We’re Taking a Break from Slack. Here’s Why

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Slack has been an indispensable tool. However, we noticed that more and more time was being diverted to Slack. It wasn’t just joking around, although there was plenty of that. We’d find ourselves spending 30 minutes in a spirited debate about a story we all seemed interested in, but then… no one would write something for the site. It was as if the Slack discussion had replaced the blogging process. Talking about a topic with our colleagues fulfilled the urge to publish.

The other recurring issue with Slack is that it’s just baseline distracting. People are always talking, often directly to you, and they usually expect an immediate response. Writers and editors need unbroken blocks of time to work. Slack makes that difficult.

This week, Motherboard is going cold turkey. That’s right—we’re cutting off Slack. Writers will talk directly to their editors. We’ll talk via face-to-face conversation, the phone, Google Hangouts, and Gchat. (Why is Gchat allowed?, you might ask. Because Gchat is optimized for one-on-one conversations, and doesn’t have persistent rooms.)

We’re hoping that cutting off Slack will give reporters a chance to refocus on writing stories and encourage more in-depth conversations with editors.

How WeChat Is Extending China’s School Days Well into the Night

Students file math homework in their virtual classroom on WeChat.
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On a recent Thursday evening, Zhang Zehao, a seventh grader in Tianjin, China, braced himself for extra math assignments posted by his teacher on WeChat, a messaging app. At 7 p.m., his mother received a picture on her phone: a piece of paper with three handwritten geometry problems concerning parallel lines. He didn’t receive any other assignments that evening; after all, it was only the fourth day of the spring semester.

Since Tencent launched WeChat in 2011, the app has pervaded Chinese life. The company reported that it had 650 million monthly active users as of the end of last September. In a society that places paramount importance on academic success, WeChat has quickly become intertwined with education, tapping into a particularly Chinese cultural dynamic and in some cases exploiting it.

Chongqing, a sprawling metropolis of 30 million in southwestern China, has required all kindergartens, primary schools, and middle schools to open official WeChat accounts before the end of June this year to streamline communication with parents and students.

For Zehao, the app is a forum for extra homework and a billboard for misbehavior at school, and the group chat puts everything under the scrutinizing eye of the entire class. “The intention was good, because teachers wanted to work closely with parents to improve the children’s academic performance,” says his mother, Chen Zongying, 43. “But it stresses you out.”


Samsung’s Funny Mother’s Day Ad Reminds You How Bad Your Mom Is at Texting

Excerpt from this article, which details an ad that:

… looks at how your mom probably uses text messaging—or rather, misuses it. The whole thing is pretty funny, and nicely pokes fun without getting too mean. And it sticks the landing by reminding you that you shouldn’t be texting with Mom at all this [Mother’s Day].

You’ll also notice that some of the moms’ phone numbers are visible in the spot. If you dial them, you get to hear what they have to say in their voicemail messages.

You can also show off your mom’s funniest texts using hashtag #TextsFromMom for a chance to win a Galaxy S 6 edge.

How Not to Message a Woman Online

Young woman in domestic kitchen text messaging

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Gather ’round, class! Today our lesson will be about all the things you should not do when attempting to hit on a woman online, as told through a single OKCupid message.

DON’T see on Twitter that a girl has an OKCupid account, then explicitly search for her, then admit that that is a creepy thing you did.

DON’T admit to Googling her, even if that is another creepy thing you did.

DON’T act overfamiliar…

DO consider that you’re sending an email to a real human being, not a mythical creature who can only be wooed with the proper combination of insults and cyberstalking.


Illustration by Sally Thurer

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The creators of Zoobe intended to make their program cute, clean and simple: a mobile app that turns voice recordings into 3-D animated videos, starring woodland creatures with gigantic heads. It was introduced in 2013 as a playful alternative to text messaging and quickly became a hit on its home turf in Germany. Users record brief messages on their smartphones, and anthropomorphic beings recite them back, in a video that can be shared with friends or posted online…

While they talk, Zoobe characters dance and undulate in a disturbingly sensual manner, making the videos exploitable in a way that the Internet tends to quickly discover. Earlier this year, when English-language Zoobe videos began surfacing on American Twitter, YouTube and Tumblr feeds, the Zoobe menagerie adopted a saltier vocabulary.

…‘‘The juxtaposition between the character’s appearance and the horrible things I have it say makes it 10 times funnier… the language got more foul, because as it turns out, it’s hysterical to watch cute, fuzzy little characters yelling obscenities or spewing dark humor.’’

When Your Punctuation Says It All (!)

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I went out with a guy based on his use of dashes once. Within moments of our first interaction — over text message — I was basically in love.

He didn’t just use the lazy singular dash (“-”) as a pause between his thoughts, or even the more time-consuming double-dash (“–”). Nope. This man used a proper em dash.

That is, the kind that required him to hold down the dash button on his iPhone for that extra second, until the “—” appeared, then choose it from among three options. I don’t remember what his messages actually said. But he obviously really liked me.

 …It’s also as if a kind of micro-punctuation has emerged: tiny marks in the smallest of spaces that suddenly tell us more about the person on the other end than the words themselves (or, at least, we think they do).

…“Digital punctuation can carry more weight than traditional writing because it ends up conveying tone, rhythm and attitude rather than grammatical structure,” said Ben Zimmer, a linguist and the executive editor of Vocabulary.com. “It can make even a lowly period become freighted with special significance.”

