Salvos The Dads of Tech

Astra Taylor, Joanne McNeil

“The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house,” Audre Lorde famously said, but let Clay Shirky mansplain. It “always struck me as a strange observation—even the metaphor isn’t true,” the tech consultant and bestselling author said at the New Yorker Festival last autumn in a debate with the novelist Jonathan Franzen. “Get ahold of the master’s hammer,” and you can dismantle anything. Just consider all the people “flipping on the ‘I’m gay’ light on Facebook” to signal their support for marriage equality—there, Shirky declared, is a prime example of the master’s tools put to good use.

“Shirky invented the Internet and Franzen wants to shut it down,” panel moderator Henry Finder mused with an air of sophisticated hyperbole. Finder said he was merely paraphrasing a festival attendee he’d overheard outside—and joked that for once in his New Yorker editing career, he didn’t need fact-checkers to determine whether the story was true. He then announced with a wink that it was “maybe a little true.” Heh.

Shirky studied fine art in school, worked as a lighting designer for theater and dance companies; he was a partner at investment firm The Accelerator Group before turning to tech punditry. Now he teaches at NYU and publishes gung-ho cyberliberation tracts such as Here Comes Everybody and Cognitive Surplus while plying a consulting sideline for a diverse corps of well-paying clients such as Nokia, the BBC, and the U.S. Navy—as well as high-profile speaking gigs like the New Yorker forum, which was convened under the stupifyingly dualistic heading “Is Technology Good for Culture?”

And that’s tech punditry for you: simplification with an undercurrent of sexism. There are plenty of woman academics and researchers who study technology and social change, but we are a long way from the forefront of stage-managed gobbledygook. Instead of getting regaled with nods and winks for “inventing the Internet,” women in the tech world typically have to overcome the bigoted suspicions of an intensively male geek culture—when, that is, they don’t face outright harassment in the course of pursuing industry careers.

A woman interested in the digital transformation simply cannot inhabit the role of an avuncular, all-knowing figure ready to declare, definitively, whether technology is “good” or not. A female speaker is more likely to be asked if she knows how to code, the question implying she lacks the authority to comment on something as allegedly complex as the Internet. Small wonder, then, that aspiring female leaders in the field are expected, like Sheryl Sandberg, to adopt a body of savvy solutions designed to retool their images so as to pose minimal threats to the boys’ club—to “lean in” to the unfair expectations of a corporate culture that’s often barely distinguishable from a frat party.

You need not be a mechanic or the designer of a highway system to comment insightfully on the impact of automobiles or problems with urban policy, of course. But where technology is concerned, guys like Clay Shirky get ahead on their looks—they look like authorities, like the kind of people who know how to build an iPhone app, though they themselves often don’t have programming chops. Most prominent technology commenters are not coders—for the record, tech-god Steve Jobs himself did not code—but that doesn’t matter. They are men, so their competence upon opening their mouths is assumed. The master’s tools are theirs.

Manning Up the Networks

“It’s so easy even your Mom can use it!” goes the common tech-marketing refrain. Dad’s masculinity, the messaging implies, automatically ensures his grasp of all new products and services out of the gate. While women are belittled for (supposedly) not knowing how to use new tools, men are allowed to remain ignorant about the social context in which those tools are put to use and the fact that some people, and not only women, are prevented from using them. The result is an Internet so simple even your Dad can understand it, and it is this vision of the Internet that dominates today; indeed, it is the vision presented by most men who make their livelihoods pontificating about technology. Complicated power dynamics do not fit neatly into an Internet simple enough for Dad to understand. Instead, these unsubtle patriarchs believe the Internet is a “neutral” device, “open” to any and all. Dad’s simplified Internet is a meritocracy, a place where the best rise to the top and competition makes regulation unnecessary. It is a realm where heroic innovators build on the work of their predecessors, steadily advancing and bettering humankind through the incessant upgrading of algorithms and apps, insistent that they are making the world more democratic and egalitarian even as they hoard wealth and influence for themselves.

That’s tech punditry for you: simplification with an undercurrent of sexism.

