The 53.7% Factor: Conversations on a Long Train Ride to a (Gay) Wedding

When I tell you I live in San Francisco, you may think being gay here is just a done deal.  And most of the time, you might be right: I don’t worry about who I am or whether I am or seem “out” to anyone else. My wonderful wife and child and I can simply exist.

Then I remember the irony of the train ride on the evening of Tuesday, November 4, 2008. A group of us took the F-Market train from the No On Prop 8 headquarters down to the democratic campaign headquarters at the St. Francis hotel, all decked out in our No On Prop 8 shirts, carrying No On Prop 8 signs and generally excited though uncertain about what was to be a long roller-coaster night of heartbreak ahead.

We were taunted on the train.  A group of kids were seething slurs at us, and the slurs were not at all pretty.  We were, basically, publicly humiliated.

It’s true so much has changed even just since then. Five years later we’ve not yet seen the repeal of Prop 8, but other states have managed to overcome the barrier to popular vote for the rights of gays and lesbians to marry.  We feel the tide turning.  But we still have a long ride ahead.

Last week we took the Amtrak Coast Starlight up to Seattle and back for Loret and Aimee’s beautiful wedding on Saturday, April 6.  The thing about these long rides on Amtrak trains is that you’re not just traveling – you’re dining, watching movies, squeezing through tight corridors, and generally hanging out with a bunch of people you don’t know.  For an entire day.

When you go into the dining car for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, unless you’re a party of four already, you’re placed together with others who fill the table.  Each time, you try to have conversations.

“Where did you get on the train?”
“Where are you headed?”
“Oh you’re going to a wedding – how wonderful!”
“Is your daughter going to be in the wedding?”
“Who’s getting married?”

Conversations with strangers are wonderful – even when one is badly slept and unshowered on a rocking train.  Conversations about our gay families though – even in 2013 – are still risky.  Here’s what it’s like:

“Who’s getting married?”

All in a split second, you consider the 2012 election result that approved same-sex marriage in the state to which the train is heading, stick the fact in your back pocket that 53.7% approved the marriage you’re going to witness, and by proxy your own marriage, and come up with the figure that roughly 1 in every two you meet, were they Washington voters and did they vote in this particular election, are going to be thusly supportive of the conversation you’re about to consider having.

And you try to evaluate: which one is this?

Not everybody gets this opportunity to have their relationship status a subject of national debate.  Usually this is considered a good thing – a matter of privacy – but we’re global citizens, sharing the same world, the same country, the same dining car table – and marriage is nothing if not about a societal conversation and recognition.

I don’t always succeed in taking the opportunity to represent who I am, even in the face of a 53.7% chance of being met with frank approval.

On the train, I failed at the first meal, with the couple from Imperial County in California.  Somewhere my mind made a judgment from within the context of the 2008 Prop 8 verdict of their home county, and I answered the dining questions vaguely, for which I felt like a deceptive and bad global traveler.

The rest of the conversations would go differently.  With the mom and her kid, who seemed almost mirror images of my daughter and me and were returning to their home city near Seattle — with them we talked freely, and I thanked them for approving R74 – even though I had no idea how they actually voted.  They reacted supportively – almost like this wedding thing is just a given.

Then there’s an entire other end of the spectrum.  My wife Leanne was practically jumped upon by a self-professed conservative Republican who wanted to apologize for his party and wish us well whatever the hell we wanted to do. Eventually for Leanne it became a matter of choice NOT to keep talking to this fine fellow — she had other things to do on the train, after all.

What a difference indeed the five years – the ten years – the knowing of one out of every two – makes. I should represent like every other person who is alive today can, but I get this extra chance – to represent in the face of a flying social issue.  I do try, and not always very well.

The flip-side of the 53.7% factor is the 46.3% factor.  For this good reason and many better ones, conversations on our journey, still risky, are more and more important, rewarding, and hopeful — every day.

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Here it is! Anita Sarkeesian: “Damsel in Distress: Part 1 – Tropes vs Women in Video Games”

Anita Sarkeesian’s first piece investigating representations of women in video games is here at last!

This is just the first in what should be an excellent (and well-backed – one nice ramification of the trauma) series. If you don’t know the background, visit the links Sarkeesian provides at the YouTube page (or watch her talk at TED, also embedded below).

So far I find this work to be compelling, educational, and essential. Leanne says we should share this with our daughter, who is virtually growing up online. I’m looking forward to it. Thank you Anita!

