Saturday, March 29, 2008

Richard Dawkins at UT Austin

I have updated this blog post with correct link to an article on my new website.

On March 19, 2008 Richard Dawkins gave a public lecture at the University of Texas in Austin; it was preceded by a reception hosted by the Center of Inquiry Austin. Though I didn't have a chance to exchange more than a few sentences with Dawkins at the reception, I formed some kind of impression of him as a person.

Dawkins speaks in very well-turned phrases: complete, spare, witty -- pretty much the way he writes. He speaks that way even when he extemporizes, for example when answering questions. No meaningless interjections such as uh's, um's or like's, no trailing thoughts. But, while this may make him seem old-fashioned, his prowess with technology overturns that impression. At the Center Of Inquiry reception he seamlessly combined socializing with working his iPhone and MacBook; for a moment that made me feel validated, as I too like to tap on a keyboard while socializing (but perhaps a VIP is exempt from the gander/goose comparison :-)); later I realized he wasn't idly surfing; he was looking up the Texas Bill of Rights for a quote to include in his speech. How did he quote it in his presentation? You can read about it in this Susan Brown's blog post.

Later a UT student asked him a question: why hasn't the freethought community organized to create a response to the creationist movie "Expelled" -- for example, by raising money and making a movie debunking "Expelled"? Dawkins responded that making an "official" movie and trying to get it into theaters might not be the most effective way. These days, with everyone having a video camera, any one person can make such a movie, and the best way to distribute it might be simply by posting it on YouTube. There it may get more views than it would in movie theaters.

Yay for the older generation scientists who know how to leverage internet for political change!

An entire report on this event can be found on my SFragments web site. Here are some of the highlights (all the links point to various parts of the same article).

I found Dawkins' lecture topics familiar, even though I haven't read his books where he expounds on them. I guess I've absorbed his ideas by osmosis. The questions the audience asked revolved around whether atheists should adopt an in-your-face or a conciliatory tone with general public; some of the questions were more unusual. (Would you ask a well-known skeptic to support his reasoning with astrology? :-)) Then someone asked what Dawkins thinks of transhumanist visions. Finally, a concept he wanted us to take away from this lecture, if it was the only thing we would take away: why evolution is NOT equal to random chance.

Pictures from the reception and the lecture can be found in my photo gallery

Friday, March 21, 2008

I could have sworn I was reading "The Onion"...

if I didn't know this was ABC news:

Because the Bible Tells Me So? During Private Museum Tours, Denver Children Learn About Creationism

A company called BC Tours ("BC" stands for Biblically Correct) "take paying customers on tours of such places as the Denver Museum, the zoo, and fossil sites, giving an explanation of nature, biology and paleontology with a strictly Biblical interpretation."

Here are some examples of how they "interpret" paleontological evidence:

"Standing in the lobby of the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, Bill Jack and Rusty Carter pointed to the enormous teeth on the reproduced skeleton of a Tyrannosaurs Rex, and told a group of children and their parents that the fearsome T-Rex was really a vegetarian.

They said the T-Rex was vegetarian because at the time of the Creation, there was no such thing as death, so a T-Rex could not have eaten meat. There was no death until Adam and Eve ate forbidden fruit from the tree of knowledge, they continued, and God's revenge was to curse the world with death."

And this is how they dance around some uncomfortable evidence:

Out on the museum floor, Jack and Carter stopped the group in front of a window display that contains samples of sandstone that have ripples created by water and fossils of ancient life. Bill Jack asked his group, "How do they date the fossil? By the layer in which they find it. They date the layer by the fossil and the fossil by the layer," he said. "That's circular reasoning."

In the next moment he stepped past and turned his back to a display on radiometric dating, the method by which scientists determine the age of rocks through the rate of decay of their natural radioactivity.

When later asked why he skipped the display, Jack said simply, "We can't cover everything."

And to think that I was shaking my head when one fellow CFI'er told me what her creationist sister-in-law does when she takes her children to a natural history museum. Faced with dinosaur exhibits, she covers the explanatory plaque with her hands and says to kids: "oh look, dinosaurs! They are only 3000 years old!" She couldn't hold a candle to Jack and Carter. :-)

It's kind of ironic that I found this article today. Just yesterday I went to a public lecture by Richard Dawkins, the famous evolutionary biologist and science popularizer. (I'll blog about a meeting with Dawkins later, when I organize my pictures.) I had to read this article to as not to get too comfortable in an illusion that reason will eventually triumph... :-)

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

This is the first time I'm writing a tribute to an Important Person Who Has Died. But of all the writers who have shaped my taste in science fiction, Arthur C. Clarke was probably the most influential.

