Digital cultures

The following video from “Le dessous des images” explores the popularity of cooking videos on platforms like TikTok. Those cooking videos offer a seductive experience with quick edits and a POV perspective. Furthermore, the video compares these new formats format by looking into the history of cooking shows on television. What crossed my mind was how those videos simplify the cooking process, making it seem easier for everyone. However, this approach also means that they omit many of the steps involved in cooking, especially in comparison to older educational cooking shows. One surprising example is the segment showcasing an old French show centred on rural cuisine, even showing the actual process of butchering a duck.

In this article, Ian Bogost discusses the introduction of email reactions and how they have evolved on the internet. As a user of dedicated email software (Thunderbird), I found it awkward when I first received a thumbs-up reply to an email. Although these reactions can be useful to indicate receipt of a message, I also agree with Bogost’s view that they can be futile and add work. Worse, it is often saddening when someone can’t respond more thoughtfully.

The arrival of reactions in our email, of all places, represents their final success and inevitable futility. Adding confetti to a Gmail conversation affirms that reactions underpin the internet—that online life has become reaction-driven in a deep sense. Much of what we make and share online is made or shared precisely in the hope of eliciting emoji. At this point, we’re so overrun with these attempts—with things to make us laugh or cry or throw confetti—that the very work of having a reaction may soon be obsolete.

After the acquisition of Twitter by Elon Musk the whole platform seems to be in disarray and to have an uncertain future. Ian Bogost writing at The Atlantic provides some perspectives on the rise of Twitter and change from social networking to social media:

The terms social network and social media are used interchangeably now, but they shouldn’t be. A social network is an idle, inactive system—a Rolodex of contacts, a notebook of sales targets, a yearbook of possible soul mates. But social media is active—hyperactive, really—spewing material across those networks instead of leaving them alone until needed.

Twitter, which launched in 2006, was probably the first true social-media site, even if nobody called it that at the time. Instead of focusing on connecting people, the site amounted to a giant, asynchronous chat room for the world.

Read the full article here.

This article from an Italian newspaper gives a good analysis of the dilemmas presented by the idealized and romanticized images of Italy that foreigners post on social media.

In an article at the New York Times, Stuart A. Thompson reports on how conspiracy theorists turn to different search engines to find and point to misinformation. The author mentions the difficulty of “data voids” with trending topics.

Newer and more esoteric conspiracy theories are far more likely to return misleading results because of the so-called data void. Conspiracy theorists tend to publish content about new ideas long before mainstream sources, dominating search results as the terms begin spreading online. Other topics never grab the attention of mainstream sources, giving the conspiracy theorists a long-term