Miller’s Law in the Archipelago of Weird

How big is your filter bubble? bubbleWhat’s in it? What’s outside it?

Okay, next question: how can you tell?

In 2011, Eli Pariser defined a filter bubble as “that personal ecosystem of information that’s been catered by algorithms.” Unfortunately, he never defined a measure on filter bubbles. Like its name implies, a measure is a way to tell how big something is. Without one, we can talk qualitatively about filter bubbles, but if we want to get quantitative, we’re going to need to do some more work. We’ll start with a literature search.

Let’s assume that the continuum of human experience is a continuum in the mathematical sense. (Whether this is actually true has some interesting philosophical implications. If it is instead discrete, the analysis below is overkill, but still works.)

In the last few years, researchers have studied the frequency with which Facebook and web users, in aggregate, encounter news and opinions from a different ideological perspective. This is interesting, but doesn’t tell us anything about the size or interior of an individual user’s bubble. Dillahunt et al. 2015 defines a distance metric between search engine users based on the overlap between their personalized search results, but a metric only tells you how far apart two things are. If you want to know how much space a bubble takes up, you need a measure.

Nguyen et al. 2014 creates a similarity metric for movies from the Euclidean distance between vectors of descriptive tags, one vector per movie. The authors use this metric to evaluate a system that recommends movies based on titles a user has already rated. They take the top 15 recommendations for a user, compute their mean pairwise distance, and call that the content diversity of those recommendations. This still only tells us something analogous to the diameter of a filter bubble, though, and then only if you tilt your head and squint. However, because the set of all content that has ever been or ever will be created (and, thus, the set of topics that content has ever been or ever will be about) is finite (if unbounded), trivially a filter bubble in the real world is also a measure space. It’s not immediately clear to me whether there are any measures that tell us anything interesting about a filter bubble’s volume, but the Dirac measure δx(A) answers the question “is x inside or outside A’s filter bubble?” with 1 for “inside” and 0 for “outside.”

Facebook’s study found less of a difference between which news liberals see and which news conservatives see than Pariser expected. However, the researchers only looked at the liberal/conservative valence of articles, which they determined based on how the people who shared an article self-identified politically. They did not examine or identify the topics of articles. There’s been some work on topic identification in group filter bubbles, though, which still makes sense with our notion of filter bubbles as measure spaces. Here’s how.

Let T be all the topics a group discusses. The power set of T is all the possible subsets of T, so elements in the power set are also sets of topics. If each member of a group is only interested in some subset of the topics the overall group talks about, that means we can map each member of the group onto subsets of T. The resulting collection of subsets is a  σ-algebra, and along with T, it defines a measurable space: the topics in each member’s individual filter bubble constitute a measurable set which is an element of the power set of the overall set of topics. With our Dirac measure, the measurable space is also a measure space. (Mathematics nomenclature: not fucking helping since sometime before the 19th century.)

However, I have yet to see anyone attempt to empirically characterize topic filter bubbles outside of small political niches. What does it look like when, instead of along some increasingly meaningless two-party axis, you characterize groups by the topics they cluster around?

Well, it probably looks a little something like a continent and a bunch of islands:

Culture, in the part of the world in which I’ve been, and, for all I know, in other parts as well to which I cannot speak, has two rough parts: the Mainland and the Isles.

The Mainland is what calls itself the “mainstream” or “normal” culture.

You know… Mundania.

The Isles are everything else. Everything that’s not “mainstream” is an island.

Nobody knows how many Isles there are. They are wholly and utterly unmapped. Each one is its own subculture.

Some Isles are closer to the Mainland, and some further.

Some Isles are closer to others. Some are big. Some are small.

We — meaning I and a very large percentage of my readership — live in a collection of close Isles which form up an Archipelago. The SCA. Fandom. NERO. Etc.

This is the Archipelago of Weird.

No points for guessing I’m an Islander, obviously. I work on the Mainland, and I have acquaintances there, but I do my research and pretty much everything else that matters in the Isles. The Mainland can be a nice place to visit, but I have to speak Mainlander there, because they don’t understand my jargon. This has its annoying aspects, but also a tradeoff that’s sometimes useful: Mainlanders know nothing whatsoever about Island customs, history, or aspirations, nor do they care to. (“I work in computers.” “Oh! That must be interesting.”) The Isles can be fractious places, and from time to time it’s nice to evacuate away from the latest hostilities. Intra-Isle conflicts are the most exhausting, because they split a population into two or more groups, each with its own native shibboleths and taboos. Keeping track of norm proliferation takes a lot of attention.