I'm sure the net is already full of tributes to Clarke by people who personally knew him, and I can't brag having personally met any of the classical SF legends. (Though I know people here in Austin who had met Asimov!) In a world of six-degree connectedness, the closest connection to Clarke I can claim is 3rd degree. I once knew an Indian guy who told me Clarke funded a scholarship for one of his classmates, a brilliant girl who wanted to study aeronautical / astronautical engineering.

And yet I feel compelled to write some kind of tribute to this author, because few other writers' works invoked in me a Sense Of Wonder in all capital letters the way Arthur Clarke's did. It may be because I read most of Clarke's works in my childhood and teenage years, when I was far more impressionable than now; I probably would not have been as impressed with them if I read them first as an adult.

Or maybe I would have. Since an early age I was drawn to eschatological themes, and those themes figure prominently in Clarke's major works, such as 2001: The Space Odyssey, Childhood's End. The obituary in the New York Times touches this aspect of Clarke's writing indirectly. It says: "For a scientifically trained writer whose optimism about technology seemed boundless, Mr. Clarke delighted in confronting his characters with obstacles they could not overcome without help from forces beyond their comprehension."

I find this curious too, now that NYTimes has put it this way, and yet I identify with Clarke's fascination with "forces beyond comprehension." That's what attracted me to his stories too. It may be even more odd given that I never believed in any deities, not even as a child. However, in Clarke's stories the incomprehensibly powerful entities and the eschatological changes they bring to the humanity are never supernatural. Their power comes from mastery of science and technology. I don't know what Clarke's religious views were, but a worldview that comes through in his writing is definitely secular humanist.

I can't say I liked each and every of Clarke's books I've read; they seemed of rather uneven quality to me. For example, "Rendezvous with Rama" left me indifferent. I find Robinson Cruso'esque scenarios boring. :-) Throughout the book I was hoping the explorers will eventually meet the aliens that built Rama, but no such luck. I vaguely recall that one of his novels (forgot the title!) seemed to be written solely to praise the idea of raising whales for dairy and meat. Whale milk is a great replacement for cow's milk! That was the only science fictional element in the book. :-)

And I remember losing my interest in the Space Odyssey sequels around the 3rd book. I don't remember much about them anymore, except that it seemed they devolved from the Sense of Wonder to the characters' interpersonal drama.

However, there is a certain novel by Clarke that consists mostly of interpersonal drama, that I hold very dear. A Fall of Moondust. The plot is very simple: a tourist vehicle on the Moon falls into a lake composed of dust, where it gets stranded without even an ability to emit a call for help (radio signals do not penetrate moondust). A diverse bunch of individuals are brought together in a mission to find it and rescue the crew and passengers before they run out of oxygen. Despite llack of far-fetched science fiction concepts, the charm of this novel lies in how this event changes everyone involved.

While I don't think Clarke's writing stood out for exquisite style, I remember one of his lines (don't remember which book it came from). It goes something like this: "He found not happiness, but peace, which is just as important, and lasts much longer". (This can't possibly be an accurate quote, because I read that book in a language other than English. This is my translation of an inaccurate memory of Clarke's quote in another language. Only the gist of it stayed with me.)

So anyway, even though I haven't read anything by Clarke in a long time, and my current favorite writers are half a century younger than he was, I still feel an empty spot after his passing. Back when I was a child just starting to discover wonders of science fiction, writers like Clarke loomed larger than life in my imagination. And now that he's gone, it's like closing a door to that period of my life.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Rattlesnake at SXSW

Rattlesnake at SXSW

(It's not a band. I don't go to concerts. :-))

Now that I've posted them, I can point the reader to the pictures of an interesting art machine -- a mutant vehicle, if you will -- I saw at the Plutopia party at South By Southwest last week. The party in itself was a bit disappointing compared with last year's; very few costumes, not many art / tech pieces (the Robot Group did not seem to come up anything more interesting since last year than a ping-pong printer; all it does is print text on ping-pong balls. As soon as I approached it, the guy manning the printer gave a long, autoironic spiel acknowledging the printer's uselessness. :-)) There were fewer performers and more speakers, such as Bill McKibben (I remember only one line from his speech about his grassroots movement against global warming: "We realized that it's not enough to screw in a fluorescent bulb over a breakfast table. We needed to screw in a new senator.")

