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Problems with the increasing involvement of technology companies in education

There are four main problems of the increasing role of large technology companies in education, all of which stem from the incompatibility of the values of Silicon Valley Digital Capitalism and Public Education:

  1. The algorithmic approach to education cannot take into account the social and moral complexities of real world education.
  2. The idea of ‘learning through failure’ is incompatible with supporting every child to develop
  3. The focus on individualized entrepreneurialism may be incompatible with ideals of social cohesion, justice and equality of opportunity.
  4. The influence of technology companies in public education undermines the democratic process.

Technology companies education.png

Challenging the Benefits of Commercial Education

Large technology companies and their enthusiasts have made grand claims about both the problems of traditional public education and the potential benefits of disrupting business as usual through digital innovations such as MOOCs.

However, many of the technological disruptions of the last decade have simply failed to deliver positive results – in short, they have promised much but delivered far less.

The tech companies may well blame public education officials for failing to embrace their technologies (and/ or ideologies), however Neil Selwyn argues that tit is more a case of technology companies failing to ‘get’ public education, and the enormous complexities which surround the realities of educating people.

Below I summarize four ways in which the culture of technology firms are incompatible with the culture of public education, as identified by Selwyn (2016)

The problem of viewing education as a ‘computational project’

Innovations such as Coursera, Thiel Fellowships etc. tend to see education as a discrete computational project, that is a set of variables which can be manipulated and programmed so as to avoid any bugs or inefficiencies.

The problem with this ‘reductive approach’ is that education rarely contains variables that can be adjusted or manipulated to achieve optimal cause and effect – in reality, the social complexities of the real-world contexts in which learning takes place cannot easily be included in algorithmic models designed to make learning ‘more efficient’.

Similarly, it is questionable whether a computer can be programmed effectively to answer moral questions about the content of what a student, or students should be learning more generally.

The problem of ‘learning through failure’ 

In the Silicon Valley world of hi-tech start-ups, it is expected that the vast majority will fail, but the handful that survive will go on to be game-changers.

However, this ‘fail fast, fail often’ approach does not necessarily translate well into education, as the start-ups will be gambling with the futures of individual students, schools, or even districts… As Bill Gates reflected on his Foundations forays into education reform… ‘it would be great if our education stuff worked, but that we probably won’t know for a decade’.

This approach clearly does not fit in well with the ‘supporting every learner to succeed’ model advanced by the social democratic ideals of education.

The Problem of Focusing Too much on Individualised Learning 

Silicon Valley idealism is also rooted in a libertarian belief in the values of personal freedoms and the individualization of action, with a skepticism towards ‘experts’ working within traditional institutions (such as education) which are generally seen as inefficient.

Innovations such as the MOOC or Flipped classrooms are examples of educational transformations which have emerged out of this individualist philosophy. Such disruptive technologies can, at one level, be seen as tackling inefficiency in the provision of existing educational provision.

However, such disruptions might undermine a number of the traditional social democratic values inherent in public education, such as those of promoting community cohesion, communal responsibility and the public good, rather than just emphasizing individual gain.

Such innovations may also undermine the ideal of equality of opportunity. Some research suggests that MOOCs for example are primarily accessed by people from privileged backgrounds, who already have degrees (source forthcoming).

Big technology companies might undermine the democratic process

When the executives of companies such as Facebook, Google and Microsoft have something to say about education, education ministers tend to listen. This has led some commentators such as Joel Spring to suggest that such companies operate as ‘shadow education ministries’ – the problem here is that large tech companies are playing a role in shaping our education systems, they profit from it, and yet they have no accountability!

Conclusion

It’s unlikely that technology companies are going to stop trying to disrupt education, and it’s unlikely that our increasingly neoliberal public managers are going to stop them. However, it’s also unlikely that the public are just going to give up on the ideals of social democratic education that easily, and so at some point stakeholders in education are going to have to figure out a way of reconciling the approaches to education advanced by Silicon Valley digital technology firms and those which persist in our public education systems.

Source 

Nick Selwn (2016) Is Technology Good for Education?

