Kate Losse was a grad school refugee when she joined Facebook as employee #51 in 2005. Hired to answer user questions such as “What is a poke?” and “Why can’t I access my ex-girlfriend’s profile?” her early days at the company were characterized by a sense of camaraderie, promise, and ambition: Here was a group of scrappy young upstarts on a mission to rock Silicon Valley and change the world.
Over time, this sense of mission became so intense that working for Facebook felt like more than just a job; it implied a wholehearted dedication to “the cause.” Employees were incentivized to live within one mile of the office, summers were spent carousing at the company pool house, and female employees were told to wear T-shirts with founder Mark Zuckerberg’s profile picture on his birthday. Losse started to wonder what this new medium meant for real-life relationships: Would Facebook improve our social interactions? Or would we all just adapt our behavior to the habits and rules of these brilliant but socially awkward Internet savants who have become today’s youngest power players? Increasingly skeptical, Losse graduated from customer service to the internationalization team—tasked with rolling out Facebook to the rest of the world— finally landing a seat right outside Zuckerberg’s office as his personal ghostwriter, the voice of the boy king.
This book takes us for the first time into the heart of this fast-growing information empire, inviting us to high-level meetings with Zuckerberg; lifting the veil on long nights of relentless hacking and trolling; taking us behind the scenes of raucous company parties; and introducing us to the personalities, values, and secret ambitions of the floppy-haired boy wonders who are redefining the way we live, love, and work. By revealing here what’s really driving both the business and the culture of the social network, Losse answers the biggest question of all: What kind of world is Facebook trying to build, and is it the world we want to live in?
What drew me to this book? Let's see...a recent English major grad joins the fledgling customer support team for a social network that just reached 5 million users? Sound familiar, Kara?
Though I could relate to some of the customer support stories, that's pretty much where the similarities end. Losse depicts Facebook as a fairly blatant [24-year-old] Old Boys Club, complete with graffiti of large-breasted women on the walls and a caste system based on technical knowledge. As one engineer described it in the book, "everyone upstairs [not on the tech floor] is dumb". Ouch. She definitely wasn't afraid to draw attention to the "Dark Side of Facebook". I wonder how true-to-life these descriptions are.
In any case, the narrative does a fair job of charting the arc of her feelings about the enterprise over time. In the beginning of the story, there were definitely some yawn moments. Losse seemed to have drank the Kool Aid, to put it simply. "Facebook is changing the world this way", "it's also revolutionary in that way", etc etc. The story zigzags between casual narration of events and grandiose observations like "it was an early moment of youthful alacrity in a company's inexorable rise to power". And such. I found myself pretty bored with the tired meditations on how technology distances us from our friends and family. Plebeian as I am, I wasn't interested in the (probably necessary) analysis or personal anecdotes. I wanted to hear the Juice. What is Mark Zuckerberg like? How are decisions made on how to change the product? And, being a dork, what were the various customer support issues and how were they handled??
I didn't get many answers, but I did find the end to be more interesting, especially as she got promoted in the company.
All in all, definitely some insights, but not exactly what I was looking for.
More like 2.5 stars. I really was hoping for a nuanced examination of Facebook and in particular Mark Zuckerberg. Losse had the ability to write so much more. Perhaps she was restrained by contracts she had signed, but this book largely fails. She attempts to write a anthropological and sociological exposé on Facebook, using her Johns Hopkins degree(which she never lets you forget she has) but as an English MA, she is ill-equipped to do a real analysis. Instead we get stories, with ill placed theories that disrupt the flow of her writing. And she uses many theories in the wrong context. Plus she wants you to feel bad for her that as a Customer Service Rep she only made $20 an hour. Booho. What Losse fails to recognize is that she is part of the imperialistic, white washed, upper middle class, well-educated, american apparel wearing, coachella attending, daft punk listening group of workers at Facebook. She was not an outsider. And now I suspect she is fairly well off after selling her facebook stocks before the IPO.
Today I joined in for #24hourbooclub's distributed reading experiment to read Katherine Losse's The Boy Kings. It was a fun day, and I always enjoy the shared reading experience and the excuse to power through because I know others are there with me doing it to. Here are some immediate quick thoughts, post-run contemplation.
Reading Losse’s opening introduction to her discovery of Facebook, I was immediately taken back to my Freshman dorm room and the Dell desktop on which I first read about and signed up for Facebook, in early February 2004. Her descriptions of the social groups that flourished and reflected real social structures on campus reminded me how useful Facebook once was—it really did run parallel to my college social life (rather than an online/offline dualism). But it reiterated to me how little value Facebook, or rather, its active social network, now offers me.
