Tag Archives: social media

The Rise of Beards and the Fall of Social Media

Google-search-hipster-beard

Perhaps the rise of the hipster beard, handle-bar mustache, oversized glasses, craft brew, fixie (fixed-gear bicycle), thrift store sweaters, indie folk and pickling is a sign. Some see it as a signal of the imminent demise of social media, no less.

Can the length of facial hair or jacket elbow pads and the end of Facebook be correlated? I doubt it, but it’s worth pondering. Though, like John Biggs over a TechCrunch I do believe that the technology pendulum will eventually swing back towards more guarded privacy — if only as the next generation strikes back at the unguarded, frivolous, over-the-top public sharing of its parents.

Then, we can only hope for the demise of the hipster trend.

From TechCrunch:

After the early, exciting expository years of the Internet – the Age of Jennicam where the web was supposed to act as confessional and stage – things changed swiftly. This new medium was a revelation, a gift of freedom that we all took for granted. Want to post rants against the government? Press publish on Blogspot. Want to yell at the world? Aggregate and comment upon some online news. Want to meet people with similar interests or kinks? There was a site for you although you probably had to hunt it down.

The way we shared deep feelings on the Internet grew out of its first written stage into other more interactive forms. It passed through chatrooms, Chatroulette, and photo sharing. It passed through YouTube and Indie gaming. It planted a long, clammy kiss on Tumblr where it will probably remain for a long time. But that was for the professional exhibitionists. Today the most confessional “static” writing you’ll find on a web page is the occasional Medium post about beating adversity through meditation and Apple Watch apps and we have hidden our human foibles behind dank memes and chatbots. Where could the average person, the civilian, go to share their deepest feelings of love, anger, and fear?

Social media.

But an important change is coming to social media. We are learning that all of our thoughts aren’t welcome, especially by social media company investors. We are also learning that social media companies are a business. This means conversation is encouraged as long as it runs the gamut from mundane to vicious but stops at the overtly sexual or violent. Early in its life-cycle Pinterest made a big stink about actively banning porn while Instagram essentially allowed all sorts of exposition as long as it was monetizable and censored. Facebook still actively polices its photographs for even the hint of sexuality as an artist named Justyna Kiesielewicz recently discovered. She posted a staid nude and wanted to run it as an targeted advertisement. Facebook mistakenly ran the ad for a while, grabbing $50 before it banned the image. In short the latest incarnation of the expository impulse is truncated and sites like Facebook and Twitter welcome most hate groups but most draw the line at underboobs.

Read the entire article here.

Image courtesy of Google Search and all hipsters.

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Post*Factua!ly Speaking – Inauguration Day

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In keeping with today’s historic (and peaceful) transition of power in the United States — I’m taking time to celebrate the inauguration of… Post*factua!ly.

Post*factua!ly is my new social art project aimed at collecting lies, sharing misquotes and debunking facts. How timely, right?

We’ve entered a new age where lies matter and fact is meaningless. As a result Post*factua!ly aims to become a community focal point — with an artistic slant — for fibs, lies, falsehoods, deceit, half-truths, fabrications, bluffing, disinformation, misinformation, untruth, truthiness, post-truth, post-fact, and other stuff that’s just not real (or perhaps it is).

Post*factua!ly will formally open it’s doors by early February. So, in the meantime if you wish to join the community please visit this link, and thanks for giving the world of post-fact and truthiness a chance.

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The Existential Dangers of the Online Echo Chamber

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The online filter bubble is a natural extension of our preexisting biases, particularly evident in our media consumption. Those of us of a certain age — above 30 years — once purchased (and maybe still do) our favorite paper-based newspapers and glued ourselves to our favorite TV news channels. These sources mirrored, for the most part, our cultural and political preferences. The internet took this a step further by building a tightly wound, self-reinforcing feedback loop. We consume our favorite online media, which solicits algorithms to deliver more of the same. I’ve written about the filter bubble for years (here, here and here).

The online filter bubble in which each of us lives — those of us online — may seem no more dangerous than its offline predecessor. After all, the online version of the NYT delivers left-of-center news, just like its printed cousin. So what’s the big deal? Well, the pervasiveness of our technology has now enabled these filters to creep insidiously into many aspects of our lives, from news consumption and entertainment programming to shopping and even dating. And, since we now spend growing  swathes of our time online, our serendipitous exposure to varied content that typically lies outside this bubble in the real, offline world is diminishing. Consequently, the online filter bubble is taking on a much more critical role and having greater effect in maintaining our tunnel vision.

However, that’s not all. Over the last few years we have become exposed to yet another dangerous phenomenon to have made the jump from the offline world to online — the echo chamber. The online echo chamber is enabled by our like-minded online communities and catalyzed by the tools of social media. And, it turns our filter bubble into a self-reinforcing, exclusionary community that is harmful to varied, reasoned opinion and healthy skepticism.

Those of us who reside on Facebook are likely to be part of a very homogeneous social circle, which trusts, shares and reinforces information accepted by the group and discards information that does not match the group’s social norms. This makes the spread of misinformation — fake stories, conspiracy theories, hoaxes, rumors — so very effective. Importantly, this is increasingly to the exclusion of all else, including real news and accepted scientific fact.

Why embrace objective journalism, trusted science and thoughtful political dialogue when you can get a juicy, emotive meme from a friend of a friend on Facebook? Why trust a story from Reuters or science from Scientific American when you get your “news” via a friend’s link from Alex Jones and the Brietbart News Network?

And, there’s no simple solution, which puts many of our once trusted institutions in severe jeopardy. Those of us who care have a duty to ensure these issues are in the minds of our public officials and the guardians of our technology and media networks.

From Scientific American:

If you get your news from social media, as most Americans do, you are exposed to a daily dose of hoaxes, rumors, conspiracy theories and misleading news. When it’s all mixed in with reliable information from honest sources, the truth can be very hard to discern.

In fact, my research team’s analysis of data from Columbia University’s Emergent rumor tracker suggests that this misinformation is just as likely to go viral as reliable information.

Many are asking whether this onslaught of digital misinformation affected the outcome of the 2016 U.S. election. The truth is we do not know, although there are reasons to believe it is entirely possible, based on past analysis and accounts from other countries. Each piece of misinformation contributes to the shaping of our opinions. Overall, the harm can be very real: If people can be conned into jeopardizing our children’s lives, as they do when they opt out of immunizations, why not our democracy?

As a researcher on the spread of misinformation through social media, I know that limiting news fakers’ ability to sell ads, as recently announced by Google and Facebook, is a step in the right direction. But it will not curb abuses driven by political motives.

Read the entire article here.

Image courtesy of Google Search.

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Fish Roasts Human: Don’t Read It, Share It

Common_goldfish2

Interestingly enough, though perhaps not surprisingly, people on social media share news stories rather than read them. At first glance this seems rather perplexing: after all, why would you tweet or re-tweet or like or share a news item before actually reading and understanding it?

Arnaud Legout co-author of a recent study, out of Columbia University and the French National Institute (Inria), tells us that “People form an opinion based on a summary, or summary of summaries, without making the effort to go deeper.” More confusingly, he adds, “Our results show that sharing content and actually reading it are poorly correlated.”

Please take 8 seconds or more to mull over this last statement again:

Our results show that sharing content and actually reading it are poorly correlated.

Without doubt our new technological platforms and social media have upended traditional journalism. But, in light of this unnerving finding I have to wonder if this means the eventual and complete collapse of deep analytical, investigative journalism and the replacement of thoughtful reflection with “NationalEnquirerThink”.

Perhaps I’m reading too much into the findings, but it does seem that it is more important for social media users to bond with and seek affirmation from their followers than it is to be personally informed.

With average human attention span now down to 8 seconds I think our literary and contemplative future now seems to belong safely in the fins of our cousin, the goldfish (attention span, 9 seconds).

Learn more about Arnaud Legout’s disturbing study here.

Image: Common Goldfish. Courtesy: Wikipedia. Public Domain.

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Facebook’s Growing Filter Bubble

I’ve been writing about the filter bubble for quite sometime. The filter bubble refers to the tendency for online search tools, and now social media, to screen and deliver results that fit our online history and profile thereby returning only results that are deemed relevant. Eli Pariser coined the term in his book The Filter Bubble, published in 2011.

The filter bubble presents us with a clear faustian bargain: give up knowledge and serendipitous discovery of the wider world for narrow, personalized news and information that matches our immediate needs and agrees with our profile.

