loading...
Cover image for The problem with “you guys”

The problem with “you guys”

kmelve profile image Knut Melvær ・4 min read

I made a bot that suggests some alternative phrasing when you write guys in Slack. It made for some discussion.

I have seen in different Slack communities that people have implemented a Slackbot response that triggers whenever people write ”guys“, suggesting some alternatives that are considered more inclusive. It also links to an article in Vox about npm’s you guys-jar. A similar commentary was also published in The Atlantic that includes comments from a linguist. There's also a handful of threads on forums where people discuss whether the word "guys" is considered gender neutral or not.

Not surprisingly, not everybody was convinced by the bot’s legitimacy. I had a handful of people tell (on behalf of their English speaking part of the world) me that “guys” actually was gender natural (I am aware). Some went further and suggested that this was censoring and undermining the way they talked. It’s tempting to point out how many of them were not… guys. (well, none).

My tweet also gained a lot of likes and retweets, suggesting that some folks appreciated the idea, or at least wanted to be affiliated by what it signals. And this is taking us closer to the matter of hand. Because I'm all but sure that a “Guys bot” is the right approach to the problem we try to solve: How to make welcoming and inclusive communities in tech. I put it out partly as an experiment and to learn more by the reactions to it.

Nobody likes being told they're wrong

I have a lot of training in being wrong. I have spent years at university being told I'm wrong in all sorts of creative ways. Being open to being wrong is an essential part of learning and developing knowledge, especially in science. Still, I very often get defensive and moody when I'm told so. It's a very human response. It's something I have to actively work with.

The reason it’s irritating is that there’s often a moral dimension to it, that doesn’t align with whatever you intended. I bet that most people that greet a group with “Hi, guys!” don’t intend to be exclusive, but the rather opposite. When you’re instantly hit back with a canned response that suggests that this seemingly innocent way of speech may be considered hurtful to some, I have no problem in seeing that some might find that obtuse.

I suspect, though, that people who have a lived experience of not being included in all sorts of ways, in a field still dominated by mostly men, may have a more empathetic response because they get what the bot is trying to solve.

Bots lack nuance

There are good reasons to object to a bot automatically correcting language in a public community. To borrow the analogy from one of my colleagues, one wouldn't like having something that buzzed every time someone said it in the office space. Like in Demolition Man:

Since nor me or the originators of the Slackbot response have spent time tuning the algorithms, it also triggers on a lot of false positives. Which is somewhat counterproductive.

Automatic Slackbot response

The reason a bot is tempting for community moderatos is that also lessens the chance that you end up in long-winded debates whenever you have to remind people of the Code of Conduct and telling them they’re wrong. Also, you can’t be everywhere at the same time. A bot can.

Why the bot stays (at least for a while)

None of those who have given me critique have been able to convince me to turn off the bot though. That’s mainly because the critique doesn’t come from a place of empathy, but is mostly self-affirming and resisting consideration of what we try to achieve (to be fair, some have also acknowledged what it tries to do, but it usually ends there).

Some are irritated that the bot corrects what they perceive to be a perfectly legitimate way of addressing a group, considered to be inclusive in their lingual context. And thereby telling me that I'm wrong, and perhaps because I'm not a native speaker (not seeing the irony).

For someone that spends most of their they day communicating in a second language (my native being Norwegian), I must admit my sympathy is lacking for someone who feels it though to adjust by one word. It’s also telling that they don’t consider English to be a highly diverse and multi-faceted language. And that we might have to take other considerations in an online multi-cultural community where gender bias is a proven issue than in one’s hometown.

It's not about you guys

I also suspect that some think of this bot as just another example of virtue signaling and political correctness. Recognized as hostile forces to the open and liberal mind by some. Most of those I’ve encountered that have made this their hill to die on aren’t really open to taking in other perspectives or entertain the motivations behind questioning how language can be used to include or exclude people. They do not ask me why I really did this, or what problem I try to solve. So although I find pointing out hypocrisy a lazy argument, it certainly doesn’t help their case.

So if you are a promoter of the open though and the free word, I'll ask you to reconsider the motivation behind efforts like this bot. For example by watching Patricia Aas’ talk Deconstructing Privilege. Or actually listening to the experiences of different underrepresented groups in tech (and elsewhere), and consider how being reminded that you don't really belong might affect your motivation to stay in web development, technology, or whatever you do.

Because you guys, it's not just about you guys.

Discussion

pic
Editor guide
Collapse
robcapell profile image
Rob Capell

I'm an empathetic "guy" (lol) and get your points completely. But we can't all be empathetic about everything, and it's probably not a great idea to make everyone feel like they SHOULD take everything (little things like this) so seriously. I'm not trying to take away anything from anyone - some people take this more seriously, and are offended my "non-inclusive terms", but to me this seems to be delving to deep, and really - there is no clear end in sight, we could find 250 words that we want our team to use differently.. each disagreeing with eachother, etc.