Remember this: Whatever the cheerleaders of technological progress tell us, history does not move in a linear fashion. What feels like forward motion can suddenly stall out or reverse course, causing the loss of ground that once seemed securely held. Amid the endless stream of op-eds about how we need to get more girls into the male-dominated field of computer programming, few recall that, not long ago, leaders in the tech sector regarded it as a promising career choice for women. Grace Hopper, a legend in computer science, was part of the vanguard: she led the team that invented COBOL, a language that remains essential to data processing; received various honors throughout her career, including the Data Processing Management Association’s “computer sciences man [sic] of the year” award in 1969; and coined the word “debugging” after clearing out a moth in a machine. “Women are ‘naturals’ at computer programming,” Hopper told a Cosmopolitan reporter in 1967.

Nathan Ensmenger, author of The Computer Boys Take Over, has researched the advertising and recruiting efforts that effectively masculinized the industry. Computer companies in the late ’60s sought to elevate the prestige of programming by creating male-dominated professional associations and by portraying computer work as an analytical pursuit, more in the vein of chess than, say, plumbing. Ensmenger also found personality tests identifying the ideal programming type as someone with “disinterest in people.” The image of the computer hacker as an antisocial, misunderstood genius—and almost invariably a dude—emerged from these recruitment efforts. And from there it was but a short step to the more benign, familiar, and materially successful ideal-types of the Silicon Valley boy-genius and the tech-savvy Dad that have helped mint hundreds of Clay Shirkys across the American tech-seminar scene.

Indeed, the effort to transpose the gender profile of the computer industry was tightly bound up with a bid to enhance its class status, as had also been the case when professions such as medicine were aggressively masculinized. (You can chart a corresponding decline in class prestige when male-skewing professions, such as school teaching and psychotherapy, are feminized.) The leaders of the postwar computer industry took great pains to elevate the basic tasks of programming from their clerical office past and to equate them with rarified fields such as mathematics and logic. This concerted bid to deliver the industry into the analytical fingers of the “computer boys” affords a vivid contrast with the condition of the “telephone girls”—tens of thousands of young women entrusted to run the nation’s communications network a century ago. At the outset of the telephonic revolution in communications, phone companies employed young men to operate the switchboards. The work was intellectually demanding, requiring technical knowledge of electricity to complete regular repairs, and physically exhausting. At some switchboard centers, workers placed an average of three hundred calls per hour.

When women flooded the field, the job itself did not change—women still had to handle and fix mechanical apparatuses. But the job descriptions changed; phone work was associated with “softer,” stereotypically feminine interpersonal skills. Phone executives (who were exclusively men) considered women better suited for the task because they were less “unruly” than their male predecessors. Whereas programming gained esteem as an antisocial task, selecting for lone and far-seeing geniuses, the architects of the legacy technology of telephone switching denigrated their brand of service work as the opposite: an inherently social undertaking and thus more a labor of love than the hard job it actually was. It was, in short, “naturally” women’s work.

Scholars have described telephone girls as “domestic machines,” even though they were mostly young, unmarried women. And their consignment to the work ghetto of domesticity ensured that they’d be valued far more for the human connections they cultivated among the phone network’s client base than for any mechanical contributions they made to the technology’s advance. Just as the tech-savvy Dad is now the fallback image for technology’s operations in the home, the stereotype of a terminally gadget-challenged Mom is a legacy of this deliberate division of labor hewed at the outset of the modern communications age.

Many official histories have written women out of the dominant narratives in both fields—computers and telephony. Scholars and popular authors alike tend to forget the earliest programmers, like Grace Hopper or the six women who worked at the University of Pennsylvania on one of the world’s first electronic computers. Likewise, the general public has no sense of the impact women had on the development of telephony, envisioning them instead as ignorant and passive beneficiaries of a male-created, male-controlled tool. In reality, as Michèle Martin and other feminist historians point out, women not only ran the communications network, operating the switchboards as the pliant yet unseen phantoms in the machine, but also largely determined how the technology came to be used and, in two important ways, made it profitable.

At least one Bell Telephone manager went on the record crediting female employees with warding off insolvency: if the company had kept with the disobedient male operators, then it would have been “virtually facing bankruptcy.” Women’s influence as customers was even more profound. Though women had been initially a reviled demographic segment of a market designed by and for male business executives, they persisted in using the telephone for their own ends. Ultimately, they managed to repurpose the phone from a self-serious mode of business communication to the more casual instrument of sociability it is today. (Among other things, Martin observes, the habit of talking on the telephone for social “calls” allowed Victorian women to “visit” one another without having to put on time-consuming and constraining clothes.) Yet the ownership structure of the new technology ensured that women couldn’t claim any share of the profits they helped generate: they may have made the phone appealing to the masses and put it to new use, but it was still the master’s tool. Men owned the network.

