Spoiler alert: sexism isn’t the only social issue holding up progress within the tech industry at large. A few weeks ago, I read a great article by Yiren Lu titled Silicon Valley’s Youth Problem, where she explained how a preference for young entrepreneurs combined with the type of projects they tend to work on has created an unsustainable culture of front-end innovation built atop outmoded technology. She later went on to detail how that unfortunate amalgamation will put us in a poor position in the near future as the march of progress falls victim to increasingly restrictive constraints when the underlying technologies powering that advancement become unable to sustain further progress. Then, just yesterday, I cam across another, similar article — this time from New Republic — by Noam Scheiber titled Silicon Valley’s Brutal Ageism.
Building on what appears to be a fledgling trend of articles railing — and rightly so — against ageism within what is arguably America’s technological epicenter, Noam continued this discussion in the context of those creating the businesses rather than those building the products said companies sell. Telling the story of a perpetually-confounded entrepreneur stymied time and time again not for lack of trying, nor for a dodgy track record, but by a mixture of prejudice against his age and a preference for younger, less experienced “entrepreneurs”, Noam took this issue often tossed to the wayside every time sexism strolls through and made it a real topic of concern for me in a way that even Silicon Valley’s Youth Problem could not. More so than these individual articles though — for although they are, in fact, very good in their own rite, they are not the topic of this article — I want to focus on the phenomenon that inspired their creation in the first place.
It seems as little as a year or two ago, few talked about the problem of sexism within the tech industries. On the semi-rare occasion that those discussions did surface, however, I feel like they almost invariably moved the cause forward in some respect or another. If I had had the foresight to devise a way to measure the number of superfluous sexism articles to those actually affecting change at the time, I feel reasonably confident in positing that the result would have been a surprisingly high ratio in favor of the correct side. Lately, however, that has ceased to be the case: faux-feminists permeate the collective discourse, and through their misguided beliefs they justify personal attacks over the most trivial offenses while, ironically, ignoring the larger issues they profess to actively work against. Unfortunately, this has led to a net decline within this microcosm, and encourages others to adopt the same modus operandi of ultra-sensitivity that got us here in the first place. The temptation to call this a lost cause is now great, for even those with the purest of intentions see the risk of participating in this discussion now greater than the potential benefit; sexism has devolved from a righteous social cause to an impersonal risk-benefit analysis, and that’s an unfortunate shift indeed. We ought not completely extinguish all hope for a brighter future quite yet, but as every day passes it becomes increasingly hard to affect positive change in this space mired in worthless arguments over lexicon and nuanced, unintended subtext.
Ageism, on the other hand, has yet to become the politically charged and, if I’m honest, rather disgusting topic non-conducive to any degree of intelligent discussion that, unfortunately, sexism has morphed in to somewhat recently. How long before this topic, too, finds itself in a similar position though, having undergone the same unfortunate transition that the collective discourse around sexism did? For how much longer can we reasonably expect to make any significant progress in this area before the faux-anti-sexism advocates cross over and ruin this as well? For our sake, I hope never; however, I would be lying if I didn’t expect it all to come crashing down in the very near future.