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Technology Companies and the Digital Privatisation of Public Education

Education has long been influenced by private companies, but the rise of digital education has expanded the role of private technology companies, in public education enormously. Such companies range from the big global technology companies such as Microsoft and Facebook to smaller, silicon valley tech startups.

This post explores the companies involved, and the neoliberal, Silicon Valley mindset that lies behind what I call the ‘digital privatization of public education’.

Introduction – Digital Capitalism and Education

Schooling in the 1700s and 1800s was provided largely through private institutions, and the expansion of public education in the late 19th and 20th centuries was influenced by the commercial interests of text book publishing companies.

Digital Technology gives private, commercial interests greater potential to influence how public education is organised and delivered.

The reason for this is simply logistical – Nation States do not have the scope to develop digital technologies, and so it is massive, Transnational private technology companies such as Facebook, Google, Apple and Microsoft which are  driving the development of these technologies, and the public education sectors of national governments who are their largest potential market.

All of the above mentioned companies have education divisions, oriented to developing education software and applications for use in schools, and many other companies are developing educational products: from Pearsons to Lego.

At the other end of the scale from the massive TNC sector there are hundreds, if not thousands of smaller educational technology start ups, as small-fish seek to gain a foothold in the education market.

The fact that digital education is very big business is due to the fact that the global market for education is estimated to be around $5 trillion, with the estimated market for online Higher Education ‘e-learning’ products alone estimated at $91 billion.

In short, the potential expansion of for-profit digital education is huge.

The benefits of commercial involvement in digital education

Selwyn identifies a number of (potential) benefits of the involvement of private ICT companies in bringing digital technology more into public education:

  1. TNCs enjoy economies of scale that dwarf public sector organisations – they have global reach, and enormous sums of money to invest, and they tend to ‘think big’… as one of Google’s international heads of education puts it: ‘Technology was hard to deploy in schools and we’re making the solutions we supply very easy to manage….new technology is finally able to work for us in schools’.
  2. The private sector emphasize the importance of quick results and demonstrable outcomes – they are, after all, ultimately accountable to their share holders.
  3. The IT industry is clearly well poised to bring innovation into education – innovation being defined as introducing new products and ideas that support changes in the established way of doing things. These organisations thrive on thinking big and acting quickly. They pride themselves on thinking differently – they see themselves as risk takers and boundary-pushers, cultivating an ‘outsider perspective’ unfettered by establishment thinking or old money. This is especially true in the ed-tech start-up sector, in which millions of dollars are invested in hundreds of companies, only a few of which will go on to be the next ‘big thing’.

Digital Education and rise of ‘Californian Capitalism’

Sebastian Thrun (co-founder of online learning company Udacity Inc reasoned ‘Education is broken. Face it…. it is so broken at so many ends, it requires an little bit of Silicon Valley Magic’.

The idea of ‘Silicon Valley Magic’ alludes to the set of business practices and approaches that underpin the new high-tech economy and its increased interest in education.

This mentality was described neatly by Will Hutton, based on his account of a visit to Palo Alto during the early 2010s following which he wrote of the global significance of the strain of ‘Californian Capitalism’ that characterizes Silicon Valley institutions such as Google, Oracle and even Stanford University.

‘We are increasingly living in a world where economics, politics, culture and society are being shaped by West Coast ideals of the power of computing, entrepreneurialism and risk-taking approach to investment.

The ways Silicon Valley firms seek to do business are shaped profoundly by the programming and hacking backgrounds of their main protagonists such as Mark Zuckerberg, Larry Page, Sergcy Brin, Larry Ellision, Peter Thiel and so on. All of these high-tech billionnaires remain steeped in a programmer mindset where a faith in computational power and an always on networked way of life fuel a relentless focus on invention and innovation.

This is a culture of all night coding sessions and a succession of ambitiouss start-ups, most of which quickly fail, backed by investors keen to take a punt on the next ‘big thing’.

These are ventures which are based on big ideas, solving computational problems, entrepreneurialism, openness, collaboration, learning through failure and relentless self belief and optimism, based on a relentless mindset that revels in the power of individuals rather than institutions, and the creative potential of manageable amounts of renewal and disruption.

