Modern-Day Security Blanket: The Cell Phone

After reading my classmate Jess’ post “What Dropping My Phone in a Toilet Taught Me”, I began thinking about the rough lives our cellphones must have.

I think my current iPhone has been through just about everything, and come out on the other side like a cat with nine lives. I can vividly remember the last time it made an audible thwack on the pavement. Holding my breath as I examined it, I was relieved to find it not only still working, but completely unscathed. (Thanks, Apple.)

I share a lot of Jess’ experiences and sentiments with my own cell phone. I dropped my in the toilet last March, but was luckily able to resurrect it with swift action and a bowl full of rice. More importantly, though, I echo the emotional attachment one can have with their phone.

Cell phones become so much more than just a way to text and store numbers,  they become an extension of yourself and I think for much of my generation, they become a security blanket, a way to cope with the uncomfortable and unpredictable.

For instance, how many times have you stepped into an elevator recently, only to be greeted by…nothing, everyone staring down at their phones? I would bet more times than not. While I’m not saying it applies to everyone, I would be willing to guess a majority (myself included, sometimes) choose to click away on their phones than engage in awkward small talk.

While at first I was depressed by this direction technology was taking us in, I found (with a little research) that there are still many who see the value in ditching your phone for some actual face to face conversation. Like this restaurant that gives customers who leave their phones at the podium a discount, or this cheeky art:


In conclusion, it seems unavoidable to get a little attached to your phone. However, while some people take it to an over-the-top extreme, others are more comfortable ditching their security blanket.

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Internet Addiction & “The Machine Zone”

We’ve all been there. It’s 2:14 a.m., you have class in a few hours, you’re exhausted, eyes burning from being open too long, but still, you don’t sleep. Why?

Because you’re pressing reload, reload, reload on Facebook or Twitter or whichever outlet is your personal vice. You know it’s not logical, and your certain it’s not healthy, so why do you keep doing it?

According to an article in The Atlantic, you’re in the “machine zone”.

What is the machine zone? It’s a rhythm. It’s a response to a fine-tuned feedback loop. It’s a powerful space-time distortion. You hit a button. Something happens. You hit it again. Something similar, but not exactly the same happens. Maybe you win, maybe you don’t. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. It’s the pleasure of the repeat, the security of the loop.

The phrase was coined by  MIT anthropologist Natasha Schüll after spending years analyzing the behavior or gamblers at slot machines. 

In trying to understand the thoughts behind why gamblers continue pulling down that lever, Schüll found that many of them described themselves as feeling “in a trance” or “pulled by a magnet”. Sound familiar?

However, the “machine zone” isn’t simply being on the computer. It’s an extreme. It’s being hypnotized by the computer, to the point when you aren’t accomplishing anything, just simply clicking, clicking, clicking.

Obviously, if you’re engaged in banter with friends or messaging your mom on Facebook, you’re not in that zone. If you’re reading actively and writing poems on Twitter, you’re not in that zone. If you’re making art on Tumblr, you’re not in that zone. The machine zone is anti-social, and it’s characterized by a lack of human connection. You might be looking at people when you look through photos, but your interactions with their digital presences are mechanical, repetitive, and reinforced by computerized feedback.

According to the article, not everything is zone-worthy, but Facebook photo browsing is especially conducive to allowing one to get in the “machine zone”, because of the psychological fact that with each click you are rewarded with a visually appealing stimuli. On average, 17% of time spent on Facebook is exclusively used for browsing pictures.

Alexis Madrigal, the writer of the article, presents an interesting final thought. The “machine zone” could be different. It could be outlawed, even. “To be a little absurd,” she writes. “Why not post a sign after someone has looked through 100 pictures that says, ‘Why not write a friend or family member a note instead?’” This truly sounds like a brilliant idea to me.

The problem is that the “machine zone” has been artificially enhanced, both in casinos and online. Everyone wants to make money, and the longer you spend at the slot machines or on Facebook, the more likely you’ll eventually break down and give them some of your money.

