TL;DR - Kids these days suck at journalism.
It’s no secret that Internet headlines are sliding toward “clickbait” – surprising, flashy, sexy phrases promising mind-blowing facts or crazy stories. That’s what headlines are for, right? To attract interest?
Sure. Then there are the ones that just lie.
Top(ish) of the charts
Last week, a map of the US spread across social networks with the headline, “Here’s Every State’s Favorite Band”. It originally ran at Business Insider and was soon picked up by Slate, Time, and (as Nashville Scene accurately pointed out) “goddamn Buzzfeed“. Not a single one of them bothered to read the original blog post by the guy who made the map, or even looked at the map with an even slightly critical eye. Give it a cursory glance:
Anything pop out at you? Anything seem a little weird? Like maybe there’s precisely zero repetition of “favorite” artists between states? That a lot of even famous bands don’t seem like today’s chart-toppers? That the word “favorite” isn’t on the map?
It comes from a blog entry with the extremely non-clickbaity title “Exploring regional listening preferences“. Written by a director at a data intelligence company focusing on listening habits of users of music streaming servers, the post itself does not contain the word “favorite” either – not once. In fact, the map shows something much more nuanced: the band or artist with the greatest differential in popularity between that state and elsewhere. And of course it’s not a formal study, being based on data from this one company.
Slate, at least, changed its headline to be slightly more accurate – two days later. By that time, the original blogger had put up a new map giving the Internet the easily-digestible factoid it wanted: that the Southwest loves Drake, Jay-Z is the favorite in almost every state east of the Mississippi, and South Dakota is the only place Imagine Dragons is on top.
Not quite right
In the sidebar of one of these articles this weekend was a link to a New York Magazine Story, “Meet the 4 Most Desired People in New York (According to OKCupid)“. Citing a source right in the headline – nice job! If only the article itself didn’t admit that the title is complete bull.
Rudder analyzed the data from a one-week period in January and used a simple methodology: finding the users who receive the most messages from potential suitors. The four people selected wouldn’t necessarily claim to be the wealthiest, most stunning or successful singles, but, out of 400,000 annual citywide users on the site, they were among the top five in their respective categories and, perhaps less scientifically, were the four who were also willing to be interviewed for a story.
The author chose one person from each of four categories: straight women, straight men, gay women, and gay men. Right there you have something a bit different from “the 4 Most Desired People” but that’s a quibble compared to actually selecting interviewees “among the top five” rather than the true number one. Moreover, the author went on to describe each person as, respectively, “the most sought-after straight woman”, “New York’s most popular straight guy”, “OKCupid’s most popular gay-woman’s profile”, and “the site’s most sought-after gay man”. Even forgiving the imprecise language omitting “in New York” or “on OKCupid during a single week in January” in every case, it contradicts the (understandable!) criteria actually used.
These hyperbolic headlines often don’t stand up to the least bit of scrutiny. In January, Fast Company promised “A Look Inside the Last New York Times Site Redesign Ever“. That’s patently ridiculous. The second sentence states, “That’s not to say that the Times will never again update its digital look.” Okay then, so why say so in the headline? To get me to click, obviously; either because I want to know more about this amazing story or because I want to know exactly how you justify your unbelievable phrasing. Neither of those tactics is anything but sleazy.
Then again, they work.
I’m going to be on the radio for a few seconds today.
A New Hampshire Public Radio show, Word of Mouth, issued a challenge the day before Valentine’s Day. ”Calling All Musicians,” they said. “Help Us Fix Our Terrible Love Song!” they said. It seems one of their producers attempted to create the ultimate love song out of nothing but clichés and it went about as well as you’d expect. Listeners might still be able to salvage it, they reasoned.
Of course I couldn’t resist the siren call of an open submission process. I did, after all, write and record a theme song for Nathan Fillion when he asked.
In that case, sending a link to the MP3 the next morning utterly failed to garner the retweet and subsequent adulation I so desperately desired. With a local radio show, however, the next morning was not only quick enough – it got me first billing. Rather than “fix” the song, I opted to enhance its essential character (“Terrible”) with some overbearing MIDI and a video featuring horrendous heart animation and my best impression of Stevie Wonder as I glanced between lyrics and my fretboard.
Other submissions sauntered in – audio only, I must haughtily note – until some critical mass was reached and Word of Mouth announced it would play a “medley of listener submissions”. A couple were from NHPR staff members. One was from California. Noble attempts all, but I don’t think anyone will be offended when I say that the source material was a bit much to overcome.
