Rational Technology column for January 30, 2005
This is the epilogue to my story last week: the Philippine Computer Society issued a press release to the effect that it had 'goofed' by sending out the wrong application form for their Digital Pinay 2005 competition. They then organized a press conference-slash-powwow with the protestors. In a gesture of inclusion, PCS also invited the protestors to be part of the committee for the contest as consultants. Previous criteria would be discounted, and new criteria, more appropriate to the IT profession, would be used. All in all, a satisfactory ending.
However, what fascinated me more about the Digital Pinay 2005 controversy was not so much the end result but how the entire story unfolded. It was the story of how a group of young, vocal, and online critics managed to force the issue on a stodgy organization. And what's more, it illustrates the power of the blogstorm.
It started with the application form, of course, sent out by the PCS through email and circulated in various electronic fora. Most people would have paid it no mind, but it just so happened to catch the attention of a young woman named Sacha Chua. She read through it, laughed at what she thought were oversights, and ultimately became incensed when she learned they weren't oversights at all. Thus prodded, the young lady wrote it up in her blog (that's a public web-based diary, for all you fogeys out there).
It helped, too, that Sacha Chua is a celebrity of sorts in the local hacker community. She's been featured in the Inq7.net and Mobile Philippines. The former teacher from Ateneo de Manila is well-known for her work on Linux, wearable computing, and advocacy for digital literacy. Sacha has an extensive social network of young, intelligent, and articulate students and IT professionals.
She wrote in her blog (http://sacha.free.net.ph): "I am horrified that this is the image that PCS is promoting to students and professionals. I have always held that women can learn anything they want to learn and do anything they want to do in IT of all fields, and this contest is a huge leap backward."
Though she wrote her scathing commentary from Japan where she is currently on training, several of her friends from the Philippines and elsewhere picked it up and posted comments on their blogs.
Clair Ching, librarian of a small college in Manila and also a blogger (http://eclair.bizhat.com/blog), weighed in on the issue: "I am offended by this competition because it seems to me that the organizers are looking for a trophy to show around. This contest seems to feed the culture of machismo that we seem to have in our country. If this kind of thing goes on, we would just perpetuate the idea that women are objects of beauty to behold."
In the span of a few days, many people had picked up the story and were discussing it in web fora. Joey Alarilla, writer for Philippine Daily Inquirer, published it as a breaking story in Inq7.Net. Wong Chin Wah of the Manila Times featured it in his column. All the while, Sacha Chua kept an index of articles at a web site (http://del.icio.us/sachac/digitalpinay/) for easy reference for other people just coming to know about the issue.
So here was the phenomenon of a blogstorm. Bloggers fix on an issue that they feel is very important, write about it, raise the awareness of other people, prompting them in turn to weigh in with their own opinions. And note that a blogstorm is not generally something you can fake, because bloggers tend to write in their genuine style and value their own independence.
This little episode highlights the growing importance of blogging as part of our culture. It's not just literature, it's a means of expression that rides on top of a social network all its own. It's an alternative media that's challenging traditional media like newspapers and radio. It's very personal, written as it is by ordinary people, and may thus circumvent the limitations of conventional journalism.
And what's more, it highlights the effectiveness of blogs as a means of bringing out the details of an issue that would otherwise be ignored, prompting an honest discussion of the pros and cons.
Next: Blogging for Dumaguete City
Special announcement: Calling all Dumaguete bloggers! Please drop me a note at dominique-dot-cimafranca-at-gmail-dot-com with the address of your blog. I would like to feature you in subsequent articles.