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Humanities issues are bigger than Silicon Valley

(EDITORIAL) The lack of empathy and general kindness reaches much further than the bubble of Silicon Valley.

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poindexter humanities accelerator

Come together

This is not an article about Silicon Valley. It’s an article about you. Yes, you. I don’t know whether you’re reading this in a beige cube in a beige office, in a Starbucks on your phone, or indeed in a spacious office in Silicon Valley while crafting world-changing tech, but I know this article is about you, because it’s about everybody.

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There’s a job we’re not doing, and it needs done, stat.

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Fortune recently published an article calling out Silicon Valley for lack of empathy, isolation and general bubble-ness. Insert Deity Here knows it wasn’t the first article of its kind, and it won’t be the last.

This isn’t one of them. I don’t live in Silicon Valley — never even been there. I have no view as to its culture or lack thereof.

That being the case, I’m not going to talk about it.

I’m going to talk about YouTube comments.

You know the type

To paraphrase every 90s comedian, what is the deal with those? “Never read the comments” could have been coined for YouTube.

For every halfway decent remark, it seems like there are ten where decency, logic and grammar simultaneously go to die.

They’re a cesspool, the axiomatic instance of the very particular kind of human fail you only get on the Internet.

Why?

Because they’re a permanent part of the YouTube business model. YouTube got into full swing when everybody still had unmoderated comments, and by the time that paradigm shifted a non-negligible number of YouTube users were, for reasons known only to themselves, coming to the site to play in the cesspool. It was therefore in the economic interest of YouTube and Google to top up that cesspool and keep it circulating. And that’s why YouTube comments are always going to be generously seeded with hateful, ignorant nonsense, Charlie Brown.

That’s why this article is about you, not Silicon Valley.

Because, as we’ve written about before, there’s a humanities problem in tech. But there’s a point no one raises, and I think it’s the core issue, the reason once or twice a year half the Internet turns into a godforsaken crapstorm.

The fault is in ourselves

Is Silicon Valley a bubble? Probably. It’s affluent and by definition highly educated: more privileged people are unfamiliar with the lives of less privileged people. But the mistake it’s making that makes gamete requests and Gamergate happen is universal.

It treats empathy as someone else’s job.

A change in the movers and shakers in the tech industry would doubtless lead to changes in human-tech interaction, hopefully for the better. But it won’t change the fact that YouTube literally requires unpleasant people to shout at each other on its platform to survive.

The path to meaningful change in digital culture does not start at the top.

The top is small, fluid and ultimately limited in its influence on something as purely democratic as the Internet. It starts at the bottom and the beginning. It starts when you, personally, decide what is and isn’t OK on the platforms you use, and say so with volume. It’s about calling out problems as soon as you see them, in part because that’s how you avoid the YouTube Comments Paradox, but mostly because it’s your job.

We not me

It is your job. Mine too. It’s the job of everybody with an Internet connection to make the Internet not suck.

Good thing, too, because the push toward empathy will have to start at the bottom, not the top. Better get to work.

#DigitalCitizen

Matt Salter is a writer and former fundraising and communications officer for nonprofit organizations, including Volunteers of America and PICO National Network. He’s excited to put his knowledge of fundraising, marketing, and all things digital to work for your reading enjoyment. When not writing about himself in the third person, Matt enjoys horror movies and tabletop gaming, and can usually be found somewhere in the DFW Metroplex with WiFi and a good all-day breakfast.

Opinion Editorials

Pointed out I was the only person of color at work, was told ‘Yes, but you pass’

(EDITORIAL) Inclusion of minority groups means changing language to broader and more friendly terms. Here are things to not say and how to accomplish real inclusion.

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wtf inclusion fail

While working at what I thought was a progressive organization, I had a colleague who was nice, diplomatic, and prided herself on her deep understanding of diversity and inclusion.

She’d had the trainings and been involved in leadership organizations geared toward inclusion. She was super knowledgeable.

Then, one day during a conversation with her about diversity and inclusion, I pointed out I was the only person of color in our department.

Her response to me: “Yes, but you pass.”

I was at a loss for words and didn’t know how – in the moment – to respond or confront her.

She, a white woman, who regularly said she understood her “white privilege,” was telling me that I passed.

Whether or not “I pass,” was not the issue. What was at issue – it wasn’t her place to pass that kind of judgment.

“You don’t know me Karen!”

She hadn’t lived my life and didn’t know what situations I’d encountered over the years.

At that moment, I realized I was dealing with a person who had the attitude of “but you don’t look like, act like, talk like.”

Da F*ck?

What did she mean? I pass?

