Appalling

Peter Norvig is a pig. I realize this is an old-fashioned epithet, but the behavior was positively Neanderthal, and you can’t get much more old-fashioned than that.

Last Wednesday evening I attended an event at the Commonwealth Club. First, a man who had written a book about Facebook was interviewed by a tech blogger Michael Arrington. They had an interesting conversation followed by audience questions that had been written on cards and brought to the stage.

Then a man who had written a book about how the way we use the internet may be changing our brains was “interviewed” by Peter Norvig, Director of Research at Google and Plenty Proud of Himself. The 45 minute conversation was dominated by Norvig, who talked, I estimate, about twice as much as the author, Nicholas Carr, putting forth and defending his own ideas, telling anecdotes (admittedly, one was actually amusing) and generally aggrandizing himself. I was fidgeting in my seat already and checking the clock when it was finally time for the question and answer session.

This time, two microphones had been set up, and, as is usual, men immediately came to line up. Four men on one microphone and three at the other. They were followed, more slowly, by four women and another man.
Most of the questioners spent a little too much time setting up their questions, or maybe they were just rambling while they thought up what they wanted to ask. Norvig answered almost all the questions himself, at great length, before turning to Carr, who was left with little to say at that point. Just over five minutes before the scheduled end of the session, the first women was finally up at the microphone. Norvig made some random and by-then expectedly pompous and self-congratulatory wrap-up statements, thanked Carr and the audience, and ended the evening.

It was appalling. I am rethinking my fondness for Google.

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