But anyway, the coolest thing at Plutopia was the one I saw after I left. For obvious reasons it could not fit inside Scholz Garden and had to be parked on the street. It was a long white many-ribbed worm powered by bicycles. Nestled between the ribs was a total of 6 bicycles; plus there was a seat in front for drivers, a team of two young women, one of which was clad in a sexy devil costume. She said the name of this vehicle was Rattlesnake. (Not a worm, then.) The woman hopped into the drivers' seats, roped a few bystanders into taking passengers' -- or rather, co-drivers' seats, and took the thing for a ride on a nearly empty street. The snake turned tight corners with surprising grace. One thing I don't understand, though -- as in other projects of collaborative pedalling, like the ones I saw at the Maker Faire -- is, what happens if one of the riders does not pedal. Or pedals out of phase with others. Nothing, perhaps? And what about the steering? Was the driver the only one capable of steering, or the other bikers too? If so, what would happen if one of them tried to steer the thing in the opposite direction?

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Nica Lalli at the CFI Austin, March 15, 2008

Nica Lalli, author of "Nothing: Something to Believe In" met with the people of the Center For Inquiry Austin for a discussion on raising children without religion in a predominantly religious society. The meeting took place at a Unitarian Universalist church in Austin. Here are a few memorable quotes from the discussion.

"Your children will get religious education from their classmates. They will also get sex education from their classmates," said Nica Lalli. "[And they'll hear all sorts of wrong things.] If what learn from their classmates about sex is any indication, children need to get religious education from us [parents]."

When her daughter heard the story of Jesus' virgin birth, she said: oh wait, there is another story like that! uh... umm... Life of Brian!

At some point someone wondered what do young-Earth creationist parents do when they take children to a natural science museum, and are faced with dinosaur exhibits? One woman said her sister-in-law covers the explanatory plaque with her hands and tells children: oh look, these are dinosaurs. They are 3000 years old!

While adults had their conversation, children played in the UU church playground under the supervision of babysitters. Later that evening we tookNica Lalli out for dinner at the County Line barbeque restaurant.

Pictures from the event can be found in my photo gallery.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

TechOnWeb -- frUAdulent, or just clueless?

I've been shopping for a new ultraportable laptop for a while now. There is a particular laptop I think is really neat, but it's not available at the local stores. So I've been trying to order it online. The first place I ordered it from told me they are out of stock (even though their website said it was in stock) and didn't know when they were going to have them, so I canceled my order. Then I placed an order for the same laptop on You would think a store with a motto "where geeks go shopping" would know what they are doing.

I thought I was a geek. It turned out I'm a frUAd

The next day I got an email from their fruad (sic!) department. Yes, their representative misspelled the name of his department in his signature line! Anyway, the email said I needed to call their customer service to confirm my order. It was "a security measure that we take to ensure your online purchase is secure". I called, spoke with a customer service rep, answered the questions he asked me. The rep told me my laptop will ship the next day.

A week has passed and I haven't got any notice that the laptop has shipped. I logged into my account at website to check the status of my order. It said "canceled". I called them to ask why was my order canceled (and why didn't they inform me by email or phone call? That's just rude.) The customer service lady said, my order was flagged as fraudulent and won't be processed. I was very surprised. I told her I had called the customer service as soon as they told me to do so, and answered all their questions; what was the problem? She couldn't answer that, only said that my order was sent up to the fraud department supervisor to investigate, and they determined my order was fraudulent. Period. I asked, what do I need to do to prove that I am who I say I am? She said, nothing can be done at this point, we won't process your order. That's it.

I asked to speak to the supervisor; she said sure, and "transferred" me; I've long guessed that by "transfer" customer service reps mean hang up. The call was disconnected -- this has happened to me many times when calling customer service.

