Thursday, June 13, 2013

Nostalgia for the Ephemeral in the Age of Urgent Now (3/3)

The dream SnapChat pitches: "Snap an ugly selfie ... and send it to a friend. They'll receive it, laugh, and then the snap disappears ... It's about the moment."

SnapChat: It's about the moment.
More like SnapChat: Because would you let your kids use an app called DickPix?

There's something disingenuous about a promise to regain something that never existed. It was always a lie, this sense of anonymity and being lost in the vastness of the internet. And it's not a lie we should perpetuate if we want people to grow up and manage a successful digital presence.

For me, the mirage dissipates when I realize I'm feeling nostalgic for being so damn naive.

Logically, SnapChat is for sending pictures you wouldn't want the other person to keep or share. So: pictures you very, very clearly shouldn't send in the first place.

Very simple strategies exist for the person on the receiving end to capture SnapChats. Just search "SnapChat Leaked" on Facebook and Google. (But not if you're at work, you dig?)

All the issues of trust and permanence are still there, only now if I send you a Snap of my cat doing something adorable, it's gone in an instant when you'd rather hold on to it.

We're only scratching the surface of how our technology is shaping this paradigm of the permanent and urgent now. I think SnapChat proves we're longing for a way to keep our connectivity without sacrificing our own impulsiveness, to be in the moment but free from the record of it. SnapChat pretends it can give us that back, but did we ever actually have it? On the internet, I mean.

Is this the trade-off: we get connected to everything, but everything gets connected back to us?

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Nostalgia for the Ephemeral in the Age of Urgent Now (2/3)

Douglas Rushkoff argues that digital technology and perpetual connectivity have created a kind of "Present Shock" in which we experience "a diminishment of everything that isn’t happening right now — and the onslaught of everything that supposedly is."

Urgent, interruptive nowness is partnered with over-whelming permanence. Social media has ushered in the Age of Now (which you're missing out on by reading this btw), but the record of the moment still lasts forever.

For. Ev. Errr.

And that moment has been indexed, and it's very searchable.

There was, at first, promise of a kind of freedom on the web — before social technologies boosted our limited exposure. Back in those more naive times, we shared more openly, as if our posts sinking into the depths of whatever-we-called-it-before-Timeline was sufficient to erase them. We hid behind handles like they were codenames and shared peer-to-peer. No Google search string was sufficient to find you if you didn't want to be found. Anonymity was part of the game on "the net" and it was fun.

If you came through that in my generation, you grew up into what we have now. Facebook monitors your web surfing so it can sell you the shoes you were thinking of buying. Employers will dig up your bong-filled college photos on MySpace and pass you over for a job while the NSA sifts through your old Hotmail account to keep America free from terrorism.

It's been kind of a rough coming-of-age.

Given that, I can understand this counter-intuitive desire for impermanence. When SnapChat creators Evan Spiegel and Bobby Murphy were on Colbert (where I apparently get all my information), one of the things they mentioned was this ephemerality.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Nostalgia for the Ephemeral in the Age of Urgent Now (1/3)

I decided to give SnapChat a go (bluekitsunebi is my handle).

I didn't really get why such a thing existed and I had no interest in using it, which was precisely why I felt I had to get an account. I did it for science. Also to answer the question: "Why else could this possibly exist except to drunk-send naked selfies?"

Funny thing, though: using SnapChat made me nostalgic for my AIM away messages. For when Facebook was only for college kids. For having a LiveJournal and a Geocities web page that I was sure no one could ever a.) trace back to me if they didn't already know me or b.) find without invitation.

Basically nostalgia for being a naive, 19-year-old hormone-bomb who impulsively shared anything and everything without fear of the consequences!

All of that stuff did not disappear. I had to find it and delete it and I'm only half certain it's actually gone. Some day I expect some of this old content to manifest, a ghost of my angsty youth, and destroy my already barely professional online persona.

Maybe that's what they're symbolizing with the cutely evil, gleefully mocking little dude in the SnapChat logo:

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Users: Engage!

What I'm hearing from the social media experts is that page likes and follows are shallow metrics.

This isn't news, especially since it's built right into Facebook's EdgeRank algorithms: a page like has less 'rank' than multiple post likes (at some point), and a share is worth more than a comment is worth more than a like.

Which ups the strategery, makes it all about the 'engagement.' Are they commenting? Sharing? That's Edge Juice. Digital capital.

