Monthly Archives: October 2010

The Social Network

I finally got to see the movie, and it had me metaphorically glued to the screen the entire time.

I don’t know how much artistic licence was taken.  Given the gagging clauses in the settlements of the real case, I’ll probably never know. Yet, what was presented on the screen gave considerable food for thought. It wasn’t all roses.  I think the thorns were more prominent than the roses.

Third level college is about personal development as much as it is about intellectual development.  The first few years as an official adult away from the protective eye of parents are hugely significant. We make mistakes, we do silly things, we hurt others, we get hurt.  No-one ever forgets the first time they have their heart smashed by a member of the opposite (or same, depending on your preferences) gender.  You hurt and then you move on wiser and having learned from the experience.

In the internet age, it’s not so easy. The social tools of the internet allow permanent records to be kept and to be kept in public form. The Mark Zuckerberg character was devastated by the Erica rejection and blogs publicly and rather nastily about it. He moves on …. to create a widely-subscribed social website to hit out at the female of the species.  In contrast, most people would likely have commiserated face-to-face with a small number of friends.

Scale comes across very strongly in the movie.  Everything is bigger than big. The numbers subscribing to facebook (and its various predecessors) are huge, the money put into it is huge, its valuation is huge, the Harvard social life portrayed is over-the-top, the fall-outs and exploitations among friends are extensive – so much so that one wonders how they can ever be repaired. Thankfully, most of us have less dramatic student lives.

On a more positive note, I’m intrigued by how someone without a wide circle of close friends and at such a young age put his finger on the pulse of what makes Facebook so popular. The exclusivity factor, you decide who is in your in-group and who isn’t, is crucial. If you want to be choosy or friend every person you ever meet is completely your choice. The relationship-status is critical for the age group Facebook is aimed at. And it is never over, it’s a perpetual beta, friendships grow and evolve and sometimes die and new ones take their place.  And how this is documented is totally in the hands of those who chose to Facebook. Some use it more wisely than do others.

There were other aspects of the movie that caught my attention. Examples are the social snobbery coming across on the Harvard campus (the elite kids of rich families and not-so-elite kids), the pride that is taken in being a hacker, the intangible and undefinable nature of friendship, the social role of the internet, the role of the social web in doing one’s homework (the art history assignment that was completed through invited comments on a social website – collaboration or sneakily getting others to do the work for you?), the comment from Sean Parker – “it might not be good business but it pissed a lot of people off”, and the copyright comment – if you make a chair do you then have to share your profits with everyone who ever made a chair?

Yes, it wasn’t a positive feel-good movie but it kept my attention the entire time.  It was a movie that I wanted to come away and have a conversation about, a movie to think about.


Gender (in)equality

There is a new World Economic Forum report on gender imbalances. Yes, this looks like another of these regular reports to tell us what we’ve observed in our day-to-day anyhow.  These reports will continue to make regular appearances as long as the gender gap persists. Unfortunately, I don’t expect a shortages of them for quite some time yet.

There is some interesting content from the WEF report but it requires careful reading to see the full picture.  The results are presented as relative rankings.  So, we might be close to gender equality on a category but yet achieve a low ranking because other countries are even closer.

  • Actually, we in Ireland are not doing too badly at all. We lie in 6th position (out of 130+ countries) for gender equality, behind Iceland, Finland, Norway, Sweden and New Zealand. Nonetheless, it is all relative. The differential statistic is 77.7% suggesting there is still a 22;3% gap.
  • It’s likely that the Marys are pushing up our rankings.  Having a current female President and a recent female President of the country helps. The (albeit few) high-ranking female TDs also helps, .  Indeed, the ranking scores for political empowerment tally with the overall scores. We lie in 7th position with many of the same countries ahead of us. Yet, we fall woefully short of equality with 14 female to 86 male members of parliament.
  • In terms of educational achievement, we are doing so well here in Ireland that we have a (equal with several other countries) top ranking. The analyses that fill the newspapers when the junior and leaving cert results come out tally with this. However, we are only ranked 25th when it comes to economic participation, and we have a scary 89 ranking on health.   Having said that it’s worth noting that the health category is measured on female/male birth ratios and on mortality age. Neither are problematic in Ireland.
  • The only place where women seem to outdo men in the various categories and sub-categories is enrollment in tertiary education. Yet, I can’t help but wonder what this means when all these wonderful females complete their education. They / we don’t seem to be making to the higher echelons. Women dominate the lower levels of government and business while men dominate the upper levels. How come?  What skills are men bringing to the table that enables them to climb that ladder and seemingly seep through glass ceilings by osmosis while women have to take hammers to it and only make a dent?  Is there something missing in education and training that facilitates this? Or is it simply down to practicalities like childcare (after all, guys simply cannot to the 9 months thing and all that goes with it) or is it more subtle in terms of social pressures?
  • The pay gap is arguably the gap that has closed most in recent years with women catching up with their male counterparts in terms of being paid for an equal days work. Yet, the very thought that any 2 people are paid differently for equal work is bizarre.  It’s a safe guess that this a problem within genders as well as between genders.  How many men out there work as hard and as well as the person in the next desk/office to them and yet get paid less?