The great irony is that our technologies promise a limitless, interconnected web of data and information, but these same technologies ensure that we will see only the small sliver of information that passes through our personal, and social, filters. This consigns us to live inside our very own personal echo chambers, separated from disagreeable information that does not pass criteria in our profiles or measures gleaned across our social networks.

So, we should all be concerned as Facebook turns its attention to delivering and filtering news, and curating it in a quest for a more profitable return. Without question we are in the early stages of the reinvention of journalism as a whole and digital news in particular. The logical conclusion of this evolution has yet to be written, but it is certainly clear that handing so much power over the dissemination of news and information to one company cannot be in our long-term interests. If Mr. Zuckerberg and team deem certain political news to be personally distasteful or contrary to their corporate mission, should we sit back and allow them to filter it for us? I think not.

From Wired:

When Facebook News Feed guru Will Cathcart took the stage at F8 to talk about news, the audience was packed. Some followed along on Twitter. Others streamed the session online. Journalists, developers, and media types all clamored to catch a glimpse of “Creating Value for News Publishers and Readers on Facebook”—value that has become the most coveted asset in the news business as Facebook becomes a primary way the public finds and shares news.

As Cathcart kicked off the session, he took the captive audience to a Syrian refugee camp via Facebook’s new, innovative, and immersive 360 video experience. He didn’t say much about where the camp was (“I believe in Greece?”), nor anything about the camp situation. He didn’t offer the audio of the journalist describing the scene. No matter!

The refugee camp is a placeholder. A placeholder, in fact, that has become so overused that it was actually the second time yesterday that Facebook execs waved their hands about the importance of media before playing a video clip of refugees. It could have been a tour of the White House, the Boston bombing, Coachella. It could have been anything to Facebook. It’s “content.” It’s a commodity. What matters to Facebook is the product it’s selling—and who’s buying is you and the news industry.

What Facebook is selling you is pretty simple. It’s selling an experience, part of which includes news. That experience is dependent on content creators—you know, journalists and newsrooms—who come up with ideas, use their own resources to realize them, and then put them out into the world. All of which takes time, money, and skill. For its “media partners” (the CNNs, BuzzFeeds, and WIREDs of the world), Facebook is selling a promise that their future will be bright if they use Facebook’s latest news products to distribute those new, innovative, and immersive stories to Facebook’s giant audience.

The only problem is that Facebook’s promise isn’t a real one. It’s false hope; or at its worst, a threat.

Read the entire article here.

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Old Fame and Insta-Fame

First, let me begin by introducing a quote for our times from David Bowie, dated 2003, published in Performing Songwriter.

“Fame itself, of course, doesn’t really afford you anything more than a good seat in a restaurant. That must be pretty well known by now. I’m just amazed how fame is being posited as the be all and end all, and how many of these young kids who are being foisted on the public have been talked into this idea that anything necessary to be famous is all right. It’s a sad state of affairs. However arrogant and ambitious I think we were in my generation, I think the idea was that if you do something really good, you’ll become famous. The emphasis on fame itself is something new. Now it’s, to be famous you should do what it takes, which is not the same thing at all. And it will leave many of them with this empty feeling.”

Thirteen years on, and just a few days following Bowie’s tragic death, his words on fame remain startlingly appropriate. We now live in a world where fame can be pursued, manufactured and curated without needing any particular talent — social media has seen to that.

This new type of fame — let’s call it insta-fame — is a very different kind of condition to our typical notion of old fame, which may be enabled by a gorgeous voice, or acting prowess, or a way with the written word, or prowess with a tennis racket, or at the wheel of a race car, or one a precipitous ski slope, or from walking on the surface of the Moon, or from winning the Spelling Bee, or from devising a cure for polio.

It’s easy to confuse insta-fame with old fame: both offer a huge following of adoring strangers and both, potentially, lead to inordinate monetary reward. But that’s where the similarities end. Old fame came from visible public recognition and required an achievement or a specific talent, usually honed after many years or decades. Insta-fame on the other hand doesn’t seem to demand any specific skill and is often pursued as an end in itself. With insta-fame the public recognition has become decoupled from the achievement — to such an extent, in fact, that it no longer requires any achievement or skill, other than the gathering of more public recognition. This is a gloriously self-sustaining circle that advertisers have grown to adore.

My diatribe leads to a fascinating article on the second type of fame, insta-fame, and some of its protagonists and victims. David Bowie’s words continue to ring true.

From the Independent:

Charlie Barker is in her pyjamas, sitting in the shared kitchen of her halls of residence, with an Asda shopping trolley next to her – storage overflow from her tiny room. A Flybe plane takes off from City Airport, just across the dank water from the University of East London, where Barker studies art in surroundings that could not be greyer. The only way out is the DLR, the driverless trains that link Docklands to the brighter parts of town.

 “I always wanted to move to London and when everyone was signing up for uni, I was like, I don’t want to go to uni – I just want to go to London,” says Barker, who calls David Bowie her “spirit animal” and is obsessed with Hello Kitty. But going to London is hard if you’re 18 and from Nottingham and don’t have a plan or money. “So then I was like, OK, I’ll go to uni in London.” So she ended up in Beckton, which is closer to Essex than the city centre.

It’s lunchtime and one of Barker’s housemates walks in to stick something in the microwave, which he quickly takes back to his room. They exchange hellos. “I don’t really talk to people here, I just go to central to meet my friends,” she says. “But the DLR is so long and tragic, especially when you’re not in the brightest of moods.” I ask her if she often goes to the student canteen. I noticed it on the way here; it’s called “Munch”. She’s in her second year and says she didn’t know it existed.

These are unlikely surroundings, in some ways. Because while Barker is a nice, normal student doing normal student things, she’s also famous. I take out my phone and we look through her pictures on Instagram, where her following is greater than the combined circulations of Hello! and OK! magazines. Now @charliexbarker is in the room and things become more colourful. Pink, mainly. And blue, and glitter, and selfies, and skin.

And Hello Kitty. “I wanted to get a tattoo on the palm of my hand and because it was painful I was like, ‘what do I believe in enough to get tattooed on my hand for the rest of my life?’, and I was like – Hello Kitty. My Mum was like, ‘you freak!'” The drawing of the Japanese cartoon cat features in a couple of Barker’s 700-plus photos. In a portrait of her hand, she holds a pink and blue lollipop, and her fingernails are painted pink and blue. The caption: “Pink n blu pink n blu.”

Before that, Barker, now 19, wanted a tattoo saying “Drink water, eat pussy”, but decided against it. The slogan appears in another photo, scrawled on the pavement in pink chalk as she sits wearing a Betty Boop jacket in pink and black, with pink hair and fishnets. “I was bumming around with my friend Daniel, who’s a photographer, and I wanted to see if I could do all the styling and everything,” she says. “We’d already done four of five looks and we were like, oh my God, so we just wet my hair and went with it.”

“Poco esplicita,” suggests one of her Italian followers beside the photo. Barker rarely replies to comments these days, most of which are from fans (“I love uuuuu… Your style just killing me… IM SCREAMING”) and doesn’t say much in her captions (“I do wat I want” in this case). Yet her followers – 622,000 of them at the time of writing – love her pictures, many of which receive more than 50,000 likes. She’s not on reality TV, can’t sing and has no famous relatives. She’s not rich and has no access to private jets or tigers as pets. Yet with a photographic glimpse – or at least suggestion – of a life of colour and attitude, a student in Beckton has earned the sort of fame that only exists on Instagram.

“That sounds so weird, saying that, stop it!” she says when I ask if she feels famous. “No, I’m not famous. I’m just doing my own thing, getting recognition doing it. And I think everyone’s famous now, aren’t they? Everyone has an Instagram and everyone’s famous.”

The photo app, bought by Facebook in 2012, boomed last year, overtaking Twitter in September with 400 million active monthly users. But there are degrees of Instafame. And if one measure, beyond an audience, is a change to one’s life, then Barker has it. So too do Brian Whittaker (@brianhwhittaker) and Olivia Knight-Butler (@livrosekb), whose followings also defy celebrity norms. Whittaker, an insanely grown-up 16-year-old from Solihull, also rejects the idea that he’s famous at all, despite having a quarter of a million followers. “I don’t see followers as a real thing, it’s just being popular on a page,” he says from his mum’s house.

