Acronyms – our new habit.

Eric did an interesting presentation in class a few weeks ago about how common it’s become for us to use acronyms instead of real words. He mentioned – for lack of a better word – an evolution of the English language into an acronym-focused language that sounds incomplete and rushed.

Eric made a lot of great points about how this was effecting what we type using digital media. But I want to add on and say that acronyms are taking over the language we use in person as well.

I had this realization when I was watching Friends this morning. Phoebe told Rachel that she and Monica were her “B.F.F’s” and Rachel looked at Phoebe with a look of complete confusion. Phoebe then clarified, “best friends forever!” and the laugh track played.

I was mind blown that the acronym “B.F.F.” wasn’t common knowledge. This is such a commonly used acronym today that I don’t even consider it an acronym – it’s literally another word that means best friend. But 17 years ago (wow) when this episode aired, the term BFF was so uncommon that it had to be clarified in the Friends script. In fact, the whole point of the joke was that Phoebe was weird, and therefor she said a weird thing. Typical Phoebe.

This brings me to my point about our new speaking habits. I find myself and my friends saying things like “lol” and “tbt” (throwback thursday) when we are talking to each other- in person. We will actually say things like “Oh my God tbt to when we…” and it hadn’t even occurred to me until now that this isn’t actually a real sentence made up of real words. If I spoke that sentence to my mother, she would most likely have no idea what I was trying to say.

This is something that will probably continue to get worse, as I’m pretty sure Eric predicted in his presentation. Online, it’s definitely going to get worse as we type more and more and rely less on in-person communication. It’s not necessarily a good or bad thing – right now, it seems pretty innocent to me, but it’s definitely important to remember that there is a time and a place for acronyms, and it’s hard to quit a habit.

Give me liberty or give me security.

As technology becomes more pervasive, we have to ask ourselves an important question. Is giving up our rights to privacy worth it?

I’ve always been the type of person to disregard the importance of privacy. To be honest, I could care less if my ads are targeted or if a cell phone company knows who I text the most – and to be even more honest, the fact that Verizon knows exactly where I’m located right now doesn’t bother me one bit.

I blogged last week about the Samsung SmartTV that can listen to conversations and how dangerous that could be if the information gets into the wrong hands. But after some further research, I’ve realized that this voice-recognition software is nothing compared to the intrusive technologies that already exist, and have existed for years.

I’m currently reading Dragnet Nation by Julia Angwin. The book is about the “dragnets” these technologies cast over our nation – dragnets that “sweep up” personal data from every person at every moment. These dragnets are casted by different parties, even parties with good intentions. These parties include the government, private companies, and criminals who are able to hack the systems of the government and private companies.

Most of us aren’t too concerned with privacy because we haven’t had our own privacy invaded in a life-changing way. But the truth is, our personal data, however innocent it may be, could hurt any of us if it got into the hands of the wrong person.

Imagine that the computers the UNC CCI program issued to its students had surveillance software built-in. The webcam could take videos or photos at any moment, and students are unaware of this because the school didn’t disclose any information to its students about the surveillance software. Throughout the year, the computer catches hundreds of images of students doing various things – changing, drinking or even just doing homework.

No matter if the student’s activity was illegal or not, it’s reasonable to expect privacy, but a third party gets ahold of this information somehow. The police department catches students underage drinking, a website gathers images of students undressed in their own rooms. The data has officially been caught in the dragnet, and now anything could happen.

This story seems exaggerated, it’s actually based on real events. In 2009, a high school in the suburbs of Philadelphia issued its students laptops with surveillance software and didn’t inform its students about the program. Students got in trouble for various things they did in the privacy of their own homes. Fair? Not really. The school board then banned the software that was originally designed to protect the students from computer theft.

So in this example, it’s clear that the intention of the surveillance wasn’t to stalk students or find out private information about anyone. The purpose was to protect the students’ property. But anything can be used incorrectly, and without disclosing this risk clearly to students, it’s unethical, and most likely illegal, to cast this type of dragnet.

Similar privacy concerns are getting worse today. Airport security is an example mentioned in Dragnet Nation. By requiring every passenger to go through security and be vulnerable to pat downs and body scanners, the government is basically treating everyone as a potential criminal. But isn’t it worth it to give up some privacy if it means we can be more sure that no dangerous people are on a flight?