All this gave me a creepy feeling if, perchance, TechOnWeb was some kind of scam outfit that pretends to be an online store but is actually out to de"fruad" its customers. Come to think about it, during the "security measure" phone call they had asked me several kinds of information which may make it easier for someone to steal my identity. I checked the status of the credit card I gave them, and I didn't see any suspicious activity on it. Of course, that doesn't mean anything in itself. Anyway, I don't seriously think they are a scam; most likely just rude and clueless. Some place for geeks to shop, indeed.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

"Infinity does not exist in our dimension"

A bunch of the ACA'ers went on a pub crawl last Friday. The crawl started out at Dog & Duck pub, the home of the ACA'ers happy hours; then we went on to 6th street. On the way there we were approached by folks who were handing out fake million dollar bills. It was some kind of Christian evangelist thing. Along the edge of a "bill" in small print there were questions such as "will you go to heaven"? Since most of us wore "Godless pub crawl: pubs, not popes" T-shirts made for this occasion, we must have been a tempting target for evangelists, and there seem to be quite a few of them hunting for souls to save in the nightlife district on a Friday night.

Not surprisingly, two of them got into an argument with Matt, the president of the ACA. One of those guys told Matt he would prove there is a God in 30 seconds flat. Needless to say, their argument lasted a lot longer, and most of the ACA'ers got bored and wandered off to our next stop, the Darwin pub (no connection to Darwin that I could tell!) It became tedious quickly, but not before I had a chance to hear this gem of an argument. The evangelist attempted to argue from the "first cause", to which Matt replied: if everything must have a cause, then who created God? The evangelist guy said, God doesn't have to have a cause or creator, he always existed. Matt said something along the lines of, you can't simply dismiss a question of whether God has a cause; just like it is meaningful to ask that question about anything else, it is also meaningful to ask it about God; you can't just arbitrarily declare that God has no cause. Matt tried to explain it by analogy: no matter how big a number you can think of, you can also imagine an even greater number, and so on all the way to infinity. The evangelist guy somehow felt existence of infinities threatened his beliefs. He said, no, I don't have to (imagine an even bigger number). I can stop any time. Infinity does not exist in our dimension, he added.

I loved that last remark. :-)

I blame science fiction. :-) Seriously. I blame popular sci-fi shows and movies for putting terms like "infinity" and "dimension" into the vocabulary of people who cannot grasp these very simple and intuitive mathematical concepts... but don't shy away from using them in a debate!

After the Darwin pub all the ACA'ers went on to their next stop, but I decided to save my liver and go home.

Pictures from the godless pub crawl can be found in my photo gallery.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Khaled Hosseini "A Thousand Splendid Suns": a CFI book club discussion

4 people attended a CFI Science And Religion in Fiction book club discussion of "A Thousand Splendid Suns" by Khaled Hosseini. The two main characters of this novel are two women who were given away in marriage, against their will, to the same brutal, abusive man. The story follows them over a quarter of a century, during which Afghanistan endures a few dictatorships and a long, grueling war.

Most of the attendees liked the novel very much. 3 people have read Khaled Hosseini's first novel, "The Kite Runner", and thought both were terrific books, though one reader liked "The Kite Runner" a "teensy bit" better, as it had a more interesting story line. Two readers thought that the author struggled a bit to show things from the female perspective in "A Thousand Splendid Suns", but it nonetheless provided something "The Kite Runner" did not -- a window into lives of women in Afghanistan. Those lives were every bit as bad as one would imagine, and then some. The author indeed does a good job of giving the reader a taste of what it's like to be the most powerless of the powerless people. The two heroines of the book struggle to survive in a double dictatorship: as the Taliban rule the country with terror, the women's husband rules the house by brutality and intimidation. Hosseini does not shy away of portraying the most horrible moments of their lives, but he does it gently, lyrically.

Some of the insights into women's life may appear counterintuitive to a western reader. For example, some of us found it striking that when when Mariam first put on a burqa, she felt a little more safe, as if she had a place to hide from the world and all those people she was afraid of. So a burqa wasn't just a tool of oppression, it unexpectedly turned out to be protective, in a way. There are other nuances in portrayal of characters, even the most evil of them, Rasheed (the husband). As much as he abused his wives, Rasheed wasn't a complete monster, a reader noted; he was a product of his times. Wife beating was considered the norm in that place and time. Some of his behavior has redeeming value -- for example, silently accepting Laila's daughter, despite secretly knowing he was not the father. In a situation where men had absolute power over wives, one of our readers gave Rasheed credit for not murdering Laila and her daughter outright, which he could have easily done. The reader acknowledged, though, it probably wasn't magnanimity that made Rasheed tolerate an out-of-the-wedlock child, but fear of embarrassment if the community found out.

