Tag Archives: social media

The Slacklash Is Here. You Should Do Something About It.

Is the app that ate email eating into a whole lot more—like privacy, productivity, and personal time? In The Baffler, Jacob Silverman explores the darker side of Slack, the app that became so ubiquitous so fast, that there’s already a literature of Slack-detox—which puts the burden of mitigating the app’s downsides entirely on the user, and not on the app or the work culture in which it’s used.

It’s worth noting that at some Slack-using companies, these mini detoxes are enthusiastically endorsed by the higher-ups. Alexis Madrigal, then editor in chief of Fusion, offered his advice to other bosses: “If I could give one piece of advice to other media companies, it’s that they should be cool with people deleting the app,” he told Nieman Lab last year. “If someone’s going on vacation or their anniversary, or if they’re going to be away on a long weekend, we tell them to delete Slack from their phone because otherwise the temptation to check it is too great. Deleting the app really helps people disconnect, because it’s that addictive as a social experience.”

The boss is allowed to seem magnanimous—you’re on vacation, delete the app!—as he encourages his employees to take steps to temporarily manage their addictions. Meanwhile, the onus of change falls back on each individual employee. The slacklash may be growing, but it is splintered into a thousand isolated quests, each featuring a lone worker facing off against the snarling beast of Information Overload. The recurring lament of the slacklash is, roughly, “I wish I could change, have more self-control”—a refrain that could not be more different from, say, “An injury to one is an injury to all.”

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#Vanlife: Selling Their Staged World, One Social Media Post at A Time

How did a movement toward simple, nomadic life in Volkswagen vans become commercialized sponsor-fodder, in which “vanlifers” trade social media currency for subsidized van repairs and discounts? Is #vanlife really freedom, or just another way to sell your soul, one social media post at a time? Read Rachel Monroe’s story at The New Yorker.

Scroll through the images tagged #vanlife on Instagram and you’ll see plenty of photos that don’t have much to do with vehicles: starry skies, campfires, women in leggings doing yoga by the ocean. Like the best marketing terms, “vanlife” is both highly specific and expansive. It’s a one-word life-style signifier that has come to evoke a number of contemporary trends: a renewed interest in the American road trip, a culture of hippie-inflected outdoorsiness, and a life free from the tyranny of a nine-to-five office job.

Vanlifers have a tendency to call their journeys “projects,” and to describe them in the elevator-pitch terms that make sense to potential sponsors. While still in Central America, King and Smith came up with a name for their project: Where’s My Office Now, a reference to their goal of fusing travel and work. “We wanted to see if it was possible to combine this nomadic hippie life with a nine-to-five job,” Smith explained. After the couple returned from Central America but before they bought a van, King registered a Web site and set up social-media accounts. “The business part of me knew there was potential,” she said. Smith, who was still using a flip phone, was suspicious of his girlfriend’s preoccupation with social media, worrying that it would detract from the experience.

King and Smith were now professional vanlifers. They began working more product placement into their Instagram posts. Since then, their sponsorships—which King prefers to call “alliances”—have included Kettle Brand potato chips, Clif Bars, and Synergy Organic Clothing. Last summer, the tourism board of Saskatchewan paid the couple seven thousand dollars to drive around the grasslands of central Canada with other popular vanlifers, documenting their (subsidized) kayaking trips and horseback rides.

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In Makeover Culture, Authenticity Doesn’t Come Cheap

What is behind the contemporary obsession with makeovers? At Aeon, writer and scholar Michael Lovelock examines the cultural and economic forces that drive millions to Instagram hashtags like #transformationtuesday and shows like How to Look Good Naked.

The idea that we have an authentic self — a set of innate personality traits, desires, emotional and intellectual dispositions unique to us — emerged in the 18th century. Enlightenment thinkers such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau tried to move away from religion as a means of making sense of the world. Instead, they claimed that the purpose of life was to be true to an essential nature that defined who we are.

In the 21st century, the notion of the authentic self has solidified into common sense, with the routine demands to “be yourself” or to “be real.” This is partly a response to the perceived breakdown of collective structures that traditionally gave life meaning: religion, local community, extended family ties. The late philosopher Zygmunt Bauman has called this state of affairs “liquid modernity” — a description of how reliable anchors of group identity have given way to fluidity, insecurity, and individualism. The makeover offers an apparent solution to these social and cultural transformations. It encourages us to look inwards, to the very fabric of the self for meaning, purpose, and fulfilment.