Since Facebook and other sites appeal to advertisers by boasting minutes users spend on the site, the “machine zone” helps further their goals. It doesn’t matter if you actually enjoy those 2 a.m. internet binges, all that matters is that you’re spending time on the site.

So the next time you find yourself being a zombie in front of your screen, think about who your time is truly benefiting. More than likely, it’s not you. Then, take the bravest step of all, and hit the ‘OFF’ button.

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Dave Eggers, “The Circle”

In contrast to a lot of what I read for this class, I recently stumbled across a fiction piece soaked in the questions of technology we so often consider and discuss in English 3844.

A New York Times excerpt of Dave Eggers’ The Circle showcases a novel which could easily be classified as this generation’s version of George Orwell’s 1984. Focusing on the enterprising and captivating company “Circle” (which seems somewhat reminiscent of Google), the novel follows Mae Holland as she begins her work there.

While the beginning of the excerpt has an air of lightness and hope, the piece quickly takes a dark turn. What was an unexpected (and perhaps unearned) position for Mae at “the most influential company in the world” swiftly becomes an all-encompassing obsession with pleasing what seems to be a big brother-like business.

Perhaps this is best illustrated when Mae, who has been performing seemingly exceptional in her new position is called in to discuss her lacking a sense of “community”. Mae is essentially berated for going all weekend without touching base with her company or any of its resources. (It takes the idea of “bringing work home” to a whole new level.)

When Mae admits that she went kayaking and chose not to bring a camera, her superior Josiah basically loses it, saying:

“My problem with paper is that all communication dies with it. It holds no possibility of continuity. You look at your paper guide, and that’s where it ends. It ends with you. Like you’re the only one who matters.”

Wait, what? This seems like a bit of a drastic conclusion, and brings up a lot of relevant discussions about tangible versus technological information. Transparency, a hot word discussed in the fictional piece several times, seems to me (after a bit of research) to be the study of these very issues.

“Transparency is the concept of determining how and why information is conveyed through various means.”

Why web articles over novels? Why YouTube videos over academic papers? These seem to be questions with no truly right answer, but nonetheless questions worth asking.

Eggers himself answered a few questions in regards to The Circle, providing even more thought-provoking insights. Perhaps my personal favorite being, when asked what type of dialogue he hoped the story would open, was when Eggers said,

“I think we’re already engaged in a constant and meaningful examination of how the available technology is affecting us — but maybe fiction can shine a different kind of light on it.”

Eggers admitted to doing no formal research for the novel, as well as not modeling “Circle” after any company in particular, but despite these facts it appears he is truly knowledge about technology’s intense grasp on our future.

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High Schoolers, The Downfall of Social Media?

A friend and I recently made the astute observation that anyone we deem younger than us automatically receives the label of being twelve years old. We’re not exactly sure why the number 12, but for some reason whenever we’re out and spot someone obviously younger, the common phrase uttered from our lips is something like, “Why is that 12-year-old here?”

Personally, I think it may be because, starting around middle school, everyone wants to appear to be older. That is until about 25-30, when all women want to pretend to be younger. What does this have to do with technology, you ask?

A semi-recent Huffington Post article, entitled “What Really Happens on a Teen Girl’s iPhone”, that’s what.

The article, by Bianca Bosker, attempts to anthologize the inner-workings of a teenage girl’s mind and actions. The problem with that? It’s impossible. Trust me, I know, I used to be one.

However, the article does present some interesting, thought-provoking, and sometimes appalling information.

At first glance, said “teenage girl” fourteen-year-old Casey Schwartz, seemed like someone I would really want to punch. My apologies, Casey. I’m sure you’re a very nice girl, with lots of worthy interests and hopes and dreams…maybe. But this article does not paint you in such a flattering light.

For example, “If I’m not watching TV, I’m on my phone. If I’m not on my phone, I’m on my computer. If I’m not doing any of those things, what am I supposed to do?” Casey says.

