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The Social Media Disconnect

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You wake up each morning but before getting out of bed you’re already caught up with Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat. By the time you’ve reached the office, you know exactly what’s trending, which celeb made a faux pas, and what your virtual friends are wearing to work. Sound familiar?

According to the SA Social Media Landscape 2017 report issued by World Wide Worx and Ornico, there are 14 million South Africans on Facebook, 7.7 million on Twitter, 5.5 million on LinkedIn and 3.5 million on Instagram. It’s unclear how many are on Snapchat as users themselves don’t know what their follower count is; however, the last global estimate stood at 2% being South African.

Being on multiple social media platforms is the norm, but how has it changed our behavior? Gregory Eccles, a counselling psychologist practicing in Greenstone Hills, Johannesburg, says social media allows us to share far more of our lives with a large audience than we typically would have, creating opportunities for both greater inclusion of others in our lives, as well as for overshare or compromised privacy.

“Like any other communication tool, it gives us the power to affect change in our lives in good and bad ways, but it is our choice of how we use it that ultimately decides its impact,” says Eccles.

“It also allows us to indulge our inherent narcissism more fully than we otherwise may have been able, but those are desires that were there prior to social media.”

Saaleha Bamjee, a 33-year-old writer and photographer based in Johannesburg, who has since deleted her Snapchat account, says she used to catch up on the network in the mornings and evenings, and when not busy, in the afternoons.

“I joined out of a sense of FOMO [fear of missing out], and at first, followed the popular accounts,” she says. “It soon got tiresome, none of what people were sharing was of any value to me personally.”

There have been reports over the years of people going into debt to maintain an online presence and image, while a fair amount of ‘influencers’ overseas have quit Instagram altogether because they couldn’t keep up with the pressure of leading “fake” lives. Eccles says there is certainly pressure to maintain a certain type of social image, and the same applies to our social media presence.

“While some people may experience that pressure as quite overwhelming, it is ultimately still an action of choice for the most part as to how we present ourselves through social media.”

Bamjee says she made purchases on cosmetics and haircare appliances based on the recommendation of a local beauty blogger, while other purchases were tied to being a photographer.

“On Instagram, if I want to be hired or promote my services effectively, I have to upload quality images; this often involves shopping for food ingredients and props.”

Eccles thinks that social media doesn’t actively force us to make purchases. He says that the one aspect of social media when compared to other communication methods is that it allows us greater control over what we present, but we do not always take that into account when viewing posts from other people – an oversight which potentially mars our perspective of our status relative to others.

Over the last couple of years, we’ve seen an increase in new hardware such as better technology in smartphones like higher megapixels on the front-facing cameras, and 360-degree cameras, which Facebook has been supporting for quite some time now. These technologies enable us to share more than ever because it’s no longer just a photo; it’s now full-on livestreams through Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat, and 360-degree photos and videos of every aspect of our lives.

While the availability of these sorts of tools can make it easier to indulge in our vices, Eccles maintains it is not the tools that are to blame.

“We need to look at our own motivations for why we use all of these tools the way we do, and think carefully about what other options we may have to achieve similar results (sense of social connection) and what the consequences of each method are.”

Eccles believes the problem is deeper than what it appears, and thinks that while consumer culture has an influence on our need to be connected all the time, the bigger influence are our own feelings of social connectedness or isolation.

“The truth is we all have a strong desire to connect socially with others, and social media is often the easiest way to do so. Unfortunately, our interactions through social media are quite superficial, forcing those who choose to fulfil their need for social interaction through social media to require more of it.”

Bamjee subsequently stopped following Snapchat accounts that had a “sameness” about it – a preoccupation with affluence and image.

“I soon realized that I didn’t want to see even more than what was already being shared on Facebook or Instagram. I missed having a conversation where I could ask ‘hey, what’s new’ and actually hear something I hadn’t known about previously.”

Perhaps it is time to re-evaluate our reasons for being on social media and the behavior it dictates. “We have a common urge to place blame outside ourselves – Facebook does this to us or smartphones do this to us, but while they often make it easier to behave in ways that may not be particularly healthy, such as ignoring the outside world in favour of spending all your time on your phone, we cannot ignore our own agency in all of this,” concludes Eccles.

While her time is still being monopolised by other social media platforms, Bamjee says she is happier in the sense that she no longer feels she has to know what’s going on with everyone all the time.

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Technology

‘AI Is A Powerful Tool’

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Research forecasts that by 2025, machines will perform more current work tasks than humans. Murat Sonmez, member of the managing board, and Head of the Centre for the WEF Fourth Industrial Revolution Network, expands on the role humans might play.


The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) is at the center of the current economic frontier. In reality, is Africa prepared for such changes?

Moving quickly and being agile are key principles of success in the 4IR. Any country can succeed if they take on this mindset. A few years ago, Rwanda saw the opportunities drones, a 4IR technology, brought to their country.

