Customers who liked “Tech Intellectuals” may also like …

by Henry Farrell on September 13, 2013

Just a quick post to point to some good technology writing that I’ve come across in the last few days. Ann Friedman’s “piece”: on LinkedIn at _The Baffler_ is excellent. The closing line of this paragraph is beautiful and damning.

bq. This frenetic networking-by-vague-association has bred a mordant skepticism among some users of the site. Scott Monty, head of social media for the Ford Motor Company, includes a disclaimer in the first line of his LinkedIn bio that, in any other context, would be a hilarious redundancy: “Note: I make connections only with people whom I have met.” It’s an Escher staircase masquerading as a career ladder.

Also good is “Susan Faludi’s article”: on Facebook and feminism, and Jacob Silverman’s piece (not online) on the corporate humping social scene at SXSW. For a different but complementary view of Facebook, that builds on personal experience of what it’s like to be a woman in Silicon Valley that Faludi doesn’t have, “Melissa Gira Grant’s piece”: at _Dissent_ is pretty awesome. Further nominations welcome in comments …



The Raven 09.13.13 at 2:59 pm

I don’t think she’s actually used LinkedIn. LinkedIn is a service run on behalf of recruiters. If one is a recruiter or HR manager, and willing to pay, LinkedIn provides ways to identify and contact potential employees. It’s a recruiter’s dream; access to the contact information of huge numbers of potential candidates. This is rather creepy, and in some ways problematic—people who have stalkers are shut out of LinkedIn, and that is a problem—but LinkedIn does offer substantial value to job-seekers.

Personally, I ignore most of the “leaders” stuff as fluff. What I pay attention to is commentary from my colleagues in the discussion groups. I also find it a useful way to keep up on my former co-workers. LinkedIn is a great way to identify potential employers and potential hiring managers if you already have a few connections in a field. One may not be able to contact them through LinkedIn, but the old methods of pavement-pounding and paper letters work just fine.


Straightwood 09.13.13 at 3:36 pm

The growing disappointment with social networking technology is teaching us a great deal about the mechanisms of inequality in our notionally meritocratic society. If we actually had a frictionless meritocratic environment, social networks would be smoothly and continuously advancing the worthy and demoting poor performers. Instead, we see conspicuous fools, like Tom Friedman, retain unshakeable franchises of influence. Bad writers, managers, and politicians are not getting flushed out with greater frequency, and promising unknowns are not being identified and advanced to the degree expected.

The evidence shows that the reputations of the powerful exhibit high inertia, defying the logic of market efficiency that they use to defend their status. If nothing else, the Internet has given us a tool for debunking meritocratic theories that have masked the irrational distribution of influence and wealth in “advanced” societies.


Kevin Erickson 09.13.13 at 3:56 pm

Not sure how widely-read she is outside the music-journo-nerdiverse, but Maura Johnston has emerged as one of the most incisive thinkers on tech, media, journalism, and cultural economies. Here’s a fine piece she did for NPR.

Maura was famously fired from her post as Village Voice music editor for failure to march in lockstep with the new emphasis on SEO and clickbaity listicles; now she’s running her own subscription-based publication. This is something of a pattern; Ann Friedman had been transforming GOOD magazine from a repository for lifestyle-liberal solutionism to a real destination for solid critical writing, but was canned last year along with most of the editorial staff, when the owners decided they wanted something closer to a “Reddit for social good” (their site now appears to be an overdesigned and underused wasteland).


Barry 09.13.13 at 4:46 pm

I agree with Raven, and would like to add that 90% of the Baffler articles I’ve read are fluff, stating at length what I thought that everybody already knew.

Now for the real flame; I thought that the ‘Tech Intellectuals’ column was similar. I read it and felt that I wasted my time reading some same old same old.


Meredith 09.13.13 at 5:45 pm

Dismissing (implicitly — not clear if Barry read the article or includes it in his 90%) Susan Faludi’s excellent Baffler article as “fluff” — hmmm.


nick s 09.14.13 at 12:51 am

I’ve known Maura since forever (i.e. the late 1990s on t’web) and absolutely agree with Kevin, regardless of my friendship: she’s avoided a kind of grand unified theorising (which is a good thing, as is her fellowship at Boston College) but her introduction to trollgaze goes a long way.


Andrew Burday 09.14.13 at 1:55 am

Can you give a cite (even approximate, I’m not trying to give you homework) for the Silverman piece? I’m not familiar with him and a quick search appears to show he publishes in a variety of outlets. Some of us old farts are still willing to drag ourselves to the library…


maidhc 09.14.13 at 2:54 am

Making generalizations about Silicon Valley based on Facebook is very misleading, because Facebook is not a typical Silicon Valley company at all. Even physically it’s barely inside what most people think of as Silicon Valley. And I believe that Valleywag, despite its name, operates out of San Francisco, at least when Melissa Gira Grant was working there.

Social networking companies typically work off existing technology, they don’t drive technology the way companies like Cisco, Adobe or Google do.


nick s 09.14.13 at 3:12 am

Social networking companies typically work off existing technology

That’s a pretty blinkered definition of “technology”. Are you really saying that the in-house stuff that you can read about from Twitter and Facebook is nothing but derivative? Seriously?

