Who runs the world?

A couple of weeks ago I did a post on the depiction of women in the social network and how that translated to women (or lack thereof) in Silicon Valley. Today, I am returning to that very same topic but unfortunately with worse news. A recent study () done by researchers at UC Davis found that of the 400 largest companies only 13 have female CEO’s. That’s about 3 percent. 3 percent. It’s mindboggling that with all the recent news on how more women are going to college and choosing professional careers that only 3 percent of women claim power positions in our country’s greatest companies.

What I want to focus on however, is the fact that in the tech industry (this includes hardware and software) only 20 percent of women hold directing power. Of the best known companies located in Silicon Valley (Yahoo, Google, Apple etc.) none of them had women amongst their highest paid employees. Combined with the numbers of actual women working in the tech startup of the world, it’s hard not to see Silicon Valley and its counterparts as a modern day boys club.

All of this data is coming out in light of recent news that two women will be succeeding Steven Sinofsky, former head of Microsoft’s Windows unit. This news was exciting for women advocates everywhere because for the first time the company was placing women at the head of their most commercial enterprise. This, similar to when Marissa Mayer became CEO of Yahoo, seems like a win.

With all this information, I find it hard not to be confused about the current position that women hold in the tech industry. On one hand there seems to be immense progress being made but then on the other hand there is disheartening information out there that only 18 percent of engineering graduates are women. Right now, the face of Silicon Valley is that of a white male in their mid 20s. However, that is changing. With women like Marissa Mayer making a difference and putting themselves in the public eye two things are happening. One, the gender inequality in the tech industry is being highlighted and younger girls are getting a role model.

While I don’t have the solution to end this inequality there are some things that can be done. First off, more women need to be highlighted for their achievement. It disappoints me that I would not have found the information about the Microsoft ladies if I hadn’t gone looking. Second, the tech industry needs to be more transparent with their hiring and promotion standards. It doesn’t matter how many women you have in a company, if none of them are being moved to executive positions then the progress is not continuous. Finally, the scrutiny and hate that comes with women who do choose to live their lives in the public eye (ie. Marissa Mayer) needs to be eradicated.

Our not so private world

After talking about privacy and anonymity in class today I couldn’t help but think about how there is a general sense that our generation doesn’t care about privacy. Think about it. Our grandparents, parents and even the media thinks that our generation doesn’t value privacy. With the rising popularity and exponential growth of sites such as Twitter and Facebook, all sites which ask us voluntarily give up our information, it’s reasonable that they think this. Today’s class had me wondering about whether or not this might have some truth to it. Have Facebook and Twitter made us more careless about our information and the internet? Every so often we hear the anecdotes about those teens that post racy photos depicting their dangerous (and often illegal) escapades. It’s no wonder we are known as the “careless generation.”

Despite the mounting “evidence” I don’t believe that our generation cares any less about privacy than the baby boomer generation. In fact, recent research shows that this is far from the truth. Researchers at the University of California – Berkeley did a 2010 study comparing if young adults cared less about online privacy than their parents. What they found is similar to my sentiments.

“With important exceptions, large percentages of young adults are in harmony with older Americans when it comes to sensitivity about online privacy and policy suggestions,” said the study. The paper then goes on to detail how young adults have refused to give information they thought was too personal to businesses, how we as a generation believe that the law should require websites to delete stored information and that there should be a law that gives people the right to know all the information that websites know about them. These don’t sound like the sentiments of a careless generation to me. Instead, it demonstrates how informed we are about our online identities and rights.

The same findings are reinforced with the numbers. According to the study, 82 percent of young adults refuse to give out personal information to businesses (compared to 85 percent of those over 65) and that 40 percent of both young adults and older adults believe that execs should face jail time for illegally using a persons personal information.