When four hundred phone operators walked off the job, striking over harsh labor conditions and low wages in Toronto in 1907, and when, twelve years later, young women in Boston brought New England business to a halt by putting down their headsets to picket for better treatment and pay, they challenged common gender stereotypes that both their bosses and union leaders perpetuated. The latter group took umbrage at the idea of mere “petticoats” supplanting the traditionally male defenders of the working-class “family wage.” (In some cities, women won concessions after shutting down the telephone system, but their victory helped convince owners they had to reduce their dependence on operators, who rushed the automatic dial phone into service in order to render their restive female workforces obsolete.) Today, labor and management alike pay at least lip service to the ideal of equal opportunity, and women are officially welcome in workplaces and labor locals; still, real gender parity in the house of labor remains an elusive ideal—and indeed, a retreating horizon in the tech and communications sectors.

Coding While Female

The National Center for Women and Information Technology has reported that from 2000 to 2012, the proportion of first-year undergraduate women interested in majoring in computer science plummeted by 64 percent. For those who stick with their studies and find professional work, the attrition rate is just as dismal: 56 percent of women quit SET (science, engineering, technology) jobs by mid-career, a 2008 Harvard Business School study reported, double the number for men. Demographic data confirms that economically and educationally privileged white men—“Dads,” if you will—dominate Silicon Valley engineering and executive roles, which means they dictate who gets to join the team. Like devout upholders of high school hierarchy, entitled techies are notorious for alienating and excluding others only to justify their childish cliques with buzzwords like “culture fit”—which really just means “one of the guys.”

The Dads of the Internet may deny their complacency with structural inequality (“I’m not sexist, I have a daughter!”), but gender discrimination is as complex as any other lived experience. Neither perfect heroes nor villains exemplify the problem; hard evidence proves elusive or ambiguous when it comes to documenting the tech industry’s pattern of discrimination. The recent high-profile case of Julie Ann Horvath, whose story made it all the way to the New York Times, may be emblematic. Her exit from GitHub, a popular website for collaborating on code, is not a straightforward narrative of gender bias, and comes across as a puzzling, Rashomon-like saga to many tech observers who read about the case.

Entitled techies are notorious for justifying their cliques with buzzwords like “culture fit.”

For one thing, the lines of direct authority are blurred—a not-uncommon occurrence in a tech scene dominated by startups committed to the paternalist image of the workplace as a family. In GitHub’s case, the family talk appears to have been fairly literal, and far from benign: much of the harassment and intimidation Horvath reports experiencing came from the wife of GitHub cofounder Tom Preston-Werner, who was not an employee on the books but had power, influence, and clout at the company and appeared to target Horvath because she was one of the firm’s few female employees. Preston-Werner himself, as the head of the company, is largely responsible for this mess, but a month after the story broke, GitHub posted a vague response that an internal investigation showed no “legal wrongdoing.” He stepped down anyway, and the following week his GitHub cofounder Chris Wanstrath conceded that Preston-Werner had indeed acted “inappropriately.”

Several other GitHubbers were named as harassers, and Horvath claims her work was even erased because she turned down a date. In an email interview with TechCrunch, she described how a coworker, “hurt from my rejection, started passive-aggressively ripping out my code from projects we had worked on together without so much as a ping or a comment. I even had to have a few of his commits reverted. I would work on something, go to bed, and wake up to find my work gone without any explanation.” Instead of a traditional PR flack response, the counter to her claims, heavily circulated on tech blogs and Twitter, was a mudslinging Medium post from someone inside GitHub, concluding that this is a “story of the problems that arise when employees date coworkers and cannot separate work and personal life.” Obviously the best way to challenge harassment allegations is with slut-shaming and anonymous cyber-bullying.

The muffled windup of Horvath’s case bespeaks a familiar pattern of subtle male managerial bids to undermine the career prospects and sap the confidence of women trying to climb the career ladder. Because she refused to defer to her harassers, Horvath endured regular questioning and scrutiny of her work product and her qualifications for her job as a developer. On Slashdot and Hacker News, commenters wondered how she got a job at GitHub in the first place and whether she could code at all.

