Category Archives: Theory

Hashtags as Parenthetical Commentary

I have been sick in bed for the last week and took the opportunity to read way way too many odd vampire/supernatural YA books.  As I was composing a Facebook update on the situation I found an almost unnatural urge to hashtag the hell out of it.  Specifically:

I have spent the last week sick in bed reading trashy YA fiction.  

#noshame #wellsomeshame #no #noshame!

It’s unnatural because I hate hashtags.  They look ugly, tend to pile up at the ends of things, and seem like yet another way to sell yourself, SEO your social media up the wazoo.  However, I do love parenthetical commentary (the act of adding a somewhat random or underemphasized comment to text).  #seewhatIdidthere #alsowhatIdidthere

There’s a certain allure with saying something without “owning up” to saying it. Hashtagging how I feel about reading trashy YA fiction allows me to indicate my mixed feelings without actually having to own up to either the reading or the mixed feelings.

I wonder if, as we live increasingly in a text-based atmosphere where vocal and body language nuance are stripped out, if this sort of sub-conversational comments will increase.  Even as we’ve moved to platforms where there is less text-based information such as Instagram, hashtags have become even more popular.

Note:  While this occurred to me unprompted, I am not the first person to note this behavior.  Language Log; NYT; Gizmodo; New Yorker.

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Working Through Whiteness or Yeah, I read that stupid yoga article too

A couple of days ago, XOJane published an article called “It Happened to Me:  There Are No Black People in My Yoga Classes and I’m Uncomfortable With It.”  If you happen to be one of the three people who haven’t read it, it is actually even stupider than you would expect from the title. 

 Reading it, however, brought back old college memories for me, specifically of my senior seminar, Working Through Whiteness.  Yep, not only did I take a class called Working Through Whiteness, I was required to take a class called Working Through Whiteness.  And buy a book called Working Through Whiteness, which the internet informs me cost thirty-two bucks.  This is the sort of thing that is responsible for people making fun of liberal arts colleges.

 Everything else I had a choice, French or German, bio or chem, even queer versus feminist theory for my major, but Working Through Whiteness? That was the one immovable boulder in my college career.  Three hours a week for twelve weeks, a group of mainly super-rich girls and one guy and I sat around talking about… well I took the class and I still have no fucking idea whatever it was we actually talked about.  There were a few rules, though, of whiteness club. 

  1.  Never talk about our class privilege ever, even though nearly everyone was not just rich, but my family has multiple houses rich.  Just pretend you know what it might be like to be poor or at least lower-middle class.
  2. Never talk about anything practical.  The minute we get towards discussing anything that might leave the realm of theory, flee immediately.
  3. Never wonder what they would have done if any of the women and gender studies majors was, you know, not white.  This rule was so strong that it just occurred to me this morning, ten years later.  What would they have done?  Given her an A+ and a pass to study hall?

 While I don’t know what we talked about, at least much, I do remember how we talked.  We talked exactly like that stupid yoga article.  How we now realized that we were white and got stuff that “people of color”* didn’t get.  How uncomfortable that made us.  I remember some crying.  I think we even talked about the tyranny of white thinness on African American women. 

 I thought it was stupid then, I think it’s stupid now, but that’s how someone who should know better can write an article like that and be surprised when it turns out to be a bad idea.

*actual term we were supposed to use.  Something about solidarity of racial minorities against white people.  It always uncomfortably reminded me of the term colored people but those type of thoughts break rule 2. 

Are the Social Sciences “dead”? Or I can’t respect an academic who can’t build a parallel argument

This recent article in the NYT drives me crazy.  In it,  Nicholas Christakis questions the value of the current social sciences, claiming that they are moribund, and that is why they often lack respect.

One huge flaw in his analysis is the basic comparison.  Political science is held up to anatomy, not biology.  No one would argue that we don’t need to teach biology, even if molecular genetics now exists.