Although all of these high tech firms seek to make a profit, many of the main industry protagonists also want to ‘make a difference’ and seek to use frontier technologies to engage with immense societal challenges such as world health and global poverty, and it understands that it is part of society and owes a debt to the culture and public infrastructure that created it.

Thinking Big, spending bigger

Education is one of those sectors in which silicon valley firms seek to ‘make a difference’. This is evidenced in many different forms:

In the well-established and vast educational programmes run by all of the large multinational IT companies – often under the aegis of ‘corporate social responsibility’. These activities range from the physical design and construction of ‘schools of the future’ to the development of teacher training programmes, alternative curricula and the provision of computer hardware, software and the infrastructure to educational institutions.

There are also a range of far more ambitious initiatives such as Peter Thiel’s ‘Thiel Fellowship’ through which young people are awarded $100 00 to drop out of college and pursue their dreams by setting up a world changing business idea’; Mark Zukerberg’s ‘Start-up: Education’ through which Zuckerberg has made personal donations of $100 million to the Newark school district and $120 million to schools in the Sanfrancisco Bay area; the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation boasts an extensive educational programme, including its key role in driving recent US school reforms around standardised testing and the common core curriculum. It has also spent over $470 million on US higher education reform, funding projects and generally creating what the Chronicle of Higher Education calls an ‘echo chamber of like minded ideas’.

We should also not overlook the considerable ‘soft power’ of high tech corporations in education decision making, such as with the computer industry’s considerable lobbying governments to focus more on teaching coding in schools, which now seems to be accepted universally as a ‘good thing’. The Chairman of Google, Eric Smidt has been a leading proponent of this push since 2010.

Finally, there are the various companies involved in setting up MOOCs, one of the largest of which is Coursera, bolstered by $85 million of venture capital funding.

All of these activities shows that corporate involvement in education is sometimes submerged in complex networks of influence and power, and if one finds time to follow the money, one finds that high-tech firms are in some way involved in seeking to profit from most, if not all, of the digital education initiatives out there.

It follows that the biggest movers and shakers in digital education are not educators and teachers, but rather programmers, hackers and the trillion dollar tech industry which has grown up around them.

These interventions illustrate the power which IT corporations can wield over public education, and these are increasingly strong voices in conversations about education reform, setting the tone for how education should be reimagined in the ‘digital age’.

Sources: Nick Selwyn (2016): Is Digital Education Good for Education?

Forthcoming Post:

The problems of the increasing role of Tech companies in public education

 

 

 

 

 

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How Technology Companies Manipulate our Behaviour

Design features such as likes, swipes, notifications and autoplays make being on-line more addictive, less autonomous, and cause pyschological and social harm, at least according to this recent Guardian Article by Paul Lewis: Our minds can be hijacked: the tech insiders who fear a smartphone dystopia‘.

Are we all digital technology zombies?

Below I summarize this article and add in a few comments.

Technology companies such as Apple, Facebook and Google have incorporated a range of design features into their mobile devices, operating systems and social media applications that make them addictive, which results in us spending longer online than we really want to, clicking on links we never intended to and making us more distracted, less rational and more impulsive than ever.

Former Google employee Tristan Harris says that all of our minds are “jacked into the system” and “all our minds can be hijacked. We are not as free as we think we are”. Harris believes that tech companies deliberately set out to make their products addictive, as they are oriented to respond to the incentives of an advertising economy and thus experiment with techniques which are most likely to grab people’s attention.

As an example, Harris points out that the Facebook icon which notifies users of new activity and ‘likes’ was originally blue, but no one used it, then they switched it to red, and everyone used it, because red is a trigger colour, which is why it is used as an alarm signal. Now the red icon is everywhere, and every time smartphone users glance at their phones, dozens or hundreds of times a day, they are confronted with small red dots, pleading to be tapped.

red notification icon
The Red Notification Icon – Inducing the anxiety of variable rewards?