A team should be inclusive, safe, friendly, etc place for ALL team members. But when we start applying our personal beliefs about how the english language is flawed, and can upset some team members, and needs to be altered to not upset those certain people, we are really getting far away from the entire point of being a team, and wasting time and nit picky things, that (in my opinion) should not be offensive to most.

This isn't true for all things, obviously certain things are inherently offensive, however when it comes to something like this, its perspective and opinion for the most part, NOT inherently offensive, and has no REAL life negative impact on anyone, except for the way they take it. Some things people are offended by really come down to - they choose to be offended.

I personally believe in reducing how many times I'm offended in a single day - and practice not getting upset over things that are small, personal to me, etc.

Also I will say - communication is an important subject when it comes to teams working well together, sure we could all debate, and agree to use certain words, but in my mind, this could literally go on and on and on, and is completely out of the scope of the teams goals, etc. The point of communication is, do you understand what i'm referring to? not as much - do you love my word choices?

Collapse
kmelve profile image
Knut Melvær Author

Thank you for your comment @robcapell !

Who said it was about offending or upsetting people? Can't it also be a hack to nudge people to think about how language can be more or less welcoming? Language doesn't have to be offensive in order to be exclusive.

As you point out, “guys” are but one example. As I also write, it is used and interpreted differently, in different contexts. In tech, it has for some, especially those who in a thousand small ways are reminded that they are in a minority, begotten the meaning of being gender normative. Reports of that are enough to make me reconsider it.

In terms of empathy, you state you are of that nature in the beginning. But you spend 5 paragraphs addressing how I'm in the wrong and that people who take issue with gender normative language should “get over themselves” (or “reduce how many times they are 'offended'"). Well, that suggests me that you haven't really considered or talked to underrepresented people about their experiences (just my presumption).

But to the core of your point: It's hard to negotiate language. You're completely right. And that's why, if you read me more closely, you'd see that I'm also hesitant to go that route. That being said, I think it should always be OK to question how language, privilege, and power relate to each other, and how we, in fact, can use it to achieve an "inclusive, safe, friendly, etc place for ALL team members".

Collapse
moopet profile image
Ben Sinclair

If we could do it on popular systems like Slack, then making the editor more like the hemmingway editor would be cool, so you'd get warning highlights as you type. Something that would give you a gentle nudge without feeling like you're being scolded.

I think some people1 might feel like they have to justify themselves, even to a bot, when a response appears in chat, and if we could address the problem before a message got sent that might be a smoother, less annoying/embarrassing experience.

We could certainly do something like that with the editor on dev.to, right?

EDIT: in fact, should we build something like a generic script that highlights things inside WYSIWYG areas?


  1. look at me, I have no data to back anything up. 

Collapse
mortoray profile image
edA‑qa mort‑ora‑y

Hemmingway editor is a good example of exactly why I wouldn't want to see this type of technology enforced, or even suggested to all people.

I use Hemmingway often, and it can be helpful, but it also has a lot of terrible opinions about language. Trying to satisfy that editor results in language that, while having a good score, can be hard to read. It breaks up natural language and creates garbage at times.

This is exactly what would happen with bots in forums. We'd end up with worse language, rather than better. While I can appreciate some terms are not as good as others, at least now I know there's a human involved. I don't want to talk like a computer, or read computer generated text.

Collapse
moopet profile image
Ben Sinclair

I'm not suggesting we enforce it, rather that it would be interesting to create something like a greasemonkey script or a wysiwyg plugin that would present the option "show suggestions about...", maybe with a list of types of thing it could know about.

Collapse
aspittel profile image
Ali Spittel

Oh, I really like that idea -- like Grammarly but for writing inclusive stuff. Hmmm...

Collapse
ben profile image
Ben Halpern

We have had an eye towards experimentally building something like this into the DEV editor.

Our thoughts on editor augmentation is that it should act a lot like code editor autocomplete and linting. Doesn't get in the way like like a wysiwyg, but is intuitive and easy to use when it does pop up.

We haven't broken ground on anything like this because it's hard. We want it done well, and for the tool to be rushed and single purpose.

As @kmelve mentioned, language is fluid and encoded. Anything we do should err very far on the cautious end of the spectrum. This is a longterm experimental project, not a quick feature.

Thread Thread
aspittel profile image
Ali Spittel

Totally, I write all my posts in my text editor and am fine staying that way tbh, I always end up exiting accidentally on the browser if I write in here, and my setup is perfect for me. Definitely a cool idea!