If folks engage, they are more likely to see my future content, and that's a win for me and my brand.

It does not help the rank of my future posts if I share stuff no one wants to talk about.

Knowing this, I'm sure I'm not the only one to push things out into the virtual world hungry for that validation.


So what if it doesn't happen? Recently, hearing the crickets, I did a slapdash piece of market research. Having posted about once a day for a week regarding goings-on in Turkey (which feels REALLY IMPORTANT to me by the way) I decided to count up those posts (7 of them) and see how many likes and comments there actually were.

I then compared that to the last 7 posts I've made about anything else. The mix of text, image and video was about consistent.

I said slapdash, guys, this isn't real science. Just a quick pulse check.

Out of 7 posts, I had 28 likes and 9 comments. (I'm not a super popular guy.)
Out of 7 Turkey-related posts, 3 likes and 2 comments.

Getting say ~15% my 'normal' engagement on the Turkey posts than the rest?

The hot cakes really aren't moving.

How to interpret this? I could get judgey and decide that everyone's so jaded and uninformed. Why else don't they care? (Easy to feel this way. Why should kitty photos trend more than revolution?)

But I take this "data" with a grain of salt. All I know is that the topic of Turkey is getting poor user engagement among my Facebook audience. Without access to more complicated analytics, I couldn't even tell you who's clicking through this stuff.

It has me wondering: are there times when user engagement is a bad metric to rely on? What if some topics get seen, even clicked -- but not liked or commented on? Does that always mean I should post something else? That I made a mistake? Do I just need to position the content differently? Try a different platform? Seek a different audience?

Does the user engagement metric drive us to preach to the choir? There is always the case of strong disagreement (flaming and haterade are still user engagement, I guess), which suggests at best that digital discourse is likely to polarize.

Probably yes, some of those things. But also I think maybe user engagement isn't always everything. Some things we need to see even if we're not ready to talk about them. How do we measure that?

Saturday, June 1, 2013

The Suck Zone

A long, loud tone blasts through the terminal.

"May I have your attention please," begins a calm-voiced woman, and the dude next to me wryly speaks my thought: "Trust me, lady, you have it."

I'm in the St. Louis airport waiting on an evening flight to the Windy City. The weather has been downright mid-Western all day and all the news is about destruction in Oklahoma.

They've made less intrusive alerts already about "severe thunderstorms," including the comforting instruction to stay away from windows.

None of which prepares me for what follows.

"There is a tornado in the area. Do not panic."

Too late. 

I'm from Boston. We get an occasional blizzard, rather quaint in their own way, a nor'easter or two over the years -- enough to titillate but rarely to threaten.

(Ok, I guess we also have spats of terrorism punctuated by gun violence, but that's a recent development.)

I don't do tornados. I also don't do crowded airport restrooms when I can help it, but unfortunately that's what passes for the emergency shelter, so it's either that or the suck zone.

I'm actually just outside the restroom when the cyclone hits. The ground shakes almost imperceptibly and a gust of wind pours through the terminal. The power cuts, but the generators kick in so fast we barely notice.

And that's it. Only later is it confirmed: the airport was hit on the far side from where we are and sustained some damage.

Now we're all perfectly safe, and completely stranded.

I wish that had been the end of the story.

After a couple of flight reschedulings and finding a nearby hotel room for the night, not to mention many a thought about the cost in time and dollars of driving from MO to MA, a shuttle delivers me to an Embassy Suites and I'm given a room on the fifth floor. I lug my belongings into the elevator and take it up to 5.

30 seconds later I'm in my room. Another 60 after that the power cuts out. 

The first twinge of anxiety comes from how dark it is: I barely had time to register the layout of the place before having to find my way back to my iPad flashlight, running my hands along the wall and groping for imaginary furniture.

Then the screams start.

Someone is trapped in the elevator and something is wrong. These aren't calls for help, they're incensed poundings on the door. Howls, growls, almost inhuman. Someone is either injured or hulking out.

My first instinct is to investigate, my second to help. But how to get downstairs? Before I can figure that out, I see that hotel staff is on the case and put it together that this lady is not hurt, just living her worst nightmare. 

I can relate, I mutter, thinking back to that men's room.

All that remains is to help some folks carry luggage up the stairs and try to sleep. 

It's up and out early in the morning to see if I'm ever getting out of this city.

(Update: Published from 25,000 feet. (: )