A response to Computerworld

I guess there was a tough deadline, but the editor wrote her editorial for Computerworld about NetHui at perhaps the worst time last Wednesday. It strikes me that she did so essentially exactly week ago from when I am writing this, and that she may well have just rectified what came across as an unfortunately negative piece.

Note to Internet New Zealand, first impressions count is not, yet, is now available online. (The delay is amusing given the addressee.) I have finally seen it, and I see that I am quoted in the piece and wanted to reply.

The article covers two negative aspects of the 3 day event – an MC who kicked things off with a sexist joke, and a keynote speaker who was “not inspirational” with her talk on privacy policy in the USA.

To be fair to Pamela Jones Harbour, her wonkish and excellent survey of the state of privacy policy was always going to be difficult to compete with Larry Lessig from 2o11.  Pamela did stick around for the remainder of NetHui, and contributed much to other sessions. I gleaned from her the immense respect which she and her peers across the world hold for our own privacy commissioner Maria Schroff, and for our regulations. Peering behind the curtain and you can see the effect that our sensible diplomatic approaches have not just for privacy, but also for TPP.

But yes – Pamela Jones Harbour (not Pamela Jones Anderson as in the Computerworld article) was not a rabble rouser for the opening session, but someone who set a serious tone with a fact based presentation. I know some didn’t enjoy that, but others, including me, did. I also, however, advocated for asking Kim DotCom to present a keynote, and he was approached but sadly could not do it. I’m glad we managed to attract Pamela to New Zealand, but also have a good degree of empathy for the NetHui organisers who have to find great speakers. For days two and three we had Hon Steven Joyce and Judge David Harvey, critical figures in the NZ  political and judicial fields when it comes to all things Internet, and entertaining and engaging on the podium.

The MC for the event controversially used a sexist joke in what was otherwise an excellent opening audience participation quiz. Some context will help here – at the Gather barcamp a couple of weeks earlier there was an excellent and massively attended session on how to encourage more women into IT and related professions. One outcome from this was learning that women are often subjected to sexist comments and presentation material at some of the more nerdy events. This discourages women from going, and means that they don’t feel like a welcome part of the community when they do. Towards the end of the Gather session I observed that it was incumbent upon all of us there, especially the loud ones like myself, to call out any of this sort of behaviour when we saw it.

After Gather I followed up with one with the organiser of a specific conference mentioned, who contacted me after tweets. He said he was very aware of the problem, clear that the most egregious events had happened in the past and were dealt with, and that the organising group remains on the case.

So it was with some shock when the MC  James Elliott at NetHui used a reasonably sexist joke – not so much the line that “80% of the photos on the internet are of naked women”, nor of the fact that he pulled this out when the winner of the question competition was actually a women (and superbly done), but more for the series of slides after the question which assumed the audience wanted to actually see a picture of a naked woman, and then actually showing one, thankfully relatively tastefully.

I interjected – loudly – somewhere along the way, and was shut down. I was trying to make the point that with the winner of the MC’s quiz being a woman, and the composition of the audience being a very reasonable mix of NZ society, that his expectations of the audience were quite different to the reality sitting in front of him. Not that the sexist series would have been appropriate in front of any audience, but it should have been clear that he should have stopped when the winner was identified.

I then tweeted an apology from this InternetNZ councillor, that was quoted in the article, and I simmered for a good day and a half about the MC’s behaviour.

Pamela spoke next, and unfortunately after that it was the article’s deadline.

Unfortunate because after that things got better and better. Some examples:

  • That morning was, for example, dominated by excellent women speakers, a far more telling story than the unfortunate joke.
  • One of the first new people I met through the day was the exceptional Emani  Fakaotimanava-Lui from Niue, who scoffed at the idea of Vodafone’s $450,000 plus cell towers, as he got one build for $27,000 in Niue. I suggested, mostly seriously, that he had built it himself, and it turns out that yes, he was out there with a wrench with a bunch of others. The tower, I later found, is able to be dismantled and stored whenever one of the rare major storms comes through. A rare individual, and just one of many inspirational people in the hallways.
  • We had 8 MPs in attendance, representing the three major parties and I believe all of them appeared on stage at some time. Along with Hon Steven Joyce there was the leader of the opposition David Shearer, and Green co-leader Russel Norman, who spoke before and then was on a panel which I facilitated. All were engaged, had done their research before showing up and often stuck around for a long while.
  • Paul Brislen from TUANZ ran an excellent session on the implications of UFB, demonstrating what we all know – that Internet NZ and TUANZ are working in many common causes and that we all think that Paul is a great bloke.
  • A large number of people, predominantly women, approached me during and after NetHui to thank me for the interjection and the tweets.
  • MC James Elloit apologised to me. He received the message loud and clear and was excellent and very professional for the remainder of the NetHui. He won me back over.

Nethui was a superb opportunity, as Vikram put it, to listen to the communities beyond the core of Internet NZ geeks, and vice versa. It worked astonishingly well once again, and, I remarked several times, the event was “more Hui than Net”, referring to the diverse mix of people, the range of views and the sheer usefulness of it all. We used to struggle at Internet NZ to get real engagement beyond the core hundred members, and of them only a few were really engaged heavily. Now we have over 300 members, increased engagement and a function in NetHui that lets us  listen to, engage with and work alongside other communities.

I encourage Computerworld, and everyone, to join up to Internet NZ – and, what the heck, will even pay the $21 required for selected journalists.

Published by Lance Wiggs


5 replies on “A response to Computerworld”

  1. Another example: InternetNZ hosted a breakfast for women where some 70+ women from a huge variety of backgrounds came together to listen to Sandra Pickering, Vodafone New Zealand’s Chief Technology Officer, and to share experiences and insights. Some people were critical of a women-only gathering but, for this woman and no doubt many others, it was refreshing to be able to meet up and discuss issues unique to a woman’s perspective. Kudos to InternetNZ for giving us this opportunity.

    Pamela Jones Harbour’s presentation may not have appealed to everyone (I enjoyed it though) but nobody was forced to sit through it if they didn’t wish to. It certainly got a lot of people discussing the issues she raised and led to some information-sharing about how to do Powerpoint presentations ;)

    Having now attended two NetHui’s I am looking forward to the third. This is the only conference/hui of it’s kind that brings together a diverse group of people from all sectors of business and creativity – long may it continue!


  2. Pingback: Nethui | Kiwiblog

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