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  • Julie Liu

The Social Dilemma We Must Address


As a veteran user of social media and a parent of teenage kids, I decided to watch, “The Social Dilemma”. With plenty of time on my hands, I could easily spare the hour + 34 minutes. I even had my teenage son watch with me (although his definition of “watch with me” meant him sitting on the couch with me, streaming Anime on his iPad while Snapchatting on his phone, irony duly noted).


I have been working in the high tech industry for more than 25 years as a software engineer, most of those years writing code for advertising analytics systems. During my career, I have witnessed many tech milestones: the birth of the Internet, the mass onboarding of email and instant messaging, the dot-com boom and bust, the mp3 and Napster. I remember when eBay started. I have seen the death of pagers and the birth of texting. I have seen handheld devices transform from the Palm Pilot to the Smartphone. I have watched Facebook/Amazon/Google grow up. I have watched the “Cloud” go from esoteric techie term to household word.


I figured I would not be shocked at what “The Social Dilemma” had to tell me.


Well, I stand corrected. I watched aghast at just how little the male-dominated culture of tech has progressed since the 1990s. Throughout the film, men dominated the cast of characters. Men talked about their powerful roles as the inventors, the designers, and the coders of these unwittingly malicious applications. Men actors portrayed the “geniuses” working in a secret data center executing Matrix-like “computer commands” to manipulate an impressionable teenage boy. In contrast, the film interviewed women in non-technical roles - Marketing, Public Relations, and Academia. Adding further insult, a woman discussed her alarm as a mother, yet no man spoke specifically as a father or even a parent.


Our cultural understanding of the tech world continues to reinforce the notions of women playing support roles in a male-dominated field. We have become so socialized into accepting our gender stereotypes, that most of us don’t even notice the disparities anymore.


Although not the intent, the film inadvertently highlighted the same issues against which I have been struggling for years. How many times have male counterparts loudly talked over me in technical jargon in an attempt to discount my knowledge of the subject matter? How many times have male counterparts told me I was wrong when I was right, or I didn’t know what I was talking about when clearly I did? How many times have male counterparts told me I wasn’t up on the latest technologies so I would be of no help, but co-worker Bob knows so let’s ask him instead? How many times did I walk into a meeting and have someone ask me if the IT director was going to join, assuming I could only be the note-taker or the slide-flipper? How many times did I have to prove myself 10 times over in order to “get a seat at the boys’ table”, and after proving myself still be passed over for the promotion? How many more technical accreditations and certificates than my male counterparts did I have to earn in order to show my worth?


In “The Social Dilemma”, we have a film highlighting the ethical issues technology brings, yet in the same breath, reinforcing one of the biggest social problems in tech – gender inequality. Ask yourself this, if more women were directly involved in the tech architecture and development process of social media, would we be in the ethical situation we now find ourselves? What would a female perspective have brought? It's due time we find out.