Essays on Technology and Culture

Change The Schema, Not The User

Despite the intention of opening new worlds and reaching millions of users, we select our identities from a drop-down menu. We enter one value for our names, gender, sexuality, relationships and ethnicity, constraining our digital personhood in a database schema. These designs limit expression while excluding and erasing marginalized identities. They reflect the restricted imagination of their creators: written and funded predominantly by a privileged majority who have never had components of their identity denied, or felt a frustrating lack of control over their representation. But human identity, relationships, and behaviour are all endlessly complex and diverse: our software needs to start expecting and valuing marginalized identities instead of perpetuating their erasure.

— Emily Horsman – “The Argument for Free-Form Input”

So much of humanity cannot be reduced to simple choices that are “easy” to add to a database schema. Even those of us who seem to neatly fit into the boxes of tech should have the choice not to. Emily also makes an important note: how much of this data do they really need? Even for ad targeting, it would be better for the data collected to be accurate, and free-form input is the way to do it.