• Law, Policy -- and IT?

    Tracy Mitrano explores the intersection where higher education, the Internet and the world meet (and sometimes collide).


'It Is a Bad-Boy, Jerk Culture.... '

The culture at Uber and so many other places.

November 23, 2014

“It is bad-boy, jerk culture. And I can’t celebrate that,” said Lisa Abeyta, the founder of a tech company in Albuquerque, about Uber, the service/app that gets you a taxi or private car quickly, especially in urban environments. She added, “There is a difference between being competitive and being dirty,” she added in the New York Times article, “To Delete or Not to Delete.”

It has been an interesting ride for me. In college, I co-chaired the Women’s Caucus and brought such luminaries as Betty Friedan, Bella Abzug and members of the Radical Feminist Group, Redstockings, to speak on Susan B. Anthony Day (February 15) to the University of Rochester (where she hocked her house in order to secure admission for women in 1900). My doctorate is in American women’s history. (Elizabeth Cady Stanton is my idol J. I have a late nineteenth century photograph of her in my private study which repeated elicits from guests the question, “Is that your grandmother?”) In law school I ran back to the professor of my civil rights class, the last exam I took in law school at the end of my third year, because classmates asked me what I had said about race in the exam.  “Race?” I exclaimed, “I thought it was about gender!” It was, but only a little.  The combination of my academic focus and dyslexia resulted in my failure to read through the entire question. (I did all right anyway …)

And then, as much to my surprise as anyone else’s, my dream job in academic administration was in information technology. When I applied for the position, “friends” asked “what do you know about that, or care?” I called my soon-to-be-ex-husband, the electrical engineer who had in fact taught me a great deal about technology and got me a on the Internet practically the very day it became public, and he offered the best advice ever: “Forget about them.  When we were coming of age, there was no such thing. Now there is.  Jump in the deep end and start swimming.” So I did, and I am very, very grateful. 

To be sure, because I came to IT orthogonally, from academia and law and public policy, and at a slightly later age, I have a somewhat particular view. (Although many people my age or older came from academic disciplines too.) But I cannot help but notice some interesting gender-related issues along the way.  Here is what women say behind the backs of male bosses.  “IT is the Wild West. These guys act as if they are at the O.K. Corral.”  Or “IT is the last vestige of discrimination against women, if not objectively then in the way in which men operate that seemingly runs roughshod over women.”

So it is with interest that I read this New York Times article about important women’s reactions to the adolescent remarks of Travis Kalanick, Uber’s founder and chief executive, who boasted, in a private conversation made public about how easy it is to pick up women now that he is a big shot in the Internet world. Frankly, a part of me thought “oh big deal.” Is it a secret that some men and women of a certain psychological bent are interested in courting money and power? Does “picking up women” automatically translate into workplace discrimination?  If your answer, such as if mine,  is “no,” then where’s the story? My guess is that it is not so much about picking up women as it is the overall male adolescent hue that covers so much of Internet business. 

Now that I can say I have seen. In abundance. Boringly. Self-importantly.  Even dressed up in fancy suits, smooth talking and wearing a tie. And why wouldn’t it dominate? It is the culture of Google. Of Facebook (with hoody, forget the tie). Of Silicon Valley in the main.  Smart, agile, smooth or fast-talking, boy wonders … adolescent all the way. And truly, although charming, the presentation does get tiresome after awhile … this judgment from the doting mother of two boys. Why? The answer is in the name: it is young, which is becoming to those in the age-appropriate category, but not in those who have moved beyond that chronology. In that case, it seems odd, even of concern. Don’t we want our infants to become toddlers, and toddlers to become children, and children to become pre-teens and pre-teens to become adolescents … and then adolescents to become young adults, and so forth? We do. Because we care … for them as individuals, and as leaders with tremendous market, social and political power, for society at large. 

A society that remains enamored of youth is a society that refuses to accept the responsibilities of age. And wisdom. As Saul qua Paul would say, “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”

Let us expect such maturity of our leaders of business as well as in higher education. And with that maturity the hope is that also shall come the fuller understanding of what technological and business models complement the needs of society, in the United States and globally. As a matter of social policy, I could care less about who sleeps with whom. But I do care about how technology and business models meet the needs of society.  And when that endowed power and influence fails, as so often it has been inclined to do, for whatever reason, then I join in Lisa Abeyta claim: “… I can’t celebrate that.”


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