"A Thousand Splendid Suns" is very easy to read text-wise: the plot is straightforward, the motivations of the characters transparent. One reader was impressed that the author, despite coming from a different culture, was able to make this novel accessible to an American reader.

However, on an emotional level this book may be difficult to get through. It's hard to read about heroic women whose lives are dire from the start (at least Mariam's was; but Laila didn't have an easy childhood either), and they were going to only get worse with time. You know their lives will get worse when the Soviets invade Afghanistan, and much worse when the Soviet occupation will be replaced by the infighting mujahideen fractions, and then worse again when a Taliban dictatorship will replace the mujahideen war.

Here I must note something I found a little disappointing about this book. I expected that a novel set in Afghanistan during the rule of Taliban would at least touch upon the topic of the nature of religious fundamentalism. Perhaps I was hoping that it would reveal how a theocratic dictatorship comes into being, or that it would put me in the mind of a jihadist. Of course, this wasn't this novel's mission; there are other books about that, although I think they might have fitted the topic of the CFI Science and Religion In Fiction book club better. Another reader thought the reason why the book avoided a Jihadist perspective altogether was because it very clearly shows that the Taliban's grabbing of power was not motivated by religion. It was all about grabbing resources in a land of limited resources. People joined the Taliban so that they could feel powerful and push other people around.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Ursula K. Le Guin "The Left Hand of Darkness": FACT reading group discussion

11 people attended a FACT reading groupdiscussion of The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin on October 1, 2007. Most of the group, except 2 people, had read this novel before. Some had read it when it first came out in 1969.

In this book, a human named Genly Ai who is an Envoy from Ecumena, a multi-world union, is sent to a planet Gethen to convince its government to join Ecumena. The most unusual quality of Gethenians is that they don't have two sexes, at least not permanent ones. Most of the time they are sexless, but for a few days each month they go into a state called kemmer, where they acquire either male or female characteristics and are able to reproduce. Their ambisexuality influences Gethenian social and political life in ways unpredictable for Genly. Fate brings him together with Estraven, a local political figure, and they embark on an unexpected journey.

"You are only judged as a human being. It is terrifying."

Most people liked the book, and some felt profoundly influenced by it. A reader regretted there was no Tiptree award at the time The Left Hand of Darkness came out, because, in his opinion, Le Guin pushed the gender-bending envelope way harder than most Tiptree award recipients. He said, "Le Guin made an incredibly clever choice in the sexuality of the Gethenians. She truly understands that the alien is us, far more than the aliens I've ever read in any SF story."

Somebody remembered a couple of years ago there was a panel at ArmadilloCon on women who grew up on this book. Women were saying, this book changed my whole life, this book is the reason I'm writing. One reader said her favorite line from the book is "you are only judged as a human being. It is terrifying." "It captures the longing that a lot of us had," she said, "when we first became aware that we women were not been judged as human beings, that we were not judged on our work. [We had a longing for a world where] everybody is in the same boat, where 5/6 of the time sex doesn't matter."

A few people were not as impressed by this book. One reader said he vaguely remembered The Left Hand Of Darkness as a novel where "nothing really happens in the end. It's just describing the alien culture that goes through it." Another reader said while he admires what Le Guin is doing and the way she's dealing with important issues, for some reason her work doesn't connect with him.

Memorable gender- and mind-bending episodes

Some people reminisced about their favorite scenes from the novel. One reader's most memorable part was the one where Estraven went into kemmer during the ice trip. Up until then Estraven, despite his sexlessness, was perceived by Genly as a man. Having entered kemmer, he temporarily becomes a woman. This happens against Estraven's will, as neither he nor Genly want the complications of changing gender perceptions, but now they have to deal with them. It is especially hard on Genly, who, despite the years spent among the Gethenians, is still not used to thinking of gender as fluid. This reader found that episode really mind-twisting. Another reader thought the scene where Genly teaches Estraven to "bespeak", or communicate telepathically, was especially vivid. The mind communication between them had a strong erotic aspect, even though their relationship remained platonic. Yet another reader found the Foretelling scene especially interesting, and wished there was more about it in the book. He liked the comment of the futility of getting the correct answer to the wrong question.

