A study of modern technology in handy book form

 

When it comes to being perpetually outraged the hyper-sentive under-pragmatic leftists are looking for job security. They may have found outrage perpetuity in a new line of complaints. According to the new book coming out from Sara Wachter-Boettcher – “Technically Wrong: Sexist Apps, Biased Algorithms, and Other Threats of Toxic Tech” – we are suffering at the hands of our digital oppressors.

Our phones, and the functions we often rely upon therein, are grievously offensive in numerous unintentional ways. As we progress forward technologically it turns out operating systems and programs are not always hewing to the progressive agenda. There are numerous, and growing, ways in which we can become insulted by our as yet non-sentient devices.

From my perspective this has become a revelatory exercise. As someone who is not predisposed to being offended by people in general it would not occur to me to become offended by a digital platform I’m trying to use for directions to the nearest road house. And apparently that is part of the problem. See, there is a reason that the interactive systems Siri, and Alexa, are set to have female voices — apparently the programmers thought of them as digital administrative assistants, and they just assumed those should be female!

I’m led to believe this is wrong… I suppose? I don’t know, really. The implication is that this is a problem, but then there is a small matter of statistical reality. I mean, if the intention of having Siri act as a AA, then they were actually rather accurate:

According to the U.S. Census, however, the most common job for women today remains the same as 60 years ago. Between 2006 and 2010, about 4 million people in the United States worked as “secretaries and administrative assistants” — and 96 percent of them were women.

Next there is the small matter of your phone allowing the choosing of the gender of your NOT AT ALL REAL administrative assistant. You can in fact select a male version of Siri, which I have done, indifferent to how my phone self-identifies. I felt uneasy with the female voice, so now when the platform completely butchers my vocal commands I am much more comfortable having an irrational profanity-laced argument with the male Australian who lives in my phone.

Many of us have rolled our eyes at the ever ongoing battle of having racially appropriate emojis. I have long ignored these complaints because I am dubious that is the kind of battle Malcolm X was incensed about. But there are deeper ways the graphic interface can offend. Wachter-Boettcher offers an example of someone producing a text about the passing of a loved one, and upon typing “death” the image of a skull appears. I’m not sure why the image is worse than the word they had voluntarily produced on the subject. To this subject, can’t just about any emoji accidently trigger someone?

  • He lost his “fist” in a combine accident 🤜
  • She suffocated from inhaling “party” confetti  🎉
  • He contracted cirrhosis from too much “bourbon”  🥃

The phone applications are also subject to insensitivity we are told. Suppose you have a weight loss app you are employing; if it compliments the end user this could be in fact regarded as fat-shaming, according to the author. And, as Sara points out, this can be particularly offensive to someone who is anorexic. (Do not ask why an anorexic is using such an app; that kind of pragmatism has no place in our hyper-sensitive society these days.)

FaceBook is cited as being particularly pernicious in the name department. The book lists a number of people with curious surnames, such as native Americans, who have been locked out of their account due to FaceBook not approving of their tribal names. This underscores how difficult it remains for companies to be ahead of the masses in being socially aware. Seems there is no grace given for the social network in offering over 50 gender options for users to choose from.

There also appears to be an issue with the attitude forwarded by some business entities on their websites. Most are familiar with landing on a page and dealing with the prompting pop-up windows, constantly imploring you like those flying billboards in “Blade Runner”. You may have noticed when attempting to close these out you get a secondary prompt, possibly using a phrase like, “Yes – I do not wish to save copious amounts of cash today!”

What is the issue with this level of corporate badgering? It is a variation of the dating practice of “negging”, where a target is belittled in the expectation they will work at impressing you as a result. “It’s a way to get you to do something right now because you’re feeling shamed and pressured into it,” Wachter-Boettcher says. “It’s not the move of a company thinking about a long-term relationship with its users.” Honestly, when I’m buying a pair of Brony pajama pants I am not looking to establish a long term relationship with the vendor. A walk-of-shame is more surely the result of that buyers remorse.

Actually I am in full support of those who are outraged at their technology. I find myself encouraged by this new evolution for one reason; if those who get perpetually offended begin expending their efforts towards reforming insensitive objects and devices, then maybe that futility will occupy them enough to leave us alone.

Word of caution: Buy the hard copy version of Sara’s book. No telling what grievous offenses your Kindle Fire may impart upon you!