Rebuilding the architecture of the space

Anne had a thought-provoking post Wednesday about her experiences at Adobe Engage, which is a show-and-tell event where Adobe demos interesting things they’re working on. She relayed a quote from one of the VPs there, about needing to “fight against the architecture of the space” because the event was held in a formal lecture-style room, instead of one where the participants face each other and are able to interact more easily.

Then Anne says, “As the only non-Adobe woman in attendance, I felt like I was fighting against two architectures: the physical space, arranged auditorium style, and the social space, a monoculture of mainly white and Asian men.”

I like this way of describing things. It appeals to my inner geographer. Blogging is a space. The tech industry is a space. They are structures with particular characteristics. And like I was saying in my last post, once you know how something is put together, you can start looking for the place to push to enact change.

(As an aside, my attempts to analyze the structure of things sometimes get away from me. This morning I decided that work reminds me of playing in a Camarilla LARP in college. If anyone from work is reading this and thinking “WTF?” ask me and I’ll try to explain. I can’t say that it’s useful information, though, just really funny inside my own head.)

Anyhow, to get back to the topic, Anne also says, “The world of technology blogging is an architecture of non-participation for women.” As in, the way people gain prestige and attention (and income) through blogging seems to be constructed in a way that tends to work against how women (often) do things.

I’m not going to argue nature vs. nurture on the gender and technology issue, because I think it’s a stupid argument and completely pointless. I don’t have any issue with the idea that I experience the world differently than Robert Scoble, and for all sorts of reasons. (No link. Google it if you don’t know who he is.)

I’m also willing to accept the idea that women tend to blog differently than men (we post less often. We’re less willing to post unless we feel we have something new to add to the conversation. I saw something today about similar gender differences in the publication of academic articles). And if we experience the world differently (in general, on average, etc) it makes sense that we encounter technology from a different angle too. I like to code because I like to build things, but I wouldn’t write code unless I cared about the end result. I think maybe this is what Kathy Sierra is trying to explain when she talks about her daughter and peers, about wanting to play with the product, not be stuck working on the low-level machinery.

Then, if we agree this far: it’s not a leap to say that environments that foster only one way of engaging with technology have a negative impact on diversity. I experience this, I believe it. And I don’t think we need to work with the architecture of the space, I think we need to rebuild it. Maybe not the whole thing all at once. But I’m looking at my own projects, and trying to find clues to what an inclusive architecture looks like. Does everything associated with blogging have to be built like a search engine, complete with page rank? After spending the last several weeks on magazine layout, I’m starting to wonder why everyone’s in such a hurry to ditch print–there’s a lot you can do with the publication as a whole product that’s diminished when you break it up into searchable text online. I’m involved with several local user groups, and I think there’s a lot of opportunity there. I’m sure I could come up with a whole list if I were more awake.

Maybe it’s enough of a starting point just to say “environments without diversity are toxic. What can we build that works differently?” But I’ve been poking at this long enough that I don’t want to just ‘work with’ the space. I want to create something else.

Back to Anne one more time: “I do want to work within this space of blogging and technology and influence. I don’t want to fight against it and be labeled shrill or out of touch or difficult.” This is perfectly reasonable. I think it’s stupid beyond belief that it can reduce one’s opportunities and access to say ‘hey, I’m having an unpleasant experience over here’, but that’s not her fault, and I’ve encountered it plenty myself (not just on the gender issue). What I’m trying to say is that working on a zine has started me thinking about how to carve out my own space. Could I build my own little area of change?

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