Paradoxically, the logic of the makeover positions the external body as the site upon which inner authenticity is to be displayed — right before the market steps in to help us achieve this self-realization. Of course, there’s nothing magnanimous about the self-confidence sold to us in the form of a bottle of shampoo, a new dress, or a subscription to a gym.

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Our Memories Are Not What They Used to Be

When was the last time you had to memorize a telephone number? For me, that would be more than six years ago, when we moved to another country and my wife got a new phone. Our relation to our memories in the age of unlimited digital storage is far more complicated, though. At the New Statesman, Sophie McBain explores the ways, both subtle and startling, in which the rise of digital media and smartphones has altered our ability — and willingness — to remember:

For thousands of years, human beings have relied on stone tablets, scrolls, books or Post-it notes to remember things that their minds cannot retain, but there is something profoundly different about the way we remember and forget in the internet age. It is not only our memory of facts that is changing. Our episodic memory, the mind’s ability to relive past experiences — the surprising sting of an old humiliation revisited, the thrill and discomfort of a first kiss, those seemingly endless childhood summers — is affected, too. The average Briton now spends almost nine hours a day staring at their phone, computer or television, and when more of our lives are lived on screen, more of our memories will be formed there. We are recording more about ourselves and our experiences than ever before, and though in the past this required deliberate effort, such as sitting down to write a diary, or filing away a letter, or posing for a portrait, today this process can be effortless, even unintentional. Never before have people had access to such comprehensive and accurate personal histories — and so little power to rewrite them.

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How to Report on the Life of a 13-Year-Old

There must be few journalistic feats more difficult than getting inside the head of a teenager. But with “13, Right Now,” Washington Post staff writer Jessica Contrera joins the ranks of reporters who have skillfully chronicled the lives of children and teens, including Susan Orlean (read her classic Esquire piece, “The American Man, Age 10”) and more recently, Andrea Elliott, whose “Invisible Child” for the New York Times in 2013 documented the life of an 11-year-old homeless girl named Dasani.

Contrera’s story focuses on Katherine, 13, whose life has been upended by the death of her mother, and whose world seems to increasingly exist inside her phone—through apps like Instagram and Snapchat. (As an #old myself, seeing Katherine’s life revolve around her social networks is shocking only in the way it mirrors the screen addiction of the American grown-up. It practically begs for the return of the “I learned it by watching you” meme.)

I spoke to Contrera about her story, which is one in an ongoing series (“The Screen Age”) that the Post will publish throughout the summer. Read more…

How Burger King Generates Buzz on a Budget

Burger King likes being edgy, Schwan says, and it has proved that it doesn’t mind doing things that might make other brands blush. In August, as the company pushed a new spicy version of its chicken fries—a cult favorite the chain returned to the menu after a flood of social media requests—it tweeted a picture of what appeared to be a stack of pornographic magazines. The skin books, their cover images blurred, were set next to a box of Fiery Chicken Fries, and the tweet read: “Hotter than your summer reading list. #fierychickenfries.” Less than a week later, a similar tweet featured blurred-out images of bikini-clad women with this message: “Hotter than your browsing history.”

In an age when office chatter has moved from last night’s TV episode to the latest viral video, part of Burger King’s marketing advantage has been its willingness to move quickly to exploit a constantly churning Internet news cycle. After the company reentered France in 2013, following a 16-year absence, social media there were besieged with negative comments from French customers complaining about long lines at the restaurants. Burger King didn’t waver in the face of the apparent customer service crisis. Instead, it printed some of the “angry tweets” on construction panels at the new locations as proof it had heard the negative feedback. That gambit generated millions of retweets, won a marketing award, and again showed Burger King to be a brand that isn’t afraid to ignore conventional wisdom. “The better it is you understand what you stand for, the easier it is to react quickly,” Schwan says.

Craig Giammona, writing in Bloomberg Business about how the Burger King chain’s bolder, racier viral marketing strategy is increasing sales by using social media to integrate itself into pop culture, and it’s doing it for less money.

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Using Technology to Fight the Power

In a new story for Wired, Bijan Stephen looks at how the Black Lives Matter movement uses social media to organize and fight for change. As Stephen writes, “any large social movement is shaped by the technology available to it,” tailoring their goals and tactics to the media of their time. For the nascent Black Lives Matter movement, that technology has been platforms like Twitter and Facebook. But civil rights organizers were using technology to mobilize long before the advent of social media. Here’s what that looked like in the Jim Crow South:

In the 1960s, if you were a civil rights worker stationed in the Deep South and you needed to get some urgent news out to the rest of the world—word of a beating or an activist’s arrest or some brewing state of danger—you would likely head straight for a telephone.