Mainlanders, generally unaware that the Isles even exist, know nothing of Island norms either. And Mainlanders get really weirded out when Islanders try to explain them. Mainlanders dont want to understand Islander inside baseball. Hell, most Islanders don’t want to understand inside baseball from other islands, unless they’re like me and have a summer home on the Isle of Inside Baseball Dissectors. A Mainlander and someone from the Isle of Fen might both listen politely to an explanation of why the Burr-Feinstein encryption bill is a terrible idea, but neither one has any reason to be particularly interested, so if there’s something I need to get across to them, I’d better be entertaining first and informative second. Burr-Feinstein is inside baseball for someone from the Isle of Infosec, and technically so is the Wassenaar Arrangement, but international trade agreements are Isle of Policy inside baseball. δWassenaar(A) is almost certainly 0 for any Mainlander A, but it could be 1 or 0 even on my native island.

Being able to estimate δx(A) for many different topics (x) and people (A) is an incredibly useful skill for anyone who does much Isle-hopping, or anyone who travels between the Isles and the Mainland with any frequency. Being bad at estimating δx(A) is a recipe for awkward interactions at best, and interpersonal conflict at worst. Mainlanders who can’t estimate Dirac measures for Islanders can still usually get by if they find themselves on an Isle by mistake, depending on how amenable the local Islanders are to humoring foreigners. (Do not expect to be humored on the Isle of Outlaw Bikers.) Islanders who can’t estimate Dirac measures for Mainlanders are kind of screwed on the Mainland, especially if they don’t realize how far away the Mainland filter bubble is from their own. Double especially if they expect the Mainland filter bubble to overlap one-to-one, or even significantly, with their own.

This is something I have to keep firmly in mind every single time an allistic person comes to me with well-meaning questions about autism.

In my first post on this blog, I criticized a piece Sumana Harihareswara wrote about eliminating “inessential weirdnesses” in technology because of its inherently ableist stance on inclusion. Proclaiming command line interfaces and non-face-to-face interaction to be of a universally “unwelcoming” nature erases the subset of people for whom those affordances make a space more welcoming, not less, and many of those people are on the autism spectrum. Harihareswara reached out to me and linked me to a revision of the piece that she gave as a talk at LibrePlanet, hoping to “do better in discussion of ableism and competing access needs.” Encouraged by the lure of dialogue, I opened the transcript and started reading …

… only to discover that Inessential Weirdness Number One, LibrePlanet Edition was still “the command line.” The new Number Two was “not using small talk.”


From the back, off the floor, through the hoop, nothing but headdesk.

In the OSCON version of the same talk, the “inessential weirdnesses” she digs into are contempt (which I can get behind, though frankly, contempt is a communication antipattern in all communities; tech isn’t special here), lack of consideration for religious observances (ditto) … and the command line. There’s also a laundry list of Inessential Weirdnesses Not Appearing In This Talk, and small talk is still one of them.

Look, I’ll be the first to admit that the Archipelago of the Spectrum is a place most people just don’t visit. Particularly people from the allistic Mainland, unless they work in special education or have a relative who lives there. But when someone claims a position of moral authority on how to be inclusive of people with wildly varying levels of ability — and telling people how they should or shouldn’t behave is inherently claiming a position of moral authority — it is ever so slightly incumbent on that person to do at least the equivalent of visiting Wikitravel beforehand. Here’s what you get when you Google “autism ‘small talk’.” With 138,000 results focused on how much of a challenge small talk presents for autistic people, it’s reasonable to assume there’s at least some there there.

When a dialogue reaches the point of “how could you possibly not know this,” I find it useful to apply Miller’s law:

In order to understand what another person is saying, you must assume that it is true and try to find out what it could be true of.

Harihareswara states her beliefs that not using small talk is “across-the-board inhospitable” and “off-putting to working-class people and women,” and that “some people get socialized” to “perform solo, freestanding utterances” while others don’t. I’m willing to assume that she believes these things. But what would have to be true in order for someone to form such beliefs?

