Posted by: Patrick Allen Foster | December 31, 2013

Quotes About the Internet, Tech People, Communication, and Respect

1. Clark at Popehat: “It would be better for all of us to live in a culture where we can take political positions without being doxed, without having our personal pictures grabbed from social media and used to illustrate to an audience of millions how we are complete and utter failures. … Not a single one of us would (a) enjoy having the weight of the internet come down on us, nor (b) would we look particularly cool if the other side had infinite resources to pick over our online presence and cherry pick items to make us look bad. Put down your stones of personal reputation destruction and mockery. Do it even if you think the other side (whichever side that is) is living to a lower standard. It’s good for your soul.”

2. Megan McArdle, on communications between tech people and their non-techie superiors/clients/customers: “If I had to guess, I’d imagine that the tech people laid out the awfulness in great detail, which to them [the policy people] sounded like ‘Stop, you fools, you’ll kill us all!’ and to the policy folks sounded like ‘Gee, I sure wish we had another couple of months for testing.’ This is not uncommon when technical people communicate with nontechnical people.” And again: “at the end of the day, when people are demanding that you do the impossible, your job is to explain why you can’t. The ability to manage the expectations of nontechnical users is actually an important piece of domain knowledge for technical people; if you flub that, you’ll fail just as surely as if you get the hardware or software wrong.” (emphasis added)

3. Noah Smith, on equality, democracy, and respect (emphasis in original):

In American society, we generally discuss three kinds of “equality”: 1) “equality of outcome”, usually meaning equality of wealth or income, 2) “equality of opportunity”, and 3) “equal rights” under the law. The first is typically supported by true communists and socialists, and some liberals; the second by centrist liberals; and the third by libertarians and conservatives. The arguments between proponents of the three types of equality are voluminous and endless. And I think all three are important.

But I find that there is something missing from this list. I’ve come to realize that there is another important dimension of equality that I care about. Maybe more than any of the others. It’s equality of respect.

I had this realization (as with so many others) while living in Japan. I first noticed it when I was sitting in a “kaiten-zushi” restaurant, watching some cooks chop fish. It was robotic, repetitive work, about as difficult – and about as well-paid – as flipping burgers. But my Japanese friend referred to one of those cooks as “sushi-ya-san”, meaning “Mr. Sushi Chef”. She used the honorific reflexively, not patronizingly or sarcastically. The respect for this low-paid, low-skilled worker was reflexive, automatic. I suddenly wondered if we could get Americans to start calling burger-flippers “sir”. The thought made me laugh.

There are other ways in which the customs of Japanese society work to encourage equal respect. Japan is not a particularly “equal” country in terms of income; its Gini coefficient is higher than that of most European countries’. But conspicuous displays of wealth are rare. Rich people live in secluded apartments and houses concealed by high stone walls, instead of in the palatial mansions preferred by wealthy Americans. No one discusses how much money anyone makes. Flashy cars exist, but are rare, and are more likely to be sported by yakuza gangsters than corporate lawyers or young investment bankers. People insist (wrongly, but tellingly) that “there is no poverty in Japan”. Displays of wealth are a major taboo, as are displays of poverty; begging is extremely rare).

Now, this may change over time. Japanese culture is not static and immutable, as many wrongly believe; the country’s relatively high inequality is only a couple of decades old, and many Japanese people fret about their country turning into a “society of winners and losers“. But Japan taught me that respect doesn’t have to be all about money.

I feel like the America I grew up in could learn a thing or two from Japan in this regard. …


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