“Status Update” Episode on This American Life Podcast

This American Life

The latest episode of the always excellent This American Life podcast opens with a story about young girls interacting with Instagram. Here is part 1 and here is part 2, worth a good listen.

Three teenage girls explain why they are constantly telling their friends they are beautiful on Instagram… [before] describing the complex social map that is constantly changing in their phones.


A bunch of retired people are taking over these online crossword puzzles to talk about their grandkids

Excerpt from this article on crossword puzzles comment sections acting as a social network:

People are commandeering the comments sections of The Guardian’s daily crossword puzzles to discuss their families, lunch plans, and even their love lives — but they’ve never met each other in real life.

Each day, these committed crossword enthusiasts complete The Guardian’s online puzzles. While some people use the website’s comment section to weigh in on tricky words and possible puzzle answers, a subset are using the section as their own personal hangout.

Their conversations look more like what you’d expect to hear between two friends, rather than strangers on the internet.

Facebook No Longer Likes the Word ‘Users’

Excerpt from this article:

Every so often, someone points out that user—the software industry’s term for “the people who use our products”—may not be a perfect one.

Doesn’t it reveal a shallow, reductive view of the humanity? Or depict customers as machines? Isn’t user, you know, also what we call drug addicts?

Two years ago, Jack Dorsey—an early figure at Twitter and the CEO of Square—exhorted the tech world to drop the term altogether. At the advice of Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, Dorsey said Square would stop talking about users in order to talk about customers.

“The word customer, given its history, immediately sets a high bar on the level of service we must provide, or risk losing their attention or business,” he wrote.

Yesterday, I learned Facebook had done the same—and supplanted it with an even more general word. At Navigate—The Atlantic’s technology conference in San Francisco—Facebook’s director of product design, Margaret Gould Stewart, mentioned that the company now called its resident frienders and likers something different.

Beme is a Social Media App that Wants to Engineer Authenticity

Excerpt from this article:

Authenticity is in short supply online, says video maker Casey Neistat, with social media forcing us to present over-stylized and over-perfect versions of ourselves to world. Neistat thinks he has the answer, though: he’s built a new social media network named Beme (pronounced “beam”) where users communicate with self-destructing videos recorded by placing their phones on their hearts.

…Removing the smartphone from its traditional location between you and the real world allows for a more authentic experience, claims Neistat. In the same vein, he says, Beme offers no chance to review or edit videos: they’re just sent straight to users’ feeds, which are themselves minimalist lists of recent uploads. Users click and hold on a video to watch it, and once it’s been seen it’s “gone forever.” They can, however, give feedback by tapping the screen mid-video to send a selfie from their front-facing camera. “Getting reactions is my favorite part of the app,” says Neistat. “There’s just something so satisfying about being able to see people actually watching what you share.”

Why Grandma’s Sad (A Response to the Article on Screen Addiction)

Following up on yesterday’s post about Kids and Screen Addiction, the article excerpted below argues that “what’s happening on all these screens is not, as the writer suggests, an endless braindead Candy Crush session, but a rich social experience of its own” [link to the full write-up, and see also this post on Kottke on the debate]:

That screen is full of friends, and its distraction is no less valuable or valid than the distraction of a room full of buddies or a playground full of fellow students. Screen Addiction is, in this view, nonsensical: you can no more be addicted to a screen than to windows, sounds, or the written word.

This is an argument worth making, probably. But tell it to an anxious parent or an alienated grandparent and you will sense that it is inadequate. It is correct, yes, and it addresses their stated concerns. But those concerns—that the screens are poisoning families, that they’re making kids unhealthy and sedentary, that they’re destroying curiosity—were never really the issue. Screen Addiction is a generational complaint, and generational complaints, taken individually, are rarely what they claim to be. They are fresh expressions of horrible and timeless anxieties.

…The grandparent who is persuaded that screens are not destroying human interaction, but are instead new tools for enabling fresh and flawed and modes of human interaction, is left facing a grimmer reality. Your grandchildren don’t look up from their phones because the experiences and friendships they enjoy there seem more interesting than what’s in front of them (you). Those experiences, from the outside, seem insultingly lame: text notifications, Emoji, selfies of other bratty little kids you’ve never met. But they’re urgent and real. What’s different is that they’re also right here, always, even when you thought you had an attentional claim. The moments of social captivity that gave parents power, or that gave grandparents precious access, are now compromised.

All of this reminds me of a book that I read years ago, Everything Bad is Good For You, by Steven Johnson, who made a similar argument that parents were misguided in bemoaning the ways in which their kids were devoting rapt attention to TV and video games, i.e., what if a kid was spending hours sitting sedentary, reading a book? would they be as concerned?

Instagrads: What It’s Like To Spend All 4 Years Of High School On Instagram

Excerpt from this article:

Instagram is now more important to teenagers than any other social network. It’s the first place teenagers go for news on new couples or breakups; it’s where they can show off in front of their friends; and it’s where most parents still don’t go.

…Instagram is also a form of self-expression. “If I don’t Instagram in a day, I feel weird,” Kami Baker, a junior in Omaha, Nebraska, who writes about her social anxiety for The Huffington Post, tells me. “It’s become a kind of online diary for me.” As Otto says, “[Teenagers] are using Instagram to express who they are, in a way.”

And you better make it count. Be careful about posting more than one photo a day. If you’re planning a “promposal” (an elaborate prom invitation that may or may not involve balloons, posters, flowers, or dessert), you better have somebody ready with a camera. Breakups are an occasion for black-and-white selfies captioned with mysteriously sad quotes. Every day could be an occasion for a selfie. But please, don’t post ONLY selfies. And if it doesn’t get more than 10 likes, well, that’s just “a little embarrassing,” Martin says. Selfie sticks, however, are totally cool.

…A Short PSA: How To Selfie

“The thing behind the selfies is that some people need that instant gratification,” says Maria, whose mother asked that I not use her last name. “But I think selfies are just fun if you use them the right way.”

What is the right way?

“Not posting one every day and using them maturely.”

What are the wrong ways to use selfies?

“Posting one every day. Posting on different days but you’re wearing the same outfit so you can see that you took them at the same time. “

Maria’s feed features a lot of selfies—and a lot of photos with her girlfriends.

Facebook’s Last Taboo: The Unhappy Marriage

Excerpt from this article:

Those who have spent more than a few passing minutes on Facebook could attest to the fact that marriage is usually portrayed in an exceptionally positive light, more so than other areas of our lives. There is far more social acceptability to not only grumble but to seek input about the missteps in our careers or the sleep deprivation that goes with child rearing than about the possible fissures in a marriage.

 …So why does the social media screen tend to go dark after the wedding, only to light up with the occasional burst of good news? Perhaps Facebook is actually mimicking the real-life personal dynamic, where once the vows are exchanged, the marital code of silence goes into effect: The oversharing culture, which reigns during the engagement and wedding, suddenly morphs to undersharing about our spouses. Maybe there’s not as much of a highlight reel to show after the honeymoon when real life sets in.

It has to do with vulnerability, said Sherry Turkle, a M.I.T. psychologist and author of “Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other.” “If you complain about your pet, your job, even your children, there is a sense in which these are external to you — the complaint is about what life has dealt you,” she said in a phone interview. “When you complain about your marriage, the boundary between marriage and the self is much less firm.”