From an office or a phone booth in hostile territory, you would place a call to one of the major national civil rights organizations. But you wouldn’t do it by dialing a standard long-distance number. That would involve speaking first to a switchboard operator—who was bound to be white and who might block your call. Instead you’d dial the number for something called a Wide Area Telephone Service, or WATS, line.

Like an 800 line, you could dial a WATS number from anywhere in the region and the call would patch directly through to the business or organization that paid for the line—in this case, say, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.

On the other end of the line, another civil rights worker would be ready to take down your report and all the others pouring in from phones scattered across the South. The terse, action-packed write-ups would then be compiled into mimeographed “WATS reports” mailed out to organization leaders, the media, the Justice Department, lawyers, and other friends of the movement across the country.

In other words, it took a lot of infrastructure to live-tweet what was going on in the streets of the Jim Crow South.

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How a Local Police Chief Took on the Drug War

After 25 years of fighting a losing war on drugs and with a heroin epidemic raging in his home state of Massachusetts, Gloucester Police Chief Leonard Campanello decided to take matters into his own hands. He opened his police station’s doors to any addict seeking help, promising to get them into treatment. Writing for Boston Magazine, Chris Sweeney delves deeply into Campanello’s work, and the unlikely success of his initiative: in just three short months, 145 individuals have already come to Campanello seeking help. But first, the story of the Facebook post that started it all:

Campanello, heavyset with jowls and thinning hair, knew his limitations: just a small-town cop with a tiny budget and no power to enact laws. So on the morning of May 4, he logged into the biggest platform he had—the Gloucester Police Department’s Facebook account—and, for the first time, began typing out his defiant approach. Starting June 1, he wrote, “Any addict who walks into the police station with the remainder of their drug equipment (needles, etc) or drugs and asks for help will NOT be charged.” Instead, he and his officers would help them get medical care. It didn’t matter what insurance you had, or whether you had insurance at all—Campanello promised to shred the red tape that entangled so many who sought treatment. “I’ve never arrested a tobacco addict, nor have I ever seen one turned down for help when they develop lung cancer, whether or not they have insurance,” he concluded in the post. “The reasons for the difference in care between a tobacco addict and an opiate addict is stigma and money. Petty reasons to lose a life.”

He read the message over for typos, floated the cursor over the “Post” button, and clicked his mouse at 10:55 a.m. It instantly went viral, shared by more than 30,000 people, “liked” by 33,000, and viewed more than 2 million times.

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The Harsh Realities of Being a Woman in the Music Industry

On Monday, Jessica Hopper (music writer, culture critic, author of the recent and wonderfully titled The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic) asked her Twitter followers a simple question:

“Gals/other marginalized folks: what was your 1st brush (in music industry, journalism, scene) w/ idea that you didn’t “count”?”

Needless to say, more than a few people responded. After a short period of writing back encouraging, personal responses, Hopper started retweeting the stories en masse.

Over the past 48 hours, Hopper’s timeline has filled with hundreds of individual stories; specific events, conversations, and aggressions, relayed in 140 characters or less. If you were hanging around the internet yesterday—or at least certain corners of the internet—you probably heard people talking about what was going on, and urging you to head over to Hopper’s page for a look.

A Twitter user named Laupina put together a Storify of Hopper’s timeline from the period in question. It’s a brutal, intimate, moving, difficult to read, and also inspiring testament to what it’s like to a be woman in the music world.

And what’s it like to be a woman in the music world? You will be mercilessly hit on, sexually harassed, endlessly accused of being the girlfriend/sister/mom, treated like an imposter, made to justify your presence, possibly threatened with violence, and constantly on the lookout for whatever fresh hell (and/or groper in the mosh pit) might be coming your way next. And that’s just the very short version.

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Covering the ‘Black Twitter’ Beat

Asking how am I going to cover Black Twitter is like asking how I’m going to cover American culture. I’m never going to get all of it, but I’m going to pull what I find interesting.

Dexter Thomas, as interviewed by Chava Gourarie in the Columbia Journalism Review. Earlier this week the Los Angeles Times hired Dexter Thomas to cover Black Twitter and other online communities.

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