Horvath’s tribulations reminded many other women of their own experiences in similarly dicey environments. Ellen Chisa, then a product manager at Kickstarter, was among those inspired to speak out, posting an essay on her personal website entitled “I’m angry because I’m afraid.” Chisa wrote that she admired Andreessen Horowitz (A16Z), a venture capital firm that is one of GitHub’s major backers. She went on to comment that she was “uncomfortable” when she saw the eponymous Marc Andreessen expressing support for GitHub and Preston-Werner after news of the investigation broke. Andreessen is a billionaire who made a name for himself as cocreator of one of the first web browsers and who sits on the boards of companies including Facebook, eBay, and Hewlett-Packard, and though Chisa didn’t couch her reflections as personal attacks, he went after her on Twitter. In a series of defensive replies he fumed, “I expressed support for a founder, and you turned it into an accusation that I am hostile to women.”

Chisa had not done anything of the sort—she had made the case that structural discrimination is impossible to ignore in the industry, especially when a public figure with “respect & weight in the community” like Horvath is victim to it. Yet in Andreessen’s twisted view, he was the one who had been wronged. The most affluent and influential speaker was the true injured party.

Billionaire Boys’ Club

That a woman dared to call out sexism in the tech industry on a barely trafficked corner of the Internet brought down the public wrath of one of Silicon Valley’s most powerful men—the kind of man on whom many livelihoods and fortunes depend. Andreessen’s Twitter-baiting attack on Chisa might seem, at first glance, like an isolated outburst by a thin-skinned egomaniac; why else would a world-famous venture capitalist attack another company’s project manager? But in fact, the whole exchange speaks volumes about the fraught intersection of technology and gender.

Internet discourse routinely transports women back into their offline bodies.

Women all over the working world face a disproportionate pushback when they stake out vocal positions in such controversies, but as this exchange illustrates, the pushback is exceptionally virulent online (and when race, gender identity, and sexuality are added to the mix, retaliation can be exponentially more malicious). Old bigotries and hierarchies have carried over to new media with a vengeance. While early techno-utopians envisioned “cyberspace” as a place where Internet users could invent new selves, liberated from oppressive real-world constraints, Internet discourse routinely, and forcefully, transports women back into their offline bodies. The virtual world, after all, is one endless exegesis of women’s appearances (What a hottie! What a cow!). This seemingly harmless chatter detracts from the content of a woman’s contribution to a conversation by focusing on her form. Much more alarmingly, such talk is often a precursor to far more menacing interactions, including the airing of rape threats and death threats over infinitesimal disagreements.

Like other disadvantaged groups, women are subjected to dehumanizing attacks; they’re also offered unsolicited advice from concerned gentlemen who instruct victims not to “feed the trolls,” convinced that the only proper and ethical way to handle harassment is to ignore it, no matter how sinister or disconcerting it may be. According to this commonly held view, you must simply tune out tormentors, lest dudes aspiring to patriarch status find their First Amendment freedoms vaguely abridged. As law professor Mary Anne Franks has pointed out, this logic reveals a telling bias: freedom of speech online, even if speech is harassing and hateful, is “really real” and must be defended at all costs, while online harassment is not “really real” and so does not need to be taken seriously.

The men who tell women not to feed the trolls are thinking of an Internet so simple Dad can understand it. Though keenly attuned to one form of injustice—the potential suppression of free speech—they cannot see other power dynamics at play, including the harms that result from virtual harassment (potential victims declining to participate in public forums, passing up speaking engagements and other opportunities for fear violent ultimatums may not be empty threats, and so on). As they see it, women and others just need to “man up” and ignore the haters.

Analogous advice flows from Clay Shirky in a 2010 blog post titled “A Rant About Women,” in which he blames the professional dominance of men on women’s unwillingness to behave like “self-promoting narcissists, anti-social obsessives, or pompous blowhards . . . even when it would be in their best interests to do so.” The link between self-promotion and advancement “isn’t because of oppression,” Shirky insists, “it’s because of freedom.” In a market society in which we are constantly competing and being ranked against each other, assertive people get noticed and opportunities logically follow. As well they should, Shirky continues, since “self-promotion is tied to other characteristics needed for success” and since male arrogance correlates with “chang[ing] the world.”