I almost screamed at my computer. How about read a book? Take a hike? Actually talk to another human being’s face? I couldn’t help but feel like any of those activities were far beyond Casey’s capabilities.

That is until I took a deep breath and a step back to truly understand Casey’s perspective. She said it all along with one of her first sentiments:

“I’ll wake up in the morning and go on Facebook just … because. It’s not like I want to or I don’t. I just go on it. I’m, like, forced to. I don’t know why. I need to.”

While I’m by no means completely dismissing Casey of her choices, I think it’s quite telling that she described the action as being “forced”. She even went on to explain that she felt (and maybe even hoped) technology’s grip would fade in the future. Poor Casey, and the rest of her generation, didn’t grow up for even the very little shred my generation did, of living a life without the internet.

Because I grew up in a generation where the World Wide Web was still being figured out and then mass produced, I was able to experience and enjoy some of the simplicities Casey and her friends may never know. My mother read me actual stories on actual books, not tablets. My teachers used actual chalk on actual chalkboards, not super magic smart boards. While these little details may not be the most effective or technological or cutting edge, they do make a difference (often for the better) to a child. It’s the same logic behind why so many people won’t give up their books for Kindles or other e-readers. While I may not agree with it logically, there are some things technology simply can’t do better than the original.

And it’s for this reason I no longer want to punch Casey in the face, or avoid the rest of her generation when I see them at Starbucks. It’s for this reason I feel sorry for them.

(Side note: Better not try to part a teenage girl with her phone.)


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Social Media & Socialnomics

Stop whatever you’re doing and watch this video right now. Done? Alright good, now your mind is as blown as mine is.

I guess It’s easy to hide behind the generalization that social media is a huge entity and not be aware of the facts. And of that, I am guilty.

That is until I found this video made by Erik Qualman of SocialnomicsSocialnomics is a #1 bestselling book and spinoff blog devoted to exploring “How social media transforms the way we live and do business.” 

Some of the most interesting/appalling/scary statistics in the video:

  • 1 billion people on Facebook makes it the third largest “country” in the world, bigger than the United States
  • Twitter, Facebook, YouTube & Google are not welcome in China (What is the difference between “welcome” and legal”?)
  • 1 in 5 divorces are blamed on Facebook
  • 92% of children under the age of 2 have a digital shadow
  • Social gamers will buy $6 billion in virtual (read: not real) goods by 2013
  • If Wikipedia were made into a book it would be 2.25 million pages long
  • New Yorkers received tweets about an east coast earthquake 30 seconds before they felt it
  • (And perhaps most disturbing) Babies in Egypt have been named Facebook and Twitter

Now I’m not sure if it was just the eerie, robotic-like music or the statistics themselves, but this video did a good job of creeping me out. I couldn’t help but feel like it was a bit of a scare tactic on the part of Qualman to get me to buy his book, which conveniently showed up front and center promptly after all the numbers.

Since the video was posted over a year ago, I found myself wondering about how the statistics had changed. One would only assume that the numbers have steadily climbed, but some I guess some people have found (or maybe just speculated) that certain social media use has gone down.

I mean, everyone just laughs and scoffs at Myspace trying to make a comeback. While it was fun in 7th grade, there’s simply no way I’m going back, no matter how many celebrities they can fit in their commercials.

This brings me to the question I think many of my generation are grappling with:

Does any social media really last? And therefore, is it safe to make a career in social media?

In my personal opinion, no. Nope, no way, not going to do it. While I think it’s incredibly useful to know how to market oneself through the use of tools like Facebook, LinkedIn, and the like, I don’t think it’s smart or secure to try make a career in that. While all the hipsters in Silicon Valley may think it’s cool to tote titles like “Facebook VP of Corporate Making Stuff Up”, I think the video itself made it clear that the jobs popular right now aren’t lasting, and that will apply to these disposable positions as well.

All in all, I found the socialnomics video doing the same thing social media does so often – making me think in a different way. While that’s great, and I believe a lot of significant change can be made that way, I’m still not buying Qualman’s book. And in the end, doesn’t making money matter just a little bit?