I was shocked by a few insider details from the early days, like customer support actually having access to complete profiles through a shared master password (it’s not just machines collecting our data, it was legible to real, live humans popping in and out of our profiles when needed). And the fact that “dark profiles” existed for those who were pictured but not yet on Facebook was startling, but not exactly surprising.
Losse does a great job taking The Boy Kings metaphor through the book, illustrating in their own language the terms of war, of power, of creation, of “conquering” and the “bunker” offices that justify the modern Napoleon comparisons. And Losse acknowledges that she herself was part of a certain colonialism, taking Facebook world wide as internationalization manager.
The most telling piece for me was Losse’s recollection of Zuckerberg’s ideological manifesto blog post series that never came to fruition. The proposed topic list indicates the larger systemic ideological problem in the Valley:
“Revolutions and giving people the power to share; openness as a force in our generation; moving from countries to companies; everyone becoming developers and how we support that; net-native generation of companies; young people building companies; purpose-driven companies; starting Facebook as a small project and big theory.”
These unaccounted for positions, ways that our technological leaders see the world go unexplained, unarticulated, and therefore often unquestioned. But they remain in the background. This scene is breaking point for Losse, where she falls out with Zuckerberg, and perhaps out of Facebook’s spell. And she falls far enough to write this book. But not far enough to pick apart the problems inherent in these statements. It’s not enough to just acknowledge these philosophical stances as problematic, hinting at how “countries to companies” suggests a “nouveau totalitarianism.” She couldn’t write in favor of them, building their case as Zuckerberg’s ghost writer, but maybe she could have explored here at greater length what was so troubling to her about these stances. She kind of just told it like it was, as a personal account of an interaction, rather than a critique.
And that’s where Losse’s weakness is made clear. She’s a former English PhD, not a sociologist or an anthropologist, really. So she tells her story, and she observes from the inside, but she doesn’t tell us what it means. And while leaves open subtle interpretations for a sympathetic audience, it prevents her message from reaching those it could most influence, like Zuckerberg himself.
I read between the lines for hints of social theory material, and they are there, but they are subtle. And perhaps that’s a strength of a mass market approach, making her argument more relatable skating over references to Baudrillard, but talking about power in the context of The Wire, rather than political philosophy. But it’s not enough to just state that “You were like Peggy on Mad Men.” She’s a inside enough to hear Zuckerberg’s philosophy, outside enough to know there’s something fishy, but not outside enough to take it further.
I found myself wondering about the line between humanist and feminist concerns in the Silicon Valley culture critique. Sure, there’s misogyny to address in a corporate world run by brogrammers and in talking about systems that support “looking for pictures of women,” but it seems like Losse’s issues were just as focused on the automation of human life, turning social problems into information problems: “In more ways than one, I was like the humanist troll to the company’s obsession with technologizing everything.” I wonder what is lost when feminist concerns and humanist concerns are conflated in silicon critiques.
[Paragraph added after sleeping on this.] But perhaps it is not fair to demand more of Losse. Perhaps I ought to grant her more epistemological charity (as Sheila Jasanoff encourages). Her tale is a personal one, a memoir. And I do believe that personal narratives make the stakes of criticizing technological systems that are a part of our everyday lives that much more visceral, more human than an abstract, disembodied, academic critique.
I think this book is doing something very important, critiquing the assumptions and ideologies of the technologist who are shaping our world from the inside out.
I read the book on my iPad from 10 AM to roughly 3:30 PM on Sunday in a marathon reading for #24hourbookclub, eager to finish before the rest of my weekend plans took over. I tweeted a few key quotes, and checked in on the #24hourbookclub conversation between chapters.
Oh, my. This was not a pleasurable read. Losse presents herself to the reader as a disinterested outsider, as if she went into this venture ("journey into the heart" of Facebook) with eyes wide open and almost as an undercover consumer advocate of some kind. Of course she was just young, out of work with an english graduate degree, and needed a job. The idea to write about her experiences apparently didn't occur to her until toward the end of her tenure in the boy empire.
And of course the subject matter is dismaying, to say the least. Although Losse obviously drank the Kool-Aid for several years, she does present the more egregious behavior to us with an adequately critical eye, not letting the Mad Men-esque atmosphere go by without appropriate disparagement.
I was mostly disappointed because I expected more from this book, and more from Losse. Her pseudo-analysis of "what it all means" could have been so much better, with her firsthand experience. It reads more like a one-day-we-did-this, then-we-did-this daily journal than an examination of the implications of our online behavior for wider society. It could have been so much better! Those higher-level connections just don't break through--there are occasional breaks in the cloudy thinking, but the sun never really shines through. Maybe when Losse is a little older?
