Mob?

Sean Uy wrote:

Congratulations, everyone. We put a stop to an issue that 'insulted' the dignity of women in the IT industry.

And we did it as one big unruly mob.

Are we a mob?

I don't know. I don't think so.

We stand on our individual pulpits or post in our individual columns and we simply speak our mind, letting other people decide what they think and how they feel about the issue. Even my http://del.icio.us/sachac/digitalpinay links feels like a shopping-list of other people who wrote about the issue, and I'm sure there are other blogs out there I hadn't seen.

Nowhere on those blogs did I see anything even remotely close to a physical threat. People joked about having "Digital Pinoy", a male version of the contest. People suggested flooding the mailbox with fake application forms or complaints, or calling them up to register their protest. In fact, some people suggested just promoting it as a beauty pageant instead of something different. I did not see a single thing directed toward the potential contestants. I don't work that way, and chances are, neither do you. I do not know anyone who'd make such a threat. As a rule, the geeks I know prefer the pen over the sword. This is not to say, of course, that no one out there can make that kind of threat. All I'm saying is that there are many, many of us who are more moderate than the press release implies.

I was outraged enough to want to raise hell about it. I didn't want this to be an issue that quietly slipped by. I wanted them to know that I thought what they were doing was wrong. They were perfectly capable of continuing with the original plan, I knew, but maybe they'd listen to the points I raised. I helped spread the word to other people because it was something far bigger than my little corner of the Internet or my little perspective on life, and I was not disappointed by the variety of insights I gained.

I am not against PCS, and I am certainly not against promoting technology. This was not some master plan to bring down PCS nor was it a symptom of crab mentality. I sincerely want to promote computer science in our country, and I spoke out because I strongly felt that the contest I heard about would do more damage than good. I pointed out flaws and offered suggestions. I knew they wouldn't be able to remove the 'beauty pageant' stigma from the event if they continued with their criteria, so I suggested other things they might do instead.

Was it really all the outrage from blogs? Companies have sponsored highly-criticized events before. The Miss Universe contest has legions of detractors. No, I don't think it was sheer outrage. I'd like to think that the sponsors pulled out not because the contest attracted lots of bad publicity but because the sponsors listened to our thoughts and thought we made sense. Money speaks, and it took the sponsors to make PCS consider other ideas. We argued as well as we could, and that resulted in slight modifications of the event. PCS thought it could deal with the other objections, but it took sponsors to really drive the point home.

It's a pity that PCS focused on extreme reactions in their press conference. Instead of making bloggers feel respected and listened to, they polarized the issue, turning it into an us-versus-them fight. That wasn't the best way to deal with this kind of issue. I would have respected them more if they calmly outlined the issues and thanked everyone involved, but I understand why they said those things. They are also human, and it is hard to be calm when you see a pet project fall apart. Other critics are also human, and it's hard to accept someone's words as face value when you see it more as a cover-up. There must have been better ways to deal with the whole mess, but it's done now, and all that is left to do is to reflect on the whole matter.

I must confess being guilty of taking pot shots at PCS when I think what they say doesn't make sense. For example, I think their cancellation is yet another example of bad PR, and I'm half-tempted to volunteer to edit their press releases from now on. I'm allowed to have and express opinions. I'm not a journalist, just a geek. I care not only about my work but also the culture and environment I work in.

That said, they're fine, and they did have good intentions. I can't imagine Leo Querubin waking up and saying "I think I'd like to have a sexist contest," and I believe them when they say they weren't thinking of making it a beauty contest. They just didn't think about it hard enough. Who here hasn't made mistakes like that before? Who here hasn't been defensive about mistakes, trying to rationalize them as long as possible before realizing they were wrong? I appreciate how they invited us to join the press conference, although the timing was bad for practically everyone. (A Saturday would've been better, really, or they could've just held it online. That would've been much more fun!) I appreciate how they asked someone who understood the other side to serve as a consultant. (Hi, Ranulf!) I appreciate how, to the very end, their intentions were sincere. I don't think they were in this just to make money. I think they just picked the wrong way to achieve a goal, and then a wrong way to save face.

PCS still serves a valuable purpose. They have other projects and they don't need to be replaced or destroyed. Besides, there is no organization ready to step into the gap. I hope that the lesson they carry away from all of this is not that the public does not understand them, but that we understand their objectives too well to let them quietly make mistakes. We speak because we care.

Are we a mob? A thousand voices exploding on the Internet may seem like a chaotic mess, but if you listen carefully you would be able to discern the clear, calm tones of people like Dominique, Joey, and Sean. You would hear people who spoke from their hearts _and_ their minds, like Clair and Xenia. You would even hear non-IT people with a clear understanding of the issues, like Marcelle. We are not a mob. We are simply people who know what we believe in and who care too much to be silent.

I will reflect some more on this if other people have interesting posts, but in the meantime, I would like to thank the bloggers who shared their thoughts, the journalists who helped us raise awareness of the problem, and the rest of the gang for listening in.

Although it could have gone better, it was good that we did this.

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