One of the interesting aspects of privilege is how it lays bare our unconscious assumptions about the world. A male software developer may never consider that a user would want or need to change their name. Thus they would design a product which ignored the millions of women changing their names after marriage.
It’s very temping to see software as racist when, in reality, it’s more likely to have a root cause of unconscious assumptions.
Take, for example, GitHub. You can host all of your software projects on there – as long as you speak English.
Try adding a repository which contains, say, Chinese – and all those beautiful characters will be replaced with “-“.
I asked GitHub about this, and quickly got this reply.
Unfortunately, at the moment, you can only use ASCII (i.e. Windows-1252) characters in Repo names. Most things on GitHub.com support non-ASCII but because of limitations in Git, the repo name isn’t one of them. Sorry about the international-unfriendliness
Interestingly, that’s not quite the case. Windows-1252 contains some characters with accents – they simply aren’t recognised by GitHub.
We don’t live in a homogeneous world. US English is not the global language. Even if it was, ASCII is insufficient to the task of information interchange.
ASCII was invented in 1972 – 40 years later and our brand new shiny kit is hamstrung by the needs of the telegraph industry! It’s like that wonderful urban legend about the Space Shuttle being constrained by the size of a horse’s arse.
Obviously, GitHub isn’t racist. Either they or the originators of Git have assumed that their local dialect is sufficient for a service which aims to be universally acceptable. All the more strange given that Linus Torvalds, the creator of Git, is Finnish and – one presumes – knows about ääkköset (the “extra” letters in the Finnish alphabet).
At this stage in the maturity of the software industry, we should consider the practice of not supporting Unicode as outmoded and dangerous as assuming every year can be represented by a two digit number.
There’s a world outside our narrow viewpoint and, if we want to do business with that world, we need to speak their language.