“Friendly conversations about tech and human lives on the internet, with an intersectional, feminist twist”

BY DANIELLE MUSTARDE

Podcasts are great, aren’t they? Especially now, perhaps. One that we’ve fallen for recently is the transatlantic-born, The Intersection Of Things. Meeting at the intersections (funnily enough) of tech, culture, feminism and queerness, this is 💯 a podcast to add to your lockdown listening list if any of the above ring your audio bells. (And really, how could they not?)

Plus, when more often than not it’s another straight, white dude at the helm of tech-focused conversations, it’s bloody wonderful to have some new (queer!) voices out there to tune into. And those voices? Well, they’re Marianela Ramos Capelo and Ruth Coustick-Deal, two friends “separated by vast amounts of water, and eight hours of time” coming together to produce The Intersection Of Things remotely.

Just before life changed completely, we caught up with one of those voices, Ruth Coustick-Deal, to find out how TIOT came to be.

DIVA: Hello Ruth. Tell us a little more about how you and Marianela started your (top notch) podcast.

RUTH COUSTICK-DEAL: Marianela and I used to be colleagues. When we were, I was working remotely from London while she was – and still is – in Vancouver. We got on really well on the times I did go over to Canada to visit. So I felt I was really missing out on those after-work drinks back in the UK. So, we started having this thing on Sundays where we’d have a call. She’d have a coffee and I’d have a glass of wine – because it was her breakfast time and my evening time. – and we’d just chat about all the stuff we wanted to talk about at work, related to tech, because that’s what we were working on. We started to say, “You know, these are good conversations. They’re insightful. We should make a podcast.” And eventually, that’s what we did. Of course, the project is a lot more deliberate, researched and planned than those calls were. Still, it isn’t that far away from what you get if you just get the two of us together and put a mic in front of us.

Great! Those Sunday evening conversations sound wonderful.

There’s an alternate origin story too. That’s the organic origin story, but the other is that we felt like, in the spaces that we’ve worked in, in the Digital Rights world, it often fails to do a good job talking about the real life impacts of the issues that we’ve worked on. It can be very theory based. Conversely, we talk about things from a human perspective. Like, what’s happening to people’s health? What’s happening when it comes to peoples work-places? We really wanted a way of talking about it that we felt would put [people] first – that would be an unabashedly intersectional feminist and not afraid to talk about white supremacy or the patriarchy and the role those systems play. While those things are Human Rights issues, there’s often a real fear of using those kinds of terms.

How do you choose your guests?

Sometimes we meet someone at a conference or event and get talking with them and think we should have them on the podcast. Sometimes it’s the other way around – we have an issue and we realise that neither of us are quite the right person to talk on it and that we should get an expert in. We also try to get people in who otherwise might have not really been highlighted. That’s another thing that we really wanted to use the podcast for, as a spotlight.

Do you have a favourite episode so far? 

Appropriately, I think my favourite episode is our Pride episode, where we talked about all things related to queerness and the internet. There’s a lot of joy in that episode. I also think our very first episode on Consent is very good. It sprung what we do – we come back to consent over and over again. Outrage is also really strong. Outrage is the only one that I have re-listened to multiple times. I even listen to my own advice which is a strange thing. They were topics that we were burning to talk about. We had a lot of opinions and we’d had conversations on them several times, so, I think there’s a real energy in those episodes.

Do you have a bit of a practice run with each episode or do you just go for it?

We don’t always, from time to time we do. Not like a practice run of the whole thing, but we’ll have a chat like, “This is the research that I’ve found. These are some cool things we can talk about.” And we’ll maybe have a 15-minute pre-conversation on it and then we’ll do the thing itself.

Do you listen to a lot of podcasts?

Yeah, both of us are like ridiculous podcast listeners. You know, I sometimes listen to like, three a day. I like that I can listen to a podcast while I’m doing something else – either on my commute or while I’m having lunch, washing up or taking a bath. If I’m on my own, I’m probably listening to a podcast.

Podcasts – in all shapes and sizes – have become more and more popular in the last few years. Why do you think that is?

I really like that you can learn a lot about something fairly obscure and get like a real deep dive into it. Where, I probably wouldn’t read about the same thing. I also like the people aspect of it, the chatter. Like, being personal and not being afraid to be personal. I’ve written a lot too, you know, I have a Medium account and, when I’m writing on these issues, you always need a conclusion. But sometimes, they’re just really tricky issues with a lot of nuance where a conclusion almost feels dishonest because there isn’t an easy answer, but that’s the format of writing an essay. But with a podcast, it’s okay to not conclude things or not have to have a final answer. You can say like, “We’re learning, and we’re being curious and we’re gaining knowledge along the way – but we’re not necessarily saying that we know everything.”

It’s like sitting in a conversation with friends, which certainly applies to TIOT. And what about the future?

I mean, we want the podcast to really grow. We want it to reach a bigger audience. You know, when I was working in digital rights, a great friend of mine said, “Why do you always try and get people in tech to care about feminism? Why don’t you just try and get feminists to care about tech?” And so, I would like people who are already really interested in feminism, to be more aware of tech. And I would like people to learn from the podcast to make different decisions about the products they use and how they share information for example. And to think more critically about what’s going on around us. Hopefully then, we’ll inform other kinds of activism along the way.

And, in terms of the queer community, why is it important to you that the podcast reaches those people in particular?

Because they’re one of the groups that are often on the harsh end of new technologies. Facial recognition, for example. Under this “gaydar study” – which was complete crap, but the idea is very dangerous in and of itself – you can use technology to “tell who’s queer and who’s not”. Like, how would that tech be implemented? As queer people, are we going to have to hide or change our faces? Similarly, if you look at the US, there’s a movement toward getting rid of sex workers from the internet entirely which disproportionately endangers queer and marginalised people. On Tumblr, they banned “bi” hashtags for a while because they believed the sexuality is inherently sexual. Online censorship frequently targets queer communities. Even here in the UK, LGBTQ content is often labelled as “adult” and filtered and blocked in various ways. These kind of things are crucial to be aware of. It’s important to be informed but, not in an overwhelming, terrifying way. There has to always be a bit of hope, like, come and sit with us. We’re having a coffee and a wine and we’re going to talk about this or that because it’s important that you know about this too.

Listen to now at theintersectionofthings.com. It’s also available on iTunes, Spotify and Soundcloud.

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