Still, there were sections I found interesting:
"I shared my concerns about the bluntness of News Feed...that it wasn't just telling me things quickly but telling me things I typically wouldn't know about...None of the stories were removed. I wondered, then, if News Feed and the future of Facebook would be built on the model of how social cohesion works--what is comfortable and relevant to you and what isn't--or if it would be indifferent to etiquette and sensitivity. It turned out to be the latter, and I'm not sure Mark knew the difference. To him and many of the engineers, it seemed, more data is always good, regardless of how you get it. Social graces--and privacy and psychological well-being, for that matter--are just obstacles in the way of having more information." (43)
Losse presents herself as sticking up for the few ladies in the company, but then there are passages like this one: "I led the boys past Agent Provocateur with a tinge of longing that told me that in my heart what I really wanted was a boyfriend who would take me to Vegas and buy me a lingerie set that I could wear because I would know he loved me, and it would be okay to be naked, vulnerable in front of him." (70)
"when the product team created an experimental feature called dark profiles in fall 2006, nobody even flinched. This product created hidden profiles for people who were not yet Facebook users but whose photographs had been tagged on the site. It reminds me now of the way members of the Mormon church convert dead people, following the logic that if they had known about Mormonism when they were alive, they would have been believers. Facebook was our religion and we believed everyone should be a member, even if they hadn't consented yet." (88)
"Why is this kind of immediate sharing of our most mundane moments with distant friends even a thing that is happening? The answer to this question, as with all the things that Facebook made over the years, was that the sharing was happening because it could. If it could be built, it must be, and we must be, if not the first, then the biggest builders of this and every other thing. This was the code of the valley." (113)
"When I first started working at Facebook, I wanted to believe that my experience there could have been a love story. That is, I thought, in some sense, that Facebook could be what we all--the employees, the users--sometimes wanted: A network through which we could connect and love each other more readily and more easily and with more permanence, a place in which we could feel more authentically ourselves..." (139)
"Even in the office, where I would spend six or more hours a day, I felt more visible online than off. People were too busy reading their screens to talk to each other...Social media is about bringing us online and asking us to play with one another in digital space. Social media then is the ultimate Internet game, played according to the rules and metrics created by the boys who make the games and write their algorithms." (205)
"I like these security guys, I thought. It seemed healthy to be hanging out with people who had fought in real wars." (217)
Where The Social Network tells the story of Facebook through the detached lens of a legal proceeding, The Boy Kings tells the story of FB through the first-person career-climb narrative of FB employee, Kate Losse. I liked the "inside story" for what it was. I also liked the personal story of a young woman out of college making it in the big boys' world all the while making fun of the big boys for their inability to stop being big boys. But, the repetitious phrasing and images and the holier-than-thou tone ruined the overall effect of the book for me.
I think Losse wanted this book - at least, in part - to be an expose of sorts, but I think she failed in that regard because what she was exposing - gender discrimination, money/power grabs, Napoleonic complexes - is nothing new in any text that discusses the American corporate world. In fact, the story was SO quintessentially American that if you had transplanted Disney for FB, not much would have been lost.
The other part of Losse's agenda with this book seemed to be a confession, an admission of guilt or sin. Or, at least, that's what I hope she's doing, for her sake - it would slightly redeem her in my view. Though she often comes off as haughty (she definitely doth protest too much) regarding her disdain for the very thing she is a part of and is capitalizing off of, Losse speaks to a problem I see widely in our culture - particularly in my own personal world - of wanting to be "in it" and "above it" at the same time. I think this is a very real issue; I just wish her tone reflected this conflict more personally. I wanted to believe that she understood the paradox of her situation, but sometimes I genuinely couldn't tell if she even got the irony of what she was saying. Overall, to me, she felt like an unreliable narrator.
I understand the magnitude that is Facebook. I get how drastically it's changed our relationships and the way that we interact with or even understand each other. More, it doesn't seem like a fad that's going away. But, there is still a REAL LIFE out there, and many people still engage in it. Losse makes it seem that we have abandoned the personal ship altogether, and maybe those like her, who are SO immersed in technology, have. But, most people know how to strike a balance, and she didn't acknowledge that at all. Her smarmy way of criticizing our hyper-digitized world - while also writing in digital language like LOL and <3 throughout the book - made me, a person who often laments the downgrading of interpersonal, real-time, face to face connection, cringe even when I wanted to agree with her. She's too often stuck on the very high horse from which she so desperately wants to get down.