I think so. But privacy is a very blurry line, and we could be in danger with or without it.

Be there or be square.

A business without social media is like a person without a cell phone. Dysfunctional and irrelevant.

Okay, that was harsh. But it’s almost completely true.

Sure… there are mom and pop stores that have been around forever and don’t need a Twitter account to connect with their twenty repeat customers. But these stores are slowly becoming obsolete, and small businesses can benefit from social media just as much as big businesses can.

According to Forbes, 97% of marketers participate in social media and 92% of marketers think social media is vital for their business. Being on social media can increase brand awareness, authority and loyalty, and costs next to nothing to use.

When I hear about a business, particularly a restaurant or a boutique, I immediately look it up on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook. If the business isn’t on any of these social media platforms, I forget about it. Often times I find out about a business on social media. A friend will retweet a post from a restaurant and I’ll go check out the restaurant’s page. The way I look at it, this is free advertising that it would be crazy not to use.

Not to mention that social media advertising is hardly a time commitment. According to Hubspot, most marketers only need to spend six hours per week working on social media content in order to increase traffic on their pages. Given the nonexistent cost of social media marketing, it’s easy to justify less than one hour per day of sending out tweets and posting photos on Instagram.

Social media is also the perfect tool for interacting with consumers. Almost everyone is on social media, and people post about companies all the time. If your business is mentioned in a tweet or tagged in an Instagram post, you can read and respond to this feedback immediately. This gives marketers the opportunity to fix what consumers want fixed and improve on things consumers already love. This, in turn, makes consumers more loyal as well.

I feel a strong obligation to the businesses I follow on social media – especially local businesses. A great example of this is Sup Dogs, the relatively new hotdog joint located on Franklin Street in Chapel Hill. Most of my friends love going to Sup Dogs, and they tweet about and Instagram it regularly. Madison Cavalchire, a junior at UNC Chapel Hill, said seeing a business like this on social media keeps her craving their food.

“I won’t even be thinking about it, but then I see Sup Dogs tweet a picture of some fries and I immediately want to go. It’s right on campus, so I usually end up going,” said Cavalchire. “I don’t think as much about going to restaurants that don’t pop up on my different feeds.”

To think that social media marketing is this much of a game-changer for a consumer is mind blowing, but it makes sense. As our generation becomes more involved with social media, it will only make sense to advertise where people are looking.

Comic Relief

Three weeks after September 11, 2001, New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani appeared on Saturday Night Live and said, “Having our city’s institutions up and running sends a message that New York City is open for business.”

Saturday Night Live was the institution he was referring to, and this was an incredibly brave move. When this episode aired, I was six years old, but I’ve been reminded of it many times since it aired from watching re-runs and specials about SNL in the early 2000’s. The mayor’s words were also a statement of how much influence Saturday Night Live has on the American people.

As I write this post, I’m watching the Saturday Night Live 40th Anniversary Special, and I’m thinking about how comedy can lift an entire nation’s spirit after tragedy. The media has the responsibility to inform people, but there’s another aspect of media responsibility that I think is pretty important, and that’s to help people move on.

Comedy shows like SNL have helped to aid our nation’s recovery after disasters since 1975. September 11 is the greatest  example – NBC made a statement by airing a comedy show just weeks after a terrorist attack. This speaks volumes about our nation’s media and the weight it carries.

Aside from great tragedies, SNL and other comedy shows have made a huge impact on politics in America. To be completely honest, my SNL addiction in high school was part of what kept me informed. I remember Tina Fey as Sara Palin, Amy Poehler as Hilary Clinton, Will Ferrell as George Bush, and Fred Armisen as President Obama. I also remember the president himself, and many of the candidates in 2008 and 2012, making appearances on the show.

It’s almost as if taking part in comedy is a right of passage for politicians in the U.S., and this is great for us. Unlike countries who put politicians on a pedestal, we make fun of them as our way of bringing them back down to earth. It’s important for a nation to be able to laugh about the government – this keeps us from feeling negative about politics 24/7.