Yet in the next sentence he talks about the best indicator of fame in any age. “I get stopped in the street quite a bit now. In the summer I was in Singapore with my parents and people were taking pictures of me. One person stopped me and then when I got back to the hotel room I saw pictures of me on Instagram shopping. People had tagged me and were asking, ‘is this really you, are you in Singapore?'”

“I get so so flattered when people ask me for a picture in the street,” Barker says. Most of her fans are younger teenage girls. Many have set up dedicated Charlie Barker fan accounts, re-posting her images adorned with love hearts. They idolise her. “I feel like I have to give them eternal love for it, I’m like, oh my God, that is so sweet.”

Read the entire article here.

Video: Fame, David Bowie. Courtesy mudroll / Youtube.

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On the Joys of Not Being Twenty Again

I’m not twenty, and am constantly reminded that I’m not — both from internal alerts and external messages. Would I like to be younger? Of course. But it certainly comes at a price. So, after reading the exploits of a 20-something forced to live without her smartphone for a week, I realize it’s not all that bad being a cranky old luddite.

I hope that the ordeal, excerpted below, is tongue-very-much-in-cheek but I suspect it’s not: constant status refreshes, morning selfies, instant content gratification, nano-scale attention span, over-stimulation, life-stream documentation, peer ranking, group-think, interrupted interruptions. Thus, I realize I’m rather content not to be twenty after all.

From the Telegraph:

I have a confession to make: I am addicted to my smartphone. I use it as an alarm clock, map, notepad, mirror and camera.

I spend far too much time on Twitter and Instagram and have this week realised I have a nervous tick where I repeatedly unlock my smartphone.

And because of my phone’s many apps which organise my life and help me navigate the world, like many people my age, I am quite literally lost without it.

I am constantly told off by friends and family for using my phone during conversations, and I recently found out (to my horror) that I have taken over 5,000 selfies.

So when my phone broke I seized the opportunity to spend an entire week without it, and kept a diary each day.

Day One: Thursday

Frazzled, I reached to my bedside table, so I could take a morning selfie and send it to my friends.

Realising why that could not happen, my hand and my heart both felt empty. I knew at this point it was going to be a long week.

Day Two: Friday

I basked in the fact my colleagues could not contact me – and if I did not reply to their emails straight away it would not be the end of the world.

I then took the train home to see my parents outside London.

I couldn’t text my mother about any delays which may have happened (they didn’t), and she couldn’t tell me if she was going to be late to the station (she wasn’t). The lack of phone did nothing but make me feel anxious and prevent me from being able to tweet about the irritating children screaming on the train.

Day Three: Saturday

It is a bit weird feeling completely cut off from the outside world; I am not chained to my computer like I am at work and I am not allowed to constantly be on my laptop like a teen hacker.

It was nice though – a real detox. We went on a walk with our spaniel in the countryside near the Chiltern Hills. I had to properly talk to everyone, instead of constantly refreshing Twitter, which was novel.

I do feel like my attention span is improving every day, but I equally feel anchorless and lost without having any way of contacting anyone, or documenting my life.

….

Day Seven: Wednesday

My attention span and patience have grown somewhat, and I have noticed I daydream and have thoughts independent of Twitter far more often than usual.

Read the entire account here.

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Social Media Lice

google-search-group-selfie

We know that social media helps us stay superficially connected to others. We also know many of the drawbacks — an over-inflated and skewed sense of self; poor understanding and reduced thoughtfulness; neurotic fear of missing out (FOMO); public shaming, online bullying and trolling.

But, now we hear that one of the key foundations of social media — the taking and sharing of selfies — has more serious consequences. Social media has caused an explosion in head lice, especially in teenagers, particularly girls. Call it: social media head lice syndrome. While this may cause you to scratch your head in disbelief, or for psychosomatic reasons, the outbreak of lice is rather obvious. It goes like this: a group of teens needs a quick selfie fix; teens crowd around the smartphone and pose; teens lean in, heads together; head lice jump from one scalp to the next.

From the Independent:

Selfies have sparked an explosion in the number of head lice cases among teenagers a group of US paediatricians has warned.

The group said there is a growing trend of “social media lice” where lice spread when teenagers cram their heads together to take a selfie.

Lice cannot jump so they are less common in older children who do not tend to swap hats or headgear.

A Wisconsin paediatrician, Dr Sharon Rink, told local news channel WBAY2 she has seen a surge of teenagers coming to see her for treatment, something which was unheard of five years ago.

Dr Rink said: “People are doing selfies like every day, as opposed to going to photo booths years and years ago.

“So you’re probably having much more contact with other people’s heads.

“If you have an extremely itchy scalp and you’re a teenager, you might want to get checked out for lice instead of chalking it up to dandruff.”

In its official online guide to preventing the spread of head lice, the Center for Disease Control recommends avoiding head-to-head contact where possible and suggests girls are more likely to get the parasite than boys because they tend to have “more frequent head-to-head contact”.

Read (and scratch) more here.

Image courtesy of Google Search.

 

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Your Perfect Lifestyle Captured, Shared, Commoditized

Socality-BarbieMany millions of people post countless images on a daily basis of their perfect soft-focus and sepia-toned lives on Instagram (and other social media). These images are cataloged and captioned and shared so that many more millions may participate vicariously in these wonderfully perfect moments.

Recently a well known personality joined the Instagram picture-posting, image-sharing frenzy. Not unlike movie-stars, sports personalities and the music glitterati she’s garnered millions of followers on Instagram. She posts pictures of her latest, perfect outfits with perfect hair; she shows us perfect lattes sipped from the perfect coffee shop; she shares shares soft-focus sunsets from perfect mountaintops; images of a perfect 5-course dinner from a perfectly expensive bistro with or without that perfect bearded date; photographs of perfect vacations at the beach or from a yacht or a vintage train. She seems to have a perfect life, captured in a kaleidoscopic torrent of perfect visuals.

Her name is Barbie. Actually, her full name is Socality Barbie. She’s a parody of her human followers, and she’s well on her way to becoming the next social media sensation. Except, she’s not real, she’s a Barbie doll. But what’s really interesting about Socality Barbie is that she’s much like many of her human peers on social media — she’s a commoditized hipster.

My one complaint: she doesn’t take enough selfies. I wonder what’s next for her — perhaps an eponymous reality TV show.

From the Guardian:

Here she is on the sand, barefoot in the lapping waves, wearing cropped skinny jeans and shoulder-robing a blanket. And here she is in a cafe, the sleeves of her utility overshirt pushed up as she reaches for her flat white with its photogenic foam-art. Here she is in the mountains, wearing a beanie hat that perfectly offsets hair blow-dried into soft waves. Oh, and look, here’s a still-life shot of her weekend-away capsule wardrobe laid out on hardwood floors. She’s taking high-heeled hiking boots. But then, she is a Barbie doll.

Socality Barbie, the newest social-media sensation, is on a mission to take down Instagram from the inside. The account is the brainchild of an anonymous wedding photographer in Oregon, who dresses a Barbie doll in mini-hipster outfits and posts Instagram shots of doll-sized hikes (always sunny, lots of photogenic light shafts through the trees), coffee dates (whitewashed wooden tables and a calm, mindful atmosphere) and boyfriends (check shirt, facial hair).

It’s not exactly satire – I don’t think you can really satirise Instagram, that would be like satirising kittens – but Socality Barbie skewers something about how plastic Instagram has become. She is the Rosa Parks of a society oppressed by thigh gaps and tyrannised by heavily filtered brunches. She is a taking a brave stand against – OK, poking fun at – the disproportionate power and influence of Instagram, which has overtaken the Farrow & Ball paint chart as the sacred text we must live by.

Let me get one thing straight: I love Instagram. I am addicted. Sometimes I wake up in the night and, half asleep, reach for my phone and start scrolling through my feed, which at that hour is Lily-Rose Depp in novelty socks, people I vaguely know in New York taking overlit selfies in bars and insomniacs on a 3am camera-roll jag posting throwback photos with mawkish captions. And I love it. So I am absolutely not about to declare Instagram over. Anyway, that would be idiotic: in 2012, Facebook paid $1bn to buy it; it is now valued at $35bn. And in fashion, Instagram is everything. It has catwalk shows in real time, street style from all over the world, plus you get to see every time someone you know buys a new coat. What more could I possibly want?