Living in the bubble of Palo Alto limited Losse's capability to see anything outside of that techno-world. For example, she writes, "Real life was something everyone in my News Feed [the other people in Palo Alto] seemed relieved to leave behind, if only for the immediate reason that real life can't be owned and graphed and, as such, can't make you famous and rich." IS SHE KIDDING??? Real life can't be owned? Can't make you rich? Does she live in America? Has she seen Here Comes Honey Boo Boo? Losse seems to think that the social network is the first invention that has manipulated people, changed people's behavior, made people self-conscious, made people wealthy for doing a whole lot of nothing really.
While I get that they were doing two very different things, in the two tales of Facebook, I like the Sorkin/Fincher version much much better.
Sad. I look at FB as a fun, interesting way to stay in touch with friends.
Katherine Losse's "The Boy Kings" unfolded a story about "conquering" at any cost. A "Boys Club of Hackers and Elite Engineers from Ivy League Schools." Company before Country.........men in expensive suits waiting to invest money in the next big thing. The myth, that no one has access to our private information.....except for employees that work within the confines of FB.
So her others (including the founder) took her to writing a book and dealing in "Real Life," as a betrayal. So what! How much time do each of us really spend in front of the computer having "real conversations" with people we don't know.
We get what we give, we get a life by what we give back. The book actually made me re-evaluate what I continue to weigh about Social Media against actual social life interaction. Actually at the end of the day, aren't we evaluated by the things we do...........does it really involve the internet?
I sought this book out because I read Katherine Losse's article "Feminism's Tipping Point: Who Wins from Leaning In?" (http://www.dissentmagazine.org/online...) This article finally fleshed out just what was bothering me about "Lean In": the whole initiative seems to benefit corporations more than it benefits individual women. I had hoped this book would provide a similar level of insight to the article, but it was largely a memoir in need of an editor, with some interesting anecdotes sprinkled throughout. Still waiting for the truly great Facebook tell-all...
This is pretty fascinating stuff. I wish it'd been longer, more detailed, by which I mean MORE GOSSIP, but it's not really a tale-telling book. It's more of a meditation of her time at Facebook, how she thought and felt about it and how those thoughts and feelings changed as the company did. I mean, there are some good stories, but the focus is on her personal journey through a very strange place. Again, I wish it had been longer, but she gets a lot into 250-odd pages, and it's definitely worth reading. I'd like to pick it up again in a few months.
It was an interesting reading about things happened behind the scenes of Facebook. What i love about this book is she doesn’t really talk about all the mighty facebook but also the downside of this social networking app.
“Technology is about solving things another way; without experiencing the problems, without afterthought, without having to do much at all. Technology can do these things for you so you don’t have to. Sometimes, that can be helpful. Other times, i think that by using technology to accomplish our human goals we end up missing out.”
Was this the worst book I've ever read? It's hard to say for sure. But from the opening pages, I felt a strange tingle of excitement with the growing realization of the awfulness of it. So bad was this book that I perversely could not stop reading it. In the intro, the author makes sweeping generalizations how people her age, her generation feel about this or that. She uses her own feelings as a proxy for everyone her age group. And every gesture someone makes is loaded with greater significance about the meaning of life. The degree to which she stretches to make these observations is so cringe-worthy, I just couldn't put this thing down.
As the author climbs the ladder at Facebook, she goes from professing to being a believer in the Facebook mission, to having grave misgivings, to being a believer, to having grave misgivings. And back, and forth, and back, and forth. Sometimes all within the same page. In the end, she departs Facebook in a fit of boredom and awakening at the shallowness of the whole endeavor and the people who work there. The departure sounds somewhat harsh as related in the book, though oddly, a press release that came with the book describes it as "amicable." Though she did make a decent amount of money along the way. And got to take lots of fancy plane rides to exotic hotels. And go to Coachella. So, at least there was that.
I'm guilty of not paying attention to this book when it came out and only giving it a second look when that David Eggers book was released. This book turned out to be better than I thought, but it's not without its faults.
Written in the perspective of a woman working in customer service during the early days of Facebook, it was different from something I would usually read. Maybe I'm showing my engineering bias here, but I thought she had too big of a chip on her shoulder about being 1.) a woman in a primarily man-dominated field, and 2.) a non-engineer. She almost made it sound like you could only be one or the other -- an engineer, or a woman. Not both.
Losse's yearning to move from customer service to something more prestigious (in her eyes) is what drives most of the book. While that's not the most interesting story, I found some of the insights she had about the purpose of Facebook to various people in the company interesting.
After reading this book, I'm curious to read what someone who started in engineering from the very beginning thought about Facebook. I imagine it would me a very different story than the one Losse has written.