My love for SNL will always be more than a love for laughter. I look at this show as a platform for progressive media statements, and I look at its cast members, writers and producers as free expression activists. Whether it’s making fun of nearly every presidential candidate (think 2012 republicans) or moving on from one of the greatest tragedies to happen in the United States, we can always look to Saturday Night Live for reassurance that our nation and its people will laugh again.

The best of both worlds doesn’t exist.

Voice recognition software is awesome. We use it on our phones, computers, tablets and even TVs. Apparently it’s pretty useful for gamers as well.

But as cool as it is being able to tell your TV to go to channel 36 without having to touch a remote, it might not be worth it for those concerned with privacy. Last week, it was revealed that Samsung’s Smart TV is capable of listening to conversations when voice recognition is activated. This seems pretty innocent – who cares if Samsung knows what you say while you watch Game of Thrones?

Well, Samsung’s employees aren’t really the concern. Third parties are.

Think about Facebook circa 2009. There were no creepy terms of service giving Facebook the right to use your photos, and no tricky algorithms designed to only show you certain content on your news feed. Over the past few years, however, targeted advertising has become the only type of advertising used on Facebook, and your news feed is designed to show posts from the people you communicate with the most.

Most people didn’t see this coming when they signed up for Facebook six years ago, and now it’s become so necessary that nearly everyone is hesitant to delete his or her account. However, most Facebook users are aware that by being a part of the Facebook community, they are giving up some rights to privacy.

So now consider a television with voice recognition software. These TV’s are fairly new – my family bought our first Smart TV two years ago. But the more common these TV’s become, the more more easily we will adapt to using voice recognition to change channels and search for movies and shows. By this time, companies like Samsung and LG will most likely be experimenting with targeting ads based on your conversations. (According to Mercury News, LG has already been experimenting with this on their smart TVs.)

No one will want to give up this technology because most people they know will be using it. It will be the norm, just like Facebook.

For those who aren’t concerned with things like targeted advertising, the concept of voice recognition software could still seem completely harmless. But even Corynne McSherry, the intellectual property director at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said just last week that if a hacker got ahold of the information from the third party company, a smart TV could quickly become an eavesdropping tool.

As technology develops at an exponential rate, these are things consumers need to consider. We want all of our services catered directly to us, but we don’t want to give up our right to privacy. I question if this is a fair expectation.

Can you still read?

Most mornings, I wake up, read theSkimm, and head to the J-school. Throughout the day, I check Twitter and read tons of content. Well- I don’t know if I read it, but I at least see it. By the time I get to my last class, usually one where we discuss the news, I should be an expert on the day’s events, right?

Unfortunately, that’s not always how it turns out.

Sure… I have enough knowledge on the headlining stories that I can participate for the first 5 seconds of a discussion. But once someone comes at the story from a different angle than the one I Skimmed or saw in 25 words on Twitter, I’m dumbfounded, and I know I’m not the only one. In most of my classes, the vast majority of students claim theSkimm and Twitter are their main news sources.

This is concerning because skimming the news is a potentially dangerous habit to form. My generation, particularly those of us who study journalism, prides itself on being up-to-date on current events and being on the forefront of change. But we’ve trained our brains to take shortcuts as we read the news, and media sources like the Skimm and Twitter just feed these shortcomings.

One could argue that on Twitter, links to full stories are often attached and on theSkimm, hyperlinks speckle the content. But how often do we really click on the links and read the full stories attached to them? I often find myself flagging a linked tweet for later reading, but rarely find myself revisiting the link to read it. And even when I do follow the link from theSkimm or Twitter to a story, how much information do I actually retain reading it with my skim-trained mind?

In a 2014 article in The Washington Post by Michael Rosenwald, “Serious reading takes a hit from online scanning and skimming,” researchers argue just this. Apparently, since we are trained to speed-read all the content our eyes see when we check sources like Twitter and theSkimm, we are losing our ability to actually read and comprehend full stories. Our brains are developing shortcuts from the interactivity of the Internet – videos beside text, hyperlinks and content overload are some of the culprits.