These numbers only aid in disproving the general knowledge of a careless generation X. There are two reasons why our generation does not have the best track record when it comes to online privacy. One, which is explored briefly in the study, is that we have too much faith in the idea that the government will protect our online identities. The second is that as young people we have a skewed sense of risk assessment. What our parents did in the ‘50s to “break the rules” is what we are doing, except now we have a way to document it.

With the growth of the internet, the world is adjusting and just because we use the internet more freely does not mean that Generation X doesn’t care about their privacy.

Why we need to delete

After today’s discussion about the web not allowing us to forget anything, I realized that not only is the web making us lazier but we need to be more proactive and start deleting. With our growing use of the internet and sites like Facebook and Twitter, our online presence has stopped being separate from our real life. Instead, our internet profiles are merely an extension of our real lives. Think about it, when was the last time you went out with your friends and didn’t upload a photo of what you were doing?

Unlike life, when you upload a picture or make a post on Facebook it does not just fade into nonexistence. No, it can resurface at anytime in the same condition it was preserved in. This is not necessarily a good thing because the internet is not similar to keeping memories. Memories are self-selecting. We have good ones and bad ones, some of them are clear and other are hazy. The best part of memories is that we can share them with people and laugh about the fuzzy details. This can not be replicated with the internet. The internet does not forget, it is unforgiving and unbiased in what it chooses to store.

This is why I delete. Not because I need to (because in this generation, nothing ever needs to be deleted) but because there is a satisfaction and weird sense of control of your own life and information that comes with it. Not to sound dramatic but today, it is so easy to lose track of your information and not really know where it is going. The sense of security and privacy that came with a life unconnected is gone. Instead, we have entered into agreements we don’t really understand with companies about how our information is to be handled.

I’m not saying that if people start deleting there will be a sudden change and that information privacy will cease to be an issue. Instead, I think it will help us all depend a little less on the internet to hold our memories and shape our identities. For example, this article in the NYTimes magazine highlights how companies such as Target use our online presence to predict what our online shopping habits will be.

For me, what I gain from maintaining a little anonymity on the web is much greater than the convenience of being connected.

The Cyberbullying Epidemic

The Cyberbullying Epidemic

The concept of bullying has hit the internet. With the growing popularity of social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Formspring, the concept of bullying has been re-imagined. Because the ability to interact with others has increased, teens are using these sites to anonymously harass classmates and take what would seem like  meaningless rumours viral. In this way, cyberbullying is most definitely a product of the internet.

With that said, I think that the effects of cyberbullying are more dangerous than the positives of having children on the internet. However, this afternoon I came across an article about how the effects of cyberbullying have been exacerbated. This is interesting to me but not far fetched. Over the last year the media’s portrayal of the effects of social networking on bullying has increased exponentially. From the well publicized Tyler Clementi case to cases of teens committing suicide due to their reputations being tarnished on the web, it’s no wonder that we all think we have an epidemic on our hands.

This could very well be because the definition of bullying on its own, without the internet is so broad that when the internet is brought in, the definition becomes even vaguer. In general people understand what cyberbullying is, but no one really knows how to define it. According to the stopbullying.gov website, cyberbullying is bullying that takes place on the internet and bullying in this case is defined as unwanted agressive behavior.

It’s hard to take this definition and transfer it seamlessly to the internet. This is mostly because bullies on the internet are hard to track, the behavior is hard to pinpoint because of the viral nature of information that is on the web. With all this said, I wonder about two questions: One, can cyberbullying be called an epidemic and two, can it be stopped?

While, I don’t have a concrete idea of what the answer could be, I have some ideas. I don’t think cyberbullying is an epidemic, I think that it is a problem that is probably greater than regular bullying but the attention it receives because it’s on the internet makes it seem much worse than it is. Second, it can be stopped. Just like schools, parents and the government have intervened with regular bullying, they can do the same with cyberbullying.

Socialization of the Internet

Since the days of Monopoly and Scrabble, socialization has been a pivotal aspect of gaming. This is why I disagree with two points that Tanz, author of “The Curse of the Cow Clicker” argues in his article.

