Drew's Reviews > The Boy Kings: A Journey into the Heart of the Social Network

The Boy Kings by Katherine Losse
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's review
Sep 11, 12

bookshelves: biography, ebook
Read from August 27 to September 10, 2012

Katherine Losse's "The Boy Kings" is an interesting inside look at the early culture at Facebook, especially from the grunt level as opposed to the higher echelons. She delves into how technical vs nontechnical people were treated at the office, something I've seen firsthand during my years in the computer science field. She also exposes the sexism she had to face, both passive (exclusion from male-dominated field) and active (hitting on her and outright harassment).

Her thoughts on the cult-like reaction to her leaving Facebook, as though she was betraying a higher cause, are insightful. She deftly exposes the faux anger of the rich top executives, "Don’t they know this is just business—a huge, personal business, but business nonetheless? And, who was Sheryl [Sandberg, the COO], with her hundreds of millions of dollars, to begrudge a woman her first financial independence? I had worked for that stock, and now I needed it, because, unlike Mark and Sheryl, I was not already a multimillionaire. What for them was just extra, expendable wealth was, for me, money to live on. Whatever I was going to reap from my years at Facebook and my accumulated stock, Sheryl would reap more by a factor of millions. But, for them, I supposed, this really was by now all just a game, and they could afford to overlook any financial necessities, since they had bypassed the need for such considerations many millions of dollars ago" (p. 223). Zuckerberg's pettiness shines in his final appearance in the book, after he knows the author is leaving. "As a parting shot, Mark told his assistant to move my desk to another floor, removing me from his exalted engineering department, even though he knew my last day would only be weeks later" (p. 225).

She really hates Baltimore, where she went to Johns Hopkins, except for the sole lens she uses to view the world: the TV show "The Wire." It's interesting to read a book about the negative side of the virtual world and the lack of living in reality when the author herself views the world through such a distortion field. I was shocked to read that "Baltimore is maybe the least technically advanced, most tragically human place in America. Kids in Baltimore didn’t hack or have computers; hacking for them meant hanging wires from window to window to poach electricity from the house across the way" (p. 56). This isn't the Baltimore I know, and certainly wasn't the high-tech Baltimore that came into existence in the 1990s and 2000s.

She also seems to see herself as some arbiter of cool. She knows fashion and "real music" (p. 96) that her tech counterparts can't fathom. They know bits but she knows culture. She's very Euro/US-centric, portraying Japan as exotic and other (p. 158) while Rome and California are much more comfortable. She said she wanted to change the world while she was at Facebook, and that salary was incidental (p. 139). However, she constantly talks about money, whether it is how much more the technical staff are paid or how cool it is to have an expense account and spend more on one trip that she made the previous year in salary. I think she's right to point out the huge pay discrepancy, but reading her thoughts over time it seems that her main push was not fair pay but wanting to make more money and gain status through it.

Turning back to the positive, she makes some excellent observations:

* "What was the benefit of doing everything in public?" [Introduction]

* "This is what an American private university is, not an education so much as a pedigree, a mark of distinction" (p. 1)

* "But just as Facebook makes it possible to do things faster, more efficiently, more cheaply, it makes it possible to hurt people faster, more efficiently, with less cost to themselves" (p.93)

* "I left the dunes feeling certain that life was still meant to be lived, not continuously filmed, mediated, and watched from afar" (p. 103)

* "In the logic of our business, to comment on a friend’s post was better than speaking to them, because everyone saw it. Everyone wanted to see everything" (p.174). This observation was so depressing for me.

Finally, I must have known in the back of my head, but it's a little unnerving to read that the staff at Facebook have access to all your information, be it a wall post, private message, or whatever. I feel, as I'm sure some others do, as though it's a private community and that there is no overlord that sees all, just those I interact with. Facebook is a community, but not the same as a real-life community. That's one of the things the author was very good about getting across to the reader.

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