They helped save over 800 lives by delivering blood to remote villages. To scale this, the government worked with the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) drones’ team to create the world’s first agile airspace regulation. Now, we see countries in Africa and around the world looking to the Rwandan model.

READ MORE | 5 Ways Tech Can Revolutionize Education

What feasible solutions can  artificial intelligence (AI) offer in terms of forecasting natural disasters, droughts food security on the African continent?

AI can help predict diseases, increase agriculture yields and help first responders. It is a powerful tool for governments and businesses, but it needs a lot of data to be effective.

For AI to be all that it can be, countries and companies need to work together to build frameworks for better management and protection of our data and ensure that it is shared and not stored in silos. Data is the oxygen of the (4IR). If countries do not leverage data and have their policies in place, they will be left behind.

There is a growing concern that the 4IR will strip people of jobs, of which there is already a shortage. How true is this?

The world is going through a workplace revolution that will bring a seismic shift in the way humans work alongside machines and algorithms.

Latest research from the WEF forecasts that by 2025, machines will perform more current work tasks than humans, compared to 71% being performed by humans today.

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The rapid evolution of machines and algorithms in the workplace could create 133 million new roles in place of 75 million that will be displaced between now and 2022.

Consumers have real concerns around the potential harm technology can cause in areas such as privacy, misinformation, surveillance, job loss, environmental damage and increased inequality. What ethical precautions are being considered in the robotics space?

Now more than ever, it is important to incorporate ethics into the design, deployment and use of emerging technology. Innovating in the 4IR requires addressing concerns around privacy and data ownership, while attracting the skills and forward-looking thinkers of the future.

There are big challenges and bigger opportunities ahead. We have seen many companies and countries create ethical and human rights-based frameworks. What’s important is they are co-designed with members of both communities along with academia, civil society and start-ups.

A multi-stakeholder approach will result in a more holistic set of guidelines and principles that can be adopted in many different industries and geographies.

READ MORE | It’s Time For Africa’s Gazelles To Shine

What changes need to take place for the African continent to be on par with global developments, and are there tangible goals set?

The 4IR provides governments the opportunity to be global leaders in shaping the next 20 to 30 years of science and technology. It is important they create an environment where companies can innovate.

The other tenet is to be open to working across borders and learning from each other. The global health industry has access to mountains of data on rare diseases, but it is trapped within countries and sometimes even within the hospital walls.

If we can build trust and find innovative ways to share the data while protecting privacy, we can employ tools like AI to help us cure disease faster. Countries and companies need to have the right governance frameworks and mechanisms in place for these breakthroughs to happen. It is possible to do these things now, but we need to work together to make it happen.

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Current Affairs

Businesses At The Heart Of A Greener Future

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With every day that passes by it becomes more apparent that the Earth is deteriorating and time is running out to save it. Scientists have estimated that we have less than a decade to save the planet before it is irreversibly damaged, mainly due to climate change.

Businesses claim the largest percentage of global emissions (at approximately 70% since 1988, according to The Guardian) which is an alarming statistic, especially in a time when the planet’s well-being is being compromised.

Many large business corporations are hastily coming on board with operating sustainably by transforming their practices and placing business ethics at the forefront of their priorities.

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Last week, a round table discussion was held at the Fairlawns Boutique Hotel, Sandton hosted by Environmental Resources Management (ERM) – the world’s largest sustainability consulting firm. Their aim was to discuss how imperative it is for African businesses to get on board with sustainability.

“We have been talking about how to be sustainable for a long time but now it is time for us to do sustainability,” says Thapelo Letete, Technical Director of ERM.

An engaging and thought-provoking panel discussion ensued with representatives from ERM and mining companies, Anglo American and Gold Fields. They emphasized the importance of sustainability being recognized by investors, especially in mining and oil companies that rely solely on Earth’s natural resources.

Civil society has a colossal role to play in ensuring the sustainability of businesses. Due to the law of supply and demand in production, consumers are being urged to be mindful of their buying habits and to make sustainable decisions. These are as simple as minimizing the utilization of plastic straws by replacing them with metal or paper straws and reusable shopping bags and by recycling selected items.

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“Research suggests that socially and environmentally responsible practices have the potential to garner more positive consumer perceptions of (businesses), as well as increases in profitability,” according to an entry in Sage Journals published in May.

The advancement of science, artificial intelligence and the rapid growth of the technological industry make it an undeniable fact that the Fourth Industrial Revolution is underway. Many businesses across the globe seem to be well prepared for this change. However, businesses in Africa seem to be vulnerable. 

“It is difficult to say that all businesses in Africa are prepared for it. It is not a country specific thing but it does vary across corporations. There will be businesses that are well prepared and businesses that are not so well prepared,” says Keryn James, CEO of ERM.

A large part of sustainability also relies on empowerment and equality. Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest number of female-owned businesses who contribute a large amount of money towards their respective countries’ GDPs. However, most of these businesses struggle with the issue of scaling.

“Women sometimes underestimate their ability and they don’t necessarily  have the confidence that they should have about the value that their businesses present. Women often take less risks than men,” says James.

