This is a lengthier response to something that happened to me on the Internet today. I posted a request to @davewiner to get access to something called #pngwriter, a WIP tool that takes more than 150 characters and generates a png image to post on Twitter. Personally, the word limitation and lack of comments on Twitter have always discouraged me from wanting to participate more in that corner of the social media world. However, recently, I've come to appreciate the upfront nature of that piece of the Internet in that there is no illusion of truth or safety. Everything that is posted on Twitter is public. Without a newsfeed, it's a pull-based interaction. Read at your own risk because Twitter doesn't promise anything. The same is true for Facebook, but that expectation is not made clear through the design.
Anyway, back to the specific tweet I made. Dave happened to use the word "whitelist" for getting on the trial group. So, I tweeted: "Any chance I can be whitelisted" on Twitter. I honestly meant that I wanted access to his new tool which I thought was a pretty cool idea (and it was also what the request said on the webpage). With my newfound interest in Twitter, I have been experimenting with posts on Twitter getting automatically written to Facebook. Unfortunately, when the request got reposted, I immediately had friends and acquaintances assume it was a racist remark. Yikes! I quickly removed it from my timeline but continued to carry on the conversation.
Well, what ensued was actually a very nice set of remarks that brings out some thoughts about color. I thought I should make my thoughts about skin color clear. From a geek perspective, I could probably be classified on a spectrogram as white (depending on where you draw the threshold). Mini science lesson: Color is what you see depending on which parts of the electromagnetic wavelength get reflected off the surface. Our eyes are actually terrible spectrograms in that what we see as the same "color" can actually have completely different spectral compositions. In that sense, appearing white really ends up being how much light is being reflected off the surface of your skin and not the spectral decomposition. In other words, from a scientific standpoint, how "white" you look is a function of what kind of light is being shined on you and (in my case) what time of the month it is because that changes the composition of my body.
That said, the color of my skin bores me. However, when the issue becomes of interest to others, it's important that they understand I consider myself a person of color. Whether that falls into your definition of "white" or "asian" or "black", I really don't know. I never feel comfortable being put under any label really, I'm just me :) I prefer to be understood as an individual. In that regard, I don't aspire to look more white. I don't aspire to get a tan. I don't aspire to look more young. I don't aspire to look more old. I don't aspire to look more colorful. I'm just me. But, I always appreciate it when I'm on your list.
When it comes to Silicon Valley (and elsewhere), none of the stereotypes and labels are fair really. -Even the label of "white". I have met lots of people who bring in traditions and history as reasons for thinking something in particular or behaving in a particular way. That is always a double-edged sword. One of the main reasons why I chose to be in STEM, despite all the challenges, is that there is still room for meritocracy. Even if that means there are issues like implicit bias, I see clear hacks around it. People have been doing it forever: Female authors who write under a male pen name, Female and Male coders who use pseudonyms. JK Rowling. A. M. Barnard (Louisa May Alcott). Ellis Bell (Emily Bronte). It's shit, I can't wait for it to be the other way around. (Actually, in the coding universe there are plenty of examples it being the other way around which means something!)
I tend to have more and more conversations these days that I prefer to have in recorded form. Scientists and engineers already do this with our work. I often spend the majority of my day making charts and coming up with experiments that can prove and disprove my own theories. Regardless of whether the experiments are right or wrong, I make a record. This is so that I can go back and see what happened in the pursuit of arriving at some sort of conclusion or resolution. Recently, I have started to feel like I need to do more than active recording. Yes, it is illegal in some states to make a recording of a conversation as it's happening without permission but that is exactly what the Internet does. Even sending an e-mail is essentially cloud writing. Rather than force this virtual environment to fit our rules in the physical world, why not see it as an opportunity to create a new form of communication where different types of value might be generated? The rules of social media are far from set in stone. And, if there were any assumed rules, social media itself has not been following them. That's a good thing!
It's precisely because of the lack of rules in the social media sphere, that I get some very thoughtful comments from people out on the Internet ethos (some of them my friends in real life and others just those that I have met out on the Internet ethos). I can imagine that for the newcomer, this literally looks as though I'm talking to myself or that I mean well but am violating social media norms. This is all true: I regularly debate with myself and violate social norms on the Internet. Let's be clear: you forced me to play your game.
All of this doesn't matter though, what's important is that new frameworks can emerge and be tested on the Internet to do good. In this day and age, the Internet still might be the thing that saves us all. Yes, I mean well (you don't have to agree with me).