Slut Shaming, misogyny and technology

This evening I shall be participating in a panel on slut shaming. The university has been quick to organize this panel in response to the slut shaming riots in December. The panel has the Swedish title NÄTMOBBNING – vad är det och vilken roll spelar den nya tekniken? which places the focus on two things (1) what is cyberbullying (2) what role does the new technology play.

Obviously the technology is vital. You just can’t have cyberbullying without the cyber. But there is an interesting undertone to the second question and my role will be to try to strike a balance between explaining why the technology does create or aggravate human behavior at the same time ensuring that the technology itself is not a problem.

Misogyny is not created by technology. BUT… the social norm systems embedded in the technology and the technology users MAY create misogynistic socio-technical systems. Therefore it would be strange not to place some of the (moral) social responsibility on systems developers.

Guns don’t kill people. But gun designers develop superior killing machines and placed in the hands of people with intent they become much more efficient at killing people than a bag of soft toys. (Gotta love an odd metaphor…)

So that’s the plan. Please drop in, if you happen to be in the neighborhood. It’s at 6pm in the university aula at Vasaparken.

Why we use technology: Checkov's gun & expiry dates

This tweet by @Asher_Wolf at 4:25 am on 25 December contains a photo of a tear gas canister used by the police to try to control the Delhi rape riots. The interesting thing here is that the tear gas has an expiry date of May 2009.

The picture got me thinking about different motivating factors for using a certain technology. This post is an exploration. It is not a critique of the decision by the police to use tear gas in this specific situation.

Checkov’s gun

Chekhov’s gun is a metaphor for a dramatic principle a certain inevitability. If a loaded gun is shown in the beginning of a play it will be used before the play is over. Otherwise the gun should not have been shown.

In this case Checkov’s gun is the fact that police have tear gas in their supplies. Any technology we have at our disposal does not simply provide us with an opportunity for action but also creates a demand for action. Possessing the technology creates a desire for it’s use. Checkov’s gun is particularly true of new technology.

The desperation of technology

Spending Christmas in Stockholm this year provided an excellent example of this. The days before Christmas saw large amounts of powdery new white snow fall on the city. Christmas day, therefore naturally saw many kids playing with new winter gear. My home city of Göteborg was less fortunate. Much of the snow had melted due to rain. Despite this many kids were trying to use sleighs on the few icy patches available. They had new technology and were driven to use it.

The frugal cook

One of the common complaint on these days after Christmas is that many are forced to continue eating Christmas food. We may be tired of the taste but we cannot bring ourselves to throw away good food. There is another reason. The Christmas season is a particularly expensive one. So after the main event, after the wrapping paper is cleared away it is naturally that our more frugal natures rise to the fore.

We are not necessarily eating Christmas leftovers because we like them, nor because we cannot afford alternative food – we are eating them as a form of punishment for our excess: the term “waste not, want not” is, in this case, a form of puritanical punishment.

Frugal Riot Control

Therefore the case of the outdated riot gear.

(1) Since the tear gas has been bought it must be used (Checkov’s gun).

(2) If no legitimate situation arises we will redefine reality to legitimize use. (Desperation of technology)

(3) Stockpiles of old technology prevent us from buying new technology. Therefore we must use the old in order to be allowed to by new (frugal cook).

So what?

Attempting to understand why people act is very interesting – but it is also quite impossible to know for certain. While I am sure that all official records of the use of tear gas during the riots will show that the situation warranted its use  – the nagging question always rests in my mind: Why did they use this technology? Why now?

Technology drives human action. It’s not deterministic we have choice. But many of the reasons we decide to use, or not to use, technology may have less to do with us than with technology.

Technology will be abused

Recently the developer of weapons-grade pepper spray, Kamran Loghman, gave an interview where he criticized the UC Davis police using “his” product on peaceful protesters. The interview describes him as shocked and bewildered at this obvious overuse of force.

So I can understand his shock at the overuse of force but I have a hard time seeing that he could not have seen his weapon being abused in this way. It is not hard to see that developers of technology prefer to see their implementation in well meaning situations and used by balanced and fair individuals. But the reality that every technology developer must have is that all technology can, and will, be abused.

By attempting to adopt social control on technologies the developer is being naive. Logham is a well intentioned inventor and has even developed policies for the use of pepper spray by police. But as everyone should know by now – the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

But do we learn? Hardly!

The BBC has an interesting article about how a laser gun is going to be tested by the police as a future weapon against rioters. The laser gun temporarily blinds it’s victims and has great advantages over tear gas and pepper spray as the user does not have to be close to the rioters, it has an effective range of 500m.

The enthusiastic managing director Paul Kerr is quoted as saying “If you can’t look at something you can’t attack it”. The technician inside us sees everything as a fascinating technical solution that needs to be solved, the businessman within looks for opportunities for profit. Both manage to compartmentalize away any social responsibility in order to develop and sell weapons intended to be used against unarmed citizens. How nice.

So how long will it take before this is used in innovative new ways against those who do not deserve it?

Increased surveillance it obviously cheaper than social change

“Everyone watching these horrific actions will be struck by how they were organized via social media. Free flow of information can be used for good. But it can also be used for ill. And when people are using social media for violence we need to stop them. So we are working with the police, the intelligence services and industry to look at whether it would be right to stop people communicating via these Web sites and services when we know they are plotting violence, disorder and criminality.”

Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain addressing Parliament during a special debate on the UK riots.

(via BoingBoing)

Increased surveillance it obviously cheaper than social change. Riots are bad but they are a incredibly potent symbol that something is wrong in society. So far the focus has been on “bad kids”, “bad parents” and “bad social media”. It’s all about blaming the individuals and preventing the possibility of rioting – Nothing about the need to create a society were people don’t want to riot.

Danish Tourist Board Remix

Straight from BoingBoing but way to good to ignore

Carsten sez, “My friend, artist Camilla Brodersen created a wonderful, freely-redistributable rehash of an old Danish tourist poster, highlighting the new situation after the new police powers, as demonstrated in the heavy-handed clampdown on protesters at the recent climate change summit in Copenhagen. My friend Amila juxtaposed the mashup with the original poster on her English-language blog, creating a chilling and all too realistic contrast.”