A Sunday New York Times article by David Streitfeld has the feminist and tech worlds up in arms. Reporting on a sexual harassment suit filed by a junior partner in a venture capital firm, Streitfeld begins by proclaiming that “MEN invented the Internet” (those CAPS are his). I came across Streitfeld’s article after a friend suggested I check out tech journalist Xeni Jardin’s Twitter feed. Jardin’sresponse to Streitfeld:
WTF: “MEN invented the internet.” I’m sorry, did NYT just breeze past half a century of women in computer technology?
Herein lies the issue: Though Streitfeld primarily covers Ellen Pao’s lawsuit, he undermines his piece by leading with an emphatic and incorrect statement about men as sole inventors of the Internet. I’m not certain if Streitfeld was being tongue-in-cheek or if he simply has a narrow view of Internet history. But his article does incite, albeit unintentionally, necessary dialogue about the roles women–and racial and ethnic minorities–have played in Internet innovation. While some apparently assume that men alone developed the Internet, a quick glance at the Internet Hall of Fame’s 2012 inaugural inductees and the Early Internet Leaders list prove otherwise. (I also recommend reading History of the Internet).
In reality, the genesis of the Internet was a collaborative effort. It took decades of developments in computer programming and network technology. We can’t let the current cult of tech fandom around “white” men–such as Steve Jobs, whom Streitfeld name checks–obscure the women and the racial and ethnic minorities from around the world who contributed to the birth of the Internet.