Here is an incomplete list of possibilities, from least to most charitable:

  • She believes that the preferences of allistic people are more important than those of autistic people, and that autistic people should subordinate their needs to the preferences of the allistic majority.
  • She’s never met anyone for whom an expectation of small talk is itself inhospitable.
  • She’s never met anyone for whom freestanding explanations are the most natural way to communicate.
  • No one she’s met has been willing to admit having such uncanny-valley traits to her.
  • The possibility that there are actual people for whom her beliefs about human behavior do not hold did not occur to her.

I have to reject the first hypothesis, because a genuine allistic-supremacist wouldn’t have asked for feedback in the first place. Number four gets a bonus to its likelihood estimation because of the prevalence of the attitude that “indistinguishable from neurotypical is the same as cured” (protip: it isn’t), the stigma that people who are open about their mental health issues face, and how severely underdiagnosed autism is in women. (Here’s a partial taxonomy: white girls are highly sensitive people, white boys are autistic, and black boys have oppositional defiant disorder.)

I don’t have any further data to use in evaluating the likelihood of the other possibilities. One way or another, though, Miller’s Law leads me to conclude that δautism(Sumana) = 0. Whether it’s because she hasn’t gone looking for information or because no one has told her about it, the details of autistic lived experience are outside her filter bubble.

Thus, I went to the Isles for counsel. There’s a little place I like to hang out where all the regulars are autistic women, and all of them except me are feminists. I linked them the transcript of the LibrePlanet talk, and here’s what one of them — who also has some physical disabilities, and from whom I hope to have a guest post soon — had to say.

Look, the tech community is already not very inclusive of me.

It’s not very welcoming to women.

It’s not very welcoming to physically disabled people.

It’s not very welcoming to people with dyscalculia that affects their perception of time.

It’s not very welcoming to people who work best by focusing on one thing to completion or exhaustion instead of interleaving several tasks that must be mentally unpacked, expanded, reabsorbed in both breadth and depth of detail, then switched away from and packed back up again. The type of thinking that gives me wide-ranging expertise — jack of all trades, master of none, better than master of one — makes me nearly unemployable despite my skills and extensive crosstraining.

It’s not very welcoming to people who prefer both breadth and depth of detail instead of only one or the other, in general, come to that.

It’s not very welcoming to people who have suffered short-term memory loss and require, require, a single, assigned, constantly-messy space in which to work by viewing frequent reminders of work-in-progress as it shifts to long-term.


And there are areas where these things are close-to-least true of all the fields I am suited for: I do not have the emotional-labor aptitude for most traditionally-feminine work, I do not have the physical capacity to walk from office to office or lift 30 pounds or sit in the chair assigned to me for hours or perform repetitive arm/hand movements reliably, I do not have the ability to clock in or out on time, I do not have the ability to switch tasks flexibly during the day without excessive mental fatigue and loss of productivity, and I do not have the ability to leave a question unanswered without emotional fatigue and a need for frequent breaks, stimming, or other self-soothing behaviors.

There are areas of tech where these are serious barriers to employment.

There are areas of tech where these things matter less than whether I can pick up a problem, research it in detail, keep it all in my head, keep myself comfortable, and produce a result in shorter order than most people could.

If we’re going to talk about making tech more inclusive, we could talk about physical disability inclusion. We could talk about chronic illness inclusion. We could talk about cognitive disability inclusion. We could talk about neurodiversity inclusion in general.

We could even talk about the self-satisfied but false proclamation that tech is already a meritocracy where none of these things matter so long as I produce a result in shorter order (or of better quality, or both) than most people could, a proclamation that makes any of the other problems more difficult to solve by insisting that they cannot possibly exist, because we have always been a meritocracy (and at war with Eastasia) that would not tolerate such barriers and any such complaints therefore must come from special-snowflake syndrome harbored by incompetents.

We could also talk about the stuff the tech industry does/is/accommodates that still leaves it the closest thing I can have to self-sufficiency and a feeling of personal accomplishment and general utility, and the people who have been not just willing but eager to steer me into the small tech-harbors I’m most compatible with because they get it.