The overwhelming feeling I got while reading this book was that Loss suffers from being in love with the sound of her own voice, a no-no for someone like me, who went to one of the best journalism schools in the country where that bad habit was derided. Some of her insights into Facebook were indeed interesting, but Losse's experience there wasn't enough to stretch to a 200+ page book. Her attempt to fill the narrative with her observations about how technology affects the way people relate to each other in physical space is something MIT's Sherry Turkle has been researching and writing about for years.
Terrific anecdotes about working in a weird place at a weird time, with fascinating pen portraits of now very famous people behind Facebook. Loses steam at the end as she tries to draw conclusions that perhaps aren't needed. As memoir, it's very valuable.
Memoir of a woman working at Facebook 2005-2010. An inside look at how Facebook became the social media platform we know, love, & hate today. Includes much discussion of workplace culture at Facebook & in Silicon Valley in general. Losse speculates on Zuckerberg's motivations and worldview, but her account solidifies my image of him as a profit-robot. Losse's account also solidifies the view that the dissemination of spam and disinformation is a feature not a bug of facebook. The part towards the end where a parade of Russian investors (with possible mob connections) now feels very topical, introducing the possibility that the largest social media site in America was cultivated early on by Russian oligarchs and mobsters. A good read. Now I'm just waiting for a MySpace tell-all to come out.
Really good writer. Subject content was a little bland but interesting: FB life from 2005-2010 from the perspective of an insider. More about culture than actual business decisions. Easy read, finished in two days.
Overall, this was a quick read, and a fairly entertaining one. Definitely made me nostalgic for working at an early stage startup.
I do have some gripes with the book. I felt like the author kind of has a chip on her shoulder because of her background in liberal arts and her entry through a less prestigious (customer support) job. I have some of the same things in my background, but since I work more on the tech side, I guess my perspectives are a little different.
It's annoying that she can't quite seem to get some of the geek terminology she uses (especially "trolling", which she uses quite a bit in the book) quite right, not to mention the bit about running finger "from" Pine.
My bigger gripe is that she seems to conflate Facebook's fratboy / bro culture (which I've heard about, and definitely believe exists) with some more general ideas, for example implying that people on the tech side don't ever think about the human side of what they do. Also, while I sympathize with her irritation with alpha geeks to a certain extent, I think she should keep in mind the way society treats boys who aren't traditionally masculine or don't fit in early in life, and keep this in mind.
I also understand why she breaks the developers and tech folks into 3 groups for narrative reasons, and to make things fit along with her thesis a little more cleanly, but I have to imagine that, even in those early days, things were probably not quite so clear-cut.
I have definitely seen the "upstairs / downstairs" divide between non-tech folks and engineering / tech folks at places I've worked, but (and this may be because of my own biases) I still think that there are good reasons (including some which she alludes to, such as the scalability problem for "human" parts of a business like customer service) tech companies are tech-heavy. Sometimes Getting Stuff Done is more important to a business's success than careful consideration and planning of all the human implications.
A female in California inherits high-stake responsibilities and plumbs the depths of a network, feeling her way along a journey of curiosity and discovery with major implications.
This describes Oedipa Maas, the protagonist of Thomas Pynchon’s wonderful novel, “The Crying of Lot 49.”
It also describes Kate Losse, Employee #51 of Facebook. It’s no surprise that Kate Losse’s Twitter bio reads “IRL Oedipa Maas” and that she makes a handful of Pynchon references throughout the text.
It’s great that an early insider of Facebook was verbally dexterous enough to provide a compelling firsthand report of the company that has altered the technological trajectory of our generation. Losse didn’t pump out a drivel-fueled book full of vapid platitudes. I’m glad she Leaned Out from that rut, and I’m glad I typed that poor pun. Seriously, fifty years from now, I hope no-one talks about “Lean In” or the “Social Network” movie when referencing the rise of Facebook. This is the book that should be referenced to that end.
Losse’s narrative follows the rise of Facebook from her lens: she starts out resolving user support inquiries, goes on to manage the internationalization outreach for the company, and eventually writes copy for Mr. Mark Z.
Certain books have qualities and content that’d serve well those in the future, as if the work was unearthed from a time capsule. Kate Losse has written that book for us, and not only is her story timely, historical, and in many ways important, but again I must stress that it is written very well. She’s the type of writer that doesn’t, you know, need a ghostwriter. Our rising generation deserves to have the stories of our time last for future generations, and I’m glad that Losse has done the great service of telling the story about what will surely be a misunderstood era in a way that encapsulates the excitement and terrors of social networking.