New media evolutions are adding to the problem. Think Snapchat Discover, named “the biggest thing in news media since Twitter” by Fusion magazine. There has never been a news source that allows easier access to a news story – all we have to do on Snapchat Discover is swipe our fingers a couple of times and listen, yes – listen, to a quick synopsis of the following story. The user must swipe downward to read the short news story, but after watching a video, I find myself skimming the content for a few key facts.

Some argue that this is a method of bringing news to millennials who were losing interest in current events. But by making news so readily available that it doesn’t even have to be read or watched in full, I argue that we are just training my generation to skim the surface of a story. Speaking from personal experience and lack of knowledge even after reading theSkimm, watching Snapchat Discover, and scrolling through Twitter, this isn’t reading the news.

Super Social Supermodels

Ten years ago, if you looked at a magazine stand, it would have been cluttered with photos of actors and pop stars on the covers of Vogue, Elle, InStyle and others. Now, the covers of these same magazines are dominated by everyone’s new obsession – the supermodel.

Supermodels are taking over the world. Between the Victoria’s Secret fashion show and fabulous Instagram accounts, models such as Karlie Kloss, Candice Swanepoel, Cara Delevigne and Kate Upton have become household names.

Most experts in the fashion and media industries agree that supermodels haven’t been known by their names since the reign of models like Kate Moss and Cindy Crawford in the ’80’s, but supermodels are now making themselves known with the help of social media.

Karlie Kloss has 1.9 million followers on Instagram. Candice Swanepoel has 4.8 million followers, and Cara Delevigne? She has 9.5 million followers. This is a great time to point out that Drake, who has dominated the music industry for at least four years, has 7.1 million followers, and Ellen Degeneres has 9.2 million. Yep… fewer than a 22-year-old supermodel.

So what makes social media the perfect environment for supermodels to improve their relations with the public? I think there are two reasons:

1. It’s like watching a piece of art walk and talk. A supermodel’s job is to be in front of the camera and to speak for brands and designers. They walk runways, but their personalities won’t exactly shine through at a Chanel Pre-Fall 2015 fashion show where their job is to be part of a display. So if Cara Delevigne Instagrams a picture of herself and Kendall Jenner, also walking in the show, in Mickey Mouse ears and 3-D goggles just days before they hit the runway, people are going to want to see it. If Karlie Kloss uploads a picture of herself and Taylor Swift (!!!) road-tripping like normal twenty-year-olds, people will want to see it. A picture Karlie took of Taylor’s scottish fold kitten?? I definitely want to see it. It’s the fascination of seeing someone so perfect be a normal person that brings us back for more.

supermodel 1

2. They have fabulous lives and go to fabulous places. It’s almost a guarantee that if a supermodel is Instagramming a picture, she is in an insane location. Whether it’s Bali, Paris, or some remote island in the British West Indies, supermodels are traveling there for work, and Instagramming the chicest scenery along the way. Nothing spices up your Instagram feed like a picture of Victoria’s Secret Angel Candice in the Bahamas holding a starfish, especially when the picture before that was of your friends’ matching Starbucks drinks. (Yawn.) Following a supermodel is like living vicariously through their amazing experiences, and everyone loves to daydream.

supermodel 2

Supermodels are dominating the media and it’s fascinating. As a lover of fashion, following an influx of supermodels taking pictures backstage with designers like Karl Lagerfeld is a dream. The supermodels who hold their own on social media are going to take the fashion industry to a new level, and I can’t wait to see it.

Why are Katy Perry’s sharks famous?

As I mentioned in my blog last week, I did not watch the Superbowl. I did, however, catch recaps and commercials on the web throughout the night. I haven’t yet committed to watching the halftime show, but I have noticed one thing – those sharks have taken over the Internet.

Since the Superbowl last Sunday, I haven’t logged on to Twitter once without seeing a picture of those two back-up dancers dressed as sharks. Without even seeing the halftime show, I’ve become a huge fan of the shark jokes – I’ve retweeted a couple of them without understanding the context just because the sharks look ridiculous.

The popularity of memes takes things like creepy halftime costumes and non-responsive football players to the next level. It blows my mind how things go viral so fast – the Superbowl wasn’t even over and my Twitter feed was flooded with pictures of dancing sharks.