But hey, no, sure, allistic person, let’s talk about this one place you feel locked out of and how we can make it even better for the majority, who already run so many other industries to the exclusion of people like me, first. Let’s make sure the already-privileged majority is comfortable in all places, at all times, before appreciating small pockets of minority safety and accommodation, and asking what they used to do right before they, too, were colonized by the tyranny of the narrowly-defined “default” human being in need of additional comfort while I try to survive. THAT FEELS FUCKING INCLUSIVE TO ME, HELL YEAH.

The tech community is a place where many spectrum-dwellers feel welcome because people don’t expect us to engage in small talk or other social rituals that privilege the desire for a perception of harmony of experience over information sharing. Not everyone whose behavior supports anti-small-talk norms is autistic. In fact, I expect most people whose behavior upholds those norms are not merely not autistic, but have no idea that they’re making the community more welcoming for us. (Thanks for that, by the way, to everyone who does it, whether you knew that was what you were doing or not.)

In other words, anti-small-talk norms are a Chesterton’s fence. Expecting autistic people to get better at small talk in order to make allistics feel more welcome is like expecting people in wheelchairs to get better at walking in order to make physically abled people feel more welcome. It puts all the onus for change on the marginalized population rather than the marginalizing one, and it drives away people for whom the expectation is too much to ask. The fence is there because it protects marginalized people whose presence the community values, and people seeking to tear down the fence have not taken the time to follow Wikipedia’s editorial recommendations for handling that urge:

If you’re considering nominating something for deletion because it doesn’t appear to have any use or purpose, research its history first. You may find out why it was created, and perhaps understand that it still serves a purpose. Or if you do feel the issue it addressed is no longer valid, frame your argument for deletion in such a way that acknowledges that.

Deleting the norm of “small talk isn’t necessary here” and replacing it with a norm of “you must engage in small talk in order to make newcomers feel welcome” excludes those whom the original norm exists to include. For them, the issue the old norm addresses will remain valid no matter how many allistic women get tech jobs. Wouldn’t the truly inclusive solution be to give allistic newcomers more insight about autistic modes of interaction compared to allistic ones, explain how the tech community has evolved over time to include autistic communication styles, and encourage them to set aside their bias against not being small-talked to?

I’d think it would, at least. But this is a lot harder when people don’t even realize they have biases they need to examine, and worse still when the same people consider themselves to be the rightful arbiters of which biases are even worth examining.

As I mentioned earlier, Pariser defined a filter bubble as a personal ecosystem of information catered by algorithms. What this definition obscures, however, is that algorithm is nothing more than a fancy term for process, derived from the name of a 9th-century Persian mathematician. In every single one of those handwringing articles you see about “Are Algorithms Running Our Lives?”, you can safely replace “algorithm” with “process.” Do processes run our lives? Consider how many processes you ran through today on your way to taking out your phone or settling in at your computer, and you tell me. Taking a shower is a process. Making coffee is a process. Riding the bus and driving a car are processes. For that matter, so are the interactions you have with other people, whether you recognize those interactions as processes or not. Other people curate the information that they present to you just as you curate the information you present to them. The only novel purpose that “algorithms” in the handwringing-article sense serve is to remove the constraint of physical distance from the problem of who can curate information for whom. Whether online or in meatspace, there is still some process that filters what information you receive. The only salient difference is the extent to which you can control that process.

“But don’t Facebook’s and Twitter’s algorithms limit what information I see?” Yes, and so do the choices you make in friends. The fact that your friends cater the information that ends up in your filter bubble means that your choices in who to listen to determine whether you’re a Mainlander or an Archipelagian, which inside baseball means something to you and which doesn’t. If your filter bubble contains no outliers, where do you expect to learn that outliers exist, much less what their lives are like? If your goal is to make existing spaces more welcoming to the mainstream, what effect do you think that has on outliers? Especially when only the mainstream gets a say? If your goal is, instead, inclusivity of both mainstream and outlier populations, what actions do you think you could take to learn more about outliers and the Chesterton’s fences they rely on?