The first point is about the use of the term “gamification.” Tanz discusses how more companies are gamifying apps to reap the benefits that they offer. Most of the time these benefits are purely social in form. Think about it, Words with Friends, Scramble with Friends, Draw Something and Farmville. What do these all have in common? The fact that they encourage and even thrive on the idea of social gaming. After thinking about these facts, it’s hard for me to accept the term gamification when these games all depend on socialization.

What companies want and may even need to do is add a social aspect to their activities. Why? Well, social games not only are fun but they also initiate competition. In all the games I listed above, users are purely incentivized by knowing that they have the  ability to win and beat their friends. Even for basic games such as monopoly and scrabble, putting the idea of power ups and points aside, you draw satisfaction from knowing that you are the best in the social group.

This idea of social groups and incentives leads me to my next point about how games like Cow Clicker offers no deep value. While on the surface it may seem this way, this assumption is false. Yes, Cow Clicker is a mundane game that when stripped down really doesn’t have anything more than the user clicking on a patch of grass. However, under all this mundane activity the game still managed to thrive because of the community that users built around it. People found ways to connect through clicking cows. This not only shows how there is meaning behind this game but illustrates how the internet is built to be a social tool and that with sites like Facebook and Twitter it is on its way to reaching that full potential.

I’m So Politically Aware

It seems like everyone today is a political analyst. With everyone posting their opinions about debates, the election and the candidates on Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites, it’s hard to believe that the percentage of voters hasn’t increased since 2000. On average only 55 percent of Americans vote in elections. In the last three presidential elections the average hasn’t changed significantly, even with the election of 2008 which was fondly dubbed “the beginning of new media.”

Despite these facts, we are still under the misconception that the increase in social media has made us all more politically aware. It’s not only citizens either. Even our candidates are aiming their resources toward enhancing their social media profiles. For example, Obama has over 21 million twitter followers and 32 million “likes” on Facebook. Romney on the other hand has 12 million “likes” on Facebook and about 2 million twitter followers. While this disparity could be largely due to the fact that Obama has been in the social media game longer, some people use this as an indication of more people getting involved in our country’s political process.

This election has been the most expensive with campaigns spending about $500 million dollars. Of this amount, Obama spent $52 million on social media and Romney spent close to $27 million. With all this spending, why aren’t more people voting and why do we still have instances where people are googling: “Who is running for president?” on election day?

I have two theories for this. One pertains to the knowledge gap hypothesis, a theory that explains that the distribution of knowledge is similar to the distribution of wealth in society. This means that wealthier citizens who are often already informed are most involved in social media and will receive the information that the candidates put out. According to a wikipedia summary, “as the infusion of mass media information into a social system increases, segments of the population with higher socioeconomic status tend to acquire this information at a faster rate than the lower status segments so that the gap in knowledge between these segments tends to increase rather than decrease.” If the same people are receiving the same information then how can we say that more people are being informed. Just as we at Princeton are in the orange bubble, campaigns are beginning to operate in a bubble of their own. The second part of this theory is well-stated in this Atlantic article by Zeynep Tufekci. She states, “the internet is not the problem; global citizen disempowerment is. It’s not the technology that is failing politics but it is our politics that has failed.” This statement is now more true than ever. While the internet provides the opportunity for interactive discourse between citizens, news sources and candidates, it does not necessarily mean that we are any more informed.

Even though the internet allows for greater fact checking and diverse discourse there is still the opportunity for information to be skewed and unless you are committed to following something as huge as the election, misinformation is still a possible.

The Women of Silicon Valley

In light of recent events surrounding CEO of Yahoo, Marissa Mayer, watching the Social Network today reminded me of the tech industry’s attitude toward women in tech. The film introduces the Silicon Valley start up culture by juxtaposing it to the exclusivity of Harvard’s Finals Clubs. Historically, these clubs have been a haven for young, wealthy, white males. Sound familiar? This is the same kind of demographic that dominates start-up companies such as Facebook, Twitter and the likes.