And that’s even before considering that the social implementations of technology might be significant beyond their code-based underpinnings, and that the web of 2013 is increasingly defined by the frontend defaults of a handful of companies. (And that is very much danah boyd‘s domain.)


maidhc 09.14.13 at 4:35 am

If you look at those engineering projects, a lot of them are adapting or scaling up things that were originated elsewhere. Just to take the first one:

Columnar storage is a popular technique to optimize analytical workloads in parallel RDBMs. The performance and compression benefits for storing and processing large amounts of data are well documented in academic literature as well as several commercial analytical databases. … We recently introduced Parquet, an open source file format for Hadoop that provides columnar storage. Initially a joint effort between Twitter and Cloudera, it now has many other contributors including companies like Criteo. Parquet stores nested data structures in a flat columnar format using a technique outlined in the Dremel paper from Google.

That’s not to say this isn’t valuable engineering work, but it’s not as ground-breaking as developing Hadoop and MapReduce in the first place, which largely originated out of work done at Google and Yahoo. Google published a paper on MapReduce in 2004, the same year Facebook was founded, and Twitter didn’t start until 2006.


nick s 09.14.13 at 4:53 am

it’s not as ground-breaking as developing Hadoop and MapReduce in the first place

I’m not going to contribute to a derail into tedious Hacker News territory, but I will argue that there’s significance in the way these specific implementations test and expand the limits of those underlying technologies, and more importantly, in the social consequences of having those particular implementations working the way they do.


Katherine 09.14.13 at 9:52 am

Dismissing (implicitly — not clear if Barry read the article or includes it in his 90%) Susan Faludi’s excellent Baffler article as “fluff” — hmmm.

My thoughts precisely Meredith. If I were to choose a word to describe a long and erudite article tracing the rise if industrialisation and capitalism, and the somewhat symbiotic development of the labour and women’s liberation movements, ‘fluff’ wouldn’t be it.


Henry 09.14.13 at 12:59 pm

So Barry either (a) is confidently dismissing something he hasn’t bothered his arse to read as ‘fluff’ or (b) believes that a detailed account of how women’s work conditions and exploitation have changed over time is ‘fluff.’ FWIW on the basis of past intellectual laziness, I suspect it’s the less egregious (a) which is the explanation here.


Kevin 09.14.13 at 1:07 pm

Henry, just in case you missed Andrew Barclay’s comment above, I too am curious if you can give any leads to where Silverman’s article might be found. Thanks!


Kevin 09.14.13 at 1:15 pm

D’oh. Found it. In the Baffler print edition.


Henry 09.14.13 at 1:24 pm

Sorry – forgot to respond – but it’s in the new issue.


Phil 09.14.13 at 2:03 pm

Barry either (a) is confidently dismissing something he hasn’t bothered his arse to read as ‘fluff’ or (b) believes that a detailed account of how women’s work conditions and exploitation have changed over time is ‘fluff.’

Well, (a) is clearly not applicable, because Barry described 90% of the Baffler articles he had read as fluff – no reference at all to anything he hadn’t read. As for (b), unless one holds the view that everything or nearly everything in the Baffler is excellent and fluff-free, it’d be reasonable to assume (until he tells us otherwise) that Barry just hasn’t read any particular Baffler piece we think is good.

Shorter: I think you’re starting a fight where no fight is needed.


JG 09.14.13 at 3:30 pm

I can’t speak to LinkedIn for recruiters, but I’ve been on LinkedIn since the beginning, first as a beta tester, and have never found any value in it other than finding out which friends are updating their profile (e.g., looking for a job). But it does go through periods of fashion: at one time, people seemed to want to connect to anyone at all, whether known or not, but now the fashion is for endorsements. I (and I suspect others) am getting endorsed several times a week by people I am still linked with but haven’t seen or spoken to in ten years.



Eli Rabett 09.15.13 at 12:44 am

LinkedIn is great for tracking students who were in various programs, which is data that you need for the next grant proposal


Meredith 09.15.13 at 4:06 am

Okay, I have held back here since “hmmm….” No one’s trying to start fights but rather to alert well-intentioned people to the unintended consequences of some of their perhaps-too-complacently pursued passions. If you actually read the Faludi and Grant and Friedman essays, you become aware that women have to struggle just a teeny bit to gain a foot hold in “male” worlds like “tech,” while women have sometimes been in the vanguard of transformations that affect everyone for the better. (You learn a lot more than that, but I’ll stop there.) The dismissive “fluff” argument is a classic. (Especially weird to see that word when haunted by visions of lung-disease caused by those mills, filled with all that cotton “fluff.” I should note that I have lived in Massachusetts for well over 30 years.)
You also learn (esp. from Faludi) that those “nice” girls you hired, because they’d be safe, can be anything but safe.


Phil 09.16.13 at 8:25 am

Has anyone actually said anything negative or dismissive about those essays? Barry may be everything you’re painting him, or he may be some guy who’s only read three or four articles from the Baffler, most of which struck him as fluff.

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