But what Instagram isn’t any more is cutting edge. Instead of being hip, it is a world of commodified hipsterdom. All pigeon-toed loafers on pretty tiled floors and nail art on a hand holding a street-truck burger. It is a guilty pleasure, a cosy comforting world where everyone dresses really well and is also, like, super nice. It is is a bit like watching reality TV, in fact. You get to watch attractive people living their lives, at a level of apparent intimacy that makes it compelling. Theoretically, Instagram is more high-minded than reality TV, because it shows you a kaleidoscope of viewpoints from all over the world. The trouble is they all look the same.

Read the entire story here.

Images courtesy of Socality Barbie.

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What If You Spoke Facebookish?

The video from comedian Jason Horton shows us what real world interactions would be like if we conversed the same way as we do online via Facebook. His conversations may be tongue-in-cheek but they’re too close to becoming reality for comfort. You have to suppose that these offline (real world) status updates would have us drowning in hashtags, over-reaction, moralizing, and endless yawn inducing monologues.

I’d rather have Esperanto make a comeback.

Video courtesy of Jason Horton.

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Bang Bang, You’re Dead. The Next Great Reality TV Show

Google-search-reality-tv

Aside from my disbelief that America can let the pathetic and harrowing violence from guns continue, the latest shocking episode in Virginia raises another disturbing thought. And, Jonathan Jones has captured it quite aptly. Are we increasingly internalizing real world violence as a vivid but trivial game? Despite trails of murder victims and untold trauma to families and friends, the rest of us are lulled into dream-like detachment. The violence is just like a video game, right? The violence is played out as a reality TV show, right? And we know both are just fiction — it’s not news, it’s titillating, voyeuristic entertainment. So, there is no need for us to do anything. Let’s just all sit back and wait for the next innovative installment in America’s murderous screenplay. Bang bang, you’re dead! The show must go on.

Or, you could do something different, however small, and I don’t mean recite your go-to prayer or converge around a candle!

From Jonathan Jones over at the Guardian:

Vester Flanagan’s video of his own murderous shooting of Alison Parker and Adam Ward shows a brutal double killing from the shooter’s point of view. While such a sick stunt echoes the horror film Peeping Tom by British director Michael Powell, in which a cameraman films his murders, this is not fiction. It is reality – or the closest modern life gets to reality.

I agree with those who say such excreta of violence should not be shared on social media, let alone screened by television stations or hosted by news websites. But like everything else that simply should not happen, the broadcasting and circulation of this monstrous video has happened. It is one more step in the destruction of boundaries that seems a relentless rush of our time. Nothing is sacred. Not even the very last moments of Alison Parker as we see, from Flanagan’s point of view, Flanagan’s gun pointing at her.

Like the giant gun Alfred Hitchcock used to create a disturbing point of view shot in Spellbound, the weapon dominates the sequence I have seen (I have no intention of seeking out the other scenes). The gun is in Flanagan’s hand and it gives him power. It is held there, shown to the camera, like a child’s proud toy or an exposed dick in his hand – it is obscene because you can see that it is so important to him, that it is supposed to be some kind of answer, revenger or – as gun fans like to nickname America’s most famous gun the Colt 45 – “the Equaliser”. The way Flanagan focuses on his gun revealed the madness of America’s gun laws because it shows the infantile and pathetic relationship the killer appears to have with his weapon. How can it make sense to give guns so readily to troubled individuals?

What did the killer expect viewers to get from watching his video? The horrible conclusion has to be that he expected empathy. Surely, that is not possible. The person who you care about when seeing this is unambiguously his victim. This is, viewed with any humanity at all, a harrowing view of the evil of killing another person. I watched it once. I can’t look again at Alison Parker’s realization of her plight.

The sense that we somehow have a right to see this, the decision of many media outlets to screen it, has a lot to do with the television trappings of this crime. Because part of the attack was seen and heard live on air, because the victims and the perpetrator all worked for the same TV station, there’s something stagey about it all. Sadly people so enjoy true life crime stories and this one has a hokey TV setting that recalls many fictional plots of films and TV programs.

It exposes the paradox of ‘reality television’ – that people on television are not real to the audience at all. The death of a presenter is therefore something that can be replayed on screens with impunity. To see how bizarre and improper this is, imagine if anyone broadcast or hosted a serial killer’s videos of graphic murders. How is viewing this better?

But there is still another level of unreality. The view of that gun pointing at Parker resembles video games like Call of Duty that similarly show your gun pointing at virtual enemies. Is this more than a coincidence? It is complicated by the fact that Flanagan had worked in television. His experience of cameras was not just virtual. So his act of videoing his crime would seem to be another crass, mad way of getting “revenge” on former colleagues. But the resemblance to video games is nevertheless eerie. It adds to the depressing conclusion that we may see more images taken by killers, more dead-eyed recordings of inhuman acts. For video games do create fantasy worlds in which pointing a gun is such a light thing to do.

In this film from the abyss the gun is used as if it was game. Pointed at real people with the ease of manipulating a joystick. And bang bang, they are dead.

Read the entire article here.

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The Tragedy. The Reaction

gun-violence-reaction

Another day, another dark and twisted murder in the United States facilitated by the simple convenience of a gun. The violence and horror seems to become more incredible each time: murder in restaurants, murder at the movie theater, murder on the highway, murder in the convenience store, murder at work, murder in a place of worship, and now murder on-air, live and staged via social media.

But, as I’ve mentioned before the real tragedy is the inaction of the people. Oh apologies, there is a modicum of action, but it is inconsequential, with apologies to the victims’ families. After each mass shooting — we don’t hear much about individual murder anymore (far too common) — the pattern is lamentably predictable: tears and grief; headlines of disbelief and horror; mass soul-searching (lasting several minutes at most); prayer and words, often spoken by a community or national leader; tributes to the victims and sympathy for the families and friends; candlelight vigils, balloons, flowers and cards at the crime scene. It’s all so sad and pathetic. Another day, another mass murder. Repeat the inaction.

Until individuals, neighbors and communities actually take real action to curb gun violence these sad tragedies and empty gestures will continue to loop endlessly.

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Digital Romance is Alive (and Texting)

The last fifty years has seen a tremendous shift in our personal communications. We have moved from voice conversations via rotary phones molded in bakelite to anytime, anywhere texting via smartphones and public-private multimedia exposes held via social media. During all of this upheaval the process of romance may have changed too, but it remains alive and well, albeit rather different.

From Technology Review:

Boy meets girl; they grow up and fall in love. But technology interferes and threatens to destroy their blissful coupledom. The destructive potential of communication technologies is at the heart of Stephanie Jones’s self-published romance novel Dreams and Misunderstandings. Two childhood sweethearts, Rick and Jessie, use text messages, phone calls, and e-mail to manage the distance between them as Jessie attends college on the East Coast of the United States and Rick moves between Great Britain and the American West. Shortly before a summer reunion, their technological ties fail when Jessie is hospitalized after a traumatic attack. During her recovery, she loses access to her mobile phone, computer, and e-mail account. As a result, the lovers do not reunite and spend years apart, both thinking they have been deserted.

Jones blames digital innovations for the misunderstandings that prevent Rick and Jessie’s reunion. It’s no surprise this theme runs through a romance novel: it reflects a wider cultural fear that these technologies impede rather than strengthen human connection. One of the Internet’s earliest boosters, MIT professor Sherry Turkle, makes similar claims in her most recent book, Alone Together: Why We Expect More of Technology and Less from Each Other. She argues that despite their potential, communication technologies are threatening human relationships, especially intimate ones, because they offer “substitutes for connecting with each other face-to-face.”

If the technology is not fraying or undermining existing relationships, stories abound of how it is creating false or destructive ones among young people who send each other sexually explicit cell-phone photos or “catfish,” luring the credulous into online relationships with fabricated personalities. In her recent book about hookup culture, The End of Sex, Donna Freitas indicts mobile technologies for the ease with which they allow the hookup to happen.

It is true that communication technologies have been reshaping love, romance, and sex throughout the 2000s. The Internet, sociologists Michael ­Rosenfeld and Reuben Thomas have found, is now the third most common way to find a partner, after meeting through friends or in bars, restaurants, and other public places. Twenty-two percent of heterosexual couples now meet online. In many ways, the Internet has replaced families, churches, schools, neighborhoods, civic groups, and workplaces as a venue for finding romance. It has become especially important for those who have a “thin market” of potential romantic partners—middle-aged straight people, gays and lesbians of all ages, the elderly, and the geographically isolated. But even for those who are not isolated from current or potential partners, cell phones, social-network sites, and similar forms of communication now often play a central role in the formation, maintenance, and dissolution of intimate relationships.