Thread Thread
v6 profile image
Collapse
kmelve profile image
Knut Melvær Author

I like the idea in terms of the technical engineering part of it, but as I sort of state in the blog, I'm not sure if it is the right approach socially. Or if it's even fully possible to automate this. One thing is that language is fluid and encoded. What I kind of find effective with the bot, is that it gives you a chance to consider or think about it. And only one the use of one word.

A system that monitored everything, and found every conceivably exclusionist word, would be a bit overkill, and, I suspect work against its purpose.

That being said, I think someone should do it, and see how it feels. Would be an interesting experiment to be sure!

Collapse
v6 profile image
🦄N B🛡

I'm not sure if it is the right approach socially.

To say that this is a well studied question would be a British level of understatement.

Would be an interesting experiment to be sure!

And in the spirit of experimentation, may I suggest including a control group, and allowing live viewing of the resulting data?

Collapse
mortoray profile image
edA‑qa mort‑ora‑y

I'm opposed to using technology to enforce moral questions. It'll fail. It'll fail badly. The risk of harm is far more than the risk of good.

We're increasingly relying on "AI" and automation which is utterly crap at mimicking human nuance. If we continue down this path we won't end up more tolerant, just less human.

Collapse
kmelve profile image
Knut Melvær Author

Yeah, I think you have a point, as I hinted to with the Demolition Man clip.

The bot is not enforcing it though. Contrary to the public Slackbot version, it asks you to consider the case - with sanctions except appearing.

If I'd given it more development time, I'd also add a “turn this off” capability.

Collapse
djquecke profile image
DJ Quecke

Sorry Knut..."The bot is not enforcing it though." That is how Orwellian things start. They may not enforce it now but if the wrong person sits in the wrong seat in the future, it becomes very easy to enforce it. It starts with no enforcement. Then someone adds a logger. Then someone actually reads the log and finds Knut had to be corrected 32 times this week. Maybe we better talk to Knut. Knut is "coached" not to use the term. Knut is now upset. Next week he uses the term 52 times. Now, he gets coached for insubordination. Anything can happen next. Knut was a great person, employee and team member but he no longer wants to be a part of this team. Goodbye Knut. Meanwhile, Janet and Tim never used the term this passed month and they are named Employees of the Month. No enforcement, but we lost a productive team member and by the way, Janet spends 2 hours a day working on her personal website and Tim couldn't code his way out of a wet paper bag.

Thread Thread
kmelve profile image
Knut Melvær Author

This was a fun story, but it's not a bot on slack I'd be worried about in terms of Orwellianism.

And funny how I am the one blamed to be thought policing when I'm willingly trying to be nuanced about something I know I will get berated for in public 😁

And didn't you see the Demolition Man-clip, and my exact comment towards the same thing?

Thread Thread
anabella profile image
anabella

Ain't it funny how (some) people get all dystopian when they're asked to do even a tiny effort to decrease their privilege gap?

There's no dystopian dictatorship coming to get you for not being nice to people. It's just "try to be nice to people". In this case: some people don't feel included in "you guys". Even if it were a phrase originally meant to include every member of a potentially heterogeneous group, maybe try using a word that includes them. It's that easy.

Weird how there's not many such phrases where a mostly-female term is supposed to be accepted as a wildcard for "all peoples".

Thread Thread
mortoray profile image
edA‑qa mort‑ora‑y

The fear of abuse should not be ignored. It's exactly these types of automated tools that prevent open discussion of sexuality, including sexual health, on many public forums. Furthermore, automated tools are already being used on sites, such as YouTube, to block content based on questionable copyright reasons.

The voice that gets hurt the most by automated filtering is the minority voice. If you open the door, even a bit, to moral filtering, it's the incumbent dogma that will become normalized. Dissenting voices will simply be drowned out.

My argument against filtering has nothing to do with what is being filtered. I'll make the same argument for any kind of automated filtering and classification.

Thread Thread
kmelve profile image
Knut Melvær Author

I think @anabella has a good point though. Those who object to this bot (and doesn't manage to reflect that they actually read my post) escalates it to being about either moral monitoring, censorship, people being “offended” or what not. They are important, challenging, and interesting points in and of themselves, but what worries me is that they also reframe the discussion and offer little acknowledgment to the experiences of those who felt the need to make this bot in the first place.

And @mortoray , the bot isn't actually censoring anyone. It only reveals itself to the user in question. It does so by presenting a proposal, with a way to learn more about why it does so. It's up to you to make the judgment, or to protest it, or ask the moderator to either remove it or whitelist you. It's only acting in the channels it's invited to. Its source code is out in the open.