The most seductive design, according to Harris, exploits the psychological susceptibility that makes gambling so compulsive – variable rewards. Each time you swipe down you don’t know what’s coming next, either an avalanche of likes, or nothing, and the action even mirrors that of the slot machine: a human action to ‘pull down’, and a pause before a variable result. The pull-down to refresh was originally designed in 2009, and has since become one of the most widely emulated features in apps – even though refreshing can now be done automatically, the pull-down function remains, because if users aren’t involved in the process, then the experience is less addictive.

social media swipe addiction
Swipe to refresh and lock-in your addiction

Justin Rosenstein designed the like feature for Facebook in 2007 – to create a means to send ‘little bits of positivity at the click of a button’, creating what he now calls ‘bright dings of pseudo-pleasure’. ‘Likes’ were  wildly successful, and hence they spread to a range of other social media platforms, and now it is the short-term pleasure of this social affirmation that is one of the features which drives people to touch, swipe or tap their phone more than 2500 times a day on average.

Facebook Like
Facebook like – dings of pseudo-pleasure?

Tech companies can exploit such information to keep people hooked: manipulating, for example, when people receive ‘likes’ for their posts, ensuring that they arrive when an individual is most likely to feel vulnerable, or in need of approval, or just bored, and such information can be sold to the highest bidder.

James Williams, a former Google employee who built the metrics system for the company’s global search advertising business, but has now turned critic of the industry, describes the tech industry as one which has the ‘largest and most centralised form of attentional control in human history’ – he had an epiphany moment one day while working at google when he glanced at one of Google’s multi-coloured dashboards showing how much of people’s attention the company had commandeered for advertisers. He says that he realised ‘this is literally a million people that we’ve persuaded to do this thing that they weren’t going to do otherwise.’

Some of the Negatives Effects of Being Online

Firstly, technology may be contributing to so-called ‘continuous partial attention’ – In the attention economy (driven by the needs of advertisers) – everyone is distracted most of the time – which actually prevents us from getting things done, the complete opposite of what technology was intended to do!

Secondly, the attention economy thrives on a ‘sensationalise, bate and entertain’ logic and as a result the media is now is now more than ever biased in favour of that which is sensationalist and entertaining. People like Donald Trump do well in this environment because they are good at grabbing attention with their simplistic,  emotional and extremist views –  that which is rational is less likely to get attention than that which is impulsive.

Finally, and related to the above point, this may be changing how we view politics – we see it in increasingly polarised terms – because the only thing which grabs our attention at a similar level of Donald Trump is a similarly extreme reaction, in the form of Bernie Sanders or Jeremy Corbyn for example.

What are the solutions to avoid getting addicted in the attention economy?

Some of the big names who created the technologies of the attention economy are actually ducking out of it themselves – having turned off their social media updates, or even uninstalled most of the apps from their hardware.

Find out More

If you’re interested in Tristan Harris’ initiative to make digital technologies less addictive – you might like to check out his Time Well Spent Website, and his TED talk below…

Related A-Level Sociology Debates

As I see it this material fits in to at least two places on the A-level sociology syllabus:

  • This material seems to be coming from the structuralist side of sociology – that society shapes (or at least frames) social action. See this post: ‘Sociological perspectives: the basics‘ for an overview of structure versus action approaches in sociology.
  • There’s also some clear relevance to the increasing power of Transnational Corporations: this material certainly suggests that transnational technology companies wield enormous power to shape people’s actions.
  • If you study the media option for A level paper 2, no doubt it’s even more relevant!

 

 

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Is Digital Technology Good for Education?

Digital technology is now an integral part of education. Devices such as tablets and smartphones are now common means of interacting with people, consuming media, interacting with institutions and generally living out many aspects of our daily lives.

These technologies have transformed the generation and communication of knowledge, and the way in which learning and understanding take place. In an organisational sense digital technologies are now central to the ‘formal’ organisation of education: free online courses have emerged to supplement and compete with traditional bricks and mortar institutions; national governments now spend billions on digital education resources and have ed tech policies and initiatives; and digital education is entwined with a global economics and politics and ongoing changes as to what counts for knowledge skills.

While it is teachers and students who have to use technology, much of the debate about ed tech takes place amongst those outside of education: Policy makers, industrialists and other influential actors outside of education often frame discussions about educational technology in dramatic terms of wide-scale educational reform, speculating on how ed tech might lead to major transformations such as doing away with teachers, schools and universities.

To what extent is digital technology actually changing education? Is this in our best interest? And How might the potential for radical change actually be realised?