While these developments are significant, fears about what they mean do not accurately reflect the complexity of how the technology is really used. This is not surprising: concerns about technology as a threat to the social order, particularly in matters of sexuality and intimacy, go back much further than Internet dating and cell phones. From the boxcar (critics worried that it could transport those of loose moral character from town to town) to the automobile (which gave young people a private space for sexual activity) to reproductive technologies like in vitro fertilization, technological innovations that affect intimate life have always prompted angst. Often, these fears have resulted in what sociologists call a “moral panic”—an episode of exaggerated public anxiety over a perceived threat to social order.

Moral panic is an appropriate description for the fears expressed by Jones, Turkle, and Freitas about the role of technology in romantic relationships. Rather than driving people apart, technology-­mediated communication is likely to have a “hyperpersonal effect,” communications professor Joseph Walther has found. That is, it allows people to be more intimate with one another—sometimes more intimate than would be sustainable face to face. “John,” a college freshman in Chicago whom I interviewed for research that I published in a 2009 book, Hanging Out, Messing Around and Geeking Out: Kids Living and Learning with New Media, highlights this paradox. He asks, “What happens after you’ve had a great online flirtatious chat … and then the conversation sucks in person?”

In the initial getting-to-know-you phase of a relationship, the asynchronous nature of written communication—texts, e-mails, and messages or comments on dating or social-network sites, as opposed to phone calls or video chatting—allows people to interact more continuously and to save face in potentially vulnerable situations. As people flirt and get to know each other this way, they can plan, edit, and reflect upon flirtatious messages before sending them. As John says of this type of communication, “I can think about things more. You can deliberate and answer however you want.”

As couples move into committed relationships, they use these communication technologies to maintain a digital togetherness regardless of their physical distance. With technologies like mobile phones and social-network sites, couples need never be truly apart. Often, this strengthens intimate relationships: in a study on couples’ use of technology in romantic relationships, Borae Jin and Jorge Peña found that couples who are in greater cell-phone contact exhibit less uncertainty about their relationships and higher levels of commitment. This type of communication becomes a form of “relationship work” in which couples trade digital objects of affection such as text messages or comments on online photos. As “Champ,” a 19-year-old in New York, told one of my collaborators on Hanging Out, Messing Around and Geeking Out about his relationship with his girlfriend, “You send a little text message—‘Oh I’m thinking of you,’ or something like that—while she’s working … Three times out of the day, you probably send little comments.”

To be sure, some of today’s fears are based on the perfectly accurate observation that communication technologies don’t always lend themselves to constructive relationship work. The public nature of Facebook posts, for example, appears to promote jealousy and decrease intimacy. When the anthropologist Ilana Gershon interviewed college students about their romantic lives, several told her that Facebook threatens their relationships. As one of her interviewees, “Cole,” said: “There is so much drama. It’s adding another stress.”

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Liking the Likes of Likers

Researchers trawling through data from Facebook and other social networking sites find good examples of what they call human herding behavior.  A notable case shows that if you “like” an article online, your friends are more likely to “like” that article too. Is it a case of similarities of the group leading to similar behavior among peers? Well, apparently not — the same research also found that if you dislike the same article, your friends are not as likely to dislike it as well. So what is going on?

From the New York Times:

If you “like” this article on a site like Facebook, somebody who reads it is more likely to approve of it, even if the reporting and writing are not all that great.

But surprisingly, an unfair negative reaction will not spur others to dislike the article. Instead, a thumbs-down view will soon be counteracted by thumbs up from other readers.

Those are the implications of new research looking at the behavior of thousands of people reading online comments, scientists reported Friday in the journal Science. A positive nudge, they said, can set off a bandwagon of approval.

“Hype can work,” said one of the researchers, Sinan K. Aral, a professor of information technology and marketing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, “and feed on itself as well.”

If people tend to herd together on popular opinions, that could call into question the reliability of “wisdom of the crowd” ratings on Web sites like Yelp or Amazon and perhaps provide marketers with hints on how to bring positive attention to their products.

“This is certainly a provocative study,” said Matthew O. Jackson, a professor of economics at Stanford who was not involved with the research. “It raises a lot of questions we need to answer.”

Besides Dr. Aral (who is also a scholar in residence at The New York Times research and development laboratory, working on unrelated projects), the researchers are from Hebrew University in Jerusalem and New York University.

They were interested in answering a question that long predates the iPhone and Justin Bieber: Is something popular because it is actually good, or is it popular just because it is popular?

To help answer that question, the researchers devised an experiment in which they could manipulate a small corner of the Internet: reader comments.

They collaborated with an unnamed Web site, the company did not want its involvement disclosed, on which users submit links to news articles. Readers can then comment on the articles, and they can also give up or down votes on individual comments. Each comment receives a rating calculated by subtracting negative votes from positive ones.

The experiment performed a subtle, random change on the ratings of comments submitted on the site over five months: right after each comment was made, it was given an arbitrary up or down vote, or — for a control group — left alone. Reflecting a tendency among the site’s users to provide positive feedback, about twice as many of these arbitrary initial votes were positive: 4,049 to 1,942.

The first person reading the comment was 32 percent more likely to give it an up vote if it had been already given a fake positive score. There was no change in the likelihood of subsequent negative votes. Over time, the comments with the artificial initial up vote ended with scores 25 percent higher than those in the control group.

“That is a significant change,” Dr. Aral said. “We saw how these very small signals of social influence snowballed into behaviors like herding.”

Meanwhile, comments that received an initial negative vote ended up with scores indistinguishable from those in the control group.

The Web site allows users to say whether they like or dislike other users, and the researchers found that a commenter’s friends were likely to correct the negative score while enemies did not find it worth their time to knock down a fake up vote.

The distortion of ratings through herding is not a novel concern. Reddit, a social news site that said it was not the one that participated in the study, similarly allows readers to vote comments up or down, but it also allows its moderators to hide those ratings for a certain amount of time. “Now a comment will more likely be voted on based on its merit and appeal to each user, rather than having its public perception influence its votes,” it explained when it unveiled the feature in April.

Read the entire article here.

Image: Facebook “like” icon. Courtesy of Wikimedia / Facebook.

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Read Something Longer Than 140 Characters

Unplugging from the conveniences and obsessions of our age can be difficult, but not impossible. For those of you who have a demanding boss or needful relationships or lack the will to do away with the email, texts, tweets, voicemail, posts, SMS, likes and status messages there may still be (some) hope without having to go completely cold turkey.

While we would recommend you retreat to a quiet cabin by a still pond in the dark woods, the tips below may help you unwind if you’re frazzled but shun the idea of a remote hideaway. While you’re at it, why not immerse yourself in a copy of Walden.

From the Wall Street Journal:

You may never have read “Walden,” but you’re probably familiar with the premise: a guy with an ax builds a cabin in the woods and lives there for two years to tune out the inessential and discover himself. When Henry David Thoreau began his grand experiment, in 1845, he was about to turn 28—the age of a typical Instagram user today. Thoreau lived with his parents right before his move. During his sojourn, he returned home to do laundry.

Thoreau’s circumstances, in other words, weren’t so different from those of today’s 20-somethings—which is why seeking tech advice from a 19th-century transcendentalist isn’t as far-fetched as it may sound. “We do not ride on the railroad; it rides upon us,” he wrote in “Walden.” That statement still rings true for those of us who have lived with the latest high-tech wonders long enough to realize how much concentration they end up zapping. “We do not use the Facebook; it uses us,” we might say.

But even the average social-media curmudgeon’s views on gadgetry aren’t as extreme as those of Thoreau. Whereas he saw inventions “as improved means to an unimproved end,” most of us genuinely love our iPhones, Instagram feeds and on-demand video. We just don’t want them to take over our lives, lest we forget the joy of reading without the tempting interruption of email notifications, or the pleasure of watching just one good episode of a television show per sitting.

Thankfully, we don’t have to go off the grid to achieve more balance. We can arrive at a saner modern existence simply by tweaking a few settings on our gadgets and the services we rely on. Why renounce civilization when technology makes it so easy to duck out for short stretches?

