So computers have come a long way since their introduction to the world. From early machines spanning more than one building and required a precise startup procedure, involving electrical substations and oil pressures, to computers the size of rooms to desktops and more modern portable devices in 50 years. It’s a remarkable achievement for scientists, electrical engineers and software developers. The apocryphal tales of only ten computers in the USA and flashy adverts for a jaw dropping 16kb of processing power are now a familiar joke for today’s tech enthusiasts, how naive they were then, how blind to progress. And in thirty years time the same will be true of us now.

Still don't believe it was a problem?.

But computing isn’t the only area with an embarrassing history, similarly advertising has a dated old photo album it’d rather we didn’t show to its new friends. Doctors advertising the health benefits of smoking, soda for breakfast and women doing things without male supervision. All hilarious when viewed through the smug ironic filter of the 21st century, serious at the time and deeply troubling when you think about them. Sophisticated and socially advanced, we look back at those simpler times with a chuckle and a rueful shake of our head, patting ourselves on the back that we aren’t that stupid, aren’t that close minded, we are more informed, more open minded. Ignore the Lynx adverts. And the Ryanair adverts. And the Sun’s page 3, and music videos, gossip magazines, billboards, corporate boardrooms and TV presenters. We are better now, with the legislation to prove it.

By comparison computers’ old life is harmless fun right? Like people with mullets or The Osmonds as a “rock group”. Although computers, like many things considered technological, do have an unpleasant boys’ club streak in them and sometimes it can turn nasty. So while computer usage is ubiquitous in homes, schools and offices there is still an image that when it comes to understanding computers, buying, building or fixing them men have some innate advantage (cars have a similar mystical property beyond daily use).

I don't which is more naive, that a 4800 BAUD digital cassette will impress girls, or that he believes his glasses are cool.

Advertising is the simplest indication of how an industry sees itself, its customers and how it wants to be seen by outsiders. The industry produces advertising to appeal to the hypothetical demographic they want to buy their products and advertising media is the most visible aspect of the community to outsiders, in a sense it is not just advertising products to the community but also a set of ideas and values to the community and hence these ideas and values play a large role in representing the community to the wider world. It is sadly true that the computing industry is male dominated and this will lead to a bias in the ethos and culture of the industry and hence its not surprising that the community that grew around the industry is also male dominated.

Whether it is this boys’ club trait that translates directly into the sometimes unfortunate and regrettable advertising, or whether it is simply the opinion lazy advertisers have of their customers I don’t know, but it seems that the two can feed off one another. A small core of computer users who want to see complexity in their computers and want to be seen mastering this complexity will flock to adverts that support their view. As for the advertisers a small group of like minded people are far easier to target than everyone, it is easier to market lazy stereotypes to this group than to think of a new way to engage everyone. It is a similar phenomenon to that of the “driver’s car”, the implication being that anyone who doesn’t want or have one isn’t a true “driver”, they just drive a car. Equally anyone who doesn’t know the model of graphics card in their computer isn’t a “poweruser”, they just have a computer.

The line between the casual and the hardcore is present everywhere, coffee drinkers, sports fans, hi-fi audiophiles, pot smokers, home cinema enthusiasts, stamp collectors, yacht owners, porn addicts, whiskey/wine/brandy/ale drinkers, car modders, backpackers, people with iPhones, people with Android phones, people with deliberately old phones, calling your children stupid names, vegans, anything you have ever been or ever will be bored by at a party. All of them have been the subject of pretentious tweets, tired Michael McIntyre-esque routines and subject to ridicule from both sides of the line. The line is especially thick in the most divisive world ever seen, the terrifying rabbit hole of the Internet. There are entire forums dedicated to defending and attacking both sides of the line, anyone in the middle ground is vilified by both. It’s all too natural that computers and their trappings have a large presence in the tunnels of the Internet and the battleground favours the hardcore homeside. Add in the casual sexism[link here] and strange social conventions that frolic unfettered in the deeper recesses of the web (e.g. calling complete strangers dickwad :0 ROFLMAO) and you have a breeding ground for the stereotype hardcore computer user, a barrel full of easy targets for advertisers and an easy label that's hard to get rid of.

