Although there was variability across the board, biological men were significantly more likely to prioritize motion parallax.Biological women relied more heavily on shape-from-shading. In other words, men are more likely to use the cues that 3D virtual reality systems relied on.
This, if broadly true, would explain why I, being a woman, vomited in the CAVE: My brain simply wasn’t picking up on signals the system was trying to send me about where objects were, and this made me disoriented.
My guess is that this has to do with the level of hormones in my system. If that’s true, someone undergoing hormone replacement therapy, like the people in the Utrecht gender clinic, would start to prioritize a different cue as their therapy progressed.
I’m not a fan of the clickbait-y headline (and I’m surprised there isn’t a huge shitshow about this on Twitter yet), but this is an amazing piece, and not just because how many cool projects have you worked on in your life, danah? JEEZ.
I didn’t read the study in detail but even at a high level, I love this line of thinking for remembering to investigate the usually invisible assumptions that lay so far at the bottom of the technological stack that we forget they were ever decisions and not simply immutable facts. A group of male computer graphics engineers casually test out a prototype amongst themselves decades ago and their skewed findings become the foundation for something as fundamental as 3D rendering. By the time something like Oculus comes along, so many layers of abstraction have been built on top of this simple assumption that the metaphorical princesses don’t even realize that it’s a pea that’s making them uncomfortable.
This is just the latest (and most personally relevant at the moment) case of this phenomenon at work. So much poor design by convenient exclusion works this way. Remember that time HP and Nikon engineers calibrated facial recognition algorithms only for white people? These design choices are very powerful and long-lasting side-effects (and sometimes enforcers!) of privilege, but they are often invisible and (if I’m being generous) unwitting.
The single most important sentence I read in my undergraduate studies was this one, from Wendy Chun: “People may deny ideology, but they don’t deny software—and they attribute to software, metaphorically, greater powers than have attributed to ideology.” These days, people are getting a lot better at denying software, but in our world of complicated dependencies that transcend nations and decades, it’s nearly impossible to grasp the entire tech tree of research and production that leads to a final product. But hey, that’s what we have academics for, right?
And you know, call me crazy, but as much as these stories are facepalm-worthy, they also make me optimistic in a weird way. Getting designers and researchers to be more aware and intentional about their choices isn’t easy but is doable. We can keep surfacing these pain points, push for awareness, and then maybe—mayyyybeee??—we can make the future a little more evenly distributed.