My own impressions

I read "The Left Hand Of Darkness" around 15 years ago for the first time; upon rereading I had to admit I liked it less than I expected. Though even the first time around this book seemed kinda slow to me. Slow and full of politics I didn't much care about. I guess I remember liking it mostly for its mood, very dark, chilly, intense, full of sexual undercurrents the two main characters did not seem to realize, and did not speak about. Ursula LeGuin gives you a vivid, visceral feel of what it is like to be in a very cold, harsh, stark place, with nothing but ice and snow for thousands of miles. I liked the mysticism that surrounds the characters' daily existence; the family legends, the cult of prescient priests / seers; the metaphors, such as "casting a short / long shadow"; remember wondering what it meant symbolically that Genly and Estraven were not casting any shadows when they were crossing the ice. Not that I completely understood why casting a long shadow was considered a good thing among the Gethenites. There is certainly a huge metaphorical depth to this novel. One can easily speculate that a species that's neither male nor female must have a different view of duality, of light and shadow, than a bi-gender species. "Left Hand Of Darkness" can inspire you to speculate until the end of the world about how their perception of the world would be different from ours, and what we can learn from them, and vice versa.

Exploration of genderless society did not go beyond expository lump

At the same time, I can't say the book did a lot to explore the socio-political aspects of an ambisexual society. It says somewhere briefly, almost in an expository lump, that their society knows nothing of gender-based discrimination; that there don't exist stark differences between two halves of the society in terms of their career opportunities, etc., because bearing and raising on children does not disproportionately fall on half of the society; the single most important thing that determines a human person's life -- whether they are male or female -- is not true about Gethenians. I wish the ramifications of this were explored further, and illustrated more abundantly. Because it is the most interesting thing about this society, and it was mentioned only in passing.

Genly put the mission at risk not because he harbored unconscious expectations about the natives acting male or female; no, I think his troubles came from not understanding political games played by the Gethenian powers, and how they used him as their tool. But I think an outsider is always bound to misunderstand the nuances of local political games, regardless of how many sexes there are in the society.

Genly: saint or gay?

It was interesting to see how people's opinions about the protagonist reflected their own notions about gender. I pointed out that Genly, despite his mission to bring a more enlightened era to Gethen, harbored a few backward stereotypes about women. For example, he sees Estraven as feminine because Estraven is indirect, devious, and scheming; later he says that women don't have much capacity for abstract thinking. Shouldn't an Envoy see beyond such stereotypes, especially if you keep in mind that the book is set in a much more enlightened era of far future? He was sent by Ekumena to bring progressive attitudes to the little "backward" corner of the universe that was Gethen, to convince the Gethenian states put aside their little petty differences, to open their minds and become part of a greater whole; but on the other hand, his own attitudes towards women are backward. So I wondered if Ursula Le Guin deliberately meant to create a character with these contradictions, or if she thought Genly's views of women were accurate.

Two readers pointed out to me that Genly's attitudes towards women were far more generous than those of most men in the US today. I replied that this may be true of men of our era, but the book is set in far future; the fact that Ekumena is succeeding at its improbable mission to bring peaceful cooperation to all alien races, must mean this world is based on far more enlightened attitudes than ours. And Genly, an Envoy to an alien planet, must be even more enlightened than most! So I see a contradiction here. Nonetheless, the other two readers insisted that Genly's views make him a saint, especially as compared to an average man of today. One reader even said this saintliness makes Genly not a credible character, definitely not as a young man. He also wasn't clear on whether Genly was straight or gay, because he thought Genly behaved in ways we associate with gays. However, he concluded Genly was straight, "because Le Guin is trying to write a strong male character". This elicited laughter from several women: do you have to be straight to be a strong male character?

So, while the discussion never degenerated into a war of the sexes, there were a few opportunities for that, which I guess is more than you say about most books. :-)

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Old article, good quote

Sorry, Boys, This Is Our Domain

The story explores why there are more girls creating content online than boys, especially textual content, such as blogs (boys still dominate video creation).

Some scholars argue [that] girls are the dominant online content creators because both sexes are influenced by cultural expectations.

"Girls are trained to make stories about themselves," said Pat Gill, the interim director for the Institute for Communications Research and an associate professor of gender and women's studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign."

The following quote, I think, illuminates not just different modes of online participation, but also why women are in general more verbal than men. Girls score higher on language skills in school than boys; women read more; storytelling plays a greater part in women's lives than men's. Many words had been shed on this subject, yet I've never seen it summed up in a sentence so succinct, so starkly precise.

From a young age they learn that [girls] are objects, Professor Gill said, so they learn how to describe themselves.