I have a complicated reaction to this book. It was generally interesting and some parts were actually spot on. For example her explanation of valuation of your worth as an employee really clarified for me something I wasn't able to put into words before. However, generally I didn't feel like the book had a strong message because it tried to do too many things at once. Part of the book was trying to point out that a bunch of guys who know nothing about being social were making their tech toys and happened to take over our world and ruin true social interaction. Part of the book was about the inequality that is happening in Silicon Valley between tech workers and non-tech workers even in the same company. Part of this book is about boy "brogrammer" culture and being a woman such a place. A lot of the time though the wrong story was used to emphasize the wrong point. Some of her critiques on brogramming are actually just cirques on geek culture. More geeky woman I know use IM then even men this isn't a boys are awkward thing it's a geeky thing. Other times I felt like she was stretching to use behavior as either a contrast or an allusion to the larger role Facebook took on in our society. But somehow the idea that a bunch of young programmers making a lot of money wanted to go party in Vegas didn't illustrate to me how Facebook was systematically trying to conquer the world. It actually better illustrates how hard it would be to be a woman in such a field.
In any case, I think there is a real story here. A story about being poor, lonely, and outside the norm. And how even when working at the place that is supposed to help create social ties, the new tools for our newfound connectedness can actually lead to a greater feeling of isolation. But it's just not tied together enough in this book.
This is Katherine Losse's memoir about working at Facebook. It's a fascinating look into the personal politics and ideologies of Facebook and Silicon Valley. She is employee 51 at the company, working in customer service after seeking a change of pace following her disenchantment with the PhD in English she was pursuing. She works her way up, playing the game and buying into the mission, and eventually tops out as Mark Zuckerberg's ghost writer. Zuck, Sheryl Sandberg, Dustin Moskovitz all show up in the text and we get windows into their personalities. It's the author's detailed notes on these individuals and the growth of the company internally which serves as the key contribution of the book.
Unfortunately, the writing is a bit awkward. The personal anecdotes, glimpses of love, and social outings are all documented through the lens of how Facebook is changing how we relate, emote, and think. Her reflections and philosophizing get repetitive. I don't think her observations are necessarily inaccurate but they feel belabored in the book. She also feels compelled to explain a lot of internet culture and hacker jargon, which interrupts the flow of the story. In the end, I enjoyed the story but feel like it could have used a heavier hand in editing as it tries to be both a memoir and an ethnography, and feels a bit off center as a result.
As I started to write this, I finally paid attention to the subtitle, and thought "Perfect." The way this book is written reflects exactly that: the heart. This book is courageously and carefully written, and offers the point of view that I often wondered about. I really liked it. I also had to often pause and think of the contrast between my father's work life (going to work 8-4:30 everyday, half hour for lunch, if that, wearing a suit and a tie, shoes polished, overcoat and hat, offering respect to all his co-workers) and that of the Boy Kings. No wonder the Boy Kings have abandoned the rigidity of all that, but as this book speculates, perhaps there is something missing, something that my father and his generation had that these young men do not have, but want. I don't think that I, or the author, can exactly articulate what is missing.
In my father's wildest dreams he would not have conceived of the financial gains possible through something like Facebook, and if he was alive, I am sure he would -not- believe it. There is still hope for the Boy Kings, I guess time will tell whether or not they finally find what they are looking for.
This was an interesting read. I would actually give it 3.5 stars if I could. Katherine chronicles her five years at Facebook and the early startup years resemble the working environment portrayed in Mad Men. It is not a tell-all book by any means. It is more of a memoir of the author's life while at FB and the constant inner struggle she had to "dominate" (as Zuckerberg often said at weekly meetings) and remain a humanist while employed there. Amidst this inner struggle, Losse provides interesting anecdotes revolving around the workplace environment, the office pool house and Tahoe house, the lavish business trips she took and the odd FB employee relationships and interactions. Some portions of the book are a bit repetitive but overall gives a good picture of the ideology behind the "boys" who started the FB company, which frankly made me not like them. Overall, the book does make me evaluate the role of social media in life and it also makes me dislike the 1% percent even more.
While it was interesting to get an inside view into the early days of Facebook, I didn't care for the author's point of view. She writes with a holier than thou attitude, like she's the babysitter in a room full of children, which I found really off-putting. The fact of the matter is that she was right there in the trenches with those childish engineers, and shaped Facebook into what it is right along with them.
She plays the game for a few years, and then decides that she needs to save her soul or something equally melodramatic, so she walks away from her pile of options and becomes the noble starving writer. Woo. Hope she's enjoying that.