Inspired by the writings of Thoreau, we looked for simple tools—the equivalent of Thoreau’s knife, ax, spade and wheelbarrow—to create the modern-day equivalent of a secluded cabin in the woods. Don’t worry: There’s still Wi-Fi.

1. Manage your Facebook ‘Friendships’

As your Facebook connections grow to include all 437 of the people you sort of knew in high school, it’s easy to get to the point where the site’s News Feed becomes a hub of oversharing—much of it accidental. (Your co-worker probably had no idea the site would post his results of the “Which Glee Character Are You?” quiz.) Adjusting a few settings will bring your feed back to a more Thoreauvian state.

Facebook tries to figure out which posts will be most interesting to you, but nothing beats getting in there yourself and decluttering by hand. The process is like playing Whac-A-Mole, with your hammer aimed at the irrelevant posts that pop up in your News Feed.

Start by removing serial offenders: On the website, hover your cursor over the person’s name as it appears above a post, hit the “Friends” button that pops up and then uncheck “Show in News Feed” to block future posts. If that feels too drastic, click “Acquaintances” from the pop-up screen instead. This relegates the person to a special “friends list” whose updates will appear lower in the News Feed. (Fear not, the person won’t be notified about either of the above demotions.)

You can go a step further and scale back the types of updates you receive from those you’ve added to Acquaintances (as well as any other friends lists you create). Hover your cursor over the News Feed’s “Friends” heading then click “More” and select the list name. Then click the “Manage Lists” button and, finally, “Choose Update Types.”

Unless you’re in the middle of a fierce match of Bejeweled Blitz, you can safely deselect “Games” and most likely “Music and Videos,” too. Go out on a limb and untick “Comments and Likes” to put the kibosh on musings and shout-outs about other people’s posts. You’ll probably want to leave the mysteriously named “Other Activity” checked, though; while it includes some yawn-inducing updates, the category also encompasses announcements of major life events, like engagements and births.

3. Read Something Longer Than 140 Characters

Computers, smartphones and tablets are perfect for skimming TMZ, but for hunkering down with the sort of thoughtful text Thoreau would endorse, a dedicated ereader is the tech equivalent of a wood-paneled reading room. Although there are fancier models out there, the classic Kindle and Kindle Paperwhite are still tough to beat. Because their screens aren’t backlit, they don’t cause eye strain the way a tablet or color ereader can. While Amazon sells discounted models that display advertisements (each costs $20 less), don’t fall for the trap: The ads undermine the tranquility of the device. (If you already own an ad-supported Kindle, remove the ads for $20 using the settings page.) Also be sure to install the Send to Kindle plug-in for the Chrome and Firefox Web browers. It lets you beam long articles that you stumble upon online to the device, magically stripping away banner ads and other Web detritus in the process.

Read the entire article here.

Image: Henry David Thoreau, 1856. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

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Documentary Filmmaker or Smartphone Voyeur?

Yesterday’s murderous atrocity on a busy street in Woolwich, South East London has shocked many proud and stoic Londoners to the core. For two reasons. First, that a heinous act such as this can continue to be wrought by one human against another in honor of misguided and barbaric politics and under the guise of distorted religious fanaticism. Second, that many witnesses at close range recorded the unfolding scene on their smartphones for later dissemination via social media, but did nothing to prevent the ensuing carnage or to aid the victim and those few who did run to help.

Our thoughts go to the family and friends of the victim. Words cannot express the sadness.

To the perpetrators: you and your ideas will be consigned to the trash heap of history. To the voyeurs: you are complicit through your inaction; it would have been wiser to have used your smartphones as projectiles or to call the authorities, rather than to watch and record and tweet the bloodshed. You should be troubled and ashamed.

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Friendships of Utility

The average Facebook user is said to have 142 “friends”, and many active members have over 500. This certainly seems to be a textbook case of quantity over quality in the increasingly competitive status wars and popularity stakes of online neo- or pseudo-celebrity. That said, and regardless of your relationship with online social media, the one good to come from the likes — a small pun intended — of Facebook is that social scientists can now dissect and analyze your online behaviors and relationships as never before.

So, while Facebook, and its peers, may not represent a qualitative leap in human relationships the data and experiences that come from it may help future generations figure out what is truly important.

From the Wall Street Journal:

Facebook has made an indelible mark on my generation’s concept of friendship. The average Facebook user has 142 friends (many people I know have upward of 500). Without Facebook many of us “Millennials” wouldn’t know what our friends are up to or what their babies or boyfriends look like. We wouldn’t even remember their birthdays. Is this progress?

Aristotle wrote that friendship involves a degree of love. If we were to ask ourselves whether all of our Facebook friends were those we loved, we’d certainly answer that they’re not. These days, we devote equal if not more time to tracking the people we have had very limited human interaction with than to those whom we truly love. Aristotle would call the former “friendships of utility,” which, he wrote, are “for the commercially minded.”

I’d venture to guess that at least 90% of Facebook friendships are those of utility. Knowing this instinctively, we increasingly use Facebook as a vehicle for self-promotion rather than as a means to stay connected to those whom we love. Instead of sharing our lives, we compare and contrast them, based on carefully calculated posts, always striving to put our best face forward.

Friendship also, as Aristotle described it, can be based on pleasure. All of the comments, well-wishes and “likes” we can get from our numerous Facebook friends may give us pleasure. But something feels false about this. Aristotle wrote: “Those who love for the sake of pleasure do so for the sake of what is pleasant to themselves, and not insofar as the other is the person loved.” Few of us expect the dozens of Facebook friends who wish us a happy birthday ever to share a birthday celebration with us, let alone care for us when we’re sick or in need.

One thing’s for sure, my generation’s friendships are less personal than my parents’ or grandparents’ generation. Since we can rely on Facebook to manage our friendships, it’s easy to neglect more human forms of communication. Why visit a person, write a letter, deliver a card, or even pick up the phone when we can simply click a “like” button?

The ultimate form of friendship is described by Aristotle as “virtuous”—meaning the kind that involves a concern for our friend’s sake and not for our own. “Perfect friendship is the friendship of men who are good, and alike in virtue . . . . But it is natural that such friendships should be infrequent; for such men are rare.”

Those who came before the Millennial generation still say as much. My father and grandfather always told me that the number of such “true” friends can be counted on one hand over the course of a lifetime. Has Facebook increased our capacity for true friendship? I suspect Aristotle would say no.

Ms. Kelly joined Facebook in 2004 and quit in 2013.

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Media Multi-Tasking, School Work and Poor Memory

It’s official — teens can’t stay off social media for more than 15 minutes. It’s no secret that many kids aged between 8 and 18 spend most of their time texting, tweeting and checking their real-time social status. The profound psychological and sociological consequences of this behavior will only start to become apparent ten to fifteen year from now. In the meantime, researchers are finding a general degradation in kids’ memory skills from using social media and multi-tasking while studying.

From Slate:

Living rooms, dens, kitchens, even bedrooms: Investigators followed students into the spaces where homework gets done. Pens poised over their “study observation forms,” the observers watched intently as the students—in middle school, high school, and college, 263 in all—opened their books and turned on their computers.

For a quarter of an hour, the investigators from the lab of Larry Rosen, a psychology professor at California State University–Dominguez Hills, marked down once a minute what the students were doing as they studied. A checklist on the form included: reading a book, writing on paper, typing on the computer—and also using email, looking at Facebook, engaging in instant messaging, texting, talking on the phone, watching television, listening to music, surfing the Web. Sitting unobtrusively at the back of the room, the observers counted the number of windows open on the students’ screens and noted whether the students were wearing earbuds.

Although the students had been told at the outset that they should “study something important, including homework, an upcoming examination or project, or reading a book for a course,” it wasn’t long before their attention drifted: Students’ “on-task behavior” started declining around the two-minute mark as they began responding to arriving texts or checking their Facebook feeds. By the time the 15 minutes were up, they had spent only about 65 percent of the observation period actually doing their schoolwork.

“We were amazed at how frequently they multitasked, even though they knew someone was watching,” Rosen says. “It really seems that they could not go for 15 minutes without engaging their devices,” adding, “It was kind of scary, actually.”

Concern about young people’s use of technology is nothing new, of course. But Rosen’s study, published in the May issue of Computers in Human Behavior, is part of a growing body of research focused on a very particular use of technology: media multitasking while learning. Attending to multiple streams of information and entertainment while studying, doing homework, or even sitting in class has become common behavior among young people—so common that many of them rarely write a paper or complete a problem set any other way.