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X6p5AZp7r_Q%5D [youtube:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GZAxwsg9J9Q%5D

10 Camera Phone Videos that Shook The World

“A camera on a phone has only aided the perverted, the nosy, the violent, and the bored.”

Thus proclaimed Michael Agger writing for Slate in January 2007, just as “cameras on phones” had really begun to hit the mainstream.

Adding video capability simply increased the “madness,” according to Agger. The most prominent uses of these devices that he could dig up at that time included “happy slapping,” “streetkissing,” and “old-fashioned humiliation,” leading him to conclude that “In glorious retrospect, it seems like a terrifically bad idea to give the world a spy camera that looks and functions like a cell phone.”

Even as he wrote that, YouTube, as the platform that made it easy to actually share camera phone video content, had been blocked in Thailand. Since the platform’s launch in 2005, it has been taken seriously enough to be blocked in at least 12 countries – not to mention by corporate firewalls and in school districts across the USA.

So many of us now produce and consume camera phone content as a matter of course and hardly think of it as “madness.” Yet if Agger’s swift dismissal of the camera phone strikes you as silly today, try this trick: substitute the words “Google Glass” (or maybe even “dashboard camera”) for “cell phone camera” in that Slate article. It works. And will probably continue to work, every time a disruptive new technology is introduced.

I’ve had a keen interest in the transformative power of being able to create and share content easily — equally relevant inside an enterprise such as SAP (where I work) as out. In 2010, I conceived and managed a project that made it easy for anyone to share a video inside SAP. That project achieved astronomical success and came to be known as Media Share, now formally “productized” on our corporate portal. Yet we also had our naysayers from the outset, insisting we would get in trouble for allowing people to share whatever content they pleased.

This was in fact the thing I liked best about working on Media Share: helping people represent themselves who could not before. You could always publish a video and share it – if you had funding and your content was vetted. To be sure, we’ve seen slick promo videos, formal training courses, official communications and corporate advertisements alike (not to mention our powerful and meticulously produced It Gets Better: SAP Employees) – all of which stand to gain from the ease of distribution on video platforms such as YouTube and Media Share. These things of course have their place — but sharing raw footage from your hand-held device cuts more profoundly to the bone.

Why?:

  • It’s ok to be an amateur. It might even make you more credible.
  • You don’t need to be a corporation or have funding to create content. You don’t even need a fancy camera.
  • You don’t need anyone to tell you it’s ok.
  • You can – in fact, you probably will — easily share your content, whether or not your content “goes viral.”
  • As you take your hand-held device around the world with you, you are a witness, a reporter, a human.
  • This changes EVERYTHING.

Agger did concede in Slate in 2007 that some camera phone videos can “testify to the power of first-person witnessing, and how a digital copy of that witnessing can upend neat narratives and certainties.”

What Agger failed to contextualize is that this “upending” is more than just bored hooliganism. This is “Truth 2.0.” When you represent your world by sharing your camera phone video, you do more than put the You in YouTube – you MAKE the news.

Sure – with over 60 hours of videos uploaded to YouTube every minute, there is more footage than anyone will ever see and perhaps care about, but you need the dinner parties, the elephants, the fire-breathing kittens, the everyday moments of life to have the really big moments that shake the world. In short: You actually need to be human.

And if you still doubt that the camera phone has changed the world (and not just for perverts and the nosy, violent, and bored), or rather – that you can change the world because you are a human using your camera phone, browse the list and remember the moments below, listed in the order in which the events they recorded occurred.

As beloved San Francisco Bay Area radio personality Scoop Nisker used to say: “If you don’t like the news… go out and make some of your own.”

 

December 26, 2004
Indian Ocean Earthquake & Tsunami

This is just one of many videos about this event, which was “the first global news event where the majority of the first day news footage was no longer provided by professional news crews, but rather by citizen journalists, using primarily camera phones.”

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zPUlU3Uwi2g%5D

 

April 23, 2005
Me at the zoo

YouTube co-founder Jawed Karim in the first YouTube video. Ever.

“Elephants have really, really really long trunks!”

Because… without elephants we would have no YouTube. Or something.

[youtube:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jNQXAC9IVRw%5D

 

July 7, 2005
London underground bombings
Perhaps the first major news event captured by ordinary people using their cell phones. Changing news forever.” (Despite Wikipedia already calling it in 2004, above). “CNN executive Jonathan Klein predicts camera phone footage will be increasingly used by news organizations.”