Digital technology and social change

Discussions about digital technology are nearly always associated with doing things differently. Some envisage changes as being broadly positive with digital technologies being  associated with doing things cheaper, faster and more efficiently; others focus on the more negative aspects of social change – such as the idea of ‘google making us stupid’.

The potential of digital technologies to change education is imagined along a scale of modest improvement to wholesale revolution.

At the improvement end of the scale there is talk of:

  • ‘Improving learning’ – through making it more social, situated or authentic.
  • Improving learners – technology is described as enhancing, enabling, assisting, supporting and scaffolding learning.
  • Improving teachers – by expanding their capacity to teach, and making them more efficient
  • Increasing the relevance of education institutions – making them more relevant to society

At the transformation on end of the scale….

  • Courses being delivered online rather than face to face
  • Learning through playing games rather than being taught directly.

Tellingly, these changes are sometimes described in language borrowed from IT and compter engineering – for example ‘School 2.0’, and some commentators talk of ‘upgrading’ ‘hacking’ or ‘rebooting’ education.

All of these changes imply a recoding or re-scripting of the rules of education, with digital technology acting as a catalyst for change.

More extreme still is the idea that digital technology will lead to a wholesale revolution in education, with technology destabilising the formal educational establishment.

Some of the targets here include:

  • The school
  • The university
  • Formal examinations and qualifications
  • National curricula
  • Teachers and unions

These debates are framed in terms of empowering marginalised groups:

  • Individuals over institutions
  • Private markets over public sector monopolies
  • Outsiders over insiders.

A digital ‘fix’ for a ‘broken’ system?

One of the most significant aspects of ‘digital education’ is its discursive nature. In other words, the values and meanings that are attached to the idea of digital education could be seen as significant as any actual use of digital technology.

Despite some of the transformative claims attributed to digital technology there has been little rigorous evidence produced in the last 40 years of educational technology leading to sustained improvement of teaching and learning. Much of the rhetoric of digital education has proven frustratingly difficult to substantiate.

We are thus perhaps better of treating those descriptions of digital ‘revolution’, ‘transformation’ and ‘improvement’ as evocative and aspirational stories, rather than sober, objective and actual ongoing changes in education – as a space in which people voice their hopes and their fears, and we need to treat any claims attributed to educational technology with scepticism.

In this regard, it is worth paying attention to the prominent argument that digital technology can fix a broken, or outmoded education system:

The economist magazein for example recently turned its attention to the ‘reinvention of the university’ concluding that the internet will turn higher education upside down in the same way it has done with newspapers and book retailing.

Similarly, the media commentator Jeff Jarvis has proclaimed that ‘Education is one the institutions most deserving of disruption – and with the greatest opportunities to come out of it’.

Such statements constitute a direct challenge to the institutionalisation of education – to schools,  state run education systems and the agencies which surround them.

The Economist and Jarvis are by no means alone in voicing their concerns – it is now common to hear mention of education as being ‘broken’, or an obsolete product of a bygone era – with people speaking of the ‘industrial era classroom’, the ‘factory model school’ or ‘ivory tower’ universities –such manners of speaking which convey as sense of the mismanagement of education by monolithic institutions.

The criticisms levelled at  ‘traditional education’ are as follows:

  • The institutions are profoundly undemocratic, the power concentrated unfairly in the hands of elites – such as vice chancellors and university professors and unions.
  • They are inefficient and unresponsive,
  • The people who work in them are untrustworthy, self-serving and greedy.
  • There is a lack of creativity in designing curriculum content
  • There are entrenched problems such as truancy and the ‘school to prison pipeline’.

Martin Weller notes that the fact that education is broken has ‘become an accepted standpoint that is often stated as an irrefutable fact… from which all else follows, a sine qua non of educational revolution’.

Such prognoses tend to be advanced by those outside of the education system who are seeking reform from the various perspectives of the free market, libertarianism, home-schooling, child-centred learning and so on.

As Weller observes, whatever perspectives these criticisms start from, all such accounts are ‘manipulative’ and imply that education professionals cannot be trusted and that solutions require external agents are required to make changes.

