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THIS WEEK IN THE NEW YORKER: INSIDE THE TECH ISSUE

The Tech World Is Notorious for Its Gender Discrimination, but More and More Women Are Pushing for Change

In the November 20, 2017, issue of The New Yorker, in “The Disrupters” (p. 52), Sheelah Kolhatkar reports on the tech industry’s gender-discrimination problem, and the women who are pushing for change. Kolhatkar writes, “After the revelations about [Harvey] Weinstein and others—revelations that have included harrowing stories of rape and assault, which Weinstein and others deny—issues like unequal pay and lack of promotion might seem minor by comparison. They aren’t, of course, Weinstein-level problems—but they are the problems that create men like Weinstein. It’s the imbalance of pay and power that puts men in a position to harass, that gives them unchecked control over the economic lives of women and, as a result, influence over their physical lives.” This problem is perhaps nowhere more evident than in the technology industry. Melinda Gates, the co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, told Kolhatkar, “I don’t think there’s a woman who has worked in tech who hasn’t experienced some form of bias or sexual harassment somewhere along the way—myself included.” In the past six months, a series of disclosures about tech companies has led to the resignations of Justin Caldbeck, who ran the venture firm Binary Capital; Dave McClure, the co-founder of the tech incubator 500 Startups; Robert Scoble, a prominent technology critic; and others. According to women Kolhatkar spoke with in Silicon Valley, more allegations have yet to emerge.

Ellen Pao, a former junior partner with Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, described many early investors and entrepreneurs as “dorks,” united by the fact that they “were all interested in technology.” The environment changed, she said, after the early venture-capital firms started investing in tech. “They happened to all be white guys who had graduated from the same handful of élite colleges,” she said. “And they tended to make investments in new firms started by people they knew, or by people who were like them.” Pao said that the change was reinforced by the initial public offering of Facebook, in 2012, at well above a hundred billion dollars, which cemented Silicon Valley’s reputation as the place to make a quick fortune. “Now you had the frat boys coming in, and that changed the culture,” Pao said. Erica Joy Baker, a senior engineering manager at Patreon, a membership platform for artists, recalled working as an engineer in a group that provided technical support to Google’s top executives. Google’s C.E.O., Eric Schmidt, walked into the executive-tech-support room in need of help. She said that Schmidt asked her to leave her teammate Frank a message describing his technical issue, which she was more than qualified to address. “I said, ‘Oh, I can take care of that for you.’ And he said, ‘Oh, you’re not his assistant?’ ” Kathryn Minshew, the founder of the career Web site the Muse, recalls that, when she and her co-founders began to raise money for the company, investors spoke to her as if “they thought it was so cute that I was trying to play with the boys, like I was a circus animal.” She was also repeatedly told that she should seek funding from Golden Seeds, a venture-capital firm that exclusively funds women-led companies. Kelly Dermody, a lawyer who is working on class-action lawsuits against Microsoft and Google, told Kolhatkar, “Women are tired of not being taken seriously, and attending ridiculous seminars on how women can get ahead. How about we work on the men? It’s been a long time of talking about skill-building for women, but men aren’t making room, and they’re treating women in a sexualized way and not paying them fairly.”

Valerie Aurora, the principal consultant at Frame Shift Consulting, a diversity-and-inclusion consultancy, and Leigh Honeywell, a technology fellow at the A.C.L.U., argue that sexual harassment is a tipoff that other misconduct may be taking place at a company. When Kolhatkar asked Aurora why she thought this connection existed, she said, “There are several reasons, but the most interesting one is entitlement. The same personality flaw says, ‘I am more important than all other people.’ ” She added, “It’s really helpful to have Donald Trump as President—we now all know how narcissists behave.” Minshew said she was hopeful that the public conversation about women in tech would help reshape the culture: “This summer is the first time I’ve ever seen consequences for bad behavior. And that is empowering.” Please see this link: http://bit.ly/2ADgMvz

Can Carbon-Dioxide Removal Save the World?