How should I look? Act? Talk?

Do I need to act differently so others feel comfortable and can put me in a box?

At that moment, I should’ve suggested she take off her “backpack” and start to review its contents, because her privilege, judgment, and biases were showing. As was her insensitivity.

What we have here is a perfect example of someone who has the opportunity to take the classes, be in a leadership position and attend training, yet has no experience dealing with the thing she claims to understand – and often insinuated she knew better than me, a person who has actually lived the experience.

“But, I have black friends.”

Yeah, good for you Karen.

Over the years, I’ve heard:

  • “You don’t act like a Mexican.”
  • “Why does a Mexican girl have a southern girl’s name.”
  • “But, you’re not really Mexican.”
  • “You never talk about your culture or the food.”
  • “You probably got into college because you are a minority.”

Let’s be honest, people like to put things in specific boxes. Our mind wants to make sense of what it observes. Our backgrounds do affect those judgments, biases and labels.

While working as a teacher, I had another experience with a superior, who was surprised to learn I had a master’s degree and had been published – a lot.

Why? Well, possibly because my vernacular is slightly different than hers. I come from a working-class background and was the first to attend college. I wasn’t exposed to people who spoke and acted in a more erudite way – the way, it’s generally expected you speak and act in a corporate environment (btw – mostly dictated by the white experience).

I know some people will say, “Well, I’ve had people assume x,y,z about me and I’m white.”

I don’t doubt it. But, on the whole, a white person is a lot less likely than a person of color to hear things like: “You don’t look like a doctor, lawyer, Latin(x), dentist, PhD.” Or, “Is that your hair?” “Can I touch your hair?”

What it comes down to is this: having empathy and thinking before speaking.

I’ve said and done a lot of dumb things in my life. We all do. Nobody is perfect. While it’s important to consider what you say and how you act with anyone, it’s crucial with a person of color who you don’t know well. The fact that you may work with them doesn’t mean you know them.

Of course, there are some people who are just too self-centered to care about anyone else’s feelings. But, most of us aren’t total jackasses. We do care. We just don’t always think. I’m as guilty of blurting out dumbass stuff as the next person.

Understanding others comes from a real interest in learning where the person is coming from. And, just because you have a black friend or eat Mexican food, doesn’t mean you understand a colleague’s personal experience or culture.

Educating yourself about diversity and inclusion is commendable. Just remember – unless you are an actual member of a minority group, you can never be more knowledgeable than the person living the experience. It just is not possible.

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Opinion Editorials

Reality check: WeWork can make mistakes, lose billions – you can’t

(EDITORIAL) WeWork can afford (but shouldn’t be able) to literally burn money, but unfortunately you don’t so here is how keep that from happening

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WeWork money

Michelle Obama, toned-arm goddess that she is, gave me perspective on more than a desperate need to lift when she said about the mega-wealthy: “They are not that smart.”

American meritocracy is BS, and we all know it (I hope), but on some sad level, us 99% tend to think ‘Well, this person’s bank statement looks like a phone number with a personal extension on it, so they MUST know something I don’t.’

Well, no, not necessarily.

What the disastrous decisions WeWork made should tell you is that when you’re extra rich, you get to make extra mistakes.

For all the hand-wringing billionaires pay (or don’t) their subordinates to do for them about losing hundreds of billions to taxes, the fact remains they’ll still be left with more money than could be spent in any one person’s lifetime, plus the interest that just leaving that money in the bank nets them.

Now, wherever you fall politically doesn’t much matter here, this article isn’t meant to change anyone’s mind. What we should all be aware of though is that the cushion the rich getting richer have means something crucial to your business.

It means you cannot afford to look at the likes of WeWork guy and say ‘Well, hey, he was fine, so I’ll be fine!’

If you’re still in the rags portion of a rags to riches story, honey, you 100% will NOT be okay making the mistakes this guy does. And honestly, until you’ve got at least Oprah money, you won’t be.

So here are some pointers for starting entrepreneurs with moneyed faces on their vision boards.

1: Be aware of your starting point.

Are you working out of a garage? Is that garage the one in the guest house of your parents’ fifth home? Then you’re fine. Go forth and do dumb things, just do your best not to hurt anyone working under you who can’t see you’re going full King Lear on your business. Send them an Edible Arrangement garnished with a few hundred thousand dollars when your disaster chickens come home to roost.

Is that garage out of a house your friends rent, and also you rent it, and also you’re sleeping there? Then ‘Neumanning’ and letting the chips fall where they may is not the strategy for you. Every move you make requires cost analysis, time analysis, ‘Check yourself, sis’ (applicable to all genders), and the humanity that comes with knowing anyone you burn is 100% on your level, and can 100% put those flames back on your ass later on.

