San Francisco, CA June 4, 2016
Outside Looking In: Working to Reshape the Cultural Memory of Tech

The promise of many online communities is that we have equality of opportunity—that because we’re online, the only thing that really matters is that to become one of us, you have the technical skill and the patience to help make your community’s dream a reality. All those barriers that divide us in the real world are supposed to magically go away, at least online.

But it’s not easy. Our own human biases will still naturally make their way down to how our projects—online or not, open source or not—ultimately behave. This manifests in many forms, chief of which are our struggles with bringing more women and people of color on board our projects, in things like how Wikipedia has a systemic bias towards "Western" topics and cultural norms, gaming's hostility to women, or Facebook's difficulty to effectively deploy Safety Check for events outside the West. As our projects become ever more globalized, we need to take them into account, and while we’re making some progress, we still have a long way to go.

This talk looks at the idea of "cultural memory" in technology, where projects are imbibed with a particular imprint of the dominant offline cultures that gave birth to them; more specifically, the cultural context to which the creator(s) of that technology was/were raised in. We'll look at how this works, how we can challenge these dominant narratives, existing trends, and how we can make our communities more diverse by making these cultures more accommodating to people from different backgrounds.