In “Going Negative” (p. 64), Elizabeth Kolbert reports on carbon-dioxide removal—sometimes referred to as “negative emissions”—a potentially trillion-dollar enterprise which offers a way not just to slow the rise in CO2 but to reverse it. Klaus Lackner, a physicist who founded the Center for Negative Carbon Emissions, at Arizona State University, told Kolbert, “If technologies to pull CO2 out of the environment fail then we’re in deep trouble.” He argues that carbon dioxide should be regarded the same way we view other waste products, like sewage or garbage. If CO2 is treated as just another form of waste, which has to be disposed of, then people can stop arguing about whether it’s a problem and finally start doing something. Carbon Engineering, owned in part by Bill Gates, is one of a half-dozen companies vying to prove that carbon removal is feasible. The company’s chief executive, Adrian Corless, and his team have devised a process that allows them, in effect, to suck carbon dioxide out of the air and convert it into calcium carbonate.

With another approach, carbon capture and storage, the CO2 produced at a power station or a steel mill or a cement plant is drawn off before it has a chance to disperse into the atmosphere. Currently, only one power plant in the U.S. uses post-combustion carbon capture on a large scale. Experts Kolbert spoke to said that the main reason C.C.S. hasn’t caught on is that there’s no inducement to use it. “If you’re running a steel mill or a power plant and you’re putting the CO2 into the atmosphere, people might say, ‘Why aren’t you using carbon capture and storage?’ ” Howard Herzog, an engineer at M.I.T. who for many years ran a research program on C.C.S., told Kolbert. “And you say, ‘What’s my financial incentive? No one’s saying I can’t put it in the atmosphere.’ ” Although C.C.S. has stalled in practice, it has become ever more essential on paper. To avoid catastrophe, most climate-change models rely on a yet to be realized variation of C.C.S., known as BECCS, which stands for “bio-energy with carbon capture and storage.” “BECCS is unique in that it removes carbon and produces energy,” Glen Peters, a senior researcher at the Center for International Climate Research, in Oslo, told Kolbert. “So the more you consume the more you remove.” BECCS doesn’t make big energy demands, but it requires vast tracts of arable land. Much of this land would, presumably, have to be diverted from food production, and at a time when the global population—and therefore global food demand—is projected to be growing.

A compelling reason for putting carbon removal on the agenda is that we are already counting on it. Negative emissions are built into the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change scenarios and the climate agreements that rest on them, yet there are huge challenges to be overcome, some of them technological, others political and economic. “In the near term, talking about carbon removal is silly,” David Keith, the founder of Carbon Engineering, who teaches energy and public policy at Harvard, told Kolbert. “Because it almost certainly is cheaper to cut emissions now than to do large-scale carbon removal.” Many experts argue that even talking about negative emissions is dangerous—such talk fosters the impression that it’s possible to put off action and still avoid a crisis, when it is far more likely that continued inaction will just produce a larger crisis. Others counter that the moment for fretting about the hazards of negative emissions has passed. Kolbert writes, “One of the peculiarities of climate discussions is that the strongest argument for any given strategy is usually based on the hopelessness of the alternatives: this approach must work, because clearly the others aren’t going to. This sort of reasoning rests on a fragile premise—what might be called solution bias. There has to be an answer out there somewhere, since the contrary is too horrible to contemplate.” Please see this link: http://bit.ly/2yyra7r

For the Stars of Video Gaming, Success Means Working Around the Clock

In “Revenue Streaming” (p. 38), Taylor Clark writes about Twitch, a streaming platform whose popularity has turned recreational gaming into an improbably viable career. Each month, a hundred million visitors watch their favorite personalities play video games on Twitch, spending an average of nearly two hours a day there. Twitch, which now has more than twelve hundred employees, claims that fifty per cent of all millennial males watch its streamers. When Roberto Garcia—known online as Towelliee—started streaming, in 2010, he routinely streamed for eighteen hours a day. “That’s what I had to do to grow the viewership,” he said. His weight grew to four hundred and twenty pounds. Since 2011, he has been one of Twitch’s “partners,” an élite group that includes some twenty-five thousand streamers, of the 2.2 million who are active on the site. Between his thousands of subscribers and his sponsorships, appearance fees, and tips, he earns a “low- to mid-six-figure” income. In 2016, Garcia sold nearly three million dollars’ worth of his sponsors’ products through links on his Twitch channel. “This year, Towelliee’s viewers have watched five hundred and ninety-four years of his content,” Omeed Dariani, the founder and C.E.O. of Online Performers Group, a talent-management company dedicated to professional video-game streamers, told Clark. In the next few years, Dariani expects, the annual marketing expenditure on Twitch streamers will surpass a billion dollars. “I love these people and love what I do,” Dariani said. “When I see a guy who a couple years ago was functionally homeless and now is able to have a family and buy a house, how can you burn out on that?”

