Accidentally in Amsterdam

Alright, guys – I finally left Bob’s. I mean Chapel Hill. And because of who I am, I did it in the most dramatic way possible – I left the country!

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My last view of the U.S., the NYC skyline.

I’ll admit my decision to come to Amsterdam was an impulsive one – I had some bad luck right after graduation when I lost a digital marketing internship in Atlanta I was really excited about (no one’s fault, just some technicality issues that rendered me unqualified), and I didn’t know where to go from there. It was hard enough to face the fact that my time as a UNC student was over (AKA, my life was over – or that’s how it felt), and the idea of immediately committing to a permanent location was one I couldn’t wrap my head around. Most of my best friends were staying in Chapel Hill for the summer and working in Raleigh, and even though this wasn’t my post-college dream, it was just enough to make me stay in the area much longer than I should have. Of course, my lease at the beloved Green Mile wasn’t infinite, and unless I wanted to move back home (which I didn’t), I had to make moves. Immediately.

I got the okay from my parents to move to Raleigh even though I didn’t have a job yet, but I told myself I could find a job if I really tried. For a few weeks, I looked at jobs online and spoke with some of my career mentors, but nothing seemed right. I realized if I interviewed for a job in Raleigh at this moment, it would be clear to the interviewer that I didn’t truly want to stay in Raleigh. In fact, I did interview at a PR firm I had interned with, and loved, but I found myself talking more about my dreams of travelling and living in a big city than I did about my strengths as a public relations specialist. This was a sign for everyone in the interview room. I wasn’t right for the job, and the job wasn’t right for me. Not right then.


 

Studying abroad was something I always knew I would do when I went to college. I would go to London, Paris, or Italy, and I would go the summer of my sophomore or junior year. I would eat lots of carbs, study as much art and fashion history as I could in my free time, and maybe even decide to move to Europe after graduation. (I would possibly meet Prince Harry and become royalty as well, but that was only if I went to London, obviously.) My parents raised me to value travel more than most things, so I thought of travel as a necessity – a foolproof investment. However, I looooved Chapel Hill. In fact, I looooved Chapel Hill so much I completely forgot to study abroad. Before I knew it, it was time to graduate from UNC, and I had not been to Europe since the summer after I graduated high school. I also hadn’t studied fashion in my spare time the way I promised myself I would, and suddenly it became clear to me that it was now or never. I would go anywhere in Europe, and I would work in the fashion industry while I was there. (Of course, I mean fashion PR – I’ll most likely pursue a career in public relations when I return to the U.S.)

Here’s one oversized sentence explaining why I chose Amsterdam: I wanted to go somewhere with lots of young people who speak English (I was SO good at Spanish 203, so I know it’s a shock to most of you that I’m not bilingual), I’ve always thought Amsterdam was gorgeous (I came when I was 9, so I remember it very clearly), and it is a hub for established and budding fashion designers, therefor making Amsterdam a little slice of fashion heaven (it’s worth mentioning that Vogue entered the Netherlands in 2012).

With all of this in mind, I emailed multiple fashion PR agencies in Amsterdam, found someone who would hire an American who couldn’t speak any Dutch, and booked a flight. I told my closest friends about my decision pretty immediately – they were all happy for me of course, but it was clear that the decision surprised them (and saddened some of them). I know I had discussed the possibility of going abroad with my friends before, but to be fair, I tell my friends a lot of things that are complete nonsense, and even I didn’t know if I was being serious about this.

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My first day in Amsterdam with my mom, exploring the Museumkwartier in Amsterdam Zuid.

 

I’ve been in Amsterdam for almost 2 weeks now and I still have frequent moments of doubt about this decision. Yesterday, I was lucky enough to become friends with three awesome girls living in my apartment complex, but before that, I didn’t know a single person here. Keep in mind that when students study abroad, they normally come in groups and immediately have friends to explore with. I don’t have this, and that has made the transition a weird one. On top of that, the time change from home is just big enough (6 hours) to make it nearly impossible to keep up with my friends the way I thought I would. When I’m at work, they’re sleeping. When I’m off work, they’re at work. When I go to bed, they get off work and are ready to talk. I can’t imagine doing something like this 10 years ago – social media is incredible!!! (Blog post on this to come – it’s my favorite thing to talk about besides myself. JK… kind of.)