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A Vision of Students Today

The amazing Youtube video “A Vision of Students Today” recently came to my attention and I was amazed at its effectiveness. The premise is simple. Michael Wesch, in collaboration with 200 Kansas State University students, set out to paint a portrait of the average college student. However, instead of composing an academic paper, the professor set up a google document that allowed his students to comment, and after an impressive 367 edits, the group presented their findings in a dynamic video, which included students holding up statistics on notepads and laptops.

Some of the highlights: students acknowledge only doing about 49% of assigned readings, most will be about $20,000 dollars in debt when they graduate, and most importantly if you added up all the tasks we need to do in a day, it would be more around 27 hours. And our parents wonder why we’re always doing two things at once.

While I’m aware of the fact that throughout the entire duration of my Writing & Digital Media course we’ve been praising the effectiveness of “nontraditional argumentation”, it was never as true to me as right now. When looking through the list of examples, I clicked on one and saw that it was linked to lengthy more “academic-looking” article, and I promptly clicked away. However, when I stumbled across “A Vision”, and realized it was a video, I was instantly more engaged in the material. Aside from a marketing strategy to just get me to initially look at the information, the video also worked to keep me interested in the message Wesch and his students were trying to get across.

I just overall really enjoyed the creativity Wesch and his students put into the construction of their video. But putting text on unexpected places, like the walls and chairs, viewers were surprised and intrigued to actually read what was being said (as opposed to an academic paper, where you sometimes want to look anywhere but the text.)

Luckily, I found that a lot of the statistics which demonstrated an alienation of the student didn’t apply to me personally. For example, the first two faces- my average class size is 115 and 18% of my professors know my name- didn’t ring true for me. Perhaps it’s just because English is a smaller department, or that I also tend to make an effort to participate and know my teachers, but I’m glad this wasn’t my case.

Perhaps the statement held up that I found most interesting was,

“When I graduate I will probably have a job that doesn’t exist today.”

As someone who sees graduation and the job search as a far too close impending doom, this realization was both exciting and terrifying. How am I supposed to prepare for a job that doesn’t exist yet? Am I just supposed to make it up as I go along?  That train of thought brought me to another statistic I found in a Did You Know?  video:

“The top ten in demand jobs for 2010 did not exist in 2004.”

Interesting enough, I found my worries coming full circle, back to the message brought to me by Wesch and his students. While I may not be exactly sure of what career I will go for after I graduate, I do know with a fair level of certainty that confidence using technology will be a marketable skill. 

(Shoutout to English Career Connections for making me a little less terrified about what I’m going to do upon graduation.)

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Why We Share Too Much Online

In the same theme as my last post, I found a recent Mother Jones article by Josh Harkinson that claimed to explain the science behind internet oversharing. As someone also studying psychology, I was intrigued that article attempted to rationalize social media behavior with the science of our brains.

While I wasn’t surprised by much of the data presented by the article, I was surprised by the rationale. The idea that social media users are caught in a “privacy paradox” made such logical sense, I started to wonder why more people weren’t aware of its consequences. The article explained it this way,

“The feeling of control that you gain by checking a permission box before you publish, say, that bong hit photo, actually makes you more willing to share it with strangers than you otherwise would have been.”

Another interesting angle the article presented was the idea that social media users are “addicts”. The rush behind the instant gratification of seeing our provocative photo or status outweighs the rationale that it might not look so great to future employers, or worse, your parents.

Harkinson argues that much of the social media using generation just doesn’t take the time to understand and use privacy settings. While I’m not sure about everyone, I can certainly say I use the highest protection level for myself, as do many of my friends. If I had to guess, I would say the majority of my peer group chooses to make private their Facebook, Twitter, and Instagrams, if simply to add an air of mystery.

The Mother Jones article concludes with another (somewhat paranoid) point. Apparently the NSA and other government agencies are more likely to monitor your activity if you engage the privacy controls. This conundrum seems like a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy. If people don’t believe it, and everyone wised up and started utilizing their privacy preferences, the issue would cease to exist.