Another major problem is how Christakis presents different “future” fields of social science:

Some recent examples offer a glimpse of the potential. At Yale, the Jackson Institute for Global Affairs applies diverse social sciences to the study of international issues and offers a new major. At Harvard, the sub-discipline of physical anthropology, which increasingly relies on modern genetics, was hived off the anthropology department to make the department of human evolutionary biology.

These fields are not new nor are they the provience of the lofty Ivy leagues.  International studies are particularly common as a quick google will tell you; physical anthropology, meanwhile, has existed for cenutries.  Many other interdisplinary programs also exist – from gender or racial studies to UX or human computer interaction to human geography or proxemics.

The third big flaw is the fields he focuses on.  Evolutionary psychology sounds sexy, but is often criticized.  It’s hard to analyze physical anthropology without considering its relationship to eugenics.

 picture books "The human face of big data"

People don’t respect social science because it’s hard to see the value of it and to understand that there is more than the basics.  Science and business are lauded because it’s easy for someone to assign dollar amounts to it.  Culturally, we treat science as hard where the social sciences are seen as something we all intrinsically get.

This is a selling problem of social science, not a heuristic one.  We need to clearly show the value-add of, say, sociology as well as the difficulty of it.  Too often I read comments in an article on education where it’s clear that very few people know anything about sociology or psychology beyond a few pop social science books or main stream news.

We also need to demand more of our students.  Every crappy grad makes it that much harder to show the value of the social sciences. Too often social science departments end up with the responsibility of graduating the poorest students.  That’s one point where I do agree with Christakis, we should be having students “do” research starting from day one and actively challenging them.   That would entice those with an innate passion for social sciences while weeding out those who would like to just read Freakonomics and write a two-page book report on it.

Is There an Authentic Way to Sell Yourself?

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I really loved this recent post on self-promotion by Aubrey at Barcode Alternative.  In it, she explains her problems with self-promotion, starting with advice she was given about using Twitter to manufacture relationships and ending with a recent situation where she bought an advertising package on another blog.  When she discusses it, her unease drips off the page:

I felt like a fraud because I was paying for someone else to interview me. It would have been different if they wanted to interview me, share my posts, etc. It made me constantly wonder, if my stuff was shared because I paid for it and nothing could stop that questioning because money was involved.”

I get her unease.  Paying for promotion that crosses the line from a clearly marked ad that we all know is paid for to something else that, well, isn’t as clear can feel really fake.  Am I just paying someone to pretend to be my friend?  Is it clear that this is just advertising?  Are we acting as business people or pretending at friendship (or actually becoming friends?)

But at the end of the day, Aubrey is also a potential small business person and, at some point, she will probably need to promote herself (and, well, eat).

So my question is:  is there an authentic way to sell yourself?

I think there is.  Aubrey mentions that making a good product and promoting good products is a way to create a new dynamic.  I like the concept but, unfortunately, we don’t get to live in that world.  Even if you and I can or do live at that level, there’s a lot of people and corporations who are just pretending. We live in the world where the saddest and best piece of advice is to brand yourself and to constantly promote brand you.  I have some ideas that start with and come back to:

Own your shit.  Don’t claim that professional decisions are personal ones.  If someone calls you on something you did, own it.  You don’t have to be embarrassed if you’re not, but don’t pretend you didn’t do it.   For that matter, don’t pretend to have emotions that you don’t have.  Don’t say you’re something you’re not, especially if you’re not even going to try to be whatever that is.  If you have ulterior motives behind what you do, at least don’t lie to yourself about it.  Try not to lie to other people about it either; people generally get upset when they’re mislead, especially if it feels personal.  As someone (approximately) said in my thesis research –  if I find out X was pretending to be female and we talked about comics I don’t care, but if we talked about childbirth I’d be pissed.  Don’t fake friendships for profit or because you think it’ll make you look better.  Give credit where credit is due, and don’t take other people’s toys.