By my count, it’ll be my fifth time on the radio, after:
- That time I got roped into a fundraiser for a literacy project with ties to the Church of Scientology, and a college station in Boston played two songs from Stars or Streetlamps while interviewing the organizer, who said all profits from selling that album would go to the literacy project, which I totally never agreed to.
- That time I sent a CD of “Practical Car” to Car Talk for them to play between segments and they did for some reason.
- Those couple times my boss at The Hippo was sick or on vacation or something and I talked to WJYY about upcoming weekend events instead of her.
This latest instance is, of course, my proudest moment.
Part 2 of 12 Albums That Stuck With Me
If it weren’t for a terrible teacher, I never would have heard of Gideon Freudmann.
My decision to leave high school and attend a hippie early college in the woods was not made lightly, but the pivotal factor was certainly an assignment that had 11th graders coloring a world map for a significant portion of our grade. So it’s fitting that Adobe Dog House, the fourth album from electric cellist Freudmann, includes a song called “Geography” with the silly but possibly insightful lyric, “If you don’t know what you’re looking at, you don’t know what you see.”
Freudmann was a frequent performer at my college campus, performing solo but building layers upon layers with a loop recording pedal. Many of his recordings are done without other musicians or overdubbing, just him and his technology. He calls his goofy style “CelloBop” and composes many instrumentals along with folky songs with words.
Adobe Dog House is his best mix of the two formats out of his many albums. With 10 instrumentals and five songs including vocals, it is contemplative, haunting, slightly bizarre, and tremendously fun. At times his lyrics and song titles (“Abra Cadaver”, “River Skeeters”, etc.) border on nonsense, but there’s always the sense of a man testing the limits of his compositional and improvisational skills. He quotes other music from Deep Purple to the Star Trek theme, which of course endears him to me immensely.
In most cases, I prefer studio albums to live performances, but part of Freudmann’s appeal is his infectious playfulness in concert. Adobe Dog House captures that playfulness quite well, but still takes itself just seriously enough to suggest that every note of every song was placed very deliberately. If nothing else, the inclusion of Freudmann’s dreamy “Over the Rainbow” cover should earn it a place in collections of renditions of that classic tune.
Last Tuesday, Bill Nye “The Science Guy” debated the head of Answers in Genesis, Ken Ham, on the feasibility of creationism as a scientific explanation of the origins of life, the universe, and everything. Nobody won, no one was convinced, and a sizable portion of the commentariat believed Nye just showing up gave Ham credibility he didn’t deserve.
You can watch the whole debate on YouTube. Right away, you’ll discover something odd.
Ken Ham doesn’t know what words mean.
…or at least their connotations. Apologetics is an actual term for arguing rationally in favor of a controversial opinion, but in common parlance it’s usually applied by opponents, referring to someone defending the indefensible.
Ken Ham likes having cartoons of himself drawn.
The debate opened with an animated commercial for the Creation Museum. The minute detail of the cartoon Ham wearing a lapel mic juxtaposed with the obvious unreality of a comet swooshing by and a Tyrannosaurus Rex contemplating eating him is exquisite. (Moments later, Ham cheekily directs Rexy back to his exhibit, and the terrible lizard roars and stomps away obediently.)
The moderator was clearly anxious to be parodied on SNL.
CNN’s Tom Foreman made awkward jokes, adopted Pixar’s lamp as his illumination source, and generally resembled Chris Parnell.
Nye and Ham didn’t disagree on everything.
Look at them both using the same brand of laptop. Gives you hope for humanity, doesn’t it?
Ken Ham doesn’t know what words mean (part 2).
Ham’s presentation began with the claim that scientists are using the word “science” wrong. He later freely admitted that he worked backwards from the conclusion that the Bible’s account of six days of creation was literally true.
The past is kind of adorable.
Look at the tiny little arms on that grinning T-Rex! And the embarrassingly long ones on the monkey! Ridiculous how anyone could think they’re related, right? The portrayal of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge as grapes rather than an apple is an interesting choice, too, given the use of wine in Christian worship and the fact that grapes don’t actually grow on trees.
The Bible is a snake.
Okay, sure, it’s supposed to be that ribbon attached to old books to act as a placekeeper, but why the forked tongue? Are Ham’s illustrators trolling?
Bill Nye has major flair.
That’s clearly his personal MacBook, because it’s covered in stickers for NASA missions JUNO and MAVEN as well as the Save Our Science campaign of the Planetary Society, which Nye heads. He also wore two lapel pins: one with the logo of the Planetary Society and one rectangular green thing that one can only hope is not a Borg emblem. Oh, and that rock? He picked it up from the side of the road. It has a fossil in it. Science just follows this guy wherever he goes.