Unsurprisingly enough, the film covers this culture by depicting the female characters as either useless props for the geeks or psychos who cause their downfall and unhappiness. The first scene of the movie depicts women being bussed to a finals club, dancing on tables and generally being a source of entertainment for men. Throughout the film the women serve no other purpose than that. For example, when the girls ask what they could do to help in terms of expansion, Zuckerberg replies, “Nothing.”

Even when the females play a role within the company, they are still objectified. An example is Natalie the intern whose only line is “Thanks” and appearance is of Zuckerberg and Sean Parker admiring her looks as she walks away. This type of sexism plagues the entire movie and draws attention to the women of silicon valley and how they are treated.

Taking these examples, I want to draw attention to the most recent case of mistreatment to women in the Valley. Marissa Mayer is the current CEO of Yahoo and was the topic of recent controversy and general talk concerning her time at Google and her appointment as CEO of the failing Yahoo brand. Mayer’s notoriety stems from the fact that she was the first female engineer to be hired by Google and her steady downfall within the company.

Within Google, Mayer ran the “search” team until she was essentially demoted during the company’s reshuffling phase. Most people thought it was a standard job switch and didn’t mean much, others pointed to the fact that Mayer’s position changed after breaking up with Google company founder Larry Page. According to a recent New York Magazine article entitled, “Can Marissa Mayer Really Have It All,” while Google was diverse, many high level teams such as the L-Team on Google had no women on them.

This is an issue that is more of a problem today. While there are more women in the Valley, many fail to make progress once a part of these companies. It’s as if they aren’t really in the club at all. According to this New York Times article, the percent of female chief executives is around 3 percent. This is in an industry with more than 100 companies.

While the film’s representation of this has been criticized heavily, I think it draws attention to an important question which is: Where are the women of Silicon Valley? Until women in tech stop being an anomaly, depictions such as those of Christy in The Social Network will continue to exist.

Myspace, Facebook, Google + and our inability to disconnect

“No employee is allowed to be more than a 100 feet away from a food source.”

This is what was said to me during a tour of Google New York last year. While it’s all cool and everything, this statement also really translates to society’s current connection to the web. That statement could very easily be:

“No person is allowed to be more than a 100 feet from a web source.”

We are a connected society. The way we function today encourages us to be wired. Of all of my friends, I was one of the last to get a Facebook account. It was the fall of ninth grade that I succumbed to the pressures and gave my soul to Mark Zuckerberg and his team. I was excited.

My first post was typical, I was announcing to the 100 friends I had that I was now online. “Look at me world! I’m on the internet!” While no one really cared, I felt self-important.

Over the next year and a half I became one with my Facebook, tailoring my online identity to perfection. Facebook became an extension of my personal life instead of just a supplement. It was school, facebook, work, facebook, eat, facebook. This routine kept going until I decided halfway through tenth grade and 700 friends later that I was done and so I deactivated my account.

Let me just say that it wasn’t easy. First, there was the actual act of deactivating. Facebook didn’t want that. At every step they would ask why I was making this decision and at the top of each page was a sad and pathetic attempt to keep me.

“X friend is going to miss you.” It would say while showing a picture of a person that I hadn’t spoken to in a considerable amount of time.

The next challenge was actually staying off. The first week it was easy. I was on a confidence high. I, Lovia Gyarkye, had disconnected. The idea of all the books I could read, TV I could watch and stories I could write was enough to propel me for a while.

Like a drug addict, I began to suffer through withdrawal. Even though I had so much time to waste now, I was still missing inside jokes, funny posts and was forced to remember birthdays! Despite these difficulties I stayed off Facebook for a while and eventually found my way back around 11th grade.

Since returning, my attitudes about Facebook have changed. I no longer need to really check it every day. Sometimes my notifications get to unreasonable levels but that doesn’t cause me to freak out anymore.