But evidence from psychology, cognitive science, and neuroscience suggests that when students multitask while doing schoolwork, their learning is far spottier and shallower than if the work had their full attention. They understand and remember less, and they have greater difficulty transferring their learning to new contexts. So detrimental is this practice that some researchers are proposing that a new prerequisite for academic and even professional success—the new marshmallow test of self-discipline—is the ability to resist a blinking inbox or a buzzing phone.

The media multitasking habit starts early. In “Generation M2: Media in the Lives of 8- to 18-Year-Olds,” a survey conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation and published in 2010, almost a third of those surveyed said that when they were doing homework, “most of the time” they were also watching TV, texting, listening to music, or using some other medium. The lead author of the study was Victoria Rideout, then a vice president at Kaiser and now an independent research and policy consultant. Although the study looked at all aspects of kids’ media use, Rideout told me she was particularly troubled by its findings regarding media multitasking while doing schoolwork.

“This is a concern we should have distinct from worrying about how much kids are online or how much kids are media multitasking overall. It’s multitasking while learning that has the biggest potential downside,” she says. “I don’t care if a kid wants to tweet while she’s watching American Idol, or have music on while he plays a video game. But when students are doing serious work with their minds, they have to have focus.”

For older students, the media multitasking habit extends into the classroom. While most middle and high school students don’t have the opportunity to text, email, and surf the Internet during class, studies show the practice is nearly universal among students in college and professional school. One large survey found that 80 percent of college students admit to texting during class; 15 percent say they send 11 or more texts in a single class period.

During the first meeting of his courses, Rosen makes a practice of calling on a student who is busy with his phone. “I ask him, ‘What was on the slide I just showed to the class?’ The student always pulls a blank,” Rosen reports. “Young people have a wildly inflated idea of how many things they can attend to at once, and this demonstration helps drive the point home: If you’re paying attention to your phone, you’re not paying attention to what’s going on in class.” Other professors have taken a more surreptitious approach, installing electronic spyware or planting human observers to record whether students are taking notes on their laptops or using them for other, unauthorized purposes.

Read the entire article here.

Image courtesy of Examiner.

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Geeks As Guardians of (Some of) Our Civil Liberties

It’s interesting to ponder what would have been if the internet and social media had been around during those more fractious times in Seneca Falls, Selma and Stonewall. Perhaps these tools would have helped accelerate progress.

From Technology Review:

A decade-plus of anthropological fieldwork among hackers and like-minded geeks has led me to the firm conviction that these people are building one of the most vibrant civil liberties movements we’ve ever seen. It is a culture committed to freeing information, insisting on privacy, and fighting censorship, which in turn propels wide-ranging political activity. In the last year alone, hackers have been behind some of the most powerful political currents out there.

Before I elaborate, a brief word on the term “hacker” is probably in order. Even among hackers, it provokes debate. For instance, on the technical front, a hacker might program, administer a network, or tinker with hardware. Ethically and politically, the variability is just as prominent. Some hackers are part of a transgressive, law-breaking tradition, their activities opaque and below the radar. Other hackers write open-source software and pride themselves on access and transparency. While many steer clear of political activity, an increasingly important subset rise up to defend their productive autonomy, or engage in broader social justice and human rights campaigns.

Despite their differences, there are certain  websites and conferences that bring the various hacker clans together. Like any political movement, it is internally diverse but, under the right conditions, individuals with distinct abilities will work in unison toward a cause.

Take, for instance, the reaction to the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), a far-reaching copyright bill meant to curtail piracy online. SOPA was unraveled before being codified into law due to a massive and elaborate outpouring of dissent driven by the hacker movement.

The linchpin was a “Blackout Day”—a Web-based protest of unprecedented scale. To voice their opposition to the bill, on January 17, 2012, nonprofits, some big Web companies, public interest groups, and thousands of individuals momentarily removed their websites from the Internet and thousands of other citizens called or e-mailed their representatives. Journalists eventually wrote a torrent of articles. Less than a week later, in response to these stunning events, SOPA and PIPA, its counterpart in the Senate, were tabled (see “SOPA Battle Won, but War Continues”).

The victory hinged on its broad base of support cultivated by hackers and geeks. The participation of corporate giants like Google, respected Internet personalities like Jimmy Wales, and the civil liberties organization EFF was crucial to its success. But the geek and hacker contingent was palpably present, and included, of course, Anonymous. Since 2008, activists have rallied under this banner to initiate targeted demonstrations, publicize various wrongdoings, leak sensitive data, engage in digital direct action, and provide technology assistance for revolutionary movements.

As part of the SOPA protests, Anonymous churned out videos and propaganda posters and provided constant updates on several prominent Twitter accounts, such as Your Anonymous News, which are brimming with followers. When the blackout ended, corporate players naturally receded from the limelight and went back to work. Anonymous and others, however, continue to fight for Internet freedoms.

In fact, just the next day, on January 18, 2012, federal authorities orchestrated the takedown of the popular file-sharing site MegaUpload. The company’s gregarious and controversial founder Kim Dotcom was also arrested in a dramatic early morning raid in New Zealand. The removal of this popular website was received ominously by Anonymous activists: it seemed to confirm that if bills like SOPA become law, censorship would become a far more common fixture on the Internet. Even though no court had yet found Kim Dotcom guilty of piracy, his property was still confiscated and his website knocked off the Internet.

As soon as the news broke, Anonymous coordinated its largest distributed denial of service campaign to date. It took down a slew of websites, including the homepage of Universal Music, the FBI, the U.S. Copyright Office, the Recording Industry Association of America, and the Motion Picture Association of America.

Read the entire article after the jump.

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Social Media and Vanishing History

Social media is great for notifying members in one’s circle of events in the here and now. Of course, most events turn out to be rather trivial, of the “what I ate for dinner” kind. However, social media also has a role in spreading word of more momentous social and political events; the Arab Spring comes to mind.

But, while Twitter and its peers may be a boon for those who live in the present moment and need to transmit their current status, it seems that our social networks are letting go of the past. Will history become lost and irrelevant to the Twitter generation?

A terrifying thought.

From Technology Review:

On 25 January 2011, a popular uprising began in Egypt that  led to the overthrow of the country’s brutal president and to the first truly free elections. One of the defining features of this uprising and of others in the Arab Spring was the way people used social media to organise protests and to spread news.

Several websites have since begun the task of curating this content, which is an important record of events and how they unfolded. That led Hany SalahEldeen and Michael Nelson at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia, to take a deeper look at the material to see how much the shared  were still live.

What they found has serious implications. SalahEldeen and Nelson say a significant proportion of the websites that this social media points to has disappeared. And the same pattern occurs for other culturally significant events, such as the the H1N1 virus outbreak, Michael Jackson’s death and the Syrian uprising.

In other words, our history, as recorded by social media, is slowly leaking away.

Their method is straightforward. SalahEldeen and Nelson looked for tweets on six culturally significant events that occurred between June 2009 and March 2012. They then filtered the URLs these tweets pointed to and checked to see whether the content was still available on the web, either in its original form or in an archived form.

They found that the older the social media, the more likely its content was to be missing. In fact, they found an almost linear relationship between time and the percentage lost.

The numbers are startling. They say that 11 per cent of the social media content had disappeared within a year and 27 per cent within 2 years. Beyond that, SalahEldeen and Nelson say the world loses 0.02 per cent of its culturally significant social media material every day.

That’s a sobering thought.

Read the entire article after the jump.

Image: Movie poster for the 2002 film ”The Man Without a Past”. The Man Without a Past (Finnish: Mies vailla menneisyyttä) is a 2002 Finnish comedy-drama film directed by Aki Kaurismäki. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

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Your Tween Online

Many parents with children in the pre-teenage years probably have a containment policy restricting them from participating on adult oriented social media such as Facebook. Well, these tech-savvy tweens may be doing more online than just playing Club Penguin.

From the WSJ:

Celina McPhail’s mom wouldn’t let her have a Facebook account. The 12-year-old is on Instagram instead.

Her mother, Maria McPhail, agreed to let her download the app onto her iPod Touch, because she thought she was fostering an interest in photography. But Ms. McPhail, of Austin, Texas, has learned that Celina and her friends mostly use the service to post and “like” Photoshopped photo-jokes and text messages they create on another free app called Versagram. When kids can’t get on Facebook, “they’re good at finding ways around that,” she says.