Ken Ham likes having cartoons of himself drawn (parts 2, 3, & 4).
At least he cuts Nye in on the action some.
Bill Nye did not hire a graphic designer.
At least I hope he didn’t. On one slide (which I have generously not included) he used Comic Sans.
Bill Nye has odd labeling priorities.
The point here is a very good one that I personally hadn’t thought of before: if the only animals surviving the great flood were on Noah’s ark, where’s the evidence of them moving to their current habitats? But if Nye explained his rationale for labeling nine random spots on the globe like Utah, Sweden, and Peru, I missed it.
Science is just plain neat.
We built giant telescopes to look farther and farther into space. We predicted cosmic background radiation left over from the Big Bang and built stuff to find that. We use the Earth’s change in position over the course of a year to analyze the minute apparent shift in star positions and measure how far away they are. Science, you rock.
Ken Ham has problems with scale.
Can anyone make sense of this timeline? 130 and 800 add up to 930, but I have no idea why they’re on this diagram. Maybe it wasn’t finished in time?
Ken Ham is a disturbed psychopath.
This slide was supposed to depict the absurdity of a universe where pain and suffering is natural, as opposed to the sensible, perfect world where death was only introduced as punishment for eating fruit. Instead, it’s clip art of a white man in a 1980s suit standing on a pile of blood and skulls being stalked by an alien vaguely resembling an ape.
Skeptical moderator is skeptical.
Tom Foreman didn’t often have to cut Nye or Ham off; they were both remarkably cooperative in using only their allotted time for presentations and rebuttals. It must have been challenging staying neutral.
Science is just as revelatory to scientists as religion is to believers.
At one point Bill Nye acted out the Big Bang with his hands, and went “PSSSHH!” with his mouth. Then he did it again without sound because there’s no air in space to transmit sound. Look at how excited he is. Look at how much it thrills him to know not only how much we’ve discovered about the universe through hard work and dedication but how much we have yet to learn. How much does this guy love his job?
This debate wasn’t so much about secularism versus religion as it was science versus a very specific strain of young earth creationism. There’s nothing in evolutionary theory saying that there’s no god; it just doesn’t deal with the untestable. Nye said several times that “I don’t know” is a perfectly acceptable answer in science, and it is. Filling in supernatural explanations cuts off the search for knowledge rather than satisfying it.
The next iPhone will not be transparent, holographic, foldable, transformable, completely flat, tiny, or giant. Sorry to disappoint.
Don’t tell that to the hundreds of designers eager to put their own stamp on the Apple brand, though. Whether it’s to show off, punk the tech news media, illustrate a wish list, or fantasize about a job in Cupertino, there’s no shortage of concept videos and images for upcoming iPhones around the web. Usually, the designers themselves (often students) are up front about not having any connection to Apple, but that doesn’t stop the pictures from spreading and being hailed as the next big thing by gullible viewers.
Throwing different ideas at existing designs can be a good way to stimulate creativity, but the results in this case just lead to unreasonable rumormongering. Don’t get me wrong: the modeling and animation is top quality, it’s just the technological predictions that are nutballs. Nor do many designs adhere to Apple’s clear track record of implementing small, incremental changes in each product generation. They’re like well-written, enjoyable fan fiction that nevertheless gets established characters’ personalities entirely wrong.
In short, nothing in this post is happening any time soon.
Think about the small text on your phone screen. Wouldn’t it be easier to read if, instead of a solid background, you saw your fingers and the floor behind it? It wouldn’t at all, you say? Clearly you have no imagination.
The last one is obviously, if you know your OS X revision history, a few years old. It was part of an iLounge concept contest, but the left side of the picture is frequently used by itself to illustrate iPhone rumor stories. Those who do so are horrible people.
Smartphones with curved screens did come out last year: the Samsung Galaxy Round and LG G Flex. They’re concave, reducing reflections and conforming to the curves of the human body. A couple iPhone concepts, on the other hand, take us back to the tube TV days with convex glass. Otherwise known as smudge and glare central.
That second image is based on an actual Apple patent, a public document in which surely the notoriously secretive company would provide a precise illustration of a planned future design rather than a rough sketch supporting the specific technology being patented.
Not “magical” as in Steve Jobs himself literally calling the iPad “magical” in front of an audience, but as in beyond the capabilities of today’s science. A headline presenting this first concept calls it “insanely thin”. It’s hard to tell how ironic the headline writer was being, because yes, anyone who thinks this level of thinness is achievable with current technology is literally out of their mind.