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y3266GdfvMI%5D

 

April 29, 2006
The Hong Kong “Bus Uncle” video

“I face pressure. You face pressure. Why do you provoke me?”

It’s not only famous people and world leaders who face pressure. Every-day “normal” people, all around the world, face pressure. Whatever our differences, we are united by this common thread: We Are Human. Respect your fellow travelers.

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H20dhY01Xjk%5D
January 1, 2009
Oscar Grant – police shooting at BART
I almost included this Rodney King video in the list. Since the videographer, George Holliday, used a Sony Handycam, it violated my rules. But this was 1991 – years before camera phones. In many ways, the Rodney King video set the stage for much of the citizen journalism that was to come.

Oscar Grant’s story is a good companion story. Like Rodney King, Oscar Grant was shot and killed by a police officer.

Unlike Rodney King’s story, in a chilling difference: With improvements in technology, the Oscar Grant video was easily more viral. And the officer involved was convicted.

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bmJukcFzEX4%5D

 

June 13, 2009
Iranian election protests

Before Egypt, before Syria – there were the Iranian election protests. This was one of its first viral videos.
There are too many videos to list here (see Mashable’s list of 10), and many are more graphic than we can ever hope to experience, including the precedent and inestimably earth-changing recording of the death of Neda Agha-Soltan.
If you look at the footnotes at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2009_Iranian_election_protests there are countless citizen-generated videos bearing witness to police gunshots into crowds. Not only did “Major news outlets, such as CNN and BBC News, gained much of their information from using and sorting through tweets by Twitter users and videos uploaded to YouTube,” but this galvanized and sparked a “Persian Awakening.”

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=54XQ7Vf-bVY%5D

 

January 18, 2011
Meet Asmaa Mahfouz and the vlog that Helped Spark the Revolution

I realize this may not be a hand-held camera phone, but at the very least the revolution this sparked was propelled by camera phone witnessing. “As one Egyptian activist succinctly tweeted during the protests there, ‘We use Facebook to schedule the protests, Twitter to coordinate, and YouTube to tell the world.’”
More on the story: Asmaa Mahfouz & the YouTube Video that Helped Spark the Egyptian Uprising

[youtube:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SgjIgMdsEuk%5D

 

November 18, 2011
Police pepper spraying and arresting students at UC Davis

Not only is this another in a series on the watchdog capability of camera phones , but to many, the incident became the iconic badge of the Occupy movement itself.

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WmJmmnMkuEM%5D

 

2011-2012
People & Power : Syria: Songs of Defiance

User-generated content becomes mainstream and goes underground at the very same. This is a remarkable compilation of footage from an Al Jazeera journalist’s cell phone camera. “An unusual but compelling first-person account of a country in turmoil and a revolution in progress”

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VnvPXspjLtU%5D

 

 

November 6, 2012
2012 Voting Machines Altering Votes

Never again should the validity of your voice and your vote be subject to doubt.

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=QdpGd74DrBM%5D

 

Footnotes:

 

I’ve been working on this list for a long time. Above are just some of countless examples. Since I began thinking about this, there are other such lists – including an excellent compilation from linktv of Top 10 Raw Videos that Changed the World (which contains many images too rough for me to stomach) – and the 15 YouTube Videos That Changed The World (deliberately not all camera phone footage).

I’ve left out incredible historical videos of events that changed the world way before camera phones and YouTube. And clearly I’ve omitted many other notable social movements including Pussy Riot, Gangnam Style knock-offs, and “the funniest kitten you will ever see!”

Have I left out something important from your camera phone? Let me know!

The Perverting of The Technically Women

In 2010 I was honored to be asked to join a group of women I greatly admired at a blog about and by women in technology called technicallywomen.com. Don’t go there yet — wait till I explain…

I had known many of the awesome women behind this beautiful site with kickass technical commentary, particularly via Twitter, and perhaps you do too:

… and several more that I got to know after becoming involved.

I wrote about my first post here and contributed a couple more pieces as time continued its hectic pace.

Back in 2010, the fantastically designed site (thanks @yojibee) looked like this:

Image

Courtesy of Internet Archive at http://web.archive.org/web/20110201210327/http://technicallywomen.com/

Unfortunately, many of us straddle a big crisis of time between jobs, families, community activism, and life and beyond (for women, they call this “work/life ‘balance'”), so the blog, and the domain, eventually lapsed from our hands. Thanks to a tip from co-technically-woman-blogger Susan Scrupski, I went to check it out again today.