I care less about Mark Zuckerberg than I do Dave Eggers, which is not much. The book's unfruitful preoccupation with linearity made for flawed pacing, and otherwise felt oversimplified and impersonal. It's weird to have approached a book assuming that it would contain so much tempered bitterness and been right. With a little more narrative distance, I can see this having held weight as an insightful critique, and with less detachment, the relationships might have felt compellingly fraught. Instead, it stands the bland middle ground.
After reading this book, I went through my Facebook friend list, maybe for the time ever. It was cathartic. There were so many people that I had NO idea who they were. Delete. Goodbye. Facebook is achieving its goals, we're all addicted to our devices. How do we unplug, break the cycle? I know, ironic...as I write a review on an app to share what I've read with others.
A really fun and fascinating read about one woman's perspective of working at Facebook in its early days. Ms Losse really got me thinking about social media and all of its implications, with some great insight into the creative minds behind Facebook.
Katherine Losse's The Boy Kings claims to be a memoir written by former Facebook employee #51. Graduated from top-level liberal arts colleges with a Ph.D. in English literature, Kate navigates jobs until reaching Facebook. Initially attracted by a customer service job, she finds herself trapped in a world of tecchies and dreams of 'world domination (her words), which conflicts strongly with her liberal arts education and personal prejudice. Unable to cope, she descends into a miserable state, until progressive promotions and eventually financial independence liberate her. She stops working for Facebook and writes this book. Voila!
(I got to read The Boy Kings through a chain of recommendations: I was reading Laszlo Bock's Work Rules!, which mentioned Dave Egger's The Circle; because I have read before books that in my view Eggers plagiarized, I decided to check if others did not believe this was the case also for The Circle; this is how I reached The Boy Kings.)
Overall, a horrible read. There is little fact in this book, and lots of tormented soul. Even the title is misleading, because there seems to be little heart in the money-grabbing employee who quits as soon as the shares vest and then writes a revenge book. Very bad book, if only I could have avoided reading this!
1. Some of the critique of the tech geek seems reasonable: the early decision of how life will work, the quest for structure and algorithm, the belief in tech as the ultimate defense of reason, etc. (Negative here: the author calls this critique analysis, but it is always negative and devoid of constructive advice).
2. "The only thing more powerful than celebrity is to own the tool that makes it" (Loc. 1399).
3. Surprisingly reasonable insight into her own state of mind appears from place to place, such as "I hate Judge-book, I hate rankings, I hate algorithms, I thought, in a moment of total rage at everything—the company, these boys—that was near, but also far beyond my control." followed by "I just wanted to be happy and loved for who I was" (Loc. 1870); and "As much as I had once made fun of the Facebook boys for staring at their phones more often than they looked up, I had become one of them." (Loc. 2122). Because it contrasts so much with the (willing?) hypocrisy, it makes the latter so much more difficult to palate.
4. The author does have a few humble moments, such as "His friend wanted to come to Coachella but couldn’t afford it, and I was reminded how lucky I was that Dustin gave me his ticket." (Loc. 1622) Better than nothing, but so very rare.
5. She identifies the true issues early Facebook employees had, relative to top talent brought in later: "Chamath was young, brash, and masculine in style but, unlike most Facebook engineers, he had experience managing a company." (Loc. 1965). Unfortunately, this happens two-thirds into the book. Another, about how Facebook had "compartmentalized just like in the American institutions we had wanted to leave behind.", appears three-quarters into the book.
6. Some pieces of very good text, such as "Sometimes, that year, I got a sick feeling in my stomach that I didn’t want this world in which we are all ranked virtually, by virtual strangers, on the basis of popularity and appearance. Even worse, I felt like I might not have a choice in the matter." (Loc. 1779) or, simply, "It was the Normandy of technology wars" (Loc. 2150).
7. In the end, she understands her role at this company: "Lol, I thought. That was a good description of my entire job. I was only important because he [n.b. Mark Zuckerberg] is." (Loc. 2869)
Unfortunately, the ugly things are overwhelming:
1. The first quarter of the book reads like an ugly attack of a desperate person on a former lover. Very, very poor manners, style, and credibility. She hates her perspectives in life. She hates Baltimore. She hates all men using AOL, whom she believes are all out to seduce and abandon her. She hates Johns Hopkins. She hates her first job. She hates male employees at Facebook, whom she decides are immature (she uses "juvenile") and entitled (wannabe kings). etc. Some of these aspects reappear througout the book, as if sprinkled by a careful copy-editor.
2. There is little in the aspects criticized in this book that is specific to Silicon Valley. The critique that Silicon Valley tries to present itself as different from the rest of the dog-eat-dog US economy is valid. In contrast, intense competition, unequal pay for unequal value created for the company, courting of superstars, much more relaxed workplaces, increased technology solutionism (for a much better account, read To Save Everything, Click Here: The Folly of Technological Solutionism), etc., are all general mores of the modern economy. We can criticize them, but not ascribe them exclusively to the Silicon Valley.
