888 profile image Maureen To Updated on ・6 min read

Any of those who follow me probably know I do end up rambling a lot given the side-effects of me being in academia/university (oops! 🙊)

This post was originally for a 4th-year level university paper; however, I will be adapting this just in time for International Women's Day! ⏰👩🏻‍💻

. . .

Introduction

>>> install tech --user
I totally kid you not, I do not have a tech background. Code never appeared in my sleep. My experience with tech truly started when I met a couple of CS students at a breakdance club on campus. I got curious about what they were learning and at the time, didn't even know what a programming language (1) even was (I know, don't laugh) at the time - this was back in the April 2019. One student was nice enough to recommend me Codecademy and my journey into software development began... 🧙🏻‍♀️

I started learning Python 3 on Codecademy in the summer of 2019. It was a grind at times, but super worth it, and I'm now taking the Introductory Computer Programming course at my university. Even though I'd been programming in the summer, I still feel so inferior partly due to my faulty logic and theory involved. I'm not going to lie, but it's not easy! Still, I'm positive the experience will be worth it, and I will move on the the Object-Oriented course later on. Today, even though I've weaned off Codecademy (you will always be in my heart ❤️), I am now taking lessons with Code with Mosh - an amazing teacher with amazingly affordable courses, and software engineer of 18+ years. On my own, when I'm not victimized by my own logic, I am developing an application that provides free, accessible information on women's health based on my learning as a Kinesiology student, and working to improve my problem solving and ability to create software from the ground up (security, UI/UX (2), etc.).

Okay, that's all for an appropriate intro here on DEV.to. Continue below! My true paper begins -->

>>> install tech --paper
Lately, the tech industry has been gaining a lot of traction with its rapid development in the avenues of machine learning and AI, along with the massive investments governments and big tech companies (Toronto’s soon-to-be Google Sidewalk Labs) are putting in to building better software, increasing digital security, and optimizing the tools of our digital world. As a self-taught developer, I see the perspectives of both sides - a regular citizen, and someone jamming my unannounced foot into the door of the tech industry. I highly praise those who have carved the path for us as self-taught developers, and the visionaries of this field that have brought us to where we are today; however, despite the hype around tech, I still have reason to believe that the tech industry needs some necessary... refactoring (3), so to say.

>>> import tech.spectacle
The Spectacle. Today, the tech industry presents a “spectacle” (Debord, 1967), hiding the massively polluting carbon footprint of stored data/streaming services, gendered biases in the tech workplace, and the toxic culture of overwork. Sounds uncomfortable already? Me too. But before we talk about the above issues, what do I mean by “spectacle”? This term originated from Guy Debord’s (1967) novel “La Société du Spectacle”; Debord references our society’s obsession with social status and portraying a certain image whilst hiding other uncomfortable aspects of society. In other words, society’s social standards shape each person’s worldview and if individuals/groups cannot meet that standard of “normal”, they are subjected to alienation and separation from the dominant group. In short, society’s view of technology as ever-engaging and omnipresent hurts what it hides.

>>> import tech.good
Complexo do Alemão: Tech is good?. Still in 2020, people of colour (POC) are being targeted/carded at a significantly higher rate than non-POC (since “whiteness” is the standard, the spectacle, and that is unquestioned) not because of criminal intent, but rather due to deep socio-economic problems and racialized violence (Prouse, 2018). The “spectacle” renders tech as a dominant player in the making of our modern world, hiding critical issues that could easily be resolved, but often don’t as a result. But.... How does this relate to tech? Well, Prouse (2018) focussed on the 2014 government-sanctioned militarized and racialized violence towards low-income residents living in Rio de Janeiro's favelas. Originally sparked from the arrest of two boys suspected of drug trafficking, the situation quickly became violent as military police used unnecessary force on protestors. Eventually, armed police were placed in the favelas without prior consent from the residents to maintain order and surveill. Activists recorded the clashes on smartphones and used the hashtag #genocido in response to the disproportionate killing of black youth to let the world see. Here, technology was used for good and illuminated people’s voices from darkness that wouldn’t otherwise be seen or heard from government crackdowns or police involvement.