A similar Slate article, by Paul Hiebert, rationalizes that the generation of oversharing comes as a result of reality TV and the eventual “erosion of private life”.

Professor and social media guru Russell W. Belk argues for an idea termed the “disinhibition effect”, saying

“When we’re looking at the screen we’re not face-to-face with someone who can immediately respond to us, so it’s easier to let it all out—it’s almost like we’re invisible. The irony is that rather than just one person, there’s potentially thousands or hundreds of thousands of people receiving what we put out there.The resulting disinhibition leads many to conclude that they are able to express their “true self” better online than they ever could in face-to-face contexts.”

Hiebert continues on in his article presenting the similar article that “online exhibitionism”, as he calls it, is what many believe is necessary step to popularity and fame.

Hiebert concluded the article on a bit of a dramatic note, claiming that the traditional line between public and private life is disintegrating every day.While I definitely agree that technology makes it more difficult to separate professional and social life, I don’t think it’s “disintegrating” unless you choose not to practice common sense.


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Death and Facebook

Social media and I have a love-hate relationship. I pushed it away hard for quite some time. Maybe I’m just an “old soul” in that sense, but when all of my friends were getting a Facebook in high school, I wasn’t interested. I did the whole MySpace thing in middle school, and it didn’t quite seem worth it. It only ever caused drama. I vividly remember the traumatic pressure associated with choosing one’s “Top 8″.

It wasn’t until I entered college that I finally caved to the Facebook pressure. For the first time, I saw the benefit of being able to keep in touch with people that would be across the globe at different schools. Since then, I’ve also slowly dipped my toe into the Twitter pool, and even occasionally check out Instagram and Vine.

However, I tend to follow a lot of unspoken rules about my social media use. Especially on the eve of internship and job searches, I strictly avoid oversharing. Unfortunately, most people don’t. Everyone knows that person who subtweets all too obvious messages about an ex, or the one who constantly posts mundane statuses about the minutiae of life. I usually handle these people with a swift click of the “unfriend” button.

Recently, social media integrated itself into an aspect of my life I didn’t expect: death.

After sleeping off the brutal loss of our most recent game against Maryland, I was awoken to some devastating news. My good friend from high school, Justus Allen, had died in a motorcycle accident.

Before I could even begin to process the news, it was popping up all over Facebook and Twitter. I found my emotions bubbling over the surface as I saw uninformed people posting about a subject I considered private. I felt my hatred of oversharing reaching a new limit.

I knew most people were sincere in their condolences, sharing them over Facebook only because they didn’t know what else to do. But I worried that the Allen family, a family who shared Christmases with mine, who lived right down the street, would be too overwhelmed by grief to handle a social media blitz.

I was wrong.

Shortly after news of the accident had come through, Justus’ family was using Facebook as a way of mass responding to many inquiries. A while after, they chose to utilize the Facebook Memorialization option, which allowed all those who Justus touched to grieve and share their stories.

After talking with Justus’ mom and sister, they explained to me how the sense of community through Facebook helped them in their time of intense grief. Through the site, friends and family were able to organize a vigil for Justus, as well as share photos and videos of the legacy he left behind.

At an incredibly moving service the following week, they showed this celebratory video.

Because of YouTube, we’re now able to hear and see Justus again, whenever we need and for that I’m grateful.

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The Tapestry Experience

Due to iPhones and iPads, tapping to retrieve information has become second nature, and it’s quickly overtaking clicking. Enter Tapestry, an app created around the idea of telling stories through tap essays. According to the website,

“Tapestry is a growing collection of short, wonderful stories made for reading on your phone.”

For our unit two projects, my class was required to create a dynamic tap essay (on any topic) using the tapestry interface. (Tapestry even showcased our works as a collection that can be found here.)

