When we think about the word diversity, a myriad of terms and acronyms flood our minds: gender, race, sexual orientation, religion, age and disability. Over time, as society has progressed, diversity has become more and more important and significant, and the historical structures that have perpetuated prejudice and discrimination continue to persist in our modern-day society (Servaes et al., 2022).

But what happens when we consider the impact of diversity, or lack thereof,  on the creation and continuation of the internet. We will take a look at the creation of ARPANET and the way the institutions that developed it, lacked in gender diversity. We will explore Silicon Valley as a male dominated precinct. And we will look into the emerging world of the metaverse and how it deals with diversity and accessibility. The internet and its development are crucial aspects of modern history, so why then, does it struggle with diversity.



  • What is ARPANET?
  • ARPANET was established in 1969 by the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA), an agency that would contract research work to other institutions, such as American universities (Ryan, 2010). ARPANET was a network of computers that had the majority of its nodes sited at American Universities such as the University of California and the University of Utah. This network was built off the back of packet switching technology and was designed as a flexible and decentralized communication network (Castells, 2002). Below is an animation describing the creation of ARPANET:

ARPANET, known as the first internet, was active throughout the 1970s and 1980s, a period of time just after the civil rights movement in the United States. As mentioned above, American universities played a pivotal role in the creation of ARPANET and the internet thereon, but how diverse was American universities in the 1970s and 1980s. During the 70s and 80s there was a change in American universities, where women overtook enrolment numbers and there were less men at universities (Snyder, 1993), this however, does not take into account enrolment based on degrees, such as STEM subjects. For example, women in the United States only made up 34% of students studying STEM majors in 1994 (Kantrowitz, 2022), with that number assumed to have been even lower throughout 70s and 80s.

One of the most disappointing aspects of the gender imbalance at the time of ARPANET, is that history has only remembered the male side of internet creation. Names such as Elizabeth Feinler, who was one of the pioneers of the early ARPANET, and Radia Pearlman, another early internet innovator, are largely ignored in the history of the internet (Conley, 2012). These pioneers have not only influenced the development of the internet, but they have inspired more women to take on STEM subjects.

ARPANET map of 1973 (Erica Fischer CC BY 2.0)


The famous Silicon Valley is known as a hotspot for technological ingenuity, but by who? Diversity is just as big an issue in Silicon Valley as it was in the 70s and 80s with ARPANET. There’s a belief that Silicon Valley is seen as “the new Wall Street”, where large sums of money is earned or received by young white men (Yarow, 2015). One such example for why this is lies in the antisocial nerd stereotype. Much of Silicon Valley’s workforce is made up by this stereotype, and it is more likely that men will exhibit an antisocial personality disorder by three to one (Chang, 2018). In addition to this physiological difference, society views antisocial men as a sign of hidden genius and women as “not liking people” (Chang, 2018). This shows exactly how a lack of diversity can harm individuals, by reducing the job prospects of women due to society’s gendered preconceptions.

Because of this divide between men and women within Silicon Valley, an alpha male culture is said to have existed. This culture is particularly driven by those at the top, including Tesla CEO Elon Musk and Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who both publicly demonstrate their “masculinity” through jiujitsu and impulsive acquisitions (CE Noticias Financieras, 2022). Alongside this alpha male culture sits extensive reports of sexual harassment. Sexual harassment is so rampant that 60% of women working in Silicon Valley are reported to have experienced sexual harassment (Kendall, 2017). The combination of a top-down alpha male culture and prevalent sexual harassment means less women are found working in these tech jobs, which could have a flow on effect into the products that these companies produce.

Meta (formerly Facebook) as a powerhouse in Silicon Valley (Christopher CC BY-SA 2.0)


  • What is the metaverse?
  • The metaverse is one of the latest developments in tech and is currently being pioneered by many companies, including Meta (formerly Facebook). Much of the initial hype surrounding the metaverse included a multitude of virtual concerts held by high profile celebrities and gaming platforms such as Roblox and Fortnite (van Rijmenam, 2022). In general, the metaverse refers to ‘virtual worlds’ where people can connect from across the world, and prominently features virtual reality and augmented reality (Ravenscraft, 2022). Below is a short video from BBC News which summarises the metaverse:

Much like all other entities in the present, the metaverse is also adjusting to the needs of diverse users. One of the many metaverse platforms that have emerged over the last few years is The Sandbox, known as a decentralized gaming metaverse. The Sandbox has created the ‘Valley of Belonging’, a virtual space to amplify the voices of underrepresented people, such as LGBTQIA+ people and people of colour (Business Wire, 2022). This initiative represents a shift in the development of the internet, where diversity is front of mind, while aiming to protect societies and individuals. As well as the ‘Valley of Belonging’, other designers are working on accessibility in the metaverse. Maxine Williams is the vice-president of diversity at Meta (formerly Facebook), and says that avatars are being designed to include potential disability tools, such as wheelchairs and hearing aids, as well as haircuts and items that help people to express their identity (CE Noticias Financieras, 2022). Another significant barrier is the VR and AR hardware, as some headset models create a vertigo feeling for the user. All of these adjustments and considerations display how diversity has changed the development of the internet and diverse societies are now front of mind in many of the designers working on these projects.

  • By looking at the internet’s struggle with diversity, we can see how over time diverse communities have become more represented and respected. From the origins of the internet in ARPANET, where women technologists were largely overlooked, to the creation of diverse and inclusive spaces in the metaverse, diversity has deeply influenced the development of the internet since its creation.


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Business Wire. (2022). People of Crypto Lab (POC) And The Sandbox to Debut the First-Ever Metaverse Diversity, Equity and Inclusivity Hub, The Valley of Belonging, During Pride Month. Retrieved 14 October 2022, from.

Castells, M. (2002). The Internet Galaxy: Reflections on the Internet, Business, and Society (1st ed., pp. 9-35). Oxford University Press.

CE Noticias Financieras. (2022). To create an accessible metaverse, diversity in technology is required. Retrieved 14 October 2022, from.

CE Noticias Financieras. (2022). Zuckerberg, Musk and the return of the ‘alpha male’ culture to Silicon Valley. Retrieved 14 October 2022, from.

Chang, E. (2018). Brotopia (1st ed., pp. 15-41). Portfolio/Penguin.

Conley, T. (2012). The Women and People of Color Who Invented the Internet. Ms. Magazine. Retrieved 14 October 2022, from

Kantrowitz, M. (2022). Women Achieve Gains In STEM Fields. Forbes. Retrieved 14 October 2022, from


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Ravenscraft, E. (2022). What Is the Metaverse, Exactly?. WIRED. Retrieved 14 October 2022, from

Ryan, J. (2010). A History of the Internet and the Digital Future (1st ed., pp. 23-30, 203-205). United Kingdom, London.

Servaes, S., Choudhury, P., & Parikh, A. (2022). What is diversity?. Pediatric Radiology, 52(9), 1708-1710.

Snyder, T. (1993). 120 Years of American Education: A Statistical Portrait (p. 65). Washington DC: National Center for Education Statistics.

van Rijmenam, M. (2022). Step into the Metaverse (1st ed.). John Wiley & Sons.

Yarow, J. (2015). Silicon Valley is ‘incredibly white and male’ and there’s a ‘sort of pride’ about that fact, says Silicon Valley culture reporter. Business Insider. Retrieved 14 October 2022, from