Luckily, I haven’t had a ton of time to feel lonely. I’ve been distracted by my full-time work schedule and the fact that I’m in Amsterdam. It’s the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen some very beautiful places. I discover something new every day – a restaurant, a shop, a bridge, a neighborhood (the Jordaan is my favorite right now, but I plan to acquaint myself with the oh-so-hip De Pijp next).


 

I’ll talk more about my work experiences and my first weekend in the city (it got weird) in my next post, but the main takeaway from this is that I’m here and I’m determined to make the most out of this experience. I know it seems cliché, but I’m not just learning new things about Amsterdam everyday. I’m learning new things about myself, and that’s exactly why I came.

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You can plan to go viral… or at least increase your chances.

Confession: I low-key thought I was going to become Vine famous the summer after my freshman year.

Every week, my friends and I would make hilarious (using the word “hilarious” generously) videos to post on Vine. The summer of 2013 was the first summer anyone had with Vine – people were becoming Vine famous left and right from videos that would go viral. There were vines about pancakes from this creepy guy (who has 4.6 million Vine followers):

Nicholas Megalis: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2K8qsW3bK4M

And vines about just about anything from this funny woman I had never heard of (she has 9 million Vine followers):

Brittany Furlan: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZHXp1fPSU1A

I figured, “Why not me?”

Maybe I was trying too hard. Or maybe my Vines lacked some of the essential features necessary for a viral video. I’ll never know for sure, but I did learn in this class that intentionally designing viral content is a thing. (Notice that I’m not embedding any of my Vines into this post – I’m a little glad they didn’t go viral.)

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In March, we discussed why certain content goes viral. Things like the value of a retweet over a favorite and the significance of list-style journalism stood out in my mind as viral content I see all the time but would never think to create.

As a college student who hasn’t yet entered the real world of journalism, it’s easy to gage my online popularity on the number of likes, favorites, and Snapchat story views I get. (Not at all saying this is okay – but it’s true for almost everyone my age that I know.) But if I write an article and I want to share it with as many people as possible, do favorites do me any good? Not necessarily. Asking friends with a large following on Twitter to retweet the article would get it seen by even more people.

Then, there’s the actual content. People love lists. In class, we discussed the number ten. Top 10 reasons to go to school in North Carolina. Ten grilled cheese recipes that will change the way you think about grilled cheese. Ten ways going to UNC will impact your life. In a quick Buzzfeed search with the number ten, 50 articles showed up from the past ten days. We discussed an article in class from OkDork that supplied a ten-ingredient recipe for a viral post. Had I even thought about this before? Not at all. But once I considered the value of lists, I realized how often I choose to read them.

We discussed the value of visuals. A post with an image or video is going to get twice as many shares as a post without any visuals. Why is that? People love to look at things. We choose videos and pictures over words all the time – this explains the growth of Snapchat as a news source. We like to communicate with each other using videos and images as well – Snapchat and Instagram are arguably my generation’s favorite media outlets for this reason.

We learned to promote our own content. If you want something you post to get attention, seek attention. Ask high-profile friends to share your post. Ask professors with influential Twitter pages to share your post. Share your own post a few weeks later. You never know who might see your work.


I noticed in this class that we didn’t have a lot of discussion about anonymous social media posts, and I think that speaks to some overall themes of the lecture, like the large influence we can all have on the media and what circulates networks like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat. As journalism students, it’s important to post for the good of society and always to have integrity in what we put online (or in print). We explored our opinions on new technology and issues in mass communication that none of us had thought of before, and attached these opinions to our names and faces. This is the most significant thing I got out of this class, even if my posts never go viral.

Macs look better, too.

In my opinion, there are a million reasons to choose a Mac over a PC when shopping for a new computer or tablet. Macs allow for seamless use with the iPhone and iPads, Apple Care is fantastic, and Macs seem to be more immune to viruses than PC computers.

But what really sets Mac apart, whether we want to admit it or not, is the appearance of each product. No one can deny that Apple products are beautiful. 

After having this thought, I quickly realized I’m not the first person to acknowledge it. Pages of articles from Time Magazine, Telegraph and The Guardian about the beauty of Apple products flooded my screen when I typed “Apple product beauty” into a Google search.

Apparently, Apple realizes the visual appeal its products have on consumers. Have you seen the new gold MacBook? It’s breathtaking. Even the name “Apple” sounds better than names like “Dell” or “Lenovo,” not to mention the fact that a black boxy laptop comes to mind when I think of either of these brands.

According to Jeffrey Kluger in the Time Magazine article, the name and design of Apple products are bubbly and baby-like (rounded, inviting) because that’s what people are drawn to, and Steve Jobs did this intentionally from the beginning.

Courtesy: Google images

I have to admit that I don’t know of other advantages or disadvantages of PCs and Macs other than the ones I listed in the beginning. For all I know, a PC laptop would be just as fun and easy to use as a MacBook. But I’ll never know as long as MacBooks look better, especially if the technological differences are small.

What the Apple watch might do for your phone addiction.

Society as a whole is addicted to technology – primarily smart phones.

You can’t walk down the street without seeing almost everyone holding a phone to their face, not talking on it – but staring at the screen. I find myself checking my iPhone every minute for new notifications, and if I don’t have any, I search through social media to see what other people are doing.

When I first heard about the Apple watch, I thought, “great. Another piece of technology to become addicted to.” And this, I thought, would be even worse than a phone, because it’s something you can’t escape. You’re wearing it.

Courtesy: Google images

But earlier today, an article in The New York Times opened my eyes to a potential benefit of the Apple watch that I hadn’t considered. Tech writer Farhad Manjoo wrote about his week with the Apple watch, and tracked his feelings about the product on a daily basis.

What surprised me was his epiphany about the Apple watch keeping him from checking his phone constantly. He mentioned going to lunch with a colleague and being able to go hours without looking at his phone and being rude while spending time with another person. “With the Apple Watch on my wrist, my mind remains calm, my compulsion to check the phone suddenly at bay,” Manjoo said. Although he could glance at the watch to see his notifications, he didn’t have the opportunity to respond to them because the Apple watch doesn’t yet offer these features for every app. But Manjoo noticed the notification was enough. He wasn’t distracted by the watch at all, and his colleague didn’t notice Manjoo’s glances at his watch.

I was glad to see that Manjoo, a self-proclaimed phone addict, addressed this problem and gave the opposite stance that I was expecting. I assumed that having a phone-like object on your wrist would be even more addicting, but I understand how getting notification hits on your wrist could be just as satisfying as holding your phone and feeling the need to respond to all of your notifications.

Although I’m sure the Apple watch will eventually offer more features for responding to notifications, I think for now the watch might help phone addiction problems for busy people who feel like they can’t pull away – at least from the outside. Manjoo ended his diary with an insightful sentence that I have to include, addressing the fact that the Apple watch doesn’t offer many entertainment apps designed to distract the user.

“The watch, for now, is all business, aimed solely at improving your productivity. For some users, that alone might be worth several hundred dollars.”

Keeping up with the apps.

I dread it.

A few times a month, it’s that alert I get on my phone that says my apps need updating. Sometimes, the updates are simply bug-fixes. But lately, the updates consist of new features that I have to keep up with – and just when I get to know the update, there’s a new update again.

Constant app updates are obviously the result of fast-paced technological discoveries, and they aren’t going to stop any time soon. It’s the same thing with any technology – you buy the iPhone 5 and the iPhone 5s comes out a few months later. But apps update at an incredible rate – I have a new update available every day.

Yesterday, I updated Snapchat. For those of you who don’t remember, Snapchat just made a dramatic change about a month ago, one I’m still recovering from. (Loss of access to my friends’ best friends…so sad.) Yesterday, Snapchat decided to add emojis next to certain friends’ names, and I had to Google what each of these emojis meant. Not only that, but the emojis led to a 2-hour conversation between me and my friends about who has which emoji beside who, and what that means. It was like we were finally getting a taste of the ‘best friends’ feature again, but not quite as transparent.

Courtesy: Google images

Instagram is releasing a new update in “a few days,” according to Mashable. This new update will include new editing tools (as if there weren’t enough already) and a feature where you can select certain users whose posts you want to follow closely. I’m assuming this means you’ll get a notification when these people post. But all I could think when reading about this new update is that it’s going to take me twice as long to edit my pictures, and before I know it, my phone will be blowing up to alert me that one of my friends posted a photo. I really don’t see the advantage of that feature.

Courtesy: Mashable

Other apps have made major changes in the past few weeks as well, and some are set to update soon. Think about Twitter’s fairly new features that show you an “Activity” feed and notifications about what your friends are “favoriting.” I personally don’t care for the extra notifications, but at least they didn’t make the app more difficult to use. Facebook is, of course, adding a digital pay feature to the Messenger app. I’m pretty excited for this one.

I’ve found that with the constant app updates, I have to pick my battles. I don’t necessarily utilize every feature offered. Snapchat messenger, for example, is not something I use to communicate with friends. The video chatting feature is too difficult as well – why wouldn’t I just FaceTime?

As far as the new emojis go, I’m probably going to ignore them. But I’ll be counting down the days until “best friends” come back.

Fashion meets function.

I’ve never been the type to wear “functional” accessories. I tried a watch for a while, but decided it was too bulky. When Livestrong bracelets were popular, I was the only person at my high school who refused to wear one because it didn’t match my outfit.

So now I’m conflicted. Technology is becoming too prominent not to wear – think Apple watch, and my favorite fashion designer is designing Fitbits. What am I supposed to do?

Elle Australia featured the Apple watch in a multi-page spread in their last issue. Of course, they displayed the special edition watches that cost well over $1,000, but it’s a tech watch regardless. The editors made it a point to pair the watch with statement jewels and this fashion season’s it pieces.

Looking at the pictures, I wasn’t bothered by the presence of the watch like I thought I would be. If technology is becoming such a huge part of our lives, why wouldn’t it be something we wear? Now thinking about it, I hold my phone so much that it becomes part of every outfit I wear. I might as well have it strapped to my wrist.

Courtesy: Elle Magazine

So now for the Fitbit. I’ve always thought these were kind of silly. I don’t need to know how many calories I burn each day – if I eat healthy and workout, I’m fine. Not to mention the fact that it’s a giant piece of rubber wrapped around your wrist that looks like a glorified rubber band. Or, it was. Now, Tory Burch designs Fitbits. And they are leather. And silver. And gold. And rose gold.

Courtesy: Tory Burch

Obviously I’m more likely to wear one of these items now that techies are designing pieces with fashionistas in mind. It’s actually kind of cool that fashion and tech are finally emerging, and I’m excited to see what the future holds for items like Apple watch and Fitbit. (Especially Apple watch.)

I’ve decided to stop fighting the inevitable, and let tech-functionality find its way into my wardrobe. I’ll be ordering a Fitbit this week.

Anxiety? There’s an app for that.

This morning, my friend Lauren and I were driving through terrible traffic. I told her traffic gave me anxiety, and it turned into a joke for the rest of the day about how everything gives me anxiety. We looked up ways to soothe anxiety – thinking teas, super foods, certain herbs – that kind of thing. But instead, we stumbled upon a Buzzfeed article that revealed 14 apps for people with anxiety.

While we looked at the article, I couldn’t help but think this was crazy. In my opinion, phones give people anxiety. My phone certainly plays into my stress level. The idea of staring at my little screen to calm my anxiety sounds bizarre.

So I downloaded the first app on the list – Pacifica. The app is based on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), apparently a well-researched technique.

The first thing the app had me do was choose what kind of anxiety I wanted to fix. I said “calm daily anxiety” because I don’t have an actual anxiety problem. The other option was to have fewer anxiety attacks – something I’d be shocked could be fixed with a phone.

The app then told me to enter my mood daily, and gave me relaxing techniques to calm anxiety. This made sense to me – the app itself doesn’t help anxiety – the app gives you activities that involve leaving the phone.

I think I’m actually going to try using the app for a few weeks. Anyone could benefit from it – if anything, the app gives you a reminder to breathe.

Women in media… again.

The portrayal of women in media is a huge topic of conversation lately. Whether it’s a Hardee’s commercial or the cover of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition, scandalous pictures of quarter-dressed women are sure to cause controversy.

But something I never hear about is the portrayal of women in children’s movies – specifically, children’s movies made to entertain 8-12 year old boys.

I had this thought when I was reading my favorite supermodel’s twitter feed. Alessandra Ambrosio, an established lingerie and swimsuit model best known for her work as a Victoria’s Secret Angel, was featured in an Elle magazine article about her upcoming role in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2. Immediately I thought it was weird. Ambrosio is a sex symbol for sure, and she has never been in a movie. Why didn’t they chose an actress for the role?

I thought more about it. This isn’t the first time a supermodel has starred in a children’s film. There was Megan Fox in Transformers and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Rosie Huntington-Whitley in Transformers. Why are the sexiest supermodels chosen for these roles, and whose idea is it to cast them?

Megan Fox in Transformers 2 Courtesy: Google images
Rosie Huntington-Whiteley in Transformers 3 Courtesy: Google images

My problem with this isn’t the fact that pretty women are chosen to star in children’s films. My problem is that women who are known as lingerie and swimsuit models are chosen for the leading roles, and these movies are aimed towards young boys. What kind of perception is this supposed to give my 8-year-old cousin who watches Transformers movies on repeat?

Don’t get me wrong. I actually love all three of the women I’ve mentioned. I follow them all on Instagram and look forward to seeing Ambrosio walk the VS runway every year. But I’m a 20-year-old who seeks these models out as style and fitness icons. Parents of young boys don’t have much of a choice when it comes to exposing their sons to sexy supermodels early in life. They could obviously forbid their kids from watching the film, but there is always a way to watch it, even if it’s at a friend’s house.

For anyone who isn’t convinced this is a problem, I’d like to leave a closing thought: What if Barbie movies starred half-dressed grown men?

TV a la carte

This past week, I attended the Wade H. Hargrove Media Law and Policy Colloquium featuring David Cohen, the Comcast Executive Vice President. He addressed a number of topics including net neutrality and the possibility of unbundling cable packages. While net neutrality is a topic I know we can’t get enough of recently, I was more intrigued by his discussion about unbundling.

Unbundling a cable package simply means that a cable company (aka Time Warner or Comcast) would offer individual channels to consumers instead of making them pay for a package of channels. Some people only watch ESPN – they would only pay for ESPN. Some people only watch MTV – they would only pay for MTV. Think of it as TV channels a la carte.

This kind of service is already available through the TV services some people choose to use from the Internet. Hulu, Apple TV and individual stations’ websites are examples of this. So wouldn’t it make sense for cable companies to follow the trend?

Cohen said no, and that unbundling channels might make cable more expensive. I did some further research since this was all new to me, and I found there was some legitimacy in Cohen’s point. For example, according to The Atlantic, an ESPN-only package could cost $30 per month – more than an entire month of bundled cable. The same goes for many other major networks including AMC. The reason for this is because every cable subscriber won’t be paying the subscription fee to each channel, and therefor to sustain income, individual channels would have to raise their fees per person.

Another argument, however, is that these individual channels would find a way to downsize according to their new audience size. Of course, I couldn’t find a single article on how this would be possible.

As for me, I have no desire for unbundled channels on TV. Although I don’t watch must TV on a television (I usually go to NBC.com or Netflix), I find myself watching a different channel every time I turn on a TV. I know I’m not the only person who does this – I’m not a crazed sports or politics fan, so I really watch TV for different shows – all of which air on different networks. If cable companies completely unbundled their channels and didn’t offer the standard package at the same cost, I would give up cable altogether.

Will political cartoons adapt?

Last week, I attended a lecture hosted by the UNC Center for Media Law and Policy about political cartoons. Kevin Kallaugher, a political cartoonist at The Economist, spoke about his career experiences and what the future might hold for political cartoonists.

Kallaugher began the lecture by asking everyone in the room who knew a political cartoonist to raise his or her hand. There were about 50 people in the lecture hall – only one person raised his hand. Kallaugher then informed us that this wasn’t shocking at all – there are only about 40 paid editorial cartoonists in the U.S. today, while there were about 2,000 employed editorial cartoonists at the beginning of the 20th century.

Part of the reason for this is that newspapers have had to cut editorial cartoonists from the regular staff. It’s rare, or almost impossible, as a political cartoonist to find a long-term paying job at a newspaper. Because of this, political cartoonists are having to adapt in order to remain relevant. The problem with adapting is that it’s not always profitable – while political cartoonists can put their work on the Internet for the world to see, they won’t always make money from this.

In an article from Big Think called “Is the Editorial Cartoonist Dead?” by Bob Duggan, Duggan says this can also open doors for political cartoonists to freely express themselves, as long as they know they won’t always make money. With more political cartoonists working as free agents, they don’t have to follow the rules of editors, and therefor can use their cartoons to express their opinions freely.

Although I recognize the decline of popularity in political cartoons, I hope the political cartooning industry isn’t dying. I’m a prime example of the fact that my generation hardly looks at political cartoons – I hadn’t given them any thought until I attended this lecture. I could, however, see political cartoons making a come back if cartoonists embraced Internet culture and utilized social media.

The good news is that my generation loves pictures. According to a recent Forbes article, people want visuals. Multi-media platforms are growing in popularity, and most people would rather look at pictures or videos on their cell phones than read an entire story.  An Instagram account with nothing but political cartoons? I’d follow it!