3. The feminism is here taken to levels where it acts as clear sexism. The negative traits are masculine. The negative examples involve exclusively men. Generalizations from single examples abound. As a minority student and then employee often at the receiving end of generalizations, I cringe at this approach.
4. There is much that points out that the author is often driven by self-interest, rather than concern for other women. Her condescending remarks towards the other customer support personnel of identical gender. Sheryl Sandberg and the author's neutral reaction to her, even when the conditions for women improve markedly at Facebook as a result of Sheryl's work. Also, after so much blaming towards the others (in particular of of being "boy kings"), she gets "a heady feeling" and talks about being "queen of the world", simply because she was able to claim the email address Kate@facebook.com. She is particularly happy that no other Kate will match her singularity, "like a new country in which I was the only Kate there, queen of a world in which every other Kate would be derived from my archetype". What a self-aggrandizing person!
5. The writing abounds in rhetorical tricks. For example, early on, she describes the five high-visibility hires from the Seattle areas as the "gang of five", then goes on to say that they looked like a fraternity, only to then go to great lengths to describe how malign fraternities are in general. This collocation leads the reader to associate the negative aspects to the five hires. Convicting by association and without proof is what we call bigotry. (Also, sororities are excluded from the conversation.) As a second example, she discusses how the engineers were sexual predators, then gives a personal example involving a guy from sales. Sexual harassment is very serious, but so are vile words that ruin collective reputations.
6. That the author hates tech is thinly veiled, but only stated clearly at the end. She also despises engineers, which is perhaps worse, and collides with her so much touted humanity. "I didn’t want to live in a world where I appeared only for a bunch of engineers to judge me and shoo me away." (Loc. 1859) is but one example.
7. The inconsistency in her positions begs questions of ethical writing. She may think of herself as an ethical person, but cheats on her first job and thinks it's ok because they don't pay her much; she first sells her shares and then discusses the issue with Facebook, because "she worked for it". The author first complains engineers spend too little time with her (because they love tech and the virtual, see?), then expresses her happiness to be alone. The author first complains about how she does not care about being pretty, then remarks "What would happen to me? I wondered. Was I pretty enough to make it past the bouncers?" (Loc. 1856). etc.
8. Her confused relationship with Thrax deserves special mention. He is introduced as a ghostly white hero, and then plays a sometimes on sometimes off role throughout the book. He acts conveniently for her and very out of character for the hero he is in the rest of the book "we stopped short of a kiss. “I can’t have a relationship story show up in News Feed,” he explained". When they finally have sexual contact (that does not seem like making love), it is because she has agreed to temporarily submit. The story goes on and on, tormented.
9. The author indicates to have never understood her role at Facebook, which was low in value relative to tech and top management positions. All the complaints derived from it sound hypocritical, because in the end she enjoys her relative privilege and position. For a lightweight example, she wants to change the world, but does not complain when she gets a position in which she can afford skipping days of work or doing much at all ("These were recent roles that Mark had invented, jobs that were not so much about doing things as being something" (Loc. 2595)). Hypocrisy (or just flip-flopping) also appears related to her desire to be valued for herself, when her actions were to shut down personal communication... unless it suited her better. "I liked my autonomy, my privacy, the fact that I was different from everyone else—a unique individual." (Loc. 2685) contradicts with "I was only important because he [n.b. Mark Zuckerberg] is." (Loc. 2869)
10. The authors has never understood how her complaints about money seem to anyone who is not a rich person. She mentions early "my hack: to live as richly as possible with next to nothing" (Loc. 841), when she was paid over 20$/hour at Facebook; at the same time, people in the same region could not get a decent minimal wage, and others were getting by or nearly starving in San Fran; not to mention an entire world of hunger, outside the US. She stops mentioning the salary once it has become sufficiently high.
etc. etc. etc.
In the end, I was left wondering if the author has ever considered that:
1. If she would have been good enough to stay in the academia, the engineers in the building would have been the marginalized and little appreciated employees.
2. If she was better at her skills, say in the excellent class, she would have been recruited for a better, more visible position. See Sheryl Sandberg.
3. The balanced payment approach proposed by her is already used in many places in the US academia, and in many places in the world, both industry and academia. Many countries in Europe make payment balanced through pressure from a trade union. Maybe she would have been happier in those places. In contrast, fast-growing startups, banks, and many other competitive industries pay in the US using a very imbalanced pay structure, see for example Work Rules! for imbalances in payment at Google (and the reasoning behind it).