100 years of International Women’s Days, and we still don’t have it right.

I’m sitting here watching my six year old daughter play with her dolls.  There were a couple of years in which she would only wear tutus. (She wore them while playing in the mud, but still she wore them). Until a couple months ago, her entire wardrobe was pink and purple (now it’s blue). I’d like to believe that these are her choices. The dolls she buys with her allowance, and the only rule we have for purchasing and wearing clothes is that they must be weather and venue appropriate. But it’s already overwhelming how much gender differentiation she is exposed to every day. I was raised in a very feminist household in Boulder. I hope that means that I have been respectful towards women and treated them as equals more often than not. (And when I’ve failed at that, I’ve felt like crap.) But having a daughter has changed something for me. Instead of seeing the world from my point of view, I see the world from her point of view, and I’m not at all happy about what I see.

I think that we are doing a pretty good job of mitigating the damage that our culture inflicts, but I’m pissed that we have to mitigate damage at all. The amount of time we have to spend on resetting expectations about body image, challenging the daily assault of “dolls are for girls, machines are for boys” advertising, and the thousand other things we experience, is a waste of time. It’s time we ought be spending building with legos (even the primary colored ones made for boys), building circuits, or, if she likes, brushing doll hair.

But I’d like to see the culture change, and it’s clear that it’s going to take a lot of work. For my part, I realize it’s not enough just to try to do the right thing myself, or to teach her how to “handle” these cultural failures. We all need to be loud and outspoken about things that aren’t ok. When we see an environment in which someone isn’t fully welcomed and respected because of their gender (or ethnicity, or sexual identity, or any other bullshit reason) we need to speak up and change it. Right then and there. We should be respectful to the offender(s), of course. People don’t change when they are defensive, but each occurrence is an opportunity for some “design thinking.” Start with some empathy: (regardless of your intent, how do you think that comment made that person feel). Then test some different behaviors and see what happens.

I’m sure there’s a lot more to be said about all of this, but for now I think I’ll leave it at this: I’m not going to be silent about it any more, and my empathy for women in tech now has the added “kick” that I see my daughter in each of them, and I’m not going to put up with any more crap.  I hope that most everyone who reads this thinks the same way. So it’s not about changing what most of us believe, but just being vocal about the culture we demand in our industry. Let’s get to work.


When is it safe to cut the cord?

As parents, we often hear the phrase “cut the cord.” It’s a topic that comes up time and time again.  When do we leave our child with the first babysitter?  When are they old enough to ride around the neighborhood on their bicycle?  But today I thought I’d talk about a cord that a lot of us are thinking of cutting or have already cut: the cord to our wireline telephone at home.

People will often consider cost, convenience, or the disturbing amount of dust gathering on that 20th Century relic.  But today, let’s consider the special relationship that this phone has to the safety of your children.  Specifically, let’s talk about 9-1-1.

9-1-1 service in the United States was born about six months before I was, in February of 1968.  The Haleyville, Alabama Police Department took that first historic call.  (Mark Fletcher wrote a great blog post about it, if you’re interested).  About forty years later, I had the excitement of being part of the first text message to 9-1-1. But that’s a story for another day (and a different blog).

When 9-1-1 was first deployed, it was pretty simple: the local telephone switch recognized that the first 3 digits were 9-1-1, and (physically!) connected the caller’s telephone circuit to a circuit at the local police station (or other answering point).  As the telephone network increased in complexity, and because it became important not only to get the call, but know who and where the caller was, a new system called “Enhanced 9-1-1″ was created.  Using 1960′s vintage long-distance dialing technology as the foundation, E9-1-1 not only delivered the call, but the number of the caller.  (This was called Automatic Number Identification, or ANI.)  The local 9-1-1 center would then use a data circuit (1200 baud leased lines, if you’re wondering) to get the address of the caller through a system called Automatic Location Information (ALI).  Amazingly, this system is still in use today, and we’re only now beginning to see the first trials of “Next Generation 9-1-1 (NG9-1-1).”  You might notice the name of our company – yes, we’re a part of that, too…

Why does this all matter?  Because until NG9-1-1 is in place across the country (which is still years away for most of us), all these modern technologies to which we’ve become accustomed (like cellphones) have been squeezed into that 1960′s vintage network.  Although some really smart people have figured out ways to make it work pretty well in many ways, there is one way in which a wireline phone and a cellular phone are incredibly different: location.  Wireline phones (including “plain old telephone service,” Voice over IP, and service provided over cable TV lines) are associated with your physical address.  Cellular phones, on the other hand, can be anywhere.  So when you dial 9-1-1 on a cellphone, the 9-1-1 center only knows the general area from which the call came from.  Initially, that can be anything within a many-mile radius, although the FCC requires that within a short period of time, the phone must be located to within about 150-900 feet, depending on the type of phone.  It turns out, that’s really not nearly good enough if the caller is a small child.

So what does a resourceful 9-1-1 dispatcher do when a child calls 9-1-1 from a cellphone and doesn’t know their address.  They do this: “Honey, go open your front door.  Stand at the door with it open and listen for the sirens.”  Then, as a police car or ambulance drives up and down the streets with their siren blasting, the dispatcher says “louder, louder, louder, softer, softer” until they find the right street.

Even though it’s rare, sometimes children do need to call 9-1-1.  Dispatchers can do amazing things and our children can do amazing things when they need to.  But sometimes, our job is to keep them from having to be heroic in extraordinary circumstances.  So before you cut the cord, make sure to think about these things:

  • Can your child dial 9-1-1 from your smartphone? (unlock it, find the phone number-pad, dial 9-1-1, and hit send?)
  • Does your child know your address?  Will they be able to tell it to the 9-1-1 dispatcher when they are panicking?
  • Is the cellphone always somewhere where your child can find it?
  • Is the cellphone always charged?

If you can’t answer yes to all of these questions, maybe think about keeping that wireline phone one more year.