For many of these commentators, digital technologies are seen as a means of shaking things up, sweeping away old regimes and remaking education provision in forms fit for the twenty-first century, and over the years they have become associated increasingly with radical forms of educational innovation and upheaval.

Rather than taking such stories at face value, we should be more critical of them, as these are potentially big changes with big implications.

The inevitable digital change of education – reasons to be cautious

Firstly, we need to realise that claims about the need to fix or disrupt education are not value-free – they are linked to wider agendas

Second, we need to recognise the corporate, commercial and economically driven nature of much of the prevailing talk about disruption and deinstitutionalisation. While the greater involvement of the private sector in education is not necessarily a bad thing, history suggests that business ideals and the pursuit of profit do not always translate smoothly into education.

Third, history also reminds us that nothing is certain when it comes to educational change…. There might be unintended consequences (good or bad) from digital disruption.

Fourthly, we need to remember that the inclusion of more digital technology in education is not inevitable, and using ti more is not ‘common sense’. We don’t have to change anything!

Conclusions

We need to be sceptical about the grandiose claims made for the benefits of introducing more digital technology into education. Selwyn rounds off by suggesting that we ask the following questions:

  1. What is actually new hear
  2. What are the second order effects of change?
  3. What are the potential gains and losses?
  4. What underlying values and agendas are implicit?
  5. In whose interests does ed tech work?
  6. What are the social problems which digital technology is being presented as a solution to?
  7. How responsive to a ‘digital fix’ are these problems?

Sources 

This is a summary of chapter 1 of ‘Is Digital Technology Good for Education (2016) by Neil Selwyn

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Problems with Educational Technology

 

Neil Selwyn is critical of the technologically driven de-schooling agenda advanced by the likes of Sugata Mitra (who did the hole in the wall experiment).

His criticisms are based partly on his research into MOOCs, or Massive Open-ended Online Courses put courses online, have discussion on line and online tests….. the most attractive feature is that it is flexible, you learn at your own pace and when and it’s not place based.

started in in Canada in 2008 to 9, and have since taken Higher Education by storm – today massive companies. It took Higher Education by storm – massive companies, MIT Harvard, making profit. Of course the Open University, their Future Learn PLatform..

Sceptical about the idea that MOOCs and Holes in the Wall will lead to a de-schooling of society, or possibly a re-schooling, where we keep the four walls of the school but change everything within – from pedagogy to curricula.

He argues that this is a dangerous road to be going down because there are people who are not in a position to be able. They tend to favour the ‘already learners’ and the well-resourced. For example, HE MOOC courses, tend to attract those who already have degrees, and the drop out rate for such courses is huge.

We are also importing an silicon valley libertarian hyper-individualised agenda to all of this – that anyone can do anything and open ended technologies can help us to learn and do whatever we want.

However, a problem with this individualistic ideology is that it undermines that capacity for the school to ‘force’ people to learn empowering knowledge -the traditional schools is a great place to say to children ‘you need to learn maths’ or ‘you need to learn physics’, for example.

Selywn cites the educational philosopher Gert desta to add a layer of analysis to his argument: schools are sites where subjectification, socialisation and qualification take place – sites where we learn who we are (subjectification), how we should get along with people (socialisation) and what we can do in terms of not just knowledge but also skills (qualification) – these are all fundamental to our very identities and our capacity to achieve our goals in life, and Selwyn wants to chime a note of caution over increasing the role of globalised ed-tech companies in shaping these three self-forming processes – we need to think about the values and interests of these tech companies.

There is no such thing as non ideological education or non ideological technology – technology has politics and values

Liberia is an example of a country which has outsourced its elementary and primary education to Bridge International Academies.

One potential problem with this kind of outsourcing is that it replaces the power of the state to frame their education curricula and gives more power to globalised technology companies to do so

Neil Selwyn is a Professor in the Faculty of Education, Monash University, Australia.

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Is Google Sexist?

In a memo published in August 2017 a (male) Google engineer suggested that gender inequality in the technology industry in general and Google in particular is not due to sexism, but due largely to biological differences between men and women.

The memo was called “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber” and the guy who wrote it was James Danmore. His short answer to the question ‘is Google sexist’ would be ‘no, in fact quite the opposite – Google subscribes to a leftist ideology and actually practices unfair authoritarian discrimination in favor of women over men’.