Shirky believes that it’s possible to decouple typically masculine self-aggrandizement from sexism, but that’s because he assumes hubris is a neutral tool women simply lack the will to effectively wield. In reality, the master’s tools are kept off limits to women, who, in myriad ways, are discouraged and penalized for picking them up. The master has many tricks up his sleeve to prevent the dismantling of his domain, including planting seeds of self-doubt (If you don’t know how to whittle and forge a hammer, how can you talk about the effect of nailing things?), contending that women are actually holding the wrong tool (That’s not a hammer, it’s a hair curler!), or declaring women’s work inferior even when presented with a row of perfectly hammered nails (Let me show you how hammering is done, little lady!). Even the master’s rhetorical tools are off limits, and this is what Shirky fails to comprehend: that a woman who follows his counsel and asserts herself or behaves arrogantly will be labeled pushy and punished for being a bitch. Shirky can cheekily call his post a “rant,” but women who argue emphatically risk being dismissed as overly emotional, as proven by the perennial disparagement of women as hapless, hysterical ranters—as unreliable and melodramatic no matter how accurate and rational they actually are.

From the trolls who terrorize minorities, to billionaires who browbeat subordinates, to commentators who maintain that the problem isn’t misogyny but female cowardice, countless men insist that there is no such thing as sexism while upholding systems that exclude women. They want to believe in the myth of the Internet as an even playing field, as an ideal and actually existing meritocracy, which means that if they are on top they deserve to be there—a gratifying and flattering thought. (The disgraced GitHub cofounder Preston-Werner used to work in a replica of the White House oval office with the words “United Meritocracy of GitHub” emblazoned on its rug.) Since the Internet is open and there are no gatekeepers stopping women from going online, it must be an equal place. See? With that, voilà, all those old pesky social problems are resolved—feminism, at long last, can finally be over and done with, and civil rights can be something we celebrate as a historical triumph. The unexamined corollary of all this crackpot utopianism, though, is that if women programmers and executives fail to get ahead in the industry, the fault must be entirely their own—they’re ill disposed to coding, they don’t design or delegate effectively, or they possess some other amorphous personal failing that’s almost always a coy shorthand for neither white, male, nor “one of us.”

Vintage templates trap us in a retrograde future: a full century after the telephone girls appeared, women still figure as domestic machines.

Think of the vision of an Internet so simple even your Dad can understand it as a kind of imaginary map that pretends to describe reality as it instead delimits what’s accepted as the natural and legitimate mode of interaction among male and female users and programmers in the tech world. Vintage templates trap us in a retrograde future: a full century after the telephone girls appeared, women still figure as domestic machines—as literally the master’s tools. Two recently launched virtual personal assistant apps, named “Dawn” and “Donna,” were inspired by female characters on television programs: “Dawn” for Don Draper’s secretary on Mad Men and “Donna” for Donna Moss from The West Wing. The latter “proves herself invaluable by taking care of things and cleaning up messes before they happen,” TechCrunch gushed. Blockbuster social networks like Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Foursquare, and Snapchat reliably reflect and perpetuate the values of the young men who started them. (Don’t forget that an early-stage Mark Zuckerberg created a knockoff of the “Hot or Not” genre of frat-boy ogling, to rank female students by attractiveness.) Lesser lights of the coding boys club tend to develop technologies to solve the trivial problems that beset their cohort—laundry and meeting girls—with apps like Washio and Down (previously named “Bang with Friends”).

Venture capitalists love this stuff because they can understand it—because they are Dads. Paul Graham, cofounder of Y Combinator, a startup incubator, sounded more like an Elite Models scout than a seasoned and savvy investor as he spelled out his corporate mission to the New York Times last year. He told the newspaper that “the cutoff in investors’ heads [for startup founders] is thirty-two” and said, “I can be tricked by anyone who looks like Mark Zuckerberg.” Kate Losse, author of The Boy Kings, calls them “Manic Pixie Dream Hackers,” because VCs like Graham zero in on youth and appearance above talent. Like Internet pundits who project authority by virtue of being pale-skinned, geeky, and middle-aged, these young men are also getting by on their looks. Indeed, data backs this up: a recent study from Harvard Business School proves that, consistently, “investors prefer entrepreneurial ventures pitched by attractive men.”