It’s laying on top of an iPhone 5S, and is 3mm thick at the bottom, compared to the 5S at 7.6mm. Good luck fitting a 3.5mm headphone jack on that thing, never mind processors, circuitboards, and everything else.
Still, at least it’s not one of Soundwave‘s cassette-bots.
A still image cannot contain the wackiness here. Placing the phone on the table makes this concept automatically transform into the gadget you see above; a pair of projectors throws a Mac OS X Lion desktop on the wall, while another pair provides a keyboard on the table. The video, from late 2012, is titled “The Secret of iPhone 5″. Virtually the same video was published six months later under the name “iPhone 6 Concept”, so this feature is just around the corner, don’tcha know.
The creator was at least kind enough to annotate his video – titled simply “iPhone 6″ – with a persistent caption assuring everyone that this clear slip of polycarbonate with the capability to levitate an enlarged user interface several inches above itself is “not real”. Thanks.
Along with the designs themselves, some designers create promotional copy. Attempts to mimic Apple’s understated yet fantastical style almost always fail. As do simple grammar and spelling.
Want to “take shoot of your life”? Presumably “18Mpx” means 18 megapixels, an improbable 10-megapixel leap from all recent iPhone camera resolutions, and “led” is really the initialism LED and not the past-tense form of the verb “lead”.
Am I being unfairly critical? Probably. These artists just put their ideas out into the world; it’s not their fault that unscrupulous webmasters pair them with iPhone rumor stories, knowing that sensational images will draw clicks. Or that credulous page visitors don’t bother to read and spread clearly ridiculous information over social networks. Or that apparently no one has learned that the Internet does not always tell the truth.
Part 1 of 12 Albums That Stuck With Me
The term I use most often to describe Recovering the Satellites to myself is “brutal”.
The songs on this album go beyond heartbreak straight to utter despair, dysfunction, and complete emotional collapse. So it really was the perfect stuff to be listening to right after my first big college breakup. Teenagers never get overdramatic about these things, right?
Identifying with lines like “Why’d you leave me ’til I’m only good for waiting for you” in “Angels of the Silences” probably prolonged and reinforced my self-imposed misery, so it just goes to show you how damaging good music can be. The guitars positively sob rather than gently weep; whatever pedal achieves the “ugly cry” effect, I haven’t heard it many other places. Probably for the best.
Though many tracks do indeed describe just how shitty and destroyed lead singer and songwriter Adam Duritz feels after being dumped, some tackle other areas of his life that suck. “Have You Seen Me Lately?” relates the anxiety of losing one’s identity to the public persona one creates – in this case, on the radio with an explosively successful debut album. “Another Horsedreamer’s Blues” and “Mercury” recount the struggles of other women in his life. The title track would almost be an inspiring promise to get better if it were last on the disc, but four more songs seem to suggest that clawing back to okay won’t be so easy.
Over the years I learned to play about half the songs on this album and Counting Crows’ previous one, August and Everything After. Then they got a happy boppy tune in one of the Shrek movies and they were kind of over. Still, they made three more studio albums of quite high but gradually declining quality: This Desert Life, Hard Candy, and Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings. I’m still considering starting a tribute band.
Recently, I finally watched all seven seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, in what’s become my customary Netflix binge style. I’d heard about its brilliance, but even after I thoroughly enjoyed his later show Firefly, Joss Whedon’s first television series struck me as plain silly in the few bits I’d caught.
I continue to believe that a fair portion of Whedon’s mojo actually resides in Nathan Fillion, but there’s definitely more to Buffy than girls kicking ass. I did come out of this experience with a few lingering questions, however. Maybe they’ve been hashed out a million times before, or answered in the original movie or Angel, which I have not seen. Maybe y’all can help?
1. Why had I never heard of Riley?
Angel, okay, he got his own show. And Spike basically hijacks the last few seasons. These two vampires, who have killed many, many innocent people in the past, are the only two characters I have ever heard discussed as suitable partners for Buffy (or, not rarely, for the breathless viewer making the comparison). Poor Riley, a fellow student roughly Buffy’s age, a main cast member for a season, a highly trained professional, a basically normal guy with a secret identity fighting evil just like our heroine, a human even, and I don’t remember ever hearing his name from avowed Whedonistas.