So, is tech all it is said to be? Is it the way we’ve portrayed it in the media with our simultaneous advancements in medicine and engineering as the “saviour” of humanity’s issues? From my perspective as a self-taught developer, I uncomfortably straddle the line between my interest in building software for people (users) - software is super cool! - and being a good citizen and steward of my existence on this land. Currently, I don't think (we) developers appreciate how crucial our roles are in the tech industry; we are pivotal in the shaping of tech in society. Our role is not single-faceted; rather it is tightly conjoined with the natural environment* (really, our data actually needs physical storage and space (4)), workplace/gender biases, and how we each contribute to workplace cultures - these are fundamental issues plaguing tech. The seemingly subtle biases women and especially women of colour face in hiring processes (which, even an interview, is hard to get in general - more on this another time) are hidden by the lucrative possibility of attaining stable, high-paying jobs when in fact, the tech industry has historically marginalized women of any intersection. It hides the fact that our excessive streaming (Netflix) and old emails are damaging the environment. It also hides the fact that governments and militaries are using technology to maim/surveil without prior voluntary consent as seen in Prouse (2018). What this “spectacle” conceals is fundamental issues that are hindering the tech sector from moving forward and keeps the wool pulled over society’s eyes about the reality of tech and how unregulated tech can impact people, and the society that relies on the technology.

“How does unregulated technology impact our lives and what narratives does it perpetuate?”

My criticism may sound like I’m being a hypocrite, but in fact, I’m coming from the perspective that we should use tech as a tool that advances and benefits people’s lives, workplace well-being, and our environment, instead of militarizing it and using it as a mask that hides the deep societal issues of today.

Annddd that's all! Thank you to people who came across my post. This may be one of my more philosophical discussion posts so far, but it really brings to light that certain things in life aren't clear cut, and not everything is what it seems. Looking beyond the current interest in tech, tech should be a tool used for good and we developers have a place in this to help.

References:

  • Debord, G. (1967). Society of the spectacle. The Anarchist Library.
  • Prouse, C. (2018). Autoconstruction 2.0: Social media contestations of racialized violence in Complexo do Alemão. Antipode, 50(3),621-640. https://doi.org/10.1111/anti.12370

Footnotes:
1.programming language: written set of instructions given to a computer (similar to how we communicate as humans in English, Hindi, Mandarin, etc) to complete a given task.
2.UI/UX:

  • User Interface design - designing attractive and usable interfaces
  • User eXperience - involves cognitive research and psychology to create interfaces; visual, interactive elements like font style, buttons, icons, etc. (building/designing software products that put the human first (user-friendliness))

3.refactoring: the process of making code easier to read and less complex (similar to how we rewrite drafts of essays).
4.According to WholeGrainDigital's Carbon Calculator, London's leading WordPress Agency, the Internet itself consumes around 416.2TWh a year! A inbox cleaning platform called cleanfox found that one email equates to 10g CO2 per year. That's a lot considering the many people that use emailing platforms, and that's not including our streaming habits!

Posted on by:

maureento8888 profile

Maureen To

@maureento8888

Self-taught 📚. She/her. UI/UX Design. Vue.js. Python & Javascript. Also a Kin student 🏃🏻‍♀️ * For more detailed list, DM me OR visit my LinkedIn!

Discussion

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Thank you for this. I really like your explanation of the tech industry presenting as a Debordian spectacle. One of the most striking and succinct ways I've seen the current situation in tech articulated.

 

Wow, thank you for the support! This means so much to me! Haha I didn't expect many to understand since this was for a physical cultural studies course meant to be written as an op-ed but guess I was mistaken! Debord is one of a kind 👍🏼! Do you have a background in philosophy/social science?

 

I did a masters in critical and cultural theory, in another life haha. I'm really out of practice of reading academic stuff but your post reminded me that I miss it, and should read a bit more now and then. It's so easy to get swept up into the positivity of the tech bubble and not turn a critical eye to anything going on around you.

Wow, that's really interesting! Yes, I agree; even I get swept up. Are you a developer now? What made that choice? I'm studying Kinesiology right now and we study this in relation to physical activity in society, etc.