Because of our lapse, today, the site at technicallywomen.com looks like this:

Image

When I looked up the domain registration, I was sadly unsurprised to find that Go Daddy is involved in hosting the “redesign.” But while we’re at it, check out these “helpful” alternates provided by whois – which would let us branch out beyond technical topics into the wild and feminine domains of fashion, hair, health, and just being good ladies:

Image

Finding the actual registrant will seem to be a little more problematic, since the site is now registered through DomainsByProxy, proudly flaunting that “Your identity is nobody’s business but ours,” right alongside links to complaints, concerns, and law enforcement:

Image

It obviously behooves us in general to keep on top of domain registrations to protect them and our content, but did it really behoove some anonymous creep to co-opt a domain about technical women and turn it into site purporting to sell soiled panties?

And is it a right, in this case, for that creep’s identity, assisted by DomainsByProxy and hosted by Go Daddy, to be ‘nobody’s business but ours”?

In this case, you may say the “harm” caused is negligible “if any,” and anonymity in general is obviously key to a free Internet. Should anonymity, however, leave us with no recourse should the harms be greater?

The awesome @yojibee is working on next steps, and though no doubt we’ll all continue to be busier than ever and some things will continue to slip through our hands.  But with countless stories and more every day of the systematic shaming of women away from technical careers, with more women scared into hiding offline for fear of identity theft, porn, cyberbullying, suicide, and worse (thanks Sarah Parmenter, Anita Sarkeesian, Amanda Todd), who and what do we really need to protect?

I don’t have an answer, but it seems like we as a whole, as citizens of the Internet and the world, need to be better than this.

Aaron Swartz on Misogyny: “I despair of it ever getting fixed”

I didn’t know too much about Aaron Swartz in 2007, when Philipp Lenssen published this refreshingly candid chat with him, nor do I know too much more about him now beyond the major tributes he’s received since his death on Friday, but the things he said nearly six years ago in that interview affected me so poignantly that I published an internal piece pointing to it and will always have a great impression of him because of it:

If you talk to any woman in the tech community, it won’t be long before they start telling you stories about disgusting, sexist things guys have said to them. It freaks them out; and rightly so. As a result, the only women you see in tech are those who are willing to put up with all the abuse.

I really noticed this when I was at foo camp once, Tim O’Reilly’s exclusive gathering for the elite of the tech community. The executive guys there, when they thought nobody else was around, talked about how they always held important business meetings at strip clubs and the deficiencies of programmers from various countries.

Meanwhile, foo camp itself had a session on discrimination in which it was explained to us that the real problem was not racism or sexism, but simply the fact that people like to hang out with others who are like themselves.

The denial about this in the tech community is so great that sometimes I despair of it ever getting fixed. And I should be clear, it’s not that there are just some bad people out there who are being prejudiced and offensive. Many of these people that I’m thinking of are some of my best friends in the community. It’s an institutional problem, not a personal one.

It’s enough of a despair to think that we haven’t moved very far on the “misogyny in tech” topic in these six years, much less to live with the idea that we can never do anything about it.  What is clear is that we’ve lost an ally and a man of brilliance. Thanks for your words, Aaron.

Wednesday in Las Vegas: Being Online – It Shouldn’t Have To Hurt

I put together some thoughts for the informal session I’ll be holding at SAP’s technology conference, SAP TechEd, in Las Vegas next week.

These are (necessarily?) unfinished thoughts, mostly because no matter how many stories I hear (and this year with the release of It Gets Better: SAP Employees I’ve been privileged to far more than I could ever have imagined) I still don’t have an answer.  But as technologists, especially at a company that purports to help “make the world run better,” we all must be part of the mandate to find a solution.

Originally I titled this session “Being Online (as a minority)…” – but then came Marilyn Pratt’s excellent blog about the concept of bullying in our own backyards, in a business context.  Let me be clear I don’t think any of us are immune to the pain of the public flaunting of whatever are our soft spots.  Yet these spots are exactly our most precious, and our futures, collectively, are lost without them. In this sense, we are all minorities — online or off.  Our differences are what matter — I believe — for the future of the globe.

If you are in Las Vegas next week I’d love it if you could join me.  If not, I’d love to hear from you here or in person.  Also, continued thanks to @karoli, @godisdead, and many others for actively engaging with me on Twitter and beyond in these topics.  Thank you.