2: Keep in mind how much bigger a billion is than a million.

Billion, million, they sound the same, they have zeros, so… they’re basically the same thing, right? No, obviously.

A billion is a thousand million. Another way to put this is 1 million seconds is 11 days, 1 billion seconds is 31 years

Does Beyonce Knowles-Carter have more money than you? She’s worth 400 million, so probably. Oprah Winfrey is worth 6.75 Beyonces at 2.7 billion. At 1 billion, Adam Neumann is worth a little over two Beyonces.

If you don’t even have the assets of a half Beyonce, then you’re not playing on the same platinum court as WeWork, my friend. You’re not backed by a wealthy Japanese financier who is backed by a Saudi Arabian prince.

You cannot afford to make the same mistakes. Put a glaring picture of your mom / my mom / Mr. Terry Crews on your business credit card to help you remember that the mural in your rented office is less important than trademark fees, and calm down.

3: Sip up on that Perspective-Ade.

Or, put another way, just read the first two points here again. This isn’t kid’s stuff, and survivorship bias is beyond real. ‘They don’t write stories about the ones who played it safe,’ is a technical truism I hear from people who think they’re Evel Knievel for putting a mini-mini-golf course in a real estate parking lot.

No arguments from this corner on that, but I have an addendum to it… when was the last time you heard about someone taking a giant risk, losing it all, having to go back to retail, and crying every night?

It’s not just an MLM thing, people.

Analyze yourself, you assets, your ass coverage (insurance, colleagues’ goodwill, your pants) – you are not WeWork, so make like Simba, and remember who you are and what you actually have to work with.

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Opinion Editorials

‘OK, Boomer’ can get you fired, but millennial jokes can’t?

(EDITORIAL) The law says age-based clapbacks are illegal when aimed at some groups but not others. Pfft. Okay, Boomer.

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Boomer sad

A brand new meme is out and about, and it’s looking like it’ll have the staying power of ‘Fleek’ and ‘Yeet!’

Yessiree, ‘Okay, Boomer’ as related to exiting a go-nowhere conversation with out-of-pocket elders has legitimate sticky potential, but not everyone is as elated as I am. Yes, the Boomer generation themselves (and the pick-me’s in my age group who must have a CRAZY good Werther’s Original hookup), are pushing back against the latest mult-iuse hashtag, which was to be expected.

The same people happy to lump anyone born after 1975 in with kids born in 2005 as lazy, tech-obsessed, and entitled, were awfully quick to yell ‘SLUR’ at the latest turn of phrase, and I was happy to laugh at it.

But it turns out federal law is on their side when it comes to the workplace.

Because “Boomer” applies to folks now in their mid 50’s and up, workplace discrimination laws based on age can allow anyone feeling slighted by being referred to as such to retaliate with serious consequences.

However for “You millenials…” no such protections exist. Age-based discrimination laws protect people over 40, not the other way around. That means all the ‘Whatever, kid’s a fresh 23 year old graduate hire’ can expect from an office of folks in their 40s doesn’t carry any legal weight at the federal level.

And what’s really got my eyes rolling is the fact that the law here is so easy to skirt!

You’ve heard the sentiment behind #okayboomer before.

It’s the same one in: ‘Alright, sweetheart’ or ‘Okay hun’ or ‘Bless your heart.’

You could get across the same point by subbing in literally anything.

‘Okay, Boomer’ is now “Okay, Cheryl” or “Okay, khakis” or “Okay, Dad.”

You can’t do that with the n word, the g word (either of them), the c word (any of them) and so on through the alphabet of horrible things you’re absolutely not to call people—despite the aunt you no longer speak to saying there’s a 1:1 comparison to be made.

Look, I’m not blind to age based discrimination. It absolutely can be a problem on your team. Just because there aren’t a bunch of 30-somethings bullying a 65 year old in your immediate sphere doesn’t mean it isn’t happening somewhere, or that you can afford to discount it if that somewhere is right under your nose.

But dangit, if it’s between pulling out a powerpoint to showcase how ‘pounding the pavement’ isn’t how you find digital jobs in large cities, dumping stacks of books showing how inflation, wages, and rents didn’t all rise at the same rate, or defending not wanting or needing the latest Dr. Oz detox… don’t blame anyone for pulling a “classic lazy snowflake” move, dropping two words, and seeing their way out of being dumped on.

Short solution here is – don’t hire jerks, and it won’t be an issue. Longer term solution is… just wait until we’re your age.

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