But not all streamers have had a positive experience with Twitch. Gaming culture can be shockingly hostile to women, and many female streamers cope with sexual solicitation and other forms of harassment. The streamer Cinthya Alicea told Clark what it was like to be “swatted”—a vicious prank in which trolls anonymously report a made-up threat to police, summoning a SWAT team to a target’s home. As Alicea streamed, officers stormed into her house and put her in handcuffs. “I’m just thankful they didn’t shoot my dog,” she said. Several streamers have suffered heart attacks while playing. “My doctor told me I was going to die if I kept doing it like this,” a streamer who goes by Bria Leigh said. “You spend ten hours a day in the chair. And you don’t even want to get up to use the bathroom, because you’re afraid you’ll lose viewers.” Anthony Kongphan, a client of Dariani’s, told Clark, “I will never do it again, but I streamed once for sixty-three and a half hours straight.” Now he streams every day from early evening to around 4 a.m. Fans have tipped Kongphan more than ten thousand dollars over time, and watched him stream for twenty-four hours at a stretch. But, for every Twitch star earning seven figures, there are thousands struggling to figure out how to lure enough subscribers to survive. Do they need a gimmick? Should they play different games? Interact more with chat? “There’s no right answer,” Daniel (iKasperr) Bong, a longtime streamer, told Clark. “The audience gets to choose what they want to watch, and it’s almost like putting our fate in their hands. It’s scary.” Please see this link: http://bit.ly/2zzbt3y

Plus: In Comment, David Remnick asks, as Harvey Weinstein and other powerful men face repercussions for their alleged abusive behavior, will the President? http://bit.ly/2zG3VcX

in the Financial Page, Adam Davidson explores the bizarre world of patent law and the unlikely partnership between Allergan and the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe http://bit.ly/2zCxy0P

in Shouts & Murmurs, Blythe Roberson reimagines Disney princes as feminist allies http://bit.ly/2iSM4aK

Tad Friend reads several books about ageism http://bit.ly/2hz0zUh

Nathan Heller reads Tina Brown’s “The Vanity Fair Diaries: 1983-1992” and Joe Hagan’s new biography, “Sticky Fingers: The Life and Times of Jann Wenner and Rolling Stone Magazine,” and examines the legacy of these two legendary magazine editors http://bit.ly/2zDkLLp

Leo Robson reads several books by and about the novelist Joseph Conrad http://bit.ly/2hpfjkO

Hua Hsu reviews Football Manager, a sports video game in which you never actually play sports http://bit.ly/2hw1VPM

Andrew Marantz reviews “The Opposition,” Jordan Klepper’s new show on Comedy Central http://bit.ly/2i8SK4O

Anthony Lane reviews “Murder on the Orient Express,” directed by Kenneth Branagh, and “Thelma,” directed by Joachim Trier http://bit.ly/2zBdhGT

poetry by Natasha Trethewey http://bit.ly/2AFW4w2

poetry by Jorie Graham http://bit.ly/2zTdXdo

and new fiction by David Gilbert http://bit.ly/2iS64dy

In a series of sidebars, Junot Díaz, Sally Rooney, Daniel Alarcón, Ottessa Moshfegh, and Victor LaValle reflect on moments when technology has helped them in times of need, and when it has fallen short.

Podcasts: To mark the ten-year anniversary of The New Yorker’s political podcast, its host, Dorothy Wickenden, looks back at the past decade with Ryan Lizza, Jelani Cobb, Jia Tolentino, Dexter Filkins, Jeffrey Toobin, Evan Osnos, John Cassidy, and Elizabeth Kolbert.

The November 20, 2017, issue of The New Yorker goes on sale at newsstands beginning Monday, November 13.

Date: 
Monday, November 13, 2017