I chose to write “White People Almost Kissing” , or my explanation of why I think Nicholas Sparks sucks as a writer of this generation. The thesis of my essay focuses around the fact that Sparks’ novels are formulaic and emotionally manipulative. This is a topic I’ve debated with friends since high school, and after browsing around the tapestry website, I felt would fit the format well. Tapestry seems to lend itself to more humorous content, and I knew could find funny images, as well as lend some biting sarcasm to the topic at hand.

(It should be noted that just because novels by Nicholas Sparks aren’t my cup of tea, doesn’t mean I’m some heartless and lonely woman who sits alone with her cats on weekends. For the record, I don’t own any cats.)

Now that my venture into the land of tap essay composing is well and over, I feel more able to reflect on the process without bias. While, due to my own stresses and procrastination, there may have been a few keyboard slams, I’m now able to look back warmly on the Tapestry process.

In researching a bit more into the genesis of Tapestry, I found a Complex Tech interview with Robin Sloan. Sloan created Fish , an origin point for Tapestry in the form of a story about internet habits. In the interview Sloan explained the reasoning behind the application saying, “With tapping you get the sense that you’re almost drawing something out with the touch of your finger.” Sloan also added,

 ”Just text on its own can be incredibly powerful and that there’s a lot of power left in it.”

Sloan also touched on one aspect of the app that’s simultaneously frustrating and compelling: the lack of a back button. This is particularly useful it today’s ADD society. Technology users, and a majority of my generation in general multi-tasks to such an extreme that you have to wonder if anything is truly getting absorbed. Without the option to return back to previous information, Tapestry calls its readers to truly pay attention.

Interestingly enough, while I appreciated Sloan’s philosophy, I didn’t particularly enjoy his own story, “Fish”. Aside from lacking any compelling visual elements, the Tapestry also seemed to go on for too long, and to lack any of the humor which made others so effective. Alongside that, I’m not exactly sure I agree with Sloan’s stance that internet “liking” is a negative thing. I think to be effective in today’s fast pace, one can’t resist change and technology (I know, I’ve tried). Instead, to use the internet and any other technological tools efficiently, we must accept their innate differences from books and movies.

All in all, even when I found the Tapestry interface glitchy or frustrating, I was able to overlook these negatives for the engaging possibilities it allowed in integrating text into a modern form.

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Technology & Its effect on my generation

What is it about us millennials and our constant need to be surrounded by technology?

There have been articles, books, newscasts and movies written, based on this topic. While everyone has their own opinions on technology’s effect on my generation, there are a few recurring ideas in these stories. The negative stories say that younger generations are spending less time outside, becoming less socially competent and lazier, and dumbing themselves down due to technology. The positive stories imply that technology has been beneficial to my generation in allowing us to be digitally proficient from a young age, communicate more easily through social networks and other channels, and gain an advantage that generations before us never had. While there are many more ideas that are tossed around in stories about millennials and our relationship with technology, these ideas were particularly prominent in my mind.

My opinion combines some negative and positive views about my generation and our technology addiction. I believe that we spend too much time on our smart phones and that we are losing our social skills, but I also believe that technology allows us to do more than we have ever been able to do before, therefore increasing our ability to prosper in life.

So my view on the issue is that we have to learn to use technology in the right ways. I think that social media, especially with the ease of use on the smart phone, is too prominent and should become less important to my generation. We are changing the way that people communicate with each other. I strongly believe that face-to-face communication is incredibly important, but as technology becomes more advanced, it becomes even easier to hide behind a screen. While I feel that social media is an issue, the speed of communication is an advantage. Email may be losing popularity among millennials, but it still helps when a phone call or meeting is not necessary to quickly transfer information.

Then there is the aspect of technology that allows us to do things that we never could have done before. The World Wide Web has allowed my generation to be able to gain a wealth of information in an instant. Twitter keeps people updated on important events. LinkedIn gives us the chance to put ourselves out there for jobs. We are so lucky to have things like this that make life easier for us and give us the chance to be more informed and productive with our time. Maybe millennials don’t take advantage of these aspects of technology enough, and should focus more on the ways that technology can help us instead of hold us back.