Make good stuff.  Something where, at the end of the day, you’re proud of yourself.   That doesn’t mean that thing has to be perfect; works-in-progress or beta are always acceptable.  In some ways, they’re even better.  Engage experts, peers, and/or your consumers in a meaningful and actual way to improve who you are and what you do.  If you want to be fancy, you can call it market research, crowd-sourcing, or UX.  It can also be a way to promote yourself – if people like how you take their advice, like what you created with them, like you, they’ll probably share/brag to their friends – but don’t ask them to do it.  Don’t work with people just because you think it’ll be free publicity, do it because you actually want to work with them, which leads to….

Only work with people you respect and that respect you.  Ideally, you should also like them, but that’s not a requirement.  Work is a lot easier and better when you’re not constantly inner-eye rolling and counting the minutes until you can grab a beer and complain to your best friend.

Ask and emphasize over and over that you want people to be honest about you.  Negativity is ridculously hard to stomach but it makes the positive even sweeter.  It’s also a good way to learn about people: what do they value?  Do they use the opportunity to be helpful or vicious? It’s your right to feel however you feel about their honesty, but keep in mind if a lot of people say it, it’s probably true and important.

Give your stuff away, sometimes.  Let people try it for themselves and make their own opinions.  Value those opinions.  Don’t tell people how they should feel; even if it’s good work, maybe it’s just not for them.  Be flattered if someone did like it.

 Make your own line in the sand, be honest and open about it, and let people know if it changes.  Maybe that’s paying for an ad on someone’s blog and a giveaway, but not an interview.  Or a giveaway but you’re very clear it was paid for.  (It took me the longest time to realize that bloggers were paid for hosting giveaways).  It could be only taking advertisers whose products you already use, or ones that your friends and family like, or even just ones that you don’t necessarily like but don’t hate either.   Just make a decision and own it.  You don’t have to come out and say I hate product X but they’re paying me and I need to eat, but don’t pretend you’re doing it because you wuv them so very very much.  If you have the opportunity to be even more honest about your sponsors or clients while continuing to pay your bills, do so.  That ends up helping everyone.

I know these aren’t easy things to do.  I’ve done a lot of crappy embarrassing work with other people, usually with people I didn’t respect.  I’ve certainly had epic happy hour bitch sessions, and we all know that I’m bad at being confrontational.  Sometimes you need that job, that client, that contact.  Most of us don’t have the luxury of completely getting out of the self-branding and promoting, performative-friending, fake it ‘til you make it environment.   Just start by owning your shit, at least to yourself if no one else.  You’re definitely never going to get anywhere near authenticity by lying to yourself.

dino is proud of who he is

dino is proud of who he is

Conditioned to Mansplaining

Mansplaining where men explain things to women without acknowledging their intelligence, knowledge, or familiarity with subject matter with the implied certainty that they must know better than she does.

A lot of modern sexism is difficult and slippery.  So much of it seems innocuous enough in the singular, and is often explained away as something you shouldn’t care that much about.

Oh some guy honked at you?  He was just trying to show that he thought you were attractive and didn’t know any better.  Really you should be flattered.

Oh some guy groped you on a busy bus?  Are you sure?  Well that’s awful and completely inappropriate, but it’s over right?  You need to stop being upset about it.

Oh there aren’t any women in this movie?  Well there is the love interest and hey, there’s that other movie with two female characters in it.

 Oh some guy explained something to you like you were a slow three-year-old or a relatively smart dog?  Don’t take it personally, that guy is a jerk to everyone.  Why are you always so sensitive?

Mansplaining is one of those difficult slippery sexist things. At best everyone thinks it’s a funny story and leaves it at that.  At worst, you’re over-reacting.

The problem is that it’s not.  Being treated like you’re dumb and then told that you care too much about being treated like you’re dumb is infuriating.  Infuriating.  It’s also an example of a couple of different sexist themes:  denying women’s experiences, the expectation that women should remain quiet, and that women are too sensitive.

First your experience is denied when you are mansplained to, and you’re expected to be quiet while you’re mansplained to.

Then your experience is denied when you’re told it’s not a big deal and/or you shouldn’t be upset, and you’re told to shut up about it.  (You could almost argue that you’re almost being mansplained to again).