...because we all wish we could buy our computers from the same place we buy our women. Where in the world? PimpC World.

People have spent far more time and resources studying the community and the effects of marginalisation and persecution on its members than I and if you are interested in the phenomenon then I suggest you seek their work. These are simply my ideas. The computer enthusiast only became a possibility in the last two generations and it started as a community with very high barriers to entry. When home computers first appeared users needed some knowledge of electronics and had to be willing to invest a large amount of effort into the steep learning curve set by basic computers. As such it was a small community that appealed to those with an innate interest in engineering, electronics and logic, the concept of out-of-the-box took years to emerge, to most onlookers computers would never be more than an eccentric hobby or an industrial machine. In this environment the nascent community naturally took on the mantle of outsider and was given the chips it still wears proudly across its shoulders, a group of mostly young men pursuing their crazy hobby, denigrated by others for doing so. Less than thirty years on most people had some familiarity with computers, at the office or at home. The likes of the Commodore and the BBC micro brought about the popularisation of using computers and off the shelf software to make life easier, you could even use them to play games.

Now almost everyone uses a computer everyday, to work, socialise, play and learn. The small band of outsiders had their pride and joy ripped away from them, their identity as outsiders didn't make sense anymore as just computer users. Instead to preserve the community they had to become more hardcore as computers became more widespread, they had to retreat to a more extreme version of themselves getting smaller with each iteration. In a very short space of time the computer hobbyist has gone from being anyone who had a computer to a small, very specific group with their own defined culture, indeed the culture is what defines them now that coputer use alone is not enough. It has changed from an interest one had to a set of values and ideas one adopted. The speed and extent of the change means small trends present in the orginal community that may or may not have been relevant to the community itself have rapidly become enshrined central tenets, male dominance and geek culture were originally present but they did not define the community as they do now.

Although advertising standards has pushed the worst objectification out of adverts its still alive and well in video games. Now there is a lack of real girls in the adverts and instead virtual scantily clad objects of desire are rendered becasue its not sexist if they're not real yeah?

However most of the community seems quite happy with the current state of affairs and it will only self perpetuate, advertisers treat the market as being made wholly of men who respond to sexist, pseudo-masculine messages, hence the market attracts men who respond to sexist, pseudo-masculine messages. It seems the vicious cycle isn’t being broken quite yet although signs of progress are being made; video gaming is opening up more and more to female, casual and family gamers, largely as a result of the increased revenue from a larger market. The increase of casual gamers to the market is causing a backlash from the hardcore, causing some of them to become more and more extreme in their perceived conflict and marginalising the hardcore more and more.

Capcom recently produced a reality show at one of their fighting game tournaments as a promotional tool, however the series exposed the gross levels of sexism rife in the community. People questioned scoffed at the idea of a welcoming, open community and a team coach at the tournament, Aris, was quoted as saying:

“The sexual harassment is part of the culture. If you remove that from the fighting game community, it’s not the fighting game community… it doesn’t make sense to have that attitude. These things have been established for years,” Aris stated. “That’s what you’re trying to do to the fighting game community and it’s not right. It’s ethically wrong.” This may be the first time in the history that someone had said that removing sexual harassment is ethically unjust. “If you were really a member of the fighting game community, you would know that these are jokes,” he said, talking about his racial and sexual humour. The arguments to support this are rambling, bringing in racism and how some people are racist but have friends with different races. “You’re trying to figure out a way to make me wrong, when I’m not wrong,” Aris argued, saying that it’s wrong to try to turn fighting games into something “everyone can enjoy,” or that you can enjoy with your girlfriend or family. “The beauty of the fighting game community, and you should know this - it’s based around not being welcome. That’s the beauty of it. That’s the key essence of it.  When you walk into an arcade for the first time, nobody likes you.”