Google's Ideological Echo Chamber

This memo is a great example of a New Right view on gender inequality – basically that men are naturally (biologically and psychologically) better suited to the demanding, analytical type of jobs that exist necessarily?) in a highly competitive tech industry.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai responded by saying that the memo suggested harmful gender stereotypes and sacked Danmore. Needless to say this whole incident has provoked a strong response from both the left and the right.

All I’m doing for now in this post is to summarise the key points of the work, to make it more accessible to students, as it’s an excellent example of a New Right point of view on gender roles. At some point I’ll get round to adding in some of the responses and criticisms of Danmore’s work.

Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber – A Summary of the Main Points

(Full Text – Googles-Ideological-Echo-Chamber)

Danmore starts off the article by outlining (crudely) the difference between left and right ideologies, before suggesting that his list of possible biological causes of the gender gap (below) are ‘’non-biased”

 It’s also worth mentioning that Danmore does qualify a lot of what he says, stating more than once that he doesn’t deny that sexism exists, he also states that there is considerable ‘biological overlap’ between men and women, so there are plenty of women who are biologically predisposed (as he would put it) towards techy jobs and leadership.

I’ve cut out quite a lot of the text, so as to just include the main arguments and evidence (there’s not much evidence cited) – anything in normal text is word for word from the original, anything italicised are my additions.

 Possible non-bias causes of the gender gap in tech:

On average, men and women biologically differ in many ways. These differences aren’t just socially constructed because:

  • They’re universal across human cultures
  • They often have clear biological causes and links to prenatal testosterone
  • Biological males that were castrated at birth and raised as females often still identify and act like males
  • The underlying traits are highly heritable
  • They’re exactly what we would predict from an evolutionary psychology perspective

Note, I’m not saying that all men differ from all women in the following ways or that these differences are “just.” I’m simply stating that the distribution of preferences and abilities of men and women differ in part due to biological causes and that these differences may explain why we don’t see equal representation of women in tech and leadership.

Many of these differences are small and there’s significant overlap between men and women, so you can’t say anything about an individual given these population level distributions.

Danmore includes the following diagrams to make his point:

Googles Ideological Echo Chamber

Personality differences

Women, on average, have more (this heading is linked to a Wikipedia article on sex differences in psychology)

  • Openness directed towards feelings and aesthetics rather than ideas.
  • Women generally also have a stronger interest in people rather than things, relative to men (also interpreted as empathizing vs. systemizing).
  • These two differences in part explain why women relatively prefer jobs in social or artistic areas. More men may like coding because it requires systemizing.
  • Extraversion expressed as gregariousness rather than assertiveness. Also, higher agreeableness. This leads to women generally having a harder time negotiating salary, asking for raises, speaking up, and leading.
  • Neuroticism (higher anxiety, lower stress tolerance) – This may contribute to the lower number of women in high stress jobs.

In this section Danmore cites two journal articles (all other links are not academic so I haven’t included them) to back up his views:

Men’s higher drive for status

We always ask why we don’t see women in top leadership positions, but we never ask why we see so many men in these jobs.

These positions often require long, stressful hours that may not be worth it if you want a balanced and fulfilling life.

Status is the primary metric that men are judged on, pushing many men into these higher paying, less satisfying jobs for the status that they entail.

Note, the same forces that lead men into high pay/high stress jobs in tech and leadership cause men to take undesirable and dangerous jobs like coal mining, garbage collection, and firefighting, and suffer 93% of work-related deaths.

  • Danmore doesn’t cite any authoritative evidence to back up the views in this section. 

The rest of the document

There are four further sections in the document in which Danmore covers:

  • Non-discriminatory ways to reduce the gender gap – actually he makes some pretty sensible suggestions here IMO, such as making work more collaborative.
  • A section on the harm of Google’s biases
  • A section on ‘why we’re blind’ – i.e. why we’re blind to the apparent ‘objective truth’ of the fact that men are leaders because they’re less neurotic etc.
  • A final section of suggestions – in which he basically suggests that we should be more tolerant of conservative views and not discriminate in ‘authoritarian ways’.