What surprised me even more was that as I got older I began to use Facebook in more interesting ways. It wasn’t just a place to play FarmVille and other Zynga games. Instead, I was actually reconnecting with friends, using it for school events and groups and to me getting the full effect of social networking without becoming an addict.

The time I had to disconnect really allowed to me form my own opinions about how I was going to social network my life.

Redefining Privacy

While we’ve touched on the issue of privacy and Facebook during our other issues I wanted to talk more about the idea of privacy for my generation and the recent decade.

First, I want to point out the number of social networking outlets we have. Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, Weheartit, Livejournal, Foursquare. This small list does not even include underground websites that haven’t reached Facebook like fame. Now, let’s assess the amount of information that we voluntarily release by using these sites. For almost all of these sites save the blogger platforms (Pinterest, Weheartit, Livejournal, Tumblr) you are releasing information that a decade ago would have been a no no.

My point with all of these examples is to point out that while society has become so lax about releasing personal information we’ve also become more intense about how that information is released and what is done with it. This in all fairness is a valid issue. But what I really want to discuss is what this all means for the definition of privacy.

According to the dictionary definition of the word, privacy is “the state of being free from public attention.” Right. Free from public attention — that phrase in itself seems to contradict the very idea of social networking. By the above definition, people who crave privacy should opt-out of using such services (which people in fact do). However, for those people that don’t opt out and still complain about privacy, why do they do that? It’s not because they don’t want to be a part of the social networking culture, they just want to be more protected.

This is why I think our interpretation of privacy needs to be revamped. This is how I imagine the definition of privacy today:

“The state of being free from public attention with the exception of those who I give access to my information.”

A bit wordy but I think it might work. While it may sound as if I am making fun of the idea of privacy (which I am a little), I’m also being completely serious about the idea of changing definitions. We have entered a new era where information is not just kept to ourselves but can easily be available to everyone. Because of this I think we as members of society need to reevaluate what we want in terms of privacy and what we mean as public.

Personalized Facebook Ads

Facebook is making the headlines again. This time it’s for their controversial new personal advertising system: FBX. FBX (Facebook Ad Exchange) is a new program where advertisers can exchange your information with Facebook which will allow the site to tailor advertisements to your interests in real time. What is startling about this new system is the amount of information that is being passed about you and me between two big corporations (in this case Facebook and J.Crew).

There are several pros and cons to this program and I’m going to focus on only a few of them. The first and arguably the greatest problem with this new program is Facebook’s number one issue: privacy. While Zuckerberg and the Facebook team are no strangers to privacy issues, this new exchange program brings on a whole new set of problems. It’s scary that even more information about users, for example your phone number, is being passed between two companies.

Initially, this angered me. How could Facebook and other companies trade my information in such a way? However, after this initial spout of anger I began to reason with myself about what this means for advertising. This brings me to my second point. Facebook is a business , one that in the last  eight years has managed to change how we interact with each other– all without charging its users. That’s impressive. And none of this would have been made possible with the thousands of ads targeted at you and me.

While I rarely agree with anything Facebook does, I find that in this case this program deserves a sort of thumbs up. Before the time of personalized ads, my screen was full of ads that had no relevance to me. I was attacked with everything from online college requests to all types of cosmetic surgery. As advertisements go, they were beyond annoying. However, since the introduction of personalized ads, life has been a little better.

If I had to choose between the old way of living with random ads and the new way with ads catered to my interests it would not even be a competition. While ads fall on the overall annoying side of the life spectrum, tailored ads are less annoying because they at least take our interests into consideration.

I’m interested to see how this plays out — especially on the privacy part. I do have high hopes for this program, so long as Facebook can adequately protect themselves against the onslaught of privacy issues that will be sure to come from this.

While a lot of people will continue to have a problem with this, I say that it is time for society to accept the fact that our information will be out there for the world and focus on our energies on better protecting the content that is out there.