I’m leaving those questions open-ended rather than answering them because, frankly, by the norms that Harihareswara claims to support, it’s not my job to answer them. They are, however, absolutely not rhetorical. Mainstream feminism has some serious catching-up to do when it comes to learning about the lives of people who aren’t nice normal middle- to upper-class ladies, not to mention a lot of earned distrust. When you tell people that a skill to which they are inherently maladapted is a new requirement for participating in some culture, you are telling those people that they are no longer welcome in that culture. Bluntly, that is not your decision to make, and people are right not to trust the motivations of anyone who behaves as if they think it is. Too many of us have been burned too many times by people who told us “we want to make this a great place for everyone!”, only to find out that in practice, “everyone” actually means “all the allistics.” If you really do intend to be inclusive, then it’s on you to find ways to discover what marginalizations people experience — including the ones they’ve been socialized into believing it’s shameful to tell you about — and what accommodations they need, because, as the saying goes, intent isn’t magic.

Nor is it lost on me that I am sitting here patiently spergsplaining theory of mind to people who supposedly have it when I supposedly don’t. Allistics can get away with developing a theory of one mind — their own — because they can expect most of the people they interact with to have knowledge, perspectives, and a sensorium not all that different from theirs. Autists don’t get that option. Reaching adulthood, for us, means first learning how to function through a distorted sensorium, then learning to develop a theory of minds, plural, starting with ones different from our own. (Even when it comes to other autists. As the saying goes, if you’ve met one autist, you’ve met one autist.) Developing good Dirac measures for other people’s filter bubbles is an autistic survival skill that allistics can go their entire lives without realizing other people have to acquire.

Except you, dear allistic reader. δpro-small-talk norms marginalize autists(you) = 1, now. What will you do with your newly expanded filter bubble? Think carefully, because your credibility now hinges on it. Granted, that’s credibility among autists and among people who expect others to behave in a manner consistent with the values those others claim to hold, which I’m starting to think may be the exact same set. If you want to prove me wrong, you can start by taking up Miller’s Law yourself: what are the things I’ve explained true of?

Finding an answer to that question is going to require a lot of traveling to unfamiliar islands where the natives may be hostile specifically to people with your neurotype. Understanding why they’re hostile, and why what’s already going right for them is going right, is going to require updating your theory of minds. If you’re not prepared to do that, it won’t be a pleasant trip. If you are, however, then please enjoy your stay in the Archipelago.

About Meredith L. Patterson
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22 Responses to Miller’s Law in the Archipelago of Weird

  1. to extend your taxonomy: poor white boys have O.D.D., poor white girls are crazy bitches, poor black boys are thugs and probably in jail.

    All of this makes me so utterly sad.


  2. blueskymonster says:

    Thank you for providing me with extra vocabulary for thoughts that I already had but didn’t know how to efficiently verbalize to others.

    I had never heard the term “allistic” before reading this post. Please correct me if I’m wrong, but the sense I’m getting from the way this post uses the term is that a person is either allistic or autistic, which seems like a limited taxonomy given I know many people (including myself) who I would describe as straddling the line between the two. That said, I suppose you could make the argument that I’m just describing the border of the spectrum.


  3. Kathy Sierra says:

    So sad for me to see that some of the effort spent trying to make tech more welcoming to *women* could be making it less viable for those of us on the spectrum. If this is what’s happening now, I probably wouldn’t last a week in many of today’s more “inclusive” tech environments. But I now also recognize that many (non-weird?) women *were* struggling in the environments I thought were great. I loved it when it was all about The Work and The Users and not so much about The Other Employees or even The Community. I accept that this wasn’t necessarily true for most “normal” people. I don’t know what the answer is. I do know that having all these “discussions” around it escalate into public battles with binary side-picking, false-dilemmas, so often ending with the inevitable shaming and doxxing on *ALL* sides — well, that might be entertaining for some, but feels like a horrific waste of cognitive resources, and not how I wanted to spend what little is left of my life.

    After 25+ years as a programmer, I left that world mostly behind and now I’m working full-time with horses. They make way more sense.


  4. siliam says:

    As a neruo-atypical male who finds himself more at home in IRC than Skype, and either of those is a sight more friendly then dealing with a bar or, gods help me, a family reunion… Thank you for explaining this better then I could!


  5. Liam Gow says:

    Extremely insightful; bookmarked for future reference.


  6. Carl 'SAI' Mitchell says:

    “Granted, that’s credibility among autists and among people who expect others to behave in a manner consistent with the values those others claim to hold, which I’m starting to think may be the exact same set.”

