Wednesday, November 29, 2017

I saw a woman this morning carrying a Tupperware container with a cake-like pastry dish inside it.

And I thought well, at least someone’s having a worse day than me.

In the coffee shop there was a woman that could see with a Labrador. The dog was dead-set fucking adorable. Despite my back hurting quite a lot, I bent over to give that young pup pats and scritches like there was no tomorrow.

The dog rewarded my scritches by putting the top of his head on the top of my shoe, in a clumsy little lying-down/fliping-over motion.

Whos a good boy? You’re a good boy.

When the woman was handed her coffee and was requesting of her dog that it join her in the act of departure, she called out “come on, Marley”.

Now, the movie Marley ampersand Me came out in 2008, and this little pup was not more than a few years old. So this woman had knowingly named her dog after the second most famously dead dog in movie history.

The only real question is why didn’t she go for gold and call him Old Yeller?

I’ve been thinking about Pinterest being proud of themselves for allowing users to enter their own text when providing their sex. That is, allowing a user to eschew the standard ‘male’ and ‘female’ options and enter in whatever it is that they identify as.

In their own stupid words: “ …everyone — lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans*, intersex, ally, straight — is included…”. They go on to announce their “important update” — that you can define your own gender.

I can’t help but feel like they’ve conflated sexual preference with sexual identity, I guess to them it’s all just in the not-normal bucket.

There is, I suppose, nothing wrong with Pinterest allowing users to define their own response to the age old question “what sex are you”. But I’ve been trying to put my finger on why I don’t like the idea.

The answer, after much pondering, is because it’s illogical, ignorant, misguided, you know, dumb.

But it’s also smart, says the cynic in me. (Hey, get outta there, you!)

It’s smart because it’s free marketing. Pinterest is for women, women aren’t homophobic, and people that don’t know their gender are gay. So a move like this is sure to win over their fairer-sex patrons. Nothing to disagree with there.

So, you add a field to your settings page, then sit back and watch it go viral.

But, having watched a video of the person that championed this change, it would seem that she didn’t do it for the marketing, for her this was a significant, ‘important’, thing. Right up there with gay rights.

There are two reasons a company wants to know your gender.

The first is so that they can sell an ad slot to an advertiser and tell them that the ad will only be shown to women, or only shown to men.

Advertisers are aware that not 100% of Windex purchases are by women and not 100% of stereo purchases are by males. But a skew of even 70/30 one way or the other can make it worthwhile to target just one sex. An advertiser that wants to sell, say, men’s shoes, will pay more for an ad slot if the website can demonstrate that it will only show the ad to men.

The second reason is to serve you ‘relevant’ content. For a site like Pinterest, I’d assume they have algorithms that have a bit of a think about what sort of stuff to show you. These algorithms have no preconceived notions of what chicks dig and what blokes totes like. They just know that users with gender=x tend to like cakes and shit while users with gender=y like pictures of cakes being eaten by girls in bikinis holding machine guns.

In both of these cases, a gender other than male or female will be ignored.

When Pinterest allow you enter “captain 🍕” as your gender (emoji: because FUN!), you can no longer be targeted for gender-specific advertising, and an algorithm won’t take your gender into account when deciding what to show you.

From Pinterest’s perspective, they might has well have had a “none of your god damn business” option. At least that’s useful to not only the teeny tiny fraction of people that genuinely don’t identify as male or female (whatever the fuck that actually means), but also is useful to the much larger share of people that just don’t want to answer that question, including those who don’t want to answer any questions in order to look at pictures of cakes on the internet.

What about from the user’s perspective, surely allowing them to decide what gender they are is a good thing. Well, broadly yes, but that isn’t what this is. This isn’t about the user’s life as a whole, it isn’t about their identity, it is about allowing a person to opt in to providing more personal details to Pinterest about their sexuality.

There is literally no human ever that will care what is written in that field. It goes into a large dark brown database somewhere and will never, ever, be looked at by anyone. So why would anyone want to enter their custom gender into some corporation’s database? It’s none of the corporation’s fucking business, and it has zero impact. Surely you have better things to be doing than sitting at home drinking Campari alone from a wine glass, editing fields on the Pinterest profile settings page.

It baffles me.

But let’s say you don’t have better things to do, and you don’t have a gender. So you go to Pinterest, into settings, edit the little field that lets you add a custom gender, type “mauve 🥑”, hit save and … and then what? Three minutes later you will have forgotten you did this.

Pinterest will say “we’re just putting a little smile on someone’s face, that’s all there is to this”.

OK, that’s great. Hey, while you’re putting smiles on people’s faces, how about you let me look at pictures of hedgehog cakes without fucking signing in. Hmmm? Where’s your desire to make me happy now? Why in the fuck do you need to know who I am on this earth before I can look at those god damn adorable little hedgehog cakes?

Right, so after all of that thinking out loud I have come to a conclusion as to why this is so silly. A twofold conclusion, no less.

First, Pinterest are saying “we’re OK with you being whoever you are and we’re inclusive and you’re great just the way you are”, and that’s the sort of sentiment that is great, and people will jump and clap about it.

But the rhetoric is detached from reality. Sweep away all the fancy-pants words and you’re just typing into a field in a database that is ignored because it isn’t ‘male’ or ‘female’.

That’s dumb.

Secondly, Pinterest are making out that gender-non-conformity is a big deal. Something that somehow needed addressing.

But really, in the online world, it isn’t a big deal at all. We all conform to our DNA-based gender to a lesser or greater extent depending on the context, and Pinterest is only one very specific context. I’m a man when shopping for shoes, gender neutral when browsing Reddit. We should all have the option to not have you tailor our experiences based on a gender, be it “male”, “female”, or “easter 🎄”.

So, gender-specificity is a step in the wrong direction; gender-anonymity is where we should be headed.

I only exist while you're reading my posts.