What have we learned about ourselves from the Eich/Mozilla controversy?

So Brendan Eich has resigned as CEO from Mozilla. From the words of Mozilla Executive Chairwoman Mitchell Baker, this wasn’t a result of his past donation to Proposition 8 in California banning gay marriage, but rather “It’s clear that Brendan cannot lead Mozilla in this setting…The ability to lead — particularly for the CEO — is fundamental to the role and that is not possible here.” i.e. the controversy that this brewed was tarnishing Mozilla’s reputation, trust, brand, etc. 

Unfortunately, this is one of those situations where no one ends up feeling happy. This got ugly on both sides. It is sad that the co-founder of Mozilla and the creator of javascript had to resign. It sucks, I’m sure most of us had high hopes. At the same time Mozilla was being led by someone who wouldn’t apologize for wanting to ban gay marriage, so people had every right to voice disagreement over that promotion. 

Now however, there is a lingering “meta” controversy over whether the way this was handled on both sides was wrong or right. Was the “anti-Eich” crowd too vengeful, too close to being what has been described as being a lynch mob, were they being hypocritical and intolerant? Were the folks supporting Eich being insensitive to a growing civil rights movement, misunderstanding what Mozilla represents, erroneously mixing a specific case with a hypothetical slippery slope?

In the larger picture, these questions and issues exposed during the controversy are just one more signal that “tech” still has much growing up to do. On the one hand tech is dominating every industry and part of our lives. “Software is eating the world,” a quote from Marc Andreessen, which is often used to describe what is going on. And tech is still in its infancy or teenage years in terms of how long it has been with us, which brings challenges as it inundates our culture and organizational behavior practices. Tech is even influencing our politics now, as seen with Twitter in various countries, and the SOPA movement. Some say the tech community went too far with SOPA when websites blacked themselves out in protest, and of course the sexism that continually rears its head in tech is immaturity at its best.

When you have something that is massively influencing every part of our lives, but is still immature, then it can only lead to more “meta” controversies like the Mozilla one. We (i.e. the community, public) simply just don’t know how to appropriately react yet to these situations, it’s going to take time to adjust to what tech in our lives means. Although I think most calling for Eich’s resignation were proportionate in their response, their were outliers who went too far in how they handled it. There will always be people who go too far of course, but now tech can ignite these crowds in a blink of an eye and carry people with it who would not normally participate. That said, I’m confident that as we grow to understand what tech means in our lives that we will resolve that issue in time.

I think we would all be served well if a post-mortem was done for this particular controversy. And this increasingly common situation of how “tech reacts” deserves to be studied as a larger whole. There is an awful lot that we could learn about ourselves and tech in our lives. Important as tech and its social impact isn’t going away, it will only increase.