The stats here go from 2006 to 2010 inc.I can’t help but wonder what the next set will throw up. Will we ever close that gap completely?




Discovering the global digital life

Discover Digital Life” has published the output of what they claim to be the largest survey of online trends on a global scale.  They make for interesting reading.

First of all, the classification – which are you?

The problem with these categories is that no-one ever completely fits any one of them.  For example, I doubt if I am a prolific enough mobile user to be considered an Influencer.  I don’t consider myself new to the Internet (Aspirers) and I’m a Functionalist either. I have some characteristics of Communicators, Knowledge-seekers, and Networkers even if I don’t meet all their criteria.

Interestingly, males dominate the knowledge-seeking and females dominate the networking category. How does that fit with the stereotypes of males / female behaviour?

As to what people get up to online, the activities seem to make sense.

How highly might you rate yourself on these?  I do some of all. The internet seems to be my first port-of-call these days for many things. On the occasional instances where it isn’t….. e.g. turning up at the cinema to see The Social Network to find it booked out….. I wonder why I didn’t book it online beforehand.

Respondents spent an average of 4.6 hours every week being sociable.  This is surprisingly low. Even with full time jobs, I reckon that there are plenty folk who spend this amount of time per day.  It’s likely that there are many semi-dormant social networking accounts. Internet marketers can take heart from the fact that noticeably more people seem to be “actively looking for brands” when online than those who are actively avoiding brands. Yet, marketers need to be careful about how they put their brand across. Online consumers can and will click away if they feel they are being preached to by branders.

What’s really interesting about the study is the cross country comparisons. They are not all intuitively guessable.  For example, the countries having the highest % of people engaging on the net are Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and the lowest are Denmark and Indonesia. I didn’t expect the Danes to be in that category. Turkey, Thailand and Malaysia score highly on the social networking & connecting category. Turkey is also tops for knowledge & education as well as for online gaming. Vietnam, Hong Kong and South Korea are scoring highly in several categories.  Asia seems to be surpassing Europe and America in many of these categories of activity.  We clearly need to get our act together in Europe.

It seems that we in Europe don’t see online activities as all that important. For example, 50% of South Africans consider social networking as important while only 24% of Uk respondents feel the same way. The Americans and Europe practically disappear off the world map in terms of the importance of online multimedia / entertainment. Only 1% of UK residents rate multimedia / entertainment as important while 10% of Vietnamese do. The average Malysian has 233 online friends while the average German has 75.  While there may be local / cultural differences as to what a friend is, the trend is clear.

We in Europe simply are not as serious about the internet as our Eastern friends.  This has serious implications for online business and social life, as well as innovations and developments in these areas. If these trends continue we are likely to slip even further behind – certainly not a good thing.

“Do we have to, like, learn this?”

That was a question I received from a first year student during the week.  It didn’t inspire me with confidence and made me wonder about the concept of learning this 18-year old has built up in his 18 years.

A conversation ensued emphasising the need to understand the meaning of the material, questioning it in a constructive way, forming opinions and acquiring evidence to prove or disprove these opinions.  The student’s response: “so, we don’t have to, like, learn it then?”.  I left the conversation more perplexed then the student.  What is learning?  Students have enough new concepts, ideas, policies and procedures to grapple with as they begin third level education.  Having to revise what they understand by the very term learning shouldn’t have to be added to the list.

A movement from rote learning to concept understanding is not easy. What other changes might new students expect?

US News have 5 suggestions and “parents tips on how they can set their child on the path to success at college”.  Oh dear.  Starting college is a big step into adulthood.  It’s the perfect time for parents to let go the apron strings and see their offspring as adults. Continuing to treat them as children at this crucial stage in their young lives is not helpful at all.

Reference to “kid” throughout the article is a shame because the advice is actually quite good:

  1. 1. Cutting classes: don’t do it. Good advice.  It’s rare for students to do well if they don’t attend classes.
  2. Do what’s prescribed and no more: Good advice. Taking 6 subjects when 5 is the recommended number is stretching resources (particularly time) too far.  The study / life balance takes a hit. The very important personal development from the college experience will not be optimised.
  3. Take social media in moderation: Good advice.  If a half-hour Facebook hit before heading to college settles the mind for the day, then it’s a good idea.  If that half-hour turns into 5 hours…..
  4. Why put off till tomorrow what can be done today: Good advice. You never know what’s going to happen tomorrow. You never know how long a task will take.
  5. If you need help ask for it: there is nothing more frustrating for a lecturer than to hear “I didn’t understand the assignment”…. after the event when the grade has been given.

To use Project Management speak, ‘creep’ happens slowly.  Slipping behind gradually is something to watch out for because it’s not always easy to spot. A missed class today can easily become a missed assignment deadline a short few weeks later, leading to a failed subject.  Quite often, the slippage start/ acceleration can be offset by a quick email or a short meeting with the lecturer.

Simply put: talk to us. We actually do want to help.  We might not always be able to help but if we don’t know help is needed then the chances are you won’t receive any.