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l’azile » culture

February 25, 2013

the law of raspberry jam*

catherine @ 12:10 am

A rare and very honest perspective by Shanley Kane on the fucked-up culture increasingly promoted in tech orgs and startups: What Your Culture Really Says (via @terrahawkes).

“Culture is not about the furniture in your office. It is not about how much time you have to spend on feel-good projects. It is not about catered food, expensive social outings, internal chat tools, your ability to travel all over the world, or your never-ending self-congratulation.

Culture is about power dynamics, unspoken priorities and beliefs, mythologies, conflicts, enforcement of social norms, creation of in/out groups and distribution of wealth and control inside companies. Culture is usually ugly. It is as much about the inevitable brokenness and dysfunction of teams as it is about their accomplishments. Culture is exceedingly difficult to talk about honestly. (…)”

I really do not think this person’s perspective is an exaggerated one. I have seen this culture at work in many tech orgs (who shall remain nameless) and have seen it start to rear its head in some not-for-profit orgs in the last couple of years. I have tried to have meaningful discussions regarding my feelings about this culture, what I have seen of it specifically in Montreal or elsewhere. But, as usual, I am made to understand that I bring up an uncomfortable subject and that this is the way the game is played, the way it has to be played in order to stay competitive and relevant.

I also worry about what this culture is doing for democracy and democratic institutions. I mean, I am all for enabling citizens to take control through technology and access to information (among other things). I have even modestly contributed to that objective, namely via accessibility and open data initiatives. But to be honest, I increasingly get the feeling that the “citizens” are secondary. That the industry is feeding on itself and the goal, whatever it may be, is a pretext to maintain this culture. Yes, yes, there is the question of making more and more money but that is another discussion.

And then I read stuff like politicians wanting to turn cities into startups or other politicians (who have no idea what they are talking about) practically suggesting we throw the policing of government corruption into the lap of developers. And those are just two examples but there is so much more stuff out there to give us pause. And I have to wonder. Is it a good idea handing over the development of our democracy to people who are subject to and/or promoting this type of culture? And is it even fair? I am certainly not suggesting we should leave it strictly up to politicians, gawd no, we have enough evidence of how, euh, unreliable governments are at governance. But frankly, part of me finds the idea of the tech industry (or industries) leading the way rather scary. But I guess that is a whole other subject.

Anyway, there are aspects of the tech and/or startup “culture” that are fun and promising and challenging (in a good way). But there are aspects that are alarming and perverse. And I am relieved I am not alone with my questions. I am glad that someone has the guts to bring up their questions too, and quite brilliantly I might add. It happens all too rarely. And when it does, people do not listen enough. I hope that changes.

* “The Law of Raspberry Jam: the wider any culture is spread, the thinner it gets.”, Alvin Toffler (In this case, lets fucking hope so.)

January 28, 2012

sign of the times

catherine @ 7:02 pm

An old black and white photo depicting a man pulling the skin beneath his right eye downward with his index finger.

I have recently been exploring signed videos of popular music. Although I had stumbled upon a few here and there, it was only after I saw this signed version of Marilyn Manson’s “This Is The New Shit” that I started to get really excited. That it really sunk in that signed versions of songs can make the results original artistic works in their own right.

Here is a story on ABC World News about a young interpreter who started signing songs for a deaf friend and who, when this news item was originally posted, had had over 15000 visitors to her youtube channel.

And here is an old post on the phenomenon with a round up of some more examples, some quite awesome, some not. This post also introduces us to Jade Films and Entertainment, a production company run by a deaf woman who has produced quite a bit of these signed videos (check out her youtube channel).

Continue reading sign of the times

May 21, 2011

whatever happened to Yao Defen?

catherine @ 8:56 pm

Four years ago to the day, I wrote a blog post about Yao Defen. As I explained in the intro to that post, I first heard about her through a television show on TLC relating the story of the tallest woman in the world. I was very touched by this story. Actually I was troubled and angry that a human being could be neglected and used and abused and exploited all at once in the way she was.

To this day, I still have no idea what became of Yao Defen. I do not know if she survived, not only her projected 2007 surgery but just in general considering the life she had. And, judging from the number of people who land on my blog everyday searching for news of her fate, I am not alone. Many would like to know what happened to her. Many are hoping she made it and has actually had the chance for a better life.

And I find it utterly astounding that people end up on my blog to try to find out the fate of this poor woman because no real information seems to be available elsewhere. Sure, you can google her and find plenty of references to her, there is even a Facebook page for her though obviously, she did not set it up. And TLC (and its worldwide Discovery Channel affiliates) still airs the same gawd damn show on a regular basis without telling people what became of her. Frankly TLC, I know I should not expect too much of you but gee, could you be more crass? And of course, the Chinese government keeps silent.

So if anyone has any idea, any information about Miss Yao’s situation, please let us know. Either post a comment here or on the original post.

Miss Yao, wherever you are, a lot of people are thinking about you and hoping you made it.

May 1, 2011

a few thoughts about sex and disability

catherine @ 10:59 pm

This post is my contribution to Blogging Against Disablism Day 2011 (BADD 2011).

I am probably going to get hell for writing about this but anyway, here it goes…

A few weeks ago, I attended a workshop on the sexual rights of people with disabilities. This workshop was part of the Disability and Citizenship Week (Semaine Citoyenneté et Handicap) at l’Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM), a major university in the province of Quebec. It was the first time in a long time that I had heard of an event that broached this subject in my part of the world. I had two conflicting thoughts when I heard about it:

  1. Hmmm, how come we still need to talk about this in 2011? and;
  2. Well, this should be a change from the usual stuff I hear about (like accessibility, HTML5, blablabla).

Continue reading a few thoughts about sex and disability

May 21, 2007

saving face and saving lives

catherine @ 4:27 pm

Last night, I watched the story of Yao Defen on TLC (this documentary had already aired a while ago on Discovery UK, if I am not mistaken). Yao Defen is apparently the tallest woman in the world, measuring more than seven feet, eight inches (7′8″), and her story is appalling for several reasons.

TLC seems to have a fondness for airing these kinds of stories. Amid advice about what not to wear, how to flip houses and redo your neighbours’ living room in 48 hours, they will happily tell you about the girl with two heads, the family with twenty-five kids or the smallest people on the planet. I usually stay away from these shows; they thoroughly annoy me because regardless of the random educational properties they could have, it seems to me that they are mostly just an excuse for people to gawk in the comfort of their own homes.

But late last night, I was bored and did not feel like going to bed so I channel-surfed in the hopes of finding a good movie to fall asleep on. Unfortunately, despite the fact that we have like 300 channels or something, the airwaves were barren. I landed on TLC and this show about the world’s tallest woman and despite myself, started watching the story of the totally unnecessary suffering this woman has endured for the last thirty odd years.

Continue reading saving face and saving lives

Filed under: culture, disability, handicap
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