So women don’t talk about it and then people don’t talk about it and it keeps happening, an insidious little bit of sexist putting women “in their place” that can happen anytime and anywhere about anything.

That’s the brilliance of this tumbler.  Seeing an almost never-ending list clearly shows how this isn’t simply a woman/you being too sensitive.  It shows that it is a systematic sexist trend that does matter and that we should talk about.

Let me tell you where you went wrong

I’ve been mansplained to often, but one of my “favorite” occurrences happened about six months ago.  I wanted to write about it then but then I worried about being petty, and I could never get the tone right so it was just funny and not hurtful.

Because, you know, it was hurtful.  It wasn’t just some random thing that happened to me, some guy who thought he was better than everyone else, but something worth talking about.

I have worked freelance for one company for a very long time.  So I wasn’t all that surprised when I got asked for an informational interview by this guy who found me on LinkedIn.  I know the ins and outs of how they work, I worked with a few of the VPs before they got promoted, I’ve even gotten someone hired there before.

So we meet for coffee.  He mentions that he’s now been hired by the company but is still looking for advice and that he named dropped me in his introduction call.

After asking him a little bit about his background and learning many times that he had advanced schooling, I mention that the most useful thing that I’ve learned is how to take advantage of my smart phone, specifically photos.  Sending a picture of a problem or observation is so much easier than trying to explain it verbally, especially if the fielding manager needs to talk to someone else about it.  A phone makes it a lot easier to take a sly picture if you’re someplace without permission, or are dealing with a respondent who is shy about being photographed.  Instead of making notes for shelf maps, I just take extensive pictures of the section to type out later.

He informs me that not only does he not have a smart phone; he doesn’t even have a normal cell.  You see, you can get conditioned to it, always paying attention to any buzz or beep.  He took expression of shock and confusion as a signal that I didn’t know what conditioning was.

Conditioning, you see, is when you become trained to have a certain reaction to a particular stimulus.  There are very many interesting studies such as teaching rats how to –

I take that opportunity to explain that I did, in fact know what conditioning was and had even done one of those rat studies myself (as has anyone who ever took intro to psych).

…how to press a lever to get food.  It’s really interesting, you should look into it, it would really help you understand consumer behavior.

I explain yet again that I do know about conditioning and, in fact, consumer behavior being that I worked in market research.  And that I was confused how he was going to field without a cell phone.

See if you knew about conditioning and consumer behavior like I do – I learned about it in when I was in grad school, have you thought about going to school – well you’d know what a bad idea a cell phone is.  I bet you always look at it when it makes a noise, which is bad.  That’s conditioning, you’re like a rat….

Sadly I did not walk right out at that point.

I should have walked out at that point.

I should have told him how rude he was at that point.

At that point I should have clearly stated that I had gone to graduate school in social science at a place that had not one but TWO types of social science named after it.

At that point I should have told him that not only did I understand conditioning but probably every single person in America who had gone to college and/or seen a forensic TV show understood the basic concept of conditioning.

At that point I should have emailed my contacts and told them that this guy was an asshole and would therefore suck.

Instead I sat there until he changed the subject.  I sat there while he said: “just between you and me, if people there looked like us, I would still be working there.”  I sat there while he told me that he really understood people because he had nearly gotten a degree in therapy.  I sat there while he told me that he understood business and had suggestions for the company because he had a MBA and everyone at the company were just “academics.”  I sat there when I checked a text message from my husband and got a knowing look and a headshake from him, while he explained that I should try to learn how to ignore my phone.

I sat there, I sat there quietly, I sat there being polite, and I sat there without telling him that he was being an asshole.

And that’s not the only time I’ve sat being quiet, gritting my teeth, because that’s what I’m supposed to do.   I’m supposed to be polite.  I’m not supposed to take it personally.  I’m not supposed to make a fuss.  I’m supposed to laugh it off.  I’m conditioned to be mansplained to.

Much more problematic than a cell phone, don’t you think?

