Long Live Secrets on the Internet

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The spilling of personal secrets online, a practice borne of the print tradition of asking for advice, is similarly greater than any individual secret. Before apps like Secret and Whisper, there was Group Hug and PostSecret—the inspiration for which came from early-aughts projects like Found magazine, which publishes scraps of found paper like grocery lists and notes left on windshields, and confessions in public spaces like bathroom graffiti. PostSecret began by asking people to mail their secrets on postcards that would then be scanned and published online. Subject matter runs the gamut from heartbreaking to silly to uplifting to shocking.

… “When other people hear people sharing secrets it allows them not to feel alone,” said Frank Warren, the founder of PostSecret. “It allows them to feel almost instant empathy and it gives them courage to face and share.” PostSecret still has a website, but it shut down its app three years ago after only a few months because Warren was concerned about bullying and hackers who made community members feel unsafe, he said.The appeal of telling an anonymous secret is as much the anonymity as it is the catharsis of revealing something. And anonymity has as venerable a history online as advice-seeking had in print. “I see Whisper, Secret and others as part of the same movement as Snapchat and Glimpse,” said Ethan Zuckerman, the director of the MIT Center for Civic Media, in an interview last fall. “When everything is on the record and attributable, we’re all feeling a need to breathe. That might mean being able to have a one-on-one conversation that’s hard to archive, or to have a space where you can truly speak freely.

…”The web is a very powerful place where we can express parts of who we are in ways we just can’t in our everyday social lives, which I think is powerful, liberating, a little bit scary and can be very uncomfortable to people in the short term,” Warren told me. “But in the long term, I think it allows us to work out some of the parts that are hidden within us individually and as a culture. It’s a difficult process. But it’s always healthy to illuminate those parts of us that are otherwise in darkness.”

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Exclusion in the Instagram Age: How Can They be Having Such a Great Time Without Me?

Instagram and Exclusion

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If you ask a group of kids if they ever felt left out when they see images or videos posted in apps like Instagram, Vine or Snapchat, they will have a lot to say. Each of these apps can include images and videos of groups of other friends that may not include the viewer.

When I posed this question to this group, the middle schoolers all said that this happens all the time—and can be hard to deal with. They all agreed that it is better not to lie or make excuses if you are busy with one group of friends and another friend wants to hang out. Better to say, “I have plans” than to lie and say, “I have too much homework,” and then share images of yourself at spending time with other friends.

I asked them if they think kids post images with the intention of making others feel excluded. Most of the kids were reluctant to admit it—they’ve been on both sides of this issue. One boy suggested that other kids post pictures in the moment without really thinking about it.

…They were able to admit that if they had other friends over, it might be tempting to take and share pictures. When I asked why she would share pictures at all, one girl said that she wants to “show that she has a life outside of school.” Another kid said, “it is fun to share when you are doing fun things.” Other kids pointed out that social media is a way to mark the moment and preserve memories.

Learning to Love the Babies of Instagram

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…At the beginning, I was very self-conscious about it. I still held on to the hope of being the parent who “gets it.” I wrote funny or at least very honest captions under all my photos; I only posted one truly great baby photo every few days; I tried to intersperse photos of other things, too, as if to remind everyone that I still lived in the world, even if I didn’t see much of it.

I remember early on feeling as if I had to earn my one baby photo by posting a photo of something else. I’d look around my house. Something else, something else. Hmmm. What did I take photos of before? Funny signs? Nature? Cute corners of my apartment? Things I baked?

…I don’t post photos of my kid to Instagram to show off my great reproductive prize, to brag that I ran through the finish line of society’s great mandate for women. I post photos of him to Instagram because I am bored and he is always around and at times I feel certain that all I have to offer my friends and followers are adorable photos of him.

The Koreans who televise themselves eating dinner

Lee Chang-hyun

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How do you fancy eating your dinner at home in front of a webcam and letting thousands of people watch? If they like the way you eat, they will pay you money – maybe a few hundred dollars a night… a good salary for doing what you would do anyway. This is happening now in South Korea.

It’s often said that if you want to see the future look at how technology is emerging in perhaps the most connected country on the planet. The food phenomenon is called mukbang – a combination of the Korean word for eating (muk-ja) and broadcasting (bang-song).

…Some 10,000 people watch him eating per day, he says. They send a constant stream of messages to his computer and he responds verbally (by talking) and orally (by eating, very visibly and noisily).

If the audience like the performance, they allocate him what are called “star balloons” and each of these means a payment to him and to the internet television channel on which he performs.

The Rise Of The Screenshort

View image on Twitter

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What’s a Screenshort? Essentially, it’s a chunk of text, screen-shotted, and embedded in a tweet. It’s become an extremely popular way to share a passage from a story. You could call it a Tweetcap, maybe. But I’m going with Screenshort.

Embedding a text block means that people will read the thing you want them to read without having to follow a link. It, genuinely, saves a click (without being condescending!).

It’s also an effective way to highlight a passage. There have been all kinds of attempts by different websites to make individual passages and paragraphs linkable, but nothing has caught on. A Screenshort goes right where you want it to.

How to Manage Media in Families

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Parents have a love-hate relationship with firsts… But few firsts generate more ambivalence than the first cellphone.

On one hand, many parents welcome this milestone. Now they can keep track of their children when they’re out and notify the children if they’re running late. Also, parents gain leverage. One mother told me, “I’ve found the phone has given me newfound power as a parent, because I can take it away!”

On the other hand, children tend to disappear through the looking glass when they get their first phone. They become vulnerable to the dark side of the Internet, and once comfortable routines get upended. “We used to be a family before they got phones,” one father complained. “Now we’re never together.”

…How should parents handle this transition? Some discuss freedom and responsibility, hand over the device, then respond as situations arise. But others try to do more, laying down a set of rules.

…The Internet is bursting with dozens of multi-plank contracts for parents to execute with their children. As the father of tweens, I like this idea, but I’m also realistic enough to know that a three-page contract will be swiftly ignored and even it can’t keep up with the last parent-avoiding app. What I craved was a handful of overarching rules that could guide our interactions.

See also this related article, Rules for Teen and Tween Cellphone Use: Unspoken, or Printed and Signed?

The “broad overarching rules” that many families use to guide cellphone use described in Bruce’s article are useful (and the specific examples he found make great conversation starters). We’ve had many, many talks about the public nature of every exchange, and about the way you might trust your friend not to forward a text or email or screenshot a Snapchat, but can you really trust his older sister if she happens to pick up his phone? Anyone dragged into the public pillory by an unexpected video, or a tweet or text, becomes fodder for what could be described as our family’s personal ongoing crash course in the perils of modern living.

We probably haven’t spent enough time on the “grammar of texting” in that particular version of homeschooling. The advice the GeekDad Ken Diamond told Bruce that offered his teenage sons is advice I’ll share, too: Read it twice before you press “send,” and add some smiley faces.

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.