Pr0n on the Couch

Yes, I saw the slide of the presentation CouchDB: Perform like a Pr0n Star. It's sparked a raging debate all over the internet that's taken a life of it's own. I'm getting some testy emails. So I think I should say something, lest some people interpret my silence as approval.

Now, I don't know what it was like to be there in attendance, but what I saw I was not offensive to me (as if!). I thought it was kind of humorous. But how I felt is besides the point.

Was it sexist? Not in my opinion. Sexual themes aren't necessarily sexist, and I didn't see anything to support a notion of women being less suitable for development or other tech work. Reasonable people can differ here, but I don't see sexism in this talk.

But was the talk inappropriate? In my opinion, yes. I wouldn't give a talk like that, and I would discourage colleagues from giving talks like that at a developer conference.

Some people in attendance were, if not offended, at least made to feel uncomfortable. I can imagine there are conferences where it's just fine, even encouraged, to push the limits of polite behavior. Heck, sounds like a fun conference, can I go too?

But at a developer conference, that's not a good thing. Most everyone at conferences are strangers to one another, and developers aren't known to be the most outgoing people. Anything that makes people feel uncomfortable is going to shut down communication and openness. Even if those who are uncomfortable skipped the talk, others didn't and no doubt will be gabbing about it afterward. There can be no doubt that sexual themes absolutely will make some people feel uncomfortable and close them off. Not just women, some men also feel really uncomfortable about this stuff, but are less likely to admit it.

Now, I'm not against making people feel uncomfortable (sometimes I even like it). There are a lot of very important issues that people feel uneasy discussing, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't discuss it. I remember as a kid watching C. Everett Coop talk about condoms and intercourse during the AIDs/HIV crisis. Lots of people got wound up about that. But he absolutely had to, the cost of people's discomfort was nothing compared to their ignorance.

But in this case, the cost of people's discomfort was outweighed by nothing. It was simply unnecessary, and therefore inappropriate. Not wildly, dangerously, or seriously inappropriate. Just your garden variety inappropriateness.

Now, the reason I'm writing this is not to express my disapproval or outrage on this talk. Honestly I don't feel that strongly about this talk, and I'm a little surprised it's such a big issue. But there can be no doubt it is a big issue and lots of people are talking about it.

The real reason I'm writing this is I don't want to see a misinterpretation of CouchDB culture, or worse a trend of being so cool we don't need politeness and decorum. We shouldn't be that way, we are an inclusive community and CouchDB is a progressive technology, not a cultural movement. If we piss people off it should be because our technology is disruptive, not our community.

Posted April 29, 2009 10:56 AM