It’s harder than ever to keep an eye on the children. Many parents limit their preteens’ access to well-known sites like Facebook and monitor what their children do online. But with kids constantly seeking new places to connect—preferably, unsupervised by their families—most parents are learning how difficult it is to prevent their kids from interacting with social media.

Children are using technology at ever-younger ages. About 15% of kids under the age of 11 have their own mobile phone, according to eMarketer. The Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project reported last summer that 16% of kids 12 to 17 who are online used Twitter, double the number from two years earlier.

Parents worry about the risks of online predators and bullying, and there are other concerns. Kids are creating permanent public records, and they may encounter excessive or inappropriate advertising. Yet many parents also believe it is in their kids’ interest to be nimble with technology.

As families grapple with how to use social media safely, many marketers are working to create social networks and other interactive applications for kids that parents will approve. Some go even further, seeing themselves as providing a crucial education in online literacy—”training wheels for social media,” as Rebecca Levey of social-media site KidzVuz puts it.

Along with established social sites for kids, such as Walt Disney Co.’s Club Penguin, kids are flocking to newer sites such as FashionPlaytes.com, a meeting place aimed at girls ages 5 to 12 who are interested in designing clothes, and Everloop, a social network for kids under the age of 13. Viddy, a video-sharing site which functions similarly to Instagram, is becoming more popular with kids and teenagers as well.

Some kids do join YouTube, Google, Facebook, Tumblr and Twitter, despite policies meant to bar kids under 13. These sites require that users enter their date of birth upon signing up, and they must be at least 13 years old. Apple—which requires an account to download apps like Instagram to an iPhone—has the same requirement. But there is little to bar kids from entering a false date of birth or getting an adult to set up an account. Instagram declined to comment.

“If we learn that someone is not old enough to have a Google account, or we receive a report, we will investigate and take the appropriate action,” says Google spokesman Jay Nancarrow. He adds that “users first have a chance to demonstrate that they meet our age requirements. If they don’t, we will close the account.” Facebook and most other sites have similar policies.

Still, some children establish public identities on social-media networks like YouTube and Facebook with their parents’ permission. Autumn Miller, a 10-year-old from Southern California, has nearly 6,000 people following her Facebook fan-page postings, which include links to videos of her in makeup and costumes, dancing Laker-Girl style.

Read the entire article after the jump.

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Our Kids’ Glorious New Age of Distraction

From Slate:

Children are not what they used to be. They tweet and blog and text without batting an eyelash. Whenever they need the answer to a question, they simply log onto their phone and look it up on Google. They live in a state of perpetual, endless distraction, and, for many parents and educators, it’s a source of real concern. Will future generations be able to finish a whole book? Will they be able to sit through an entire movie without checking their phones? Are we raising a generation of impatient brats?

According to Cathy N. Davidson, a professor of interdisciplinary studies at Duke University, and the author of the new book “Now You See It: How Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn,” much of the panic about children’s shortened attention spans isn’t just misguided, it’s harmful. Younger generations, she argues, don’t just think about technology more casually, they’re actually wired to respond to it in a different manner than we are, and it’s up to us — and our education system — to catch up to them.

Davidson is personally invested in finding a solution to the problem. As vice provost at Duke, she spearheaded a project to hand out a free iPod to every member of the incoming class, and began using wikis and blogs as part of her teaching. In a move that garnered national media attention, she crowd-sourced the grading in her course. In her book, she explains how everything from video gaming to redesigned schools can enhance our children’s education — and ultimately, our future.

Salon spoke to Davidson over the phone about the structure of our brains, the danger of multiple-choice testing, and what the workplace of the future will actually look like.

More from theSource here.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia / Creative Commons.

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The End of 140

Five years in internet time is analogous to several entire human lifespans. So, it’s no surprise that Twitter seems to have been with us forever. Despite the near ubiquity of the little blue bird, most of the service’s tweeters have no idea why they are constrained to using a mere 140 characters to express themselves.

Farhad Manjoo over at Slate has a well-reasoned plea to increase this upper character limit for the more garrulous amongst us.

Though perhaps more importantly is the effect of this truncated form of messaging on our broader mechanisms of expression and communication. Time will tell if our patterns of speech and the written word will adjust accordingly.

From Slate:

Five years ago this month, Twitter opened itself up to the public. The new service, initially called Twttr, was born out of software engineer Jack Dorsey’s fascination with an overlooked corner of the modern metropolis—the central dispatch systems that track delivery trucks, taxis, emergency vehicles, and bike messengers as they’re moving about town. As Dorsey once told the Los Angeles Times, the logs of central dispatchers contained “this very rich sense of what’s happening right now in the city.” For a long time, Dorsey tried to build a public version of that log. It was only around 2005, when text messaging began to take off in America, that his dream became technically feasible. There was only one problem with building Twittr on mobile carriers’ SMS system, though—texts were limited to 160 characters, and if you included space for a user’s handle, that left only 140 characters per message.

What could you say in 140 characters? Not a whole lot—and that was the point. Dorsey believed that Twitter would be used for status updates—his prototypical tweets were “in bed” and “going to park,” and his first real tweet was “inviting coworkers.” That’s not how we use Twitter nowadays. In 2009, the company acknowledged that its service had “outgrown the concept of personal status updates,” and it changed its home-screen prompt from “What are you doing?” to the more open-ended “What’s happening?”

As far as I can tell, though, Twitter has never considered removing the 140-character limit, and Twitter’s embrace of this constraint has been held up as one of the key reasons for the service’s success. But I’m hoping Twitter celebrates its fifth birthday by rethinking this stubborn stance. The 140-character limit now feels less like a feature than a big, obvious bug. I don’t want Twitter to allow messages of unlimited length, as that would encourage people to drone on interminably. But since very few Twitter users now access the system through SMS, it’s technically possible for the network to accommodate longer tweets. I suggest doubling the ceiling—give me 280 characters, Jack, and I’ll give you the best tweets you’ve ever seen!

More from theSource here.

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Rate This Article: What’s Wrong with the Culture of Critique

From Wired:

You don’t have to read this essay to know whether you’ll like it. Just go online and assess how provocative it is by the number of comments at the bottom of the web version. (If you’re already reading the web version, done and done.) To find out whether it has gone viral, check how many people have hit the little thumbs-up, or tweeted about it, or liked it on Facebook, or dug it on Digg. These increasingly ubiquitous mechanisms of assessment have some real advantages: In this case, you could save 10 minutes’ reading time. Unfortunately, life is also getting a little ruined in the process.

A funny thing has quietly accompanied our era’s eye-gouging proliferation of information, and by funny I mean not very funny. For every ocean of new data we generate each hour—videos, blog posts, VRBO listings, MP3s, ebooks, tweets—an attendant ocean’s worth of reviewage follows. The Internet-begotten abundance of absolutely everything has given rise to a parallel universe of stars, rankings, most-recommended lists, and other valuations designed to help us sort the wheat from all the chaff we’re drowning in. I’ve never been to Massimo’s pizzeria in Princeton, New Jersey, but thanks to the Yelpers I can already describe the personality of Big Vince, a man I’ve never met. (And why would I want to? He’s surly and drums his fingers while you order, apparently.) Everything exists to be charted and evaluated, and the charts and evaluations themselves grow more baroque by the day. Was this review helpful to you? We even review our reviews.

Technoculture critic and former Wired contributor Erik Davis is concerned about the proliferation of reviews, too. “Our culture is afflicted with knowingness,” he says. “We exalt in being able to know as much as possible. And that’s great on many levels. But we’re forgetting the pleasures of not knowing. I’m no Luddite, but we’ve started replacing actual experience with someone else’s already digested knowledge.”

Of course, Yelpification of the universe is so thorough as to be invisible. I scarcely blinked the other day when, after a Skype chat with my mother, I was asked to rate the call. (I assumed they were talking about connection quality, but if they want to hear about how Mom still pronounces it noo-cu-lar, I’m happy to share.) That same afternoon, the UPS guy delivered a guitar stand I’d ordered. Even before I could weigh in on the product, or on the seller’s expeditiousness, I was presented with a third assessment opportunity. It was emblazoned on the cardboard box: “Rate this packaging.”

More from theSource here.

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