    No, they’re just two sets that overlap with the set of people who are overly optimistic/not paranoid enough. Cynics don’t expect anyone not to be hypocritical, paranoids (not necessarily the disorder type, this can also include soldiers, law enforcement, and such) expect betrayal. Allists are perfectly capable of assuming hypocrisy by default, and autists perfectly capable of being excessively optimistic about the behaviors of others. Politicians exist at least partly to correct this notion in others.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. supergee says:

    I am perversely amused by a measure of autism based on the mathematics of Paul Dirac.


  8. Eric L says:

    “Nor is it lost on me that I am sitting here patiently spergsplaining theory of mind to people who supposedly have it when I supposedly don’t. Allistics can get away with developing a theory of one mind — their own — because they can expect most of the people they interact with to have knowledge, perspectives, and a sensorium not all that different from theirs. Autists don’t get that option. Reaching adulthood, for us, means first learning how to function through a distorted sensorium, then learning to develop a theory of minds, plural, starting with ones different from our own.”

    It strikes me that theory of mind may be a bit of a misnomer, and particularly when referring to what allistics have and autistics do not, it is more of a skill or ability. I think of it as being like the difference between a physicist and a basketball player. If you see someone sink three-pointer after three-pointer, would you say they have a well developed theory of projectile motion? Not really; they’re no more likely to understand that than anyone else. They might not have much of a theory at all, or they could have a bad theory full of errors, because it doesn’t hinder them to lack this; they don’t rely on their theoretical understanding of how projectile motion works, they just do it. But I have a solid understanding of projectile motion and I can’t use it to make a shot.

    So much of social interaction including things like reflecting and otherwise reacting to others’ emotional states are things we (allistics) just do without thinking, which means we get by without actually understanding what we do. Whereas some high functioning autistics have quite sophisticated models of how human minds work, models that are still frequently inadequate but nonetheless more sophisticated than a model a typical allistic would give you because they have to rely on that model for social interaction and every error in that model shows up as errors in social interaction. Is that about right?


  9. Eric L says:

    “But hey, no, sure, allistic person, let’s talk about this one place you feel locked out of and how we can make it even better for the majority, who already run so many other industries to the exclusion of people like me, first. Let’s make sure the already-privileged majority is comfortable in all places, at all times, before appreciating small pockets of minority safety and accommodation, and asking what they used to do right before they, too, were colonized by the tyranny of the narrowly-defined “default” human being in need of additional comfort while I try to survive.”

    “When you tell people that a skill to which they are inherently maladapted is a new requirement for participating in some culture, you are telling those people that they are no longer welcome in that culture.”

    I wonder if gentrification is a helpful analogy here? It feels that way sometimes. It seems like we had our own neighborhood that most people avoided, not wanting to walk down the streets with those weirdos on them. But then everyone realized it’s actually a perfectly nice place to live and now it’s the hot trendy neighborhood. With everyone moving in, the place must be cleaned up of anything that might still drive people away. The new construction is all bland but nice housing that would feel familiar to people from everywhere else; the quirky eccentricities that give the neighborhood its charm gradually disappear, as do the people who were here because it was the one place they felt like they belonged. And it’s about as intractable — after all, this really is a nice place to be, and we can’t just tell everyone “go away, I was here first!”


    • TrivialGravitas says:

      I’ve found the gentrification analogy falls entirely flat in conversation when trying to explain to feminist why the move on geek and nerd islands is a problem (though in general getting them to grok that Autism is a thing which actually exists and has generally terrible outcomes in adults in a form other than the stereotype also-fragile-x kind is a barrier that I can’t cross either, so maybe if you can get that through to them).


      • Eric L says:

        But the fact that it falls flat only makes the analogy more apt! After all, who sees themselves as a gentrifier, or makes housing decisions based on the desire not to gentrify? Basically no one. People pick a neighborhood that seems just right for them, then after they move in they start noticing the ongoing changes, at first maybe for the better and then for the worse, to the point where the neighborhood becomes unrecognizable and the neighborhood they picked is gone, due to everyone who moved in after them. Only your own neighborhood can be gentrified.