When a female player at the show tried to enter the conversation she was given short shrift. Miranda “Super Yan” Pakozdi stepped in to say that the sexual harassment hurts the community, but she’s shushed and told to let the man speaking for her finish. She’s told that fighting game events and competition, which are said to feature incredibly offensive language from the players, are “intriguing” not despite the brutally frank nature of the sexual language, but because of it. Often any attempt to engage with this kind of thought is met with reactionary anger and a strong sense of isolationism, you are trying to destroy their culture and impose your values, hence you are being unethical. The same logic far right political groups and extremists cling to.

This kind of twisted logic and lack of social awareness is common and indeed celebrated in certain strange communities, often found online and often associated with technology or those that use it. The good home show exhibitors would never dream to have scantily clad “booth babes” stand by their stalls, motor shows have ceased the practice, car manufacturers know just how toxic it would be to attempt this kind of advertising. But video game and technology shows still do, [link to CES article]in this community it is appropriate to have scantily clad women hang around your product at an international trade show.

I've read the ad copy and I still don't know what they're selling. I do a computer interview, read one of 100 manuals, use the new programming cocnept and improve my love life. In reality? Or with the computer that interviewed me earlier?

So for whatever reason computers, and similarly high-end cutting edge technology past a price point that excludes people not in the know, still hasn’t shaken its 1950s father knows best, boys only attitude. This mentality has certainly bled into the popular view of the field and its no surprise that the industry producing and using this stuff is male dominated, the cycle just continues. As manufacturers try and open up the market to a wider base the divide between the hardcore and the casual is becoming ever deeper, the hardcore are becoming more and more extreme and as they lose the more rational members are becoming more and more marginalised. Eventually one hopes they become so small that they will cease to be worth the money it costs for advertisers to pander to them, although given that they will buy the most expensive products when others won’t it may take a while.

Thankfully the size of the community that behaves this way is small, and outside of their home turf on message boards, online gaming and blog comments you rarely hear from them. The problem is that although not everyone interacts with this minority, everyone knows of them in a wholly negative context. Generally people who are computer programmers, gamers and general nerds are indistinguishable from anyone else, as always the vocal minority, easy to identify and label, become the flag bearers. The minority who strongly identify with a fictitious counter culture under threat are the ones people notice and people standing nearby are just collateral demographics. The simplest proof is that advertisers treat the demographic as they do and that the community responds. For most people the closest they will get to hardcore technology community is through popular media, mostly adverts and news reports discussing the sexism inherent in the community and the obstacles facing women in the industry.

Ummmmm... Moving swiftly on.

I realise that none of this is particularly original or even insightful, but it is my standpoint on a world I am being linked to almost by proxy. My work is computational simulation of physical systems, it requires programming and an understanding of how computers work as well as knowing roughly how long tasks will take to perform. Machine specification matters to me in a professional, tool of my trade kind of way, albeit not in a personal, this is my hobby why aren’t you interested?! kind of way. Although I enjoy playing video games as a distraction, something fun and not particularly taxing, I know that others play with extreme focus and dedication. I do not play online because these people are not people I wish to be around, sexist, racist and plain abusive language and behaviour is common and directed indiscriminately. Either you are too good or too bad, you cheat or you’re a casual ruining games by promoting easy, accessible games. Or sin upon sins you are a girl, or foreign or simply not a white, heterosexual male. It is by these associations that I am forced to stand closer than I would like to people, ideas and communities I find upsetting and abhorrent, it is why I am lumped into a demographic I truly revile by advertisers. There must be others like me who are drawn into these waters by undercurrents of a community they do not want to interact with, it is our duty to either try and change the community or disassociate ourselves thoroughly in the public conscience. I confess that I hide my video gaming in a way I do not with my taste in music, even though music is far more divisive. I am not ashamed that I play games or that I work with computer code, but I am ashamed of the assumptions people will make about me, especially if it one of the first things they find out about me.

At least the computers have moved on.

P.S. If you're thinking that this is just an example of the old adage sex sells then I think you're missing the point. Yes, sex sells but there is a difference between sex selling and selling sex. Here is an example of using sex to sell in a funny, intelligent, inclusive way. It can be done, it just takes a little thought. Also it's not like computers have anything remotely to do with sex or sexual attractiveness, clothes, perfume and food OK. But a computer is about as sexy as a hoover or a satellite dish, just a useful tool for work or play.