R U There?

Crisis Text Line has received five million texts, providing a unique corpus of data.

Excerpt from this article:

A person can contact Crisis Text Line without even looking at her phone. The number—741741—traces a simple, muscle-memory-friendly path down the left column of the keypad. Anyone who texts in receives an automatic response welcoming her to the service. Another provides a link to the organization’s privacy policy and explains that she can text “STOP” to end a conversation at any time. Meanwhile, the incoming message appears on the screen of Crisis Text Line’s proprietary computer system. The interface looks remarkably like a Facebook feed—pale background, blue banner at the top, pop-up messages in the lower right corner—a design that is intended to feel familiar and frictionless. The system, which receives an average of fifteen thousand texts a day, highlights messages containing words that might indicate imminent danger, such as “suicide,” “kill,” and “hopeless.”

Within five minutes, one of the counsellors on duty will write back… It is important to type carefully. In text messages sent to friends, typos can be an indication of intimacy. But a typo appearing on the cell-phone screen of a distressed teen-ager can undermine the sense of authority he’s looking for. “You have to train yourself not to hit that return button automatically,” a sixty-year-old counsellor from California told me. (Crisis Text Line counsellors are free to give a real or assumed first name to people who text in.) It is also regarded as a mistake to embrace teen-age patois too enthusiastically. One volunteer told me that she tries not to use acronyms. “I sometimes worry that it would come across as too ‘Oh, I got you!’ ” she said. Neutral language allows the texter to feel anonymous. These people have contacted a stranger for a reason. They aren’t looking for friendship.

Breadbcrumbing: The Agony of the Digital Tease

Illustration by Tom Bloom

Excerpt from this article:

There was the breadcrumb dropped on Valentine’s Day, by the ex-girlfriend of my friend. The two women hadn’t spoken in months, after a prolonged breakup, and the ex was now seeing somebody new. Yet there she was, on the day of Hallmark-themed romance, “liking” my friend’s Instagram photo … from three weeks ago. Which meant she had to have been scrolling through her feed.

There was the friend, a digital strategist who, every few days, would receive a “sup” from a recruiter, except that the recruiter would never set up a time to meet. Once, my friend returned to his desk to find a “failed Google hangout” notification from this person, to which the recruiter later messaged to apologize for the “butt dial.”

…For anyone who’s ever dated, or maintained any kind of relationship, in the digital age, you have probably known a breadcrumber. They communicate via sporadic noncommittal, but repeated messages — or breadcrumbs — that are just enough to keep you wondering but not enough to seal the deal (whatever that deal may be).

Breadcrumbers check in consistently with a romantic prospect, but never set up a date. They pique your interest, of that prospective job, perhaps, by reminding you repeatedly that it exists, but never set up the interview.

…Like most of today’s torturous microcommunications, we have technology to thank for breadcrumbs. Sure, they may have existed a decade ago (a nod on the street, a “what’s up” in the hallway — these were technically breadcrumbs, right?) but they didn’t have quite the same “desperate wondering about what someone means,” Ms. Simmons said.

“These are connections, not conversations,” said Sherry Turkle, a professor at M.I.T.

 

 

Period. Full Stop. Point. Whatever It’s Called, It’s Going Out of Style

“We are at a momentous moment in the history of the full stop,” said David Crystal, who has written more than 100 books on language Credit Roberto Ricciuti/Getty Images

Excerpt from this article:

The period — the full-stop signal we all learn as children, whose use stretches back at least to the Middle Ages — is gradually being felled in the barrage of instant messaging that has become synonymous with the digital age

…The conspicuous omission of the period in text messages and in instant messaging on social media, he says, is a product of the punctuation-free staccato sentences favored by millennials — and increasingly their elders — a trend fueled by the freewheeling style of Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter

…“In an instant message, it is pretty obvious a sentence has come to an end, and none will have a full stop,” he added “So why use it?”

In fact, the understated period — the punctuation equivalent of stagehands who dress in black to be less conspicuous — may have suddenly taken on meanings all its own

Increasingly… the period is being deployed as a weapon to show irony, syntactic snark, insincerity, even aggression

If the love of your life just canceled the candlelit, six-course, home-cooked dinner you have prepared, you are best advised to include a period when you respond “Fine.” to show annoyance

 

 

TED Talk: You Don’t Need an App For That

After sharing a link to my stories about creative uses of technology in developing and emerging markets, a colleague sent through a link to this great TED talk: “While the rest of the world is updating statuses and playing games on smartphones, Africa is developing useful SMS-based solutions to everyday needs, says journalist Toby Shapshak. In this eye-opening talk, Shapshak explores the frontiers of mobile invention in Africa as he asks us to reconsider our preconceived notions of innovation.”