“The issue of scaling is one that we see globally. One of the issues are access to funding to support in the investment and growth of their businesses.”

READ MORE | Mastercard: Diligent About Digital In Africa

Going forward, the availability of mentorship programmes and skills development opportunities for women, especially black women in business should be encouraged.

According to a study done by the UN Women’s organization, an average of 3 out of 7 women score higher in performance when they are placed in senior managerial positions. Additionally, if more women work, the more countries can exponentially maximise their economic growth.

Women will be empowered when given the correct skills and opportunities to be able to run their own businesses independently which would ultimately lead to the scaling of female-owned businesses in Africa and sustainable development.

The Nedbank Capital Sustainable Business Awards aim to recognize the efforts of businesses that operate sustainably and to encourage other corporations who intend to adopt more sustainable strategies into their practices. Initiatives such as these prove that business value also depends on how sustainable they are.

It is clear that the prioritization of sustainability and accountability in businesses is the only way forward in the midst of this global crisis. With a combination of will and the rigorous work that African businesses have put into sustainability initiatives and strategies, it is easier to be optimistic about our planet’s wellbeing.

-Buhle Ntusi

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Ex-Google Staffer Says After Split With Chief Legal Officer David Drummond: ‘Hell Does Not Begin To Capture My Life’

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Former Google employee Jennifer Blakely has written a scathing blog post with allegations about how her affair with chief legal officer David Drummond unfolded.


A former member of Google’s legal team who says she had a child with the company’s chief legal officer, David Drummond, has written a scathing blog post about the way that their relationship unfolded within the search engine giant, including that he issued “terrifying threats” to take custody of their child after initially refusing to pay child support.

In a Medium post, Jennifer Blakely says that she was inspired to detail her experience after an explosive New York Times story last fall put a spotlight on how the company shielded top executives from harassment claims and sparked massive employee protests.

“Looking back, I see how standards that I was willing to indulge early on became institutionalized behavior as Google’s world prominence grew and its executives grew more powerful,” Blakely writes.

READ MORE | Google, Facebook, Twitter Fail To Live Up To Fake News Pledge

“Women that I worked with at Google who have spoken to me since the New York Times article have told me how offended they were by the blatant womanizing and philandering that became common practice among some (but certainly not all) executives, starting at the very top.” 

While her relationship with the married Drummond was included in the Times story and first reported byThe Information in November 2017, this is the first time Blakely has written about the experience herself.

Drummond is one of several current and former Google executives who has reportedly had relationships with employees or extramarital affairs, including Eric Schmidt, Sergey Brin, and Andy Rubin.

READ MORE | Calling Out Sexual Harassment

Blakely alleges that after their relationship ended, Drummond had another relationship with a subordinate, which is against Google’s workplace policy. He is still employed by Google and made more than $47 million last year. 

Blakely says that she started working in Google’s legal department under Drummond in 2001 and that after he told her that he was estranged from his wife, they began a relationship in 2004. She says the two had a child together in 2007 and that Google’s human resources department then told her that one of them had to leave the department.

She moved to sales, an area where she had no experience, and subsequently struggled with her work. Blakely alleges that after she ultimately left the company at Drummond’s urging in 2008, but that while they were living together in Palo Alto, he broke off their relationship via text message.

“‘Hell’ does not begin to capture my life since that day,” she writes. “I’ve spent the last 11 years taking on one of the most powerful, ruthless lawyers in the world. From that fateful night forward, David did things exclusively on his terms.” 

She alleges that Drummond initially refused to see their son or pay child support, and then fought against her in a custody battle. While she says they ultimately reached a settlement and he began paying child support, she writes that “months or years” would go by when he wouldn’t see their son. In 2014, Drummond allegedly showed her an article about Eric Schmidt’s reported history of extramarital affairs during an argument, implying that the executive’s position granted him impunity.

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“His ‘personal life’ (which apparently didn’t include his son) was off limits and since I was no longer his ‘personal life’ it was time for me to shut up, fall in line and stop bothering him with the nuisances or demands of raising a child,” Blakely writes.

Blakely’s story is the latest in a string of public posts from former Google employees highlighting issues with the company’s culture and policies (or their lack of enforcement).

One of the women who helped organize last fall’s protests, Claire Stapelton, recently wrote about her experience with retaliation, another employee detailed the disappointing way the company’s human resources department dealt with her harassment reports, and former senior engineer Liz Fong-Jones posted about “grave concerns” with the company’s decision making in general.

The outspokenness of Google employees exemplifies — and has helped spur — a broader activism in the tech sector that has seen workers speaking out against their employer’s internal policies and business decisions.

Blakely’s post also taps into the larger #MeToo movement which has drawn attention to sexual harassment and abuse in the workplace across industries.

“Until truth is willing to speak to power and is heard, there’s not going to be the sea change necessary to bring equality to the workplace,” she writes.

Neither Google nor Drummond immediately responded to a request for comment. 

This story is developing.

-Jillian D’Onfro; Forbes

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