Lit Review: Evolution of Privacy and Disclosure on Facebook

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Stutzman, Fred, Ralph Gross, and Alessandro Acquist.  “Silent Listeners: The Evolution of Privacy and Disclosure on Facebook.” 2012.  Journal of Privacy and Confidentiality, 4:2.

“Access to increasingly granular settings, to determine  which profile data other Facebook users get to peruse, may have increased a member’s feeling of control and direct her attention towards the sharing taking place with other active, non-silent, members of the network; in turn, perceptions of control over personal data and misdirection of users’ attention have been linked to increases in disclosures of sensitive information to strangers”

Summary: Stuzman et al. use a private, long-term data set of Carnegie Mellon Facebook users, finding that over time users have looked for greater perceived privacy, but have in fact increased the information available to advertisers and Facebook itself, i.e. “silent listeners.”    Although the overall trend is to share less private information over time, they do find an uptick in 2009-10 which they credit to changes in Facebook privacy policies increasing users’ cognitive burden.

Analysis:  One particularly interesting point was that of “incidental data,” the creation of new data without actual creation, e.g. that aps pull information from users and users’ friends without an active choice to share such data.  They also mention that social media users consistently underestimate their audience size, being aware of only 27% of their audience. I see a lot of potential in further research that forces users to think about and analyze such choices.

The dataset has several limitations, sadly unavoidable in the context of having such “long-term” information.  The profile elements they analyze are very basic, such as birth date, phone, and favorite media.  Additionally, they don’t address the issue of how their participant pool ages, particularly the effects of leaving college on privacy seeking behavior.  They also mention that they couldn’t determine between non-disclosures based on hidden information versus information that was simply not given at all.  Despite these, having an unique longitudinal dataset makes this worth reading.

Overall:  It will make you feel really paranoid about your own Facebook behavior, but also pique your interest.  Also the lit review is really amazing in terms of summerizing the research on multiple presentations of self.

Lit Review: Word Usage and Community in Twitter

There are some things I really miss about academia, specifically engaging with people about new ideas.  I also realized a couple weeks ago that I was really unaware of the current literature outside of economic educational and infection disease stuff.  I’m trying to read something weekly and to share it as a way to get caught up/create discussion/get smarter.  I have to say it’s surprisingly hard.  I’ve been really struggling with some writing recently and have to come to miss my past academic-skillz.  The below was easier for me, ironically, because it was so math-not-theory-based.

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Bryden, John, Sebastian Funke, and Vincent AA Jansen.  “Word usage mirrors community structure in the online social network Twitter.” 2013.  EPJ Data Science, 2:3. 

“This indicates how the language we use bears the signature of societal structure, and is suggestive of the enormous potential in using topological analysis to identify cultural groups.”

Summary: Bryden et al. use a dataset of 250,000 Twitter users, trying to find linguistic links inside communities, e.g. those who @ed each other.  They conclude that communities use unique language patterns beyond basic subject terms, particularly word length and endings, and find a way to predict community involvement of a Twitter user based on word usage.

Analysis:  I love the idea of created spaces using language.  One of my big interests in college was kawaii culture and how specific terms and ways of talking created an individual/safe space for a sub-set of women in Japan.  Unfortunately most of their examples don’t seem to be all that unexpected.  For example, one language pattern is the use of Twilight terms in the Twilight community.  Another is the use of phrases such as n**ga, poppin, and chillin together; language that is created off-line and then brought online.

That said, there were a few examples where the online community itself (if not specifically on Twitter) was creating linguistic trends, such as the interaction between the words bieber, pleasee, and <33, which they define as “lengthened endings (repeated last letter).”  I’d love for Bryden et al. to present more unusual examples like this for greater analysis, maybe some qualitative to understand what those linguistic patterns mean to the community that uses them, particularly in in-group vs. out-group interactions, how people learn the language, etc.  There also seems to be a lot of potential in looking at community drift, both in the language a community uses over time but also how language used changes when a Twitter user enters or exits new communities, based on changed interests, life experiences, etc.

Overall: short and sweet if math-heavy; the charts are worth checking out on their own.