Is there really not any distinction between that, and the opaque processes and technological decisions that go into something like YouTube or Facebook? Can't it be a way for a community to self-monitor according to the agreed-upon rules they've set for themselves in order to foster a productive conversation?

Collapse
kmelve profile image
Knut Melvær Author

Thanks for your input @mudasobwa ,

It's completely within the owners of the site’s right to exercise the Code of Conduct that we agree to when signing up for this free service.

One could easily argue that just greying it out and labeling it is indeed more inclusive and tolerant compared to other sites and forums that would just delete the comment altogether.

And the “shooting”-part of your comment is just unwarranted and unreasonable.

Collapse
dfockler profile image
Dan Fockler

On the one hand it is very annoying to have people correct your speech. On the other hand anything that can help others introspect on their position and privilege within a system is useful. I wonder what response you would get if you suggested 'you gals' instead of 'y'all'.

Collapse
kmelve profile image
Knut Melvær Author

I agree: It's super annoying if you haven't decided to be OK with it (and even then it's hard). As for 'you gals', I suspect some would point out that in most cases it's unnecessary to gender a group, or perhaps it would make the bias even clearer?

Collapse
dmfay profile image
Dian Fay

Speaking as someone with "lived experience of not being included in all sorts of ways, in a field still dominated by mostly men", I appreciate the desire to help communities do better on inclusivity but I'm really, really not a fan of the approach. I think the comments here make the case in point: the people who need to be reminded to use inclusive language are exactly the people who will dig their heels in at robotic finger-wagging. And I don't blame them, because automated nagging is annoying however high-minded the intent, and I would absolutely do the same if I were in an analogous situation (in fact, I have done the same in analogous situations!). I've posted on bulletin boards which made extensive use of automated text replacement; that has the advantage of being direct and not coming off as condescending, but of course realtime chat platforms would have to have it built in.

Collapse
kmelve profile image
Knut Melvær Author

Thank you for your comment @dmfay !

Yeah, as you say from the various comments I've gotten both here and on Twitter, I think you're completely right. Not even a wagging-finger from the adorable BMO gets past them. Next time I'll use Clippy 😄

thejessleigh profile image
jess unrein

You implicitly agree to the Code of Conduct by registering an account and continuing to use this site, as you agree to Terms of Service subject to change for literally anything you sign up for.

Are you implying that women wouldn't be included if you said "hey developers" to a group of people? Because that's just ludicrous. The only people it wouldn't include are people who aren't developers, which is likely situationally appropriate.

I honestly do not see why so many people continue to see "hey, consider wording things inclusively" as censorship and inherently offensive. No one is enforcing your use of guys in your own life, and I'm very sorry you've been inconvenienced by being asked to regard other people's feelings.

Collapse
jenlooper profile image
Jen Looper

Well done!! :)

Collapse
djquecke profile image
DJ Quecke

"Guys". Let me state: I am generation or two older than most in the field. I've generally tried to quit using the term and that is too bad. In my generation we used "Guys" when addressing our group/team. It was an interesting word, both exclusive and inclusive. It excluded the rest of the world and included those in our group/team. My experience with women in the workforce has led me to believe that most I work with want nothing more than to be "just one of the guys". Included in that group/team and treated no differently. I work for a woman, the smartest person I have ever met, and I am currently paired with a female teammate. I assure you, both are "just one of the guys". I started by stating I'm old but I learned long ago to roll and update with the times. I've started using the term "Folks", which for me is almost as good as "Guys". It will be a cold day in Hades when I address my group in California with "y'all". As far as the bot...I would never subject my group to machine correction of their speech. That sounds Orwellian. We strive to maintain our humanity amid a world of constant change and update as tech takes over more of our lives.

Collapse
v6 profile image
🦄N B🛡

Well whatever you decide to call yourselves, please prioritize the quality and effectiveness of your code, because our lives (though less of them, these days) are in the balance.

Collapse
turtlebikergirl profile image
Turtle Biker Girl

Some went further and suggested that this was censoring and undermining the way they talked. It’s tempting to point out how many of them were not… guys. (well, none).

Hello!

We had LOTS of discussions (some quite heated) about another "guys bot" on a particular Slack. I'm female and I didn't want this bot. I won't go into why (don't want to relive all the debating  :( ). I just want to say that there are females who do not want this bot.

I was disappointed to see the opinions of some males being too easily and conveniently dismissed simply because they were males: they were considered privileged and therefore their opinion (only if it was against the bot, mind you) mattered less, if it mattered at all.

Several males contacted me by DM to thank me for speaking up. It was very difficult to voice an opinion against the bot in this particular Slack. The culture in that Slack seems very silicon-valley-centric, and seems to be disconnected from the rest of the world. It was hard enough for me, but seemed pretty much a useless dead-end for any male to voice an opinion against it.

