Context Perception

An interesting discussion ensued regarding a presentation at the Open Source Developer’s Conference over on Richard’s blog at mechanical cat. Anthony Baxter also provided an opinion, and since I’ve presented at this conference a couple of times, and Unicity was a sponsor last year, I’m inspired to add my 2 cents.

It appears a presenter gave a lightening talk that somehow involved a perl module that looks up Playboy Playmate information. Richard says this was ‘peripheral’, but others comments have made me think that this module was the main focus of the presentation, which is a more serious matter. This presentation was accompanied by the display of related imagery. Soft porn, it appears. At a technical conference. I’m not sure what possessed the presenter to do this, but the reaction should have disabused them of attempting it in future.

Richard draws a connection between this event and the fact that there are few women in IT in Australia. I will agree that a connection exists, but I take issue with what he calls ‘Observation 2: I was amazed that Acme::Playmate exists in (and is blessed by) CPAN’. Let us not confuse the impropriety of displaying soft porn as part of a presentation at a professional conference with the fact that software whose major function is related to porn exists. Such software is perfectly ok. Its discussion at OSDC is not. That is the error the presenter made.

The problem here is that people do not expect porn to displayed as part of an OSDC conference presentation. That is not what OSDC is for. People attending OSDC are there because of their interest in Open Source software, not porn. The presenter somehow failed to consider that OSDC should be treated as any other business venue. The gender of the attendees is irrelevent. This presentation would not be acceptable in most business meetings in Australia, and it is not acceptable here.

That is the simple message about context that appears to have been missed. While I am sure there are some contexts where discussions of this perl module, with associated imagery, would be perfectly fine, OSDC is not one of them. That is all that needs to be said.

The fault here lies solely with the presenter. They made a grave error when deciding whether or not OSDC was an appropriate context for this presentation, and I believe they have since acknowledged this. Launching into another deep discussion about women in IT may well be interesting, but I do not believe that we will reach a different conclusion about this particular event. As a community, I believe we are well aware of what needs to be done about incidents of this nature: to act as one in asserting firmly that this is inappropriate behaviour. If we do so consistently then the number of incidents such as this are sure to decrease and we will be well on our way to ensuring that IT is a more welcoming environment for anyone who wishes to participate.

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