His worst feature, as far as I can tell, is a crippling inferiority complex that convinces him Buffy couldn’t love a loser like him who fights slightly less ably than she does. So he can’t handle a powerful woman (METAPHOR!), which is wimpy and annoying, but the show even pins their breakup on Buffy in the end, for not “letting him in.” Is he too boring? Too dependable? Too unwilling to straight up torture and murder Buffy once he loses his soul (METAPHOR!) / brain chip (METAPHOR!!)? That’s … that’s disturbing, fandom.
2. What’s with the gun paranoia?
Bullets don’t stop vampires. Maybe wooden bullets could, though supply chain problems make that impractical as well. So sure, stakes and crossbows and knives and swords and maces and dark magic for everyone.
But vampires are far from the only threat in Sunnydale. They are only one type of demon surrounding the Hellmouth, and most demons don’t have same bizarre wood, sunlight, and holy water weaknesses of vampires; they’re tough, but slaying them is usually achievable with enough conventional weaponry. Buffy has no problem using a rocket launcher to blow a demon to bits. Guns, though, are supposedly “never helpful”.
Even baddies make only sparing use of guns. Apart from one vampire in the first season, only one plot to kill the Slayer involves a handgun – and that’s wielded by a human. Demons even mock the shooter, despite the fact that without magical surgery, Buffy very likely would have died.
I’m hardly an NRA booster. I’d never call guns “good”; but for the goal of, well, killing things? They’re actually pretty effective.
3. Isn’t BuffyBot just the best?
Especially considering how morose the resurrected Buffy is that season. “Boo hoo, I was wrenched back from heaven by selfish amateur magic users claiming to be my friends.” “Wahh, I’m fated for a life of violence and constant peril.” Do your job, lady.
The whole idea of men building robot girlfriends devoid of emotions other than devotion and relentless cheerfulness is, of course, as they say in some circles, “problematic”. I’m not saying BuffyBot would make a great real-life companion, but as a character, she’s hilarious. Her naiveté and utter pride in stating basic facts tangentially related to the conversation at hand is just so charming and adorable. “You’re my friend, and a carpenter!” “School is where you learn!” ”That’ll put marzipan in your pie plate, bingo!”
Yeah, it’s possible that might have become irritating before long.
4. Why do minor character vampires stay all wrinkly headed?
Doubtless the real-world explanation has something to do with makeup and morphing CGI effect costs, as well as clearly marking the minor baddies, but isn’t this kind of weird? The vampires we spend any significant time with look perfectly normal most of the time, only getting their smushy faces on when they’re about to attack.
Maybe all the major vampires have serious jealousy issues with and secretly want to rejoin the living, and only lash out because it’s impossible? I’m excepting The Master, of course, who was disappointingly neither Anthony Ainley nor Derek Jacoby.
5. Why isn’t there a scene in every Bruce Campbell movie featuring a younger version of his character played by Nicholas Brendon?
Or at least one movie, geez. Like, Nicholas Brendon can’t get laid in college, and Bruce Campbell thinks his life would have turned out better if he’d gotten more action, so he goes back in time to help his younger self with his game, but everything he tries to do to help gets screwed up somehow so Nicholas Brendon thinks Bruce Campbell is actively sabotaging his love life so they fight but it turns out there’s ANOTHER time traveler from FURTHER in the future messing with Nicholas Brendon because a child he sires in a one-night stand ends up enslaving the human race so Bruce Campbell and Nicholas Brendon have to team up and WHY DOESN’T THIS MOVIE EXIST???
“Loan shark.” I get it. But … really? Really?
It’s time for another text-based Facebook meme. This one reads something like this:
In your status list 10 (-ish) albums that have stuck with you in some way. Don’t take more than five minutes and don’t dig too deep.
My list uses the “(-ish)” loophole and definitely ignores the five minute and not digging deep rules.
The Who: Tommy
George Michael: Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1
Tom Cochrane: Mad Mad World
Charlie Sexton Sextet: Under the Wishing Tree
Counting Crows: Recovering the Satellites
Gideon Freudmann: Adobe Dog House
Fiona Apple: When the Pawn
Victoria Arico: Everybody Come to Dinner
Michelle Branch: Hotel Paper
World Leader Pretend: Punches
We Are Scientists: With Love and Squalor
Muse: Black Holes and Revelations
That’s in chronological order by release date, and it evolved from from a simple “What kind of music do you like?” email this past summer. So yeah, I’ve been agonizing over it for several months.