Collapse
kmelve profile image
Knut Melvær Author

Thanks for your input @Turle Biker Girl!

As I hope you can see from my post, I too have my hesitations to the bot and if it's the right approach to whatever we're trying to solve here.

I think I share your disappointment in people being dismissed simply because of their gender — whatever it may be, and I see how my quoted comment could imply that I did dismiss objections because they came from men (But then again, I do engage with the objections in the following paragraphs).

I think you're correct that word-choice and language are very much under scrutiny in tech nowadays, and that it's hard to be in a position where you raise concern upon what's agreed on as ideologically correct (It's not just tech, by the way, you'll find this discourse other places too).

I'm curious to learn what reasons for not wanting this bot / or don't mind the "hi guys" expression there is outside of those I raised in the post. And don't worry about reliving the debating. I'm not here to further justify the bot or make it my mission to convince you to change your opinion. But I do want to learn about your perspective if you care to share it.

Collapse
turtlebikergirl profile image
Turtle Biker Girl

Hello 🙂

Sorry for the confusion. I just quoted that snippet because you said none of the people against the bot (calling it censorship anyway) were women, and I’m a woman “against the bot”.

The rest of my comment was more about my experience on that Slack regarding the bot (which wasn’t your bot at the time), not really specifically about your blog post. I came across your post because they ended up replacing the previous bot with yours, and I happened to look at the “about” page today. That part of the post is the only part that prompted me to comment here, because indeed it was extremely rare to find women who weren’t in favor of the bot. But we do exist, and I just wanted to say that 🙂

Maybe we can continue the discussion not on the forum, somehow, about my reasons for not supporting the bot. It was a bad experience feeling like just one or two people against the crowd. A one-on-one may be less stressful.

giacomosorbi profile image
Giacomo Sorbi

Oh, you would be more careful also in a shame-driven culture (like some of the largest ones in Asia or basically whatever was under the aegis of the catholic church), not just in communist or fascist regimens.

I still see what troubles people so much if they are collectively called "guys" just by convention: in my team (which, again, I definitely like and respect), basically everyone makes cultural references I do not get, on top of speaking a language which is not my native one (although I have been just using that for years): should I ask them to avoid mentioning anything too British for my ears or to speak in Esperanto, so that I can feel like I belong in there?

Come on, let's be realistic: harassment or discrimination are serious issues, while this paranoid campaign to make everybody thread on eggshells (I am not referring to you in particular, it is a general though) it is either useless or actually really offensive towards people who have actually experienced some kind of unfair work environment.

Thread Thread
giacomosorbi profile image
Giacomo Sorbi

I am pretty confident I am still entitled to say that imho that is censorship and can lead to even worse situations, in the same way you are entitled to disagree: I would never dream to censor these kind of ideas :)

thejessleigh profile image
jess unrein

This kind of slippery slope argument is exhausting and unproductive. And again, you did in fact agree when you signed up. That's what a Terms of Service agreement is.

Collapse
panditapan profile image
Pandita

How about adding a charity they can donate to as well? just an idea that would emphasize the importance of helping minorities :3

(if you do take this idea could you please include Venezuela? we need all the help in the world <3)

just an idea ~

Collapse
kmelve profile image
Knut Melvær Author

I like it, sort of a digital-charitable version of npm’s "you guys"-jar. I didn't plan to spend much time developing the bot further, but since all the code is on glitch.com, anyone can easily remix the code and e.g. make it possible to change the link from Slack with a charity of choice.

It's sad and worrysome reading about what's going on in Venezuela. I hope you're OK considering the circumstances. Do you have a charity you would recommend?

Collapse
panditapan profile image
Pandita

I'm currently in Mexico so, I'm cool. There's a few things I'm not okay with but that would be a huge post that might make people sad because there are so many layers to leaving a country in shambles without really wanting to.

As for the charity, I'm asking in a group, they're really touched by this!

They've recommended the following:

meals4hope.org/#venezuela with a link to a man (a best friend of one of the group members) who with help from meals4hope wants to do a marathon to help more kids!: migranodearena.org/reto/19507/run4...

gofundme.com/nomoremalnutrition this one is to help the Perez Carreño Hospital in Caracas. She has an instagram as well :3

There's also the #serviciopublico HT in twitter that while it might be difficult to donate to, you'll be able to see how much people ask for medicine. It kinda puts in perspective the medicine problem which not a lot of people understand D:

There's a lot of instagram accounts, there's one for animals but I'm kinda worried about posting it here because it's very "omg trigger warning" since animals are having it very very very rough right now, her cases make me cry sometimes ;U;

anyway, if I find anymore I'll reply again <3 thankies :D

Collapse
chiangs profile image
Stephen E. Chiang

I once had a boss that called us ninjas... Was an interesting way to be inclusive.

