Links on the Margins — June 26th
eBay going after bloggers, Anglicizing names, a Father's Day Twitter reply
Hi! Can here! What a week, right? But then, you could probably say that about the week before. Or the week before that? Not sure about the week before that week, but given that I have no recollection of what has happened in the months of June, May, April and most of March outside the Black Lives Matter movements, it’s hard to say. 2020, amirite?
Anyway. This week, we got a bunch of links for you today. The highlight is obviously the utterly bizarre eBay story (you just have to read it) but we also have head scratchers about diversity and inclusion, fintech apps, anglicizing non-English names (a topic near and dear to my heart, and the seed for most of my Twitter jokes), and an amazing Twitter thread.
Wall Street Journal
Well…this is awkward. I wouldn’t call Margins particularly a tech criticism outlet, but there are some recurring antagonists in our writing and they do happen to be tech companies. So, reading about the lengths multiple executives at eBay go to intimidate a couple people who are critical of the company was quite the trip. I am not saying I am worried, but I am...intrigued? Who has so much time on their hands to send a bunch of people things like bloodied pig masks, list their phone numbers on swinger sites and such? Anyway…if anyone from Facebook or Amazon would like to send us something, please don’t.
Annalee on The Bias
What could ever be wrong about assuming good intent? It feels warm and fuzzy. It pays homage, in a way, to the presumption of innocence till proven guilty. People are generally good, the thinking goes, and often most conflict arises from misunderstanding more so than people acting with malintent. This was one of those pieces that opened my eyes to the problem with how defaulting to assuming good intent puts the onus on the victim, who is probably victimized from the same thing over and over again.
As a community leader, you don’t want to build spaces where people react calmly to getting their foot stepped on for the millionth time. You want to build spaces where people can trust that they are safe from being stepped on. To do that, you need to address the system of behavior that makes marginalized people feel unwelcome, rather than treating each instance of that behavior as a personal conflict that has occurred in isolation.
The Financial Times
Here in the US, we decided to throw our hands in the air about the coronavirus response, but it clearly didn’t need to be this way. South Korea shows how a competent authority paired with a society that values the collective as much as the individual could easily prevent hundreds of thousands deaths here. This is a good, comprehensive read from the Financial Times about how the country handled the crisis, and how much there is still to do. Reading this, the only thing I could think of was how unlikely we’ll ever get there. Sigh. Happy Friday!
Conceding that there have been setbacks, Seoul’s mayor believes the city is demonstrating to the world that economic reopening can only be achieved alongside stringent prevention and containment measures, as well as the humility to pivot, backtrack and admit mistakes.
Rest of World
I don’t remember the last time I set foot in a bank branch. Definitely not ever since the lockdowns, but also before that. It’s all apps now. On its face, that sounds like a good thing. Wouldn’t you rather press a few buttons to get a loan, instead of having to take a few hours of your day, dealing with multiple people, filing unnecessary paperwork? I mean, Vonnegut disagrees, but you know, to each his own. But, what happens when your financial institution, which now lives as an app on your phone, has access to everything else on your phone too, including your contacts? What if, say, your bank decided to shame you into paying your loans by airing your dirty laundry to your friends and family?
Some said this felt as if a belligerent stranger had walked into their living room and started shaking them down for money. A user identifying herself as Clare Wambui claimed in the Google Play comments section that she had been repeatedly contacted about an unpaid loan by representatives who used “abusive and threatening” language and increased her interest rates. “I wish I knew where your offices are [so] I [could] come call you those names you call your clients,” she added.
People always cite the VC funding model for turning every tech company into a growth-marketing machine that occasionally ships products. Facebook, however, is special in both treating growth as a fundamental business function, and then evangelizing across the entire industry. It’s just mesmerizing to watch a young Zuckerberg grow old while talking about nothing but numbers and growth.
This reply. It took me a second.
Lisa Lucas is the daughter of Reggie Lucas, a famous songwriter and producer (most famous for his work with Madonna). He died a few years ago, and she tweeted about missing him. I’ve heard the song Never Knew Love Like This Before hundreds of times (you can’t forget that schmaltzy organ intro). I always assumed it was a woman singing about romantic love.
Lisa Lucas’s mom, with just a few words forever changed how I think of this song. And, as a father, it makes so much sense and is so absolutely damn perfect and I’ve been listening to that song on repeat all week.
Note - I am still media-tech-cynical [OK, maybe we are a bit cynical about tech — Can] enough that my first thing was to check whether they were both professional social media influencer-types, which would convince me this was some kind of elaborate setup. They’re not.
The New York Times
When an Indian person hears how I pronounce my name, they’re usually confused. Over the years of growing up in suburban America I evolved it into “Ron-John” versus the original Indian pronunciation that’s more a “ruhn-juhn” (the pronouncenames.com entry is surprisingly accurate).
It gets even more complicated because all the Indian people (including my family) I grew up around call me the nickname Ronnie. For most of my life, I almost never heard the “proper” pronunciation. I’ve even been corrected about my own name by Indian people, which brings up a weird infinite loop around who’s appropriating who. The topic of Anglicizing names has been a pretty central thing in my life. Certainly for my co-host Can as well. [Yes! — Can]
When I first read this NYT piece, I felt kind of bad for the professor involved. Then I read the emails he sent to the student. Oof.
Leigh Stein on Medium
The past decade has felt like a corporate social justice mullet. Bold, world-saving proclamations in the front, with business-as-usual, maintaining entrenched and privileged power structures in the back. I’ve written about how Silicon Valley-speak has been a major driver of the model, and WeWork was always my poster child for this style of business communications strategy.
I loved this piece from Leigh Stein on the end of the Sheryl Sandberg-ian style of neoliberal, lip-service social justice (focusing mostly on feminism, but diving deep into issues of race as well):
On June 1, The Wing announced a $200,000 donation to three racial justice organizations. That same day, as reported by the New York Times, the company told staff members that it had run out of funds in its Employee Relief Fund and couldn’t offer any more one-time assistance grants of $500. The response online was variations on a theme: performative AF.
Well, that pizza newsletter ain’t quite done yet.
This was a fun conversation with a bunch of NYT folks as part of an Article Club event series they host.