The somewhat vague phrasing of “albums that have stuck with you” really helped define the list. It doesn’t necessarily include current favorite bands, albums, or favorite albums by favorite bands. Influential music played by my family in my formative years isn’t really in there because no single albums from those bands stood out; Yes, Genesis, Tears for Fears, and Boston all had substantial catalogs by the time I was a teenager.
Rather than overexplain every choice in a single blog entry, I figured I’d lay them all out here and overexplain them one at a time over the course of 2014. And since even that wouldn’t be enough, I decided to share a simple video cover version of a song on each album as well.
So then, my 2014 resolutions:
- Record one video cover song each month and post it with an album analysis every second Monday of the month.
- Post something every Monday and Thursday so we get some consistency up in this here blog.
- Read and listen more.
Feel free to share your own list of albums below, with or without explanations, using as much or as little time to think as you like. There’s a lot of good music out there, from mainstream to obscure.
Tired of all those “news” stories looking back at the year gone by? Hope not, because here are some more.
Mobile app development is the biggest of several services at my generous and benevolent employer. We noticed a few things more and more customers were asking for, and put together the thoroughly unscientific “Four Important App Development Trends of 2013“:
In the year 2013, the mobile technology sector has grown immensely. More people than ever own smartphones, and just by September, tablet sales soared 83 percent. Most of the technology trends Gartner compiled involved mobile as well, including HTML 5 / hybrid app development, enterprise app stores, cloud computing, and big data.
In all fairness, though my name is on the piece, a number of people contributed their thoughts and compiled interviews with our developers.
I’ve also begun contributing to The Hippo again after a self-imposed sabbatical. After a Techie gift guide two weeks ago, they asked me for a Techie year in review. So I gave it to ‘em, I tell you what:
This has not been a year of dramatic revolution in the tech world, despite what every product launch might want us to believe. Rather, it was a year of logical progressions and advancements, with a few hints of what’s to come.
Yes yes, fingerprint scanner, SnapChat $3 billion, whatever. Humbug. Thirteenth straight year of the twenty-first century with no commercially available flying car.
There were also plenty of stories I started to write about, but flaked out on for one reason or another. Usually it was just lack of time or other priorities, but for one in particular I hemmed and hawed over the right wording until the story had faded from the news cycle.
In October, a provocative series of ads was unveiled by UN Women, the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women. The ads depicted the faces of women with the Google search box superimposed over their mouths; under entered text like “women should” and “women need to” were autocompleted phrases suggested by Google, such as “women should be slaves” and “women need to be put in their place“. The title of UN Women’s news release was, “UN Women ad series reveals widespread sexism“.
I wasn’t convinced, and started composing an entry with the cheeky title, “Women Should Take the Google Autocomplete UN Ad With a (Small) Grain of Salt”. I noted that Google’s help page on Autocomplete isn’t very specific on how it works, saying that search queries and content on web pages influence the suggestions “algorithmically”.
I drafted up a spreadsheet showing the number of results for the Autocomplete suggestions as well as the rebuttal phrases on the UN posters, as of two days after the story broke:
The numbers of results were all over the map, from a few million pages to nearly a billion for one set of words. The “cannot” rebuttal phrase had more results than all four of Google’s suggestions combined; whether they existed before or only after the ad series was publicized, I don’t know. My point, as much as one existed, was that Autocomplete results are not great evidence of sexism. As the most cogent portion of my draft blog entry said:
It’s also important to note that the mere mention of a phrase (or its constituent words) does not imply agreement. A matching Google result might be a piece expressing outrage at or arguing against an opinion expressed in a search. Indeed, one prominent person saying something objectionable often spawns thousands of articles spotlighting the incident.
For example, the number one result for “women should stay at home” was an AmericaBlog story lambasting Fox News for expressing that opinion. The next was a similar critique of a Catholic cardinal saying the same thing. The third was a WebMD article asking, “Working Mom Vs. Stay-At-Home Mom: Which Works for You?”, a valid question for individuals to consider for themselves. It wasn’t until my sixth result that the concept of imposing the standard of women staying at home was phrased as even debatable.
Likewise, we have no idea what the intention was of Google users who entered that search phrase. It could have been misogynists looking for support or feminists looking for debunking resources.
All we can really conclude from this experiment – and perhaps this is no consolation – is that these combinations of words are prevalent on the Internet. The biases implied by these phrases, even if they’re not agreed with, are in the collective conversation online. An optimistic view might be that those biases are on record and being addressed rather than completely internalized, accepted, and ignored.
Worried that questioning the technical means used by the ad agency hired by UN Women would be taken as trying to deny that sexism exists, I never posted. Well, until now. Hate comments below, and happy new year.