Collapse
kmelve profile image
Knut Melvær Author

I reckon you didn't actually work as ninjas then ^^_

Collapse
chiangs profile image
Stephen E. Chiang

Good ninjas never tell!

Thread Thread
v6 profile image
🦄N B🛡

Your boss was right to be paranoid, then. Assume everyone is a potential ninja... they lurk where you least expect them. So expect them everywhere!

Collapse
rendall profile image
rendall

I would exit any community that implements something like this, without a backward glance.

Being inclusive leads to inclusiveness. Being nice to people leads to inclusiveness. Being human, empathetic and talking to people leads to inclusiveness. Listening to people leads to inclusiveness. Accepting people leads to inclusiveness.

Language policing does not lead to inclusiveness, it leads to *ex*clusiveness . It leads to people being afraid to speak. It leads to people who are in the know to be comfortable speaking within carefully circumscribed bounds, and those who just don't "get it" to be excluded.

Techno solutions do not lead to inclusiveness. Your bot is part and parcel of tech exclusiveness. If you feel that someone is using exclusive language, talk to them. Be real and human with them. Be empathetic.

Collapse
kmelve profile image
Knut Melvær Author

Thanks for your feedback, @rendall ! As you know, from having read my post, I’m aware of the backside of calling out how people use language.

But I find it interesting that an automated private reminder to be more emphatic is so outrageous that you would blankly exit the community. Some people actually prefer it to having a moderator contact them and making a whole deal out of it.

But to your higher point, I do agree that we should strive towards human interaction and empathy. But I don’t think we can rule out how technology puts constraints and can augment this. Because after all, even here we’re typing in text fields over the Internet.

Collapse
rendall profile image
rendall

But I find it interesting that an automated private reminder to be more emphatic is so outrageous that you would blankly exit the community. <

Language policing, and in particular automated language policing, indicates deeper problems, as I partly outlined above.

You would be hard-pressed to find my saying such a dramatic thing in all of my online presence, stretching back years, but I am that certain of it.

I note without surprise that you literally had women telling you that they found the bot not helpful for inclusivity and you overrode their opinions with your own. That is not inclusiveness.

Be honest: there is no rational argument that would make you take it away, is there. I mean all of this feedback kindly to you: this behavior from a moderator is precisely what I would expect from a community that implemented this, and why I would see a language-police-bot as a huge red flag.

On top of all of that, when I saw the title, I expected to read an article arguing in favor of the proposition that 'you guys' is exclusionary. I was hoping to be convinced. Instead, this article is a story about a bot that takes it as given and then ignores any feedback to the contrary.

If I can offer any advice at all, do the hard work of exploring the topic with your community, of first discovering if "you guys" is actually a problem, if people are actually feeling uncomfortable there, and if so, what to do about it. Imposing a cop-bot is a cop-out.

Collapse
jos512 profile image
Jos

What my concern would be with a feature like this, is that people who are mildly positive to neutral are turned off by this language correction.

Or, in other words, it might be that being picky about 'guys' might create resistance and reduce support for bigger problems -- like gender pay gaps, discrimination, difficultly getting respect for work achievements, and more.

I'm for inclusiveness, of course. But if this reduces support for matters that seem more pressing, then I'm not sure if it's worth it. Does that make sense, or am I being too pragmatic here?

kmelve profile image
Knut Melvær Author

Ok, I've managed to lose the thread here, but you sure assume a lot about someone you don't know. You haven't given me much credit for actually agreeing with a lot of what you say, and dong so in the text. I even included a clip from Demolition Man!

Once you toned down the useless rhetoric, you actually touch on different interesting points that proves how challenging and difficult this can be – which is frustrating, because it seems that it doesn't need to be. I haven't claimed to sit on the definitive answers, nor do I think you do, but what I think is worth thinking about is:

– What is the distinction between being offended and feeling excluded?
– How are efforts to influence, dictate or control communication experienced by people of different cultural and historical backgrounds?
– What is reasonable to expect from whom when it comes to inclusion in a tech community?
– Can we discuss how communicative actions can leave someone left out, without having to go down the rather unproductive “SJW”/partisan/whatever route?

I don't expect you to post the answers here – is just what I got from this whole ordeal.

Thread Thread
v6 profile image
🦄N B🛡

– How are efforts to influence, dictate or control communication experienced by people of different cultural and historical backgrounds?

Perhaps, if you've acquaintances who've managed to get their way away from any of the various "regimes" out there, especially any older ladies & gents who've surcame any of the darker than usual times in such places, you might buy one of them a beer or two some time, encourage a spirit of convivial honesty, and might ask them their thoughts on this.