Thanks Chris T. for the link!

https://embed-ssl.ted.com/talks/toby_shapshak_you_don_t_need_an_app_for_that.html

How I Learned to Love Snapchat

I mentioned this article in yesterday’s post, but it’s so full of fascinating commentary that I wanted to give it its own post. Here’s an excerpt:

Texting freed a generation from the strictures and inconvenience (and awkwardness) of phone calls, while allowing people to be more loosely and constantly connected.

I thought about this shift recently when trying to make sense of the rise of Snapchat, the latest wellspring of techno­social hand-wringing. Like texting, Snapchat flourished amid scarcity, though of an entirely different kind. We no longer live in Hillebrand’s era, when there were hard limits on how much we could say over text; but words alone can be an imperfect technology. So much of what we mean lies not just in what we say, or in the exact words we choose, but also in the light that animates our eyes (or doesn’t) when we de­­liver them and the sharpness (or softness) of the tone we use. Text barely captures even a fraction of that emotional depth and texture, even when we can type as much as we want. Snapchat is just the latest and most well realized example of the various ways we are regaining the layers of meaning we lost when we began digitizing so many important interactions.

In 2012, I calculated that I sent about 7,000 texts a month; now, thanks to the creeping unwieldiness of phones and the misfirings of autocorrect, I can barely manage to peck out half a sentence before I become aggravated by the effort and give up. To combat that fatigue, I’ve turned to newer ways to talk and interact with friends, primarily voice memos. These function like a highly evolved version of voice mail — there’s no expectation of a return call, or even a simultaneous conversation. Freed from that pressure, my friends and I leave one another memos about episodes of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” and “Empire,” the themes of “Lemonade” or even just a detailed account of a date or run-in with an ex. The trend is catching on elsewhere: According to an article on Vice’s website Motherboard, voice notes have become so popular in Argentina that they’ve virtually replaced text messages altogether.

But messages that include little actual messaging seem to be the wave of the future, and Snapchat is leading the way.

Clash Of The Screens: Should Movie Theaters Allow Texting? AMC Says Maybe

The CEO of AMC Entertainment says he is considering allowing texting during some movie showings at AMC Theaters. A good thing? Our pop culture blogger and movie critic weigh in.The CEO of AMC Entertainment says he is considering allowing texting during some movie showings at AMC Theaters. A good thing? Our pop culture blogger and movie critic weigh in.Should texting be allowed at some movie screenings?

Excerpt from this article and be sure to listen to the short radio story that features the debate:

Texting at the movies is usually annoying and usually banned. But the CEO of the giant movie theater chain AMC says maybe it’s time to rethink that.

AMC Entertainment CEO Adam Aron floated a trial balloon in an interview with Variety at CinemaCon, a film industry trade convention, saying the chain has considered adding showings where using your cellphone will be allowed.

The reason?

“When you tell a 22-year-old to turn off the phone, don’t ruin the movie, they hear, please cut off your left arm above the elbow,” Aron told Variety. “You can’t tell a 22-year-old to turn off their cellphone. That’s not how they live their life.”

NPR’s pop culture blogger Linda Holmes and movie critic Bob Mondello weighed in. Bob adopted the curmudgeon role; Linda talked him down from the ledge.

See also this story about how movie theatre ushers in China shine laserpointers at people who use their phone there.

Update: AMC Backs Down From Allowing Texting in Theatres: “We have heard loud and clear that this is a concept our audience does not want. In this age of social media, we get feedback from you almost instantaneously and, as such, we are constantly listening. Accordingly, just as instantaneously, this is an idea we have relegated to the cutting room floor.”