No wonder, then, that investors ignore coders from marginalized communities who aspire to meet real needs. With an Internet so simple even your Dad can understand it as our guiding model, the myriad challenges that attend the digital transformation, from rampant sexism, racism, and homophobia to the decline of journalism, are impossible to apprehend, let alone address. How else could a white dude who didn’t know that a “bustle” is a butt-enhancing device from the late nineteenth century raise $6.5 million to start a women’s content site under that name? Or look at investors racing to fund the latest fad: “explainer” journalism, a format that epitomizes our current predicament. Explainer journalism is an Internet simple enough for Dad to understand made manifest. Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight, the New York Times’ The Upshot, and Ezra Klein’s Vox (the “Leadership Team” of its parent company has seventeen men and three women)[*] champion a numbers-driven model that does not allow for qualification or uncertainty. No doubt, quantification can aid insight, but statistics shouldn’t be synonymous with a naive, didactic faith that numbers don’t lie or that everything worth knowing can be rendered in a series of quickly clickable virtual notecards. Plenty of news reports cry out for further explanation, because the world is complex and journalists often get things wrong, but like Internet punditry before it, these explainer outlets don’t explain, they simplify.

Your Father’s Internet

In the current framework, the question posed by the New Yorker panel, “Is Technology Good for Culture?” can be answered only with a yes or no—and plotted as it is along the binary logic of 1s and 0s, it chiefly serves to remind culture critics that the Silicon Valley mindset has already won. Though they appear to stand on opposite sides of the spectrum—unapologetic utopian squaring off against wistful pessimist—the Shirkys and Franzens of the world only reinforce this problem: things will get better or worse, pro or con. One reason we need to diversify the tech debate is to short-circuit this reductive polarity so we can imagine new questions, answers, and paths forward. For while men are free to adopt the ready-to-wear identities of futurist and nostalgist, no woman in her right mind can slip on such shopworn garb. Given the erosion of hard-won victories, especially in the realm of reproductive rights, there is no guarantee the future will be preferable to the present; yet who would pine for a time when making coffee or taking dictation for these guys would have been a lucky break?

Audre Lorde herself pointed out that the master’s tools may temporarily “beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change.” Contrary to Shirky’s point, people taking to Facebook to announce support for equal marriage rights may be one thing, but it isn’t the same as Facebook hiring queer technologists or appointing queer board members, let alone considering diverse experiences in early product development. (Given that gay teenagers are rightfully scared that algorithms used by social media sites will inadvertently out them to their families, no one should mistake these platforms for the work of allies.) 2009’s hype about an Iranian “Twitter Revolution” aside, Twitter was not designed to promote political change, nor was it conceived with concerns about trolls or stalkers in mind—like all other popular “free” online services, advertisers are its ultimate constituency.

In the end, an Internet built by Dads, for Dads, sells most of us short. The stereotypical Dad, insulated from divergent perspectives, lacks the necessary understanding of how social problems and power inequities persist—and how these problems get amplified in a networked society. When we don simple-explainer goggles to survey a stubbornly unequal digital culture, every problem becomes black and white. Combating harassment becomes equivalent to state censorship of free speech, and web anonymity becomes “naturally” a straightforward issue: everyone should use their real names and have one identity online, because you shouldn’t have anything to hide. After all, these Dads don’t need to worry about being outed since they aren’t sex workers or undocumented or disabled or vulnerable; nor are they activists or dissidents who need to worry about the NSA.

Most of all, the dominance of the Dad’s-eye-view of the world shores up the Internet’s underlying economic operating system. This also means a de facto free pass for corporate surveillance, along with an increasing concentration of wealth and power in the coffers of a handful of advertising-dependent, privacy-violating info-monopolies and the men who run them (namely Google and Facebook, though Amazon and Apple are also addicted to sucking up our personal data). Study after study shows that women are more sensitive to the subject of privacy than men, from a Pew poll that found that young girls are more prone than boys are to disabling location tracking on their devices to another that showed that while women are equally enthusiastic about technology in general, they’re also more concerned about the implications of wearable technologies. A more complicated Internet would incorporate these legitimate apprehensions instead of demanding “openness” and “transparency” from everyone. (It would also, we dare to hope, recognize that the vacuous sloganeering on behalf of openness only makes us more easily surveilled by government and big business.) But, of course, imposing privacy protections would involve regulation and impede profit—two bête noires of tech dudes who are quite sure that Internet freedom is synonymous with the free market.

The master’s house might have a new shape—it may be sprawling and diffuse, and occupy what is euphemistically referred to as the “cloud”—but it also has become corporatized and commercialized, redolent of hierarchies of yore, and it needs to be dismantled. Unfortunately, in the digital age, like the predigital one, men don’t want to take it apart.


[*]CORRECTION: An earlier version of this essay referred to Vox’s “Leadership Team.” The “Leadership Team” controls Vox’s parent company, Vox Media.