        I’ve been reading a lot about and hearing second-hand about the San Francisco housing crisis, and it’s striking how far up the income ladder the concern about gentrification can go. (Granted that’s an extreme case.) I’ve met a few white people who moved into the historically latino Mission district, then complained about the gentrification brought on by the richer white people moving in after them. As silly as that makes them sound, many of them have since been displaced by rising housing costs. And on the other hand I’ve read articles explaining how SF housing policy unfairly privileges long-term residents over newcomers and recognized that they have a point.

        Point is, this is like gentrification in part because it is so intractable. You finally find the right neighborhood, then discover you don’t own it when it disappears around you. The tech world is growing whether we like it or not. I’m not convinced Meredith has a good answer to this, but I do think she is justified in her concern. At the same time the problems Sumana talks about that some newcomers face are quite real, too. But I like my quirky neighborhood with its delightful weirdnesses.


    • Simon Penner says:

      > I wonder if gentrification is a helpful analogy here?

      I agree with you so strongly that you can expect to see posts on this subject in the future


    • Zoran D. Janković says:

      I think gentrification is a very interesting thing to consider because it is such a slippery thing. Sure, what the article[1] describes _seems_ like gentrification, but if we don’t have a good grasp on what gentrification _is_ the comparison is of limited utility.

      Personally, I think that the key issue with gentrification is, in fact, the gentry. If the people arriving weren’t disproportionally powerful—due to extreme numbers, wealth, or in the case of the Social Justice Clique, wielding the sort of social power that allows them to ruin lives and end careers—the new inhabitants and the old might come to some sort of equilibrium.

      That said, an interesting thing to consider is that the principle of attacking gentrification is that certain assemblages of people bound together by shared history, culture, and tradition, have special rights as a group protecting their identity and continuance. What’s fascinating about this is that, in different context, we either call this social justice _or_ fascist, racist anti-immigrant paranoia depending if it is people from San Francisco or the people from, say, the Czech Republic doing it about either Googlers or Syrians.

      And yet, hardly anyone is _consistent_ about this. I wonder how this came to be.

      [1] Quite possibly one of the Best Things On The Internet, Ever.


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  11. a ghost in the machine says:

    Pro-small-talk norms marginalize introverts as well (for some definitions of “introvert). Introverts also spend a lot of time thinking about how other people think (same qualification). If “allistic” means “non-autistic”, then while even extreme introverts (of this kind) are “allistic”, they are far enough from some norm of cognitive organization that generalizations conflating these groups have to be made carefully.

    I mention this because I’m concerned that jargon terms used to label “everyone else” can lead to ambiguities and mistakes. The jargon use of the word “empath” used to mean “non-sociopath”, or “extrovert” to mean “non-introvert”, for example, look to me like mistakes waiting to happen.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Ὀρέστης says:

    If you apply for a job working concrete, but you are physically incapable of doing the work, handling the equipment or enduring the environment, why should you be able to keep that job? Even if you CAN somehow struggle through, why do you think you are entitled to be comfortable doing it? The. Concrete. Must. Be. Poured. Whether you do it or someone else does it is immaterial to the edifice that is under construction. How is “tech” different? I’m too old and cold to care WHY you cannot work in caustic mud under a screaming hot sun day in and day out. I just see in short order that you can’t. Your lack of ability (whether it be INability or DISability) is putting the project, as well as the rest of the crew, in jeopardy. So, you’re fired. Find something you CAN do. Next applicant…


    • ahd says:

      “Tech” has a broader range of approaches, materials, methods and goals than pouring concrete. As such, caustic mud under a screaming hot sun can be avoided readily without compromising the work. By an odd coincidence, the less mental energy you put into enduring the caustic mud and the screaming hot sun, the more mental energy you have for excellence. So even the allistic at least give some though to these things. The smart ones, at least…


  13. Nomo says:

    Sumana Harihareswara is one of many activists whom I consider a blight on tech industry and nerds in general. I am to the point where I am actively excluding anyone who dares utter more than a few words of gender politics or uses the word “inclusion”. The bullying of “inclusion” activists who insist on including everyone into tech by excluding the people and cultures that built tech to where it is today is not tolerable. I have seen too many broken lives resulting from this. Suicide attempts. An actual sucide.

    Active hostility is the only appropriate response to anyone who dares utter a word of gender politics in tech and social media.


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