Couldn't hurt to ask, no?

And if you do, perhaps I'll buy you a beer sometime if I'm in Oslo.

thejessleigh profile image
jess unrein

If your version of truth is that you think it's reasonable to compare being thoughtful about language to mandatory tearing the wings off of flies, then I think you might need serious help.

Collapse
webslog profile image
Web Webster

Funnily enough, the bot pinged me as I was having a discussion about “guys” and Southerners’ use of “y’all.” I joked that we had to come up with an alternative to “you guys” because it was “too Northern.” I think it’s pretty fair to guess that Southerners didn’t coin it to be more gender-inclusive in their spoken language. In any case, I wasn’t bothered by the bot, and I think it’s a worthwhile exercise.

Friends and associates are becoming more willing to call out “whoa dude, that’s ___ist” when someone intentionally or unintentionally uses fraught or discriminatory speech. Why shouldn’t our machines, especially those built for communication, try and do the same.

Collapse
v6 profile image
🦄N B🛡

You seem like the thoughtful, subtle sort.

Have you made any controlled experiments with this?

And if you wanted to make a bibliography, might be worth peeking at some of Durkheim's work rather than Sapir's to understand the motivations and effects of the kinds of systems in that Demolition Man video.

And it would be unreasonable to say, I guess, that there's no market for the bot. And many will be grateful for it.

Collapse
evieskinner18 profile image
Evie

Really interesting article and discussion. Definitely got me thinking Knut, takk! 😁

giacomosorbi profile image
Giacomo Sorbi

Then again, by your name I would assume you are Russian (or some other slavic place in the Warsaw pact, pardon my ignorance), so it would prove my point of people having some more direct touch with a fascist regimen or the like being much more cautious than a bunch of armchair "enthusiasts" in embracing any kind of censorship.

And yeah, while I can see some good case, I doubt you can have a good censorship all together.

[How much more grey will I get for this?]

Thread Thread
kmelve profile image
Knut Melvær Author

(some async editing going on here)

That's a very good point! I'm definitely one of those people that is privileged by growing up in a very democratic, safe, and open society, that is, in Norway. I hadn't fully considered those kinds of experiences, even though I hint towards it in the actual blog post. I should've remembered this from my friends from East-Germany that tend to be much more careful with social technology in terms of being tracked, monitored and intervened with.

I still think there's something to being salient of how you address a group of people, but I think, despite the bad rhetorics, that a bot isn't a very good way to go about it.

Thread Thread
kmelve profile image
Knut Melvær Author

I think the discussion has derailed a bit. As for this bot, you can't say it's censorship. As to what a community in whatever fuzzy way decides to be OK behavior or not to have a productive debate, you can't put that in terms of censorship either.

Collapse
giacomosorbi profile image
Giacomo Sorbi

That might indeed prove to be a successful tactic, fellow "guy" ;)

Thread Thread
kmelve profile image
Knut Melvær Author

Might I suggest a lifehack?

.low-quality-comment {
  color: #000 !important;
  opacity: 1 !important;
}

(I don't know what the color for snark is, but I suppose I've earned it now)

Thread Thread
giacomosorbi profile image
Giacomo Sorbi

I think it would still be easier to avoid enforcing some kind of thought police all around.

I realise it is an idea pretty common in countries that never experienced any kind of fascism or the like, but considering where this kind of paranoia not to hurt/offend anybody easily can easily lead should not be that hard, should it?

giacomosorbi profile image
Giacomo Sorbi

Glad to have provided you some food for thought :)

I am afraid somebody, probably not the OP, will remind you that you never heard complaints as you were in a position of power due to your "white privilege" (you should see how pissed an Eastern European colleague used to get when he was reminded of his privilege by people who were born with a silver spoon, quite unlike him :D ).

[I doubt I will be banned for this, but in case I will take as a badge of honour]

Collapse
ogfris profile image
Info Comment marked as low quality/non-constructive by the community. View code of conduct
Fris

With all the respect that I have towards your move but am I the only one who think that this is stupid and also wasting our time, that's totally not what was meant by "gender equality", gender equality means that each gender has to work the same and get paid the same (not only in work but I believe that you got the idea,) but what you're doing here is basically trying to edit the way we speak, let's not forget that words are no more than sounds used to transfer information with each others and as long as you get the message, I don't see where is the problem. I shouldn't be talking about all this stuff here and you shouldn't be posting this kind of controversial topic here neither too.

Collapse
kmelve profile image
Knut Melvær Author

Thanks for your feedback @Fris.