 And so we’ve begun to think our friends are angry when they respond with a period, or weird when they capitalize the starts of their sentences. We insert extra letters (“loooool,” “sooooo,” “hiiiiiiii”) — what linguists call “affective lengthening” — to convey intensity, and remove them when we want to be aloof.

How to Say ‘Yes’ (by Not Saying ‘Yes’)

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The Internet… has recently given rise to many more takes on “yes.” There’s “yeeeeees” and “yessssss” and their many variations, which take advantage of word lengthening to lend a sense of added enthusiasm to the traditionally neutral affirmation. There’s “yiss,” which was apparently originally uttered by the “mountie duck” in a Kate Beaton webcomic and which Urban Dictionary defines as “an excitable way of saying ‘yes.’” There’s “kewl,” a sensational spelling of “cool” (or, again according to Urban Dictionary, “a kewter, more klever, kewler way of saying ‘cool'”). There’s “okie,” another playful misspelling, and “k” (“OK,” but more hurried or, depending on contextual cues, more passive-aggressive). There’s “kk,” arising from the gaming community as an abbreviated fusion of “k” and “kewl.” There’s “yas,” apparently of Glaswegian origins, another term with roots in gaming—and another one whose intentionally erroneous vowel functions as, effectively, an embedded exclamation point.

And there are also, of course, all the emoji that indicate enthusiasm and assent: the thumbs-up, the clapping hands, the prayer hands, the smiling face, the sunglasses-wearing smiley face, etc.

So “yes” has, basically, procreated: It has taken its own basic DNA and mixed it with other threads of culture, creating new words and terms and memes and pictograms that do the work of affirmation while also conveying secondary nuances: enthusiasm, hesitation, irony, delight.

…A question answered with a thumbs-up emoji or a “kk” or even a “y”? Those are ways of assenting without necessarily affirming. “I think this notion of going from ‘yes’ to less committal terms,” Baron says, “is one way of saying, ‘yeah, it’s okay, I’m not committed.’”

The flip side of that, though, is the affirmation that expresses overt enthusiasm and excitement and even joy. The distribution and dissolution of “yes” might have reached its apotheosis in “yaaas” (which is also written as “yaaaaas” and “yassssss” and “YAAAAAASSSSSS” and pretty much any other variation of those three ordered letters that you choose to type). “Yaaaas,” which functions as an affirmation and an exclamation and, occasionally, an adjective—“a sensible single syllable,” Refinery29 describes it, “that carries enough punch to make a statement, but enough sass to show you don’t really give-uh-what”…

The Most Important Thing on the Internet Is the Screenshot


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Ivelina’s boyfriend stopped responding to her texts. No small trauma. She was a high school senior; they’d been together a year, and then—two weeks of nothing. Eventually he sent her a rambling excuse via SMS: He’d been longboarding, he said, and broke his phone. “u want me to send you a picture of it?” he offered.

Hmm, thought Ivelina. Pretty lame. To reality-check her reaction, she applied a relatively new tool: She took a screenshot of her boyfriend’s text and forwarded it to her close friends. They agreed: lame. Ivelina dumped him.

Screenshots never used to be that powerful… But now people routinely take screenshots of funny/outrageous comments on social media to share with friends. Twitter users post grabs of things they’re reading.

…The same thing happened with cameraphones a decade ago, when we suddenly began capturing evanescent moments from our physical lives. Today some of our most intense experiences are online, so screenshots serve the same function. It’s photography for life on the screen—“how you share point-of-view…”

Screenshots can also be almost forensic, a way to prove to others that you’re really seeing the crazy stuff you’re seeing. The first viral hit of the screenshot age was the often-filthy autocorrect errors in SMS. Now screenshots hold people accountable for their terrible online words.

…“It’s like a scrapbook, or a fossil record in digital silt,” King says. A lifetime of scraps, glimpsed through the screen.

It’s Kind of Cheesy Being Green

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…If you search Twitter for the words “green bubbles” you’ll find very consistent results. People hate green bubbles… I’ve been performing that same Twitter search every few days and there’s usually someone new complaining. The modern world is against green bubbles. What those tweets are referring to is how iPhones deal with text messages. When an iPhone texts an iPhone… via Apple’s iMessage service, the outgoing text appears in calm blue… But when an iPhone texts with a non-iPhone, the outgoing messages appears with a vibrant—some might say harsh—green background. Judging by the hatred on Twitter this anti-green bubble phenomenon is shared broadly by all kinds of people.

This spontaneous anti-green-bubble brigade is an interesting example of how sometimes very subtle product decisions in technology influence the way culture works. Apple uses a soothing, on-brand blue for messages in its own texting platform, and a green akin to that of the Android robot logo for people texting from outside its ecosystem (as people have pointed out on Twitter, iPhone texts were default green in days before iMessage—but it was shaded and more pleasant to the eye; somewhere along the line things got flat and mean).

There are all sorts of reasons for them to use different colors. (iMessage texts are seen as data, not charged on a per-text basis, and so the different colors allow people to register how much a given conversation will cost—useful!) However, one result of that decision is that a goofy class war is playing out over digital bubble colors. Their decision has observable social consequences.

…It’s pretty fair to assume that Apple knows exactly how those green bubbles are perceived. For example, look at the marketing on its website:

…If I worked at Apple I’d be pretty psyched with this reaction. After all, what is a more powerful brand amplifier than social pressure? If people who converse in green bubbles start to feel relatively poor, or socially inferior, because they chose to use a less-expensive pocket supercomputer than those made by Apple, that could lead to iPhone sales. Ugly green bubbles = $$$$$ and promotions.