Kate Conger at the New York Times: “Anyone who joined a video call during the pandemic probably has a global volunteer organization called the Internet Engineering Task Force to thank for making the technology work.
The group, which helped create the technical foundations of the internet, designed the language that allows most video to run smoothly online. It made it possible for someone with a Gmail account to communicate with a friend who uses Yahoo, and for shoppers to safely enter their credit card information on e-commerce sites.
Now the organization is tackling an even thornier issue: getting rid of computer engineering terms that evoke racist history, like “master” and “slave” and “whitelist” and “blacklist.”
But what started as an earnest proposal has stalled as members of the task force have debated the history of slavery and the prevalence of racism in tech. Some companies and tech organizations have forged ahead anyway, raising the possibility that important technical terms will have different meanings to different people — a troubling proposition for an engineering world that needs broad agreement so technologies work together.
While the fight over terminology reflects the intractability of racial issues in society, it is also indicative of a peculiar organizational culture that relies on informal consensus to get things done.
The Internet Engineering Task Force eschews voting, and it often measures consensus by asking opposing factions of engineers to hum during meetings. The hums are then assessed by volume and ferocity. Vigorous humming, even from only a few people, could indicate strong disagreement, a sign that consensus has not yet been reached…(More)”.