So what you're saying is:

– I have got the idea about “gender equality” (which I didn't even mention) wrong
– I try to edit how we speak, which is wrong (except for when you say that I shouldn't be posting here?)
– Words are no more than sounds, and can't signify power, nor have social implications (well, why bother writing your reply then?)
– Because you don't see the problem, it isn't a problem (how does this invalidate those who experience this as a problem?)
– This is a controversial topic (I can't think of way more controversial topics than the search for a more inclusive tech industry)
– I should not post about controversial topics that are directly connected to who feels welcome in tech or not. (If diversity and inclusion is considered controversial, I find the more reason to)

Collapse
ogfris profile image
Fris

As I mentioned before, this is not a place for such controversial topics so I'll not keep this discussion up, have a nice day.

Collapse
giacomosorbi profile image
Info Comment marked as low quality/non-constructive by the community. View code of conduct
Giacomo Sorbi

The most upvoted comment is constructive criticism to this post, which imho is mostly a virtue signalling rant on political correctness, and it greyed out by mods. What about focusing more on tech stuff and less on partisan politics, dev.to?

And, please, now remove my comments again, like the last time when I was politely objecting on similar issues and a SJW came insulting me hard <_<

Collapse
kmelve profile image
Knut Melvær Author

Hi Giacomo, thank you for your comment!

(answered you on twitter, but also here for the books)

It's easy to characterize this as virtue signaling because it does demonstrate some virtue. Which used to be a good thing by the way.

That being said, if you read a bit more closely you'll also see that it's more nuanced and that I also engage in the criticism. Tech doesn't just appear outside of culture and society, it's hugely a product of human imagination and thought, constrained by social and cultural mores. The stuff we make has real consequences for the people who either use or are targeted by it. That's why I think there also should be a place for reflections such as mine on dev.to. I don't think to ask how tech can be more inclusive falls into “partisan politics”, it's a much broader and humanistic issue.

I think your comment should stand, as it's representative for a larger group, and it deserves being heard and answered.

Collapse
giacomosorbi profile image
Giacomo Sorbi

It does not demonstrate any virtue in my eyes (and apparently not just mine); as subjective as virtue might be, it seems to be to demonstrate more a (personal? Collective?) obsession for political correctness, that one time too many ended up being thought policing.

The idea of "inclusiveness" is a similarly perverted concept (like "empathy" or "compassion"), easily bent by a political agenda; using pronouns or terms does not work that much well, in all fairness, to achieve the holy grail of "inclusiveness".

I believe the world needs more high level engineers and that should be it: attaching an indication of a gender, "race" or other minority usually just ends up being a politically driven way to lower bars and promote further a culture of victimisation.

If you want more people in a sector, investigate why there are not enough of them (again, assuming that is actually a value worth pursuing) and then do something to remove blockers (frankly, if people quit IT because of "you guys", investing in good psychological support might be better than policing how people talk) and promote more (investing in free, high quality education, for example), instead of assuming there has to be some discrimination.

And, in case anybody is already keen on shutting me up as a "white male", please just remember that I am actually just a crappy migrant in a country that seems to like them less and less, where I came knowing literally nobody and all in all being pretty much an outlier in my (super nice and competent, do not misunderstand me) team.

Finally, while I appreciate your thoughts, I am a bit concerned reading that my not-racist, not-aggressive, not-intolerant, not-illegal ideas need some kind of approval in order to stay and be read by others...

Thread Thread
kmelve profile image
Knut Melvær Author

Believe or not, I appreciate that you take the time to air your concerns.

It's troublesome to me that we have gotten to where it's seemingly impossible to entertain a discussion about how we can make more people feel welcome, without being labeled as an SJW, or having once thought being reduced to “political correctness”. That's just robbing me of the same opportunity to be taken seriously as you yourself seemingly are worried about.

We have investigated why people leave technology. There's no lack of experiences of harassment, being undermined, and generally not being included. And it's also proven that actually taking actions towards making people aware of how communication and behavior can be changed in order to prevent people from being hurt. I believe we're moving in the right direction.

Thread Thread
giacomosorbi profile image
Info Comment marked as low quality/non-constructive by the community. View code of conduct
Giacomo Sorbi

I do believe you are not a strict taliban, as you do not look like.

Who is this "we" that has investigated why people leave technology? How was the (re)search conducted and which were the whole results of it?

I believe we are moving in the wrong direction when we are considering people of certain background only as victims: who says that toughening up a veery thin skin is not a good way not to get hurt? Because on the other hand I see an endless game where everything can be seen as insulting or offensive.

Guess what: even just by using the term "guys".

Collapse
giacomosorbi profile image
Giacomo Sorbi

And I got greyed out a lot: thanks "guys"! Might Barbra Streisand and her eponymous effect protect you always from the dire reality you might otherwise face ;)!