TIME's Tone-Deaf Cover Reinforces All The Wrong Silicon Valley Stereotypes

Photo: Courtesy TIME.
While women and people of color in Silicon Valley desperately try to show that being an engineer doesn't mean you're a 20-something white male, TIME, apparently, hasn't been paying attention at all. The magazine ran a completely tone-deaf cover that not only pokes fun at the burgeoning virtual reality field; it reinforces all the traditional tech stereotypes.

TIME's cover story, "The Surprising Joy of Virtual Reality," sounds innocuous but unfortunately features an extremely goofy photo of 22-year old Oculus VR creator Palmer Luckey floating over a virtual tropical beach while wearing the headset. PCGamer calls the cover "the greatest threat to VR" because it "reinforces, rather than challenges, the perception that VR is a mask that nerds use to blot out the world." The text that follows (and the only text that's visible without a subscription) is even worse:

Palmer Luckey isn’t like other Silicon Valley nerds.

He’s a nerd all right, but not the kind who went to a top-ranked university, wrote brilliant code or studied business plans. He’s cheery and talks in normal sentences that are easy to understand. He was homeschooled, and though he did drop out of college...he doesn’t look like a guy who played Dungeons & Dragons so much as a character in Dungeons & Dragons. He’s a nerd from a different century.

The comparison to "typical" Silicon Valley types like Mark Zuckerberg is tired, but the worst part about the whole thing is that this magazine reaches far more mainstream readers (and captive grocery-store-newsstand browsers) than publications that are actually pushing the diversity-in-engineering stance. For many who see the cover, this will be yet another impression that the tech world is white, male, and unbecomingly dorky — that technology is isolating and that virtual reality itself is silly.

The article does goes on to paint a brighter picture and talk about how virtual-reality tech actually works. For those who don't know: While wearing a headset like the Oculus VR is somewhat awkward, today's virtual reality experiences really are amazing. Buying one for the home still seems quite far-off, but virtual reality headsets could easily become an invaluable tool for practicing skills like surgery without a human patient, or for learning how to check your car engine's intake manifold for leaks. Virtual reality has far more practical implications than just escaping to your own digital Cabo (although that sounds quite nice, as long as we've got a piña colada in our hand, too).

TIME
is taking it all in stride; it even ran a roundup of more than 30 of the best Photoshop memes of its cover (and there are some really good ones).
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So, at least something entertaining came out of this.

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