Update 2: Why the panic about texting in cinemas? Phones can breathe new life into old space

 

She’ll Text Me, She’ll Text Me Not

Ansari-BR_chat-1

Excerpt from this article (we’ve covered Aziz Ansari’s thoughts on dating in the digital age before, but this is a more recent article that gets into a few other fun observations):

One area where there was a lot of debate was the amount of time one should wait to text back. Several people subscribed to the notion of doubling the response time. (They write back in five minutes, you wait 10, etc.) This way you achieve the upper hand and constantly seem busier and less available than your counterpart. Others thought waiting just a few minutes was enough to prove you had something important in your life besides your phone. Some thought you should double, but occasionally throw in a quick response to not seem so regimented (nothing too long, though!). Some people swore by waiting 1.25 times longer. Others argued they found three minutes to be just right. There were also those who were so fed up with the games that they thought receiving timely responses free of games was refreshing and showed confidence.

But does this stuff work? Why do so many people do it? Are any of these strategies really lining up with actual psychological findings?

Texting is a medium that conditions our minds in a distinctive way, and we expect our exchanges to work differently with messages than they did with phone calls. Before everyone had a cell phone, people could usually wait a while—up to a few days, even—to call back before reaching the point where the other person would get concerned. Texting has habituated us to receiving a much quicker response. From our interviews, this time frame varies from person to person, but it can be anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour to even immediately, depending on the previous communication. When we don’t get the quick response, our mind freaks out.

When you are texting someone less frequently, you are, in effect, creating a scarcity of you and making yourself more attractive.

 

 

Compulsive Texting Takes Toll on Teenagers

Photo Jim Wilson/The New York Times

Excerpt from this article:

…Youngsters who check their phones continually, snap if you interrupt them and are so preoccupied with texting that they skip sleep and don’t get their work done may be compulsive texters, a new study says. For girls, compulsive texting is more than just a distraction – it is also associated with lower academic performance.

The study of more than 400 eighth and 11th graders found that many teenage texters had a lot in common with compulsive gamblers, including losing sleep because of texting, problems cutting back on texting and lying to cover up the amount of time they spent texting.

“Compulsivity is more than just the number of texts teens are engaging in,” said Kelly M. Lister-Landman, the paper’s lead author and an assistant professor of psychology at Delaware County Community College in Media, Pa. “What is their relationship with phone use? Do they feel anxious when it’s not around them? When they sit down to eat dinner with their family, do they feel a need to check it? Do they feel compelled to look at it at all times, rather than just answering texts they get?

Meet Tumblr’s 15-Year-Old Secret Keeper

Excerpt from this article:

On the Internet, the word “heartbreaking” is often used as a device to get us to click and gawk at remarkable tales of loss — the bride left at the altar, the long-lost family pet. On The Last Message Received Tumblr, the heartbreak doesn’t really need a headline to sell itself.

The sorrow appears in a scrolling cascade of text bubbles that contain both small slights, such as being ghosted inexplicably, and huge loss, like losing a parent. It’s hard to look away because the blog is full of stark endings, the kind of sadness that won’t happen to you until happens to you.

The Last Message Received is actually the successor to an even more popular project the teenager created this year: On Dear My Blank, more than 17,000 people have asked her to post anonymous letters that they will never send. Just like on The Last Message Received, notes on Dear My Blank are mostly about loss.

The letters are to crushes, parents and ex-lovers, and Emily receives up to 100 of them a day.

 

The Five Stages of Ghosting Grief

Illustration by Brian Rea

Excerpt from this Modern Love column from this past weekend’s Sunday New York Times:

At 6:30 a.m. I was blow-drying my hair, getting ready for work and accepting the demise of my two-week relationship. The nail in the coffin was that at 10 the night before I had texted him something vaguely sexual, and he hadn’t texted back.

The morning had become a quick but emotionally turbulent journey through the five stages of grief.

First: denial. It was entirely possible he hadn’t seen the text. He could have been in a deep sleep. He could have dropped his phone in the toilet. He could have died! Any of these options were comforting.

I didn’t care if he was a non-texter — and what does that even mean in this day and age? If you’re a 20-something urban professional who doesn’t text, you’re pretty much impossible to be friends with. For a friendship to exist in 2015, people need to know they can text “ugh I love oysterrrrs” at 2:15 p.m. on a Friday and get a response by 2:30.

Of course, there would be pathetically little at stake if he failed to reply to a Friday afternoon “ugh I love oysterrrrs” text. But this was my first flirtatious text after our first physical encounter. By not responding, he was essentially shouting into the universe, “You are overly sexual, way too forward and deeply unattractive to me.”