After some research, I’ve learned that the joke isn’t just about the shark costumes – Twitter also exploded with the hashtag #leftshark because the shark on the left messed up the choreography. The hashtag went viral. People tweeted things like “Are you #leftshark or #rightshark?” and “#leftshark for president!”

The most fascinating thing about this situation is that who played the left shark is still not completely clear. The right shark, Scott Myrick, wrote “right shark” in his Twitter bio and made jokes about how he “finally made it.” See photo below.

shark 1

The left shark, on the other hand, is more mysterious. One backup dancer, Bryan Gaw, uploaded a picture of the two sharks on Instagram and simply said “Yep. The rumors are true.”

We’re all pretty sure he’s the left shark.

It’s unclear how long these shark memes will dominate the Internet. Until something else happens in the media (cough cough… Grammys tomorrow night?) we will just have to continue making new jokes about the sharks. They still aren’t old to me, but I’m giving it a week. Until then… long live #leftshark.

shark 2

Social Media Makes Us Look Perfect

This school year, my best friends and I made it our mission to take more pictures when we go out and do fun things. We all did a terrible job documenting our freshman and sophomore years, and for some reason, that really bothered us.

This year, I have managed to take pictures every time I’ve gone out with my friends, with the exception of one night. And the morning after that one night, my first thought was, “Noo we forgot to take pictures!!”

No one can deny that our generation is slowly becoming obsessed with making our lives look awesome on social media. We document every moment of our lives, whether they are truly phenomenal or we’re just trying to make them seem that way.

Over Christmas break, I went to the beach for the day with my two best friends from home. It was my first time seeing them in over 4 months, and we had a great time – we went to lunch, walked on the beach and stopped at our favorite drive-in on the way home for burgers and shakes. Unfortunately, all three of us spent so much time on our phones filtering the Instagram photos we planned to upload and the Snapchat stories we posted that I don’t even remember the conversations we had.

This happens a lot lately. In fact, any time I do something slightly out of the ordinary with my friends, it seems like none of us are in the moment. It even seems like we care more about how we portray our lives on social media than how are lives actually are.

It’s important to keep in mind that people only share the best moments. The couple who posts #womancrushwednesday and #mancrushmonday pictures of each other every week on Instagram is most likely the same couple who fights every night. The sisters who post constantly about how perfect their family is most likely argued over who got to post the picture first. (I’ve witnessed this exact situation.)

Whether it’s a trip you go on with your family or a night out with your friends, I challenge you, and myself, to unplug. Make it your goal not to take a single picture and instead to actually enjoy the experience as it happens. In a world of constant Internet communication, this seems borderline insane – but I believe we’ll find the taste of the ice cream we just Instagrammed will be much better than the feeling of getting 100+ likes.

I kind of watched the Superbowl.

Tomorrow, if someone asks me if I watched the Superbowl, I’m probably going to say yes.

I didn’t actually sit in from of the TV and watch a football game, but through content shared on social media, I was able to get just as much out of the Superbowl as I would have if I glued myself to a couch for 4 hours. (The football game would have been irrelevant to me either way… I can’t follow a play to save my life.)

I watched about 30 of the best commercials on I saw clips of Katy Perry’s halftime performance on Snapchat, and I know what each of her costumes looked like. I know Missy Elliott kind of stole the show. I know the Patriots won by 4 points.

Last year, there were almost 25 million tweets about the Superbowl on the night of the game. This number undoubtedly increased this year because social networking continues to grow in popularity. The ridiculous number of tweets about the Superbowl left no Twitter user uninformed about the game. In fact, viewing Twitter tonight, I got a literal play-by-play without even searching the Superbowl hashtag. If I wanted to know who was winning, I opened Twitter and refreshed my timeline. If I wanted to know which commercial to watch (this is honestly more interesting to me), I would read which commercials my friends were tweeting about.

For someone like me who would never dedicate 4 hours to a football game, media via social networks is a game-changer. It’s a great way for everyone to stay in touch with the Superbowl – an event that is important to football fans and pop-culture fans alike, even if it’s for different reasons.

I’m not saying I’ll never watch the Superbowl again. In fact, I love the idea of ordering a pizza and pretending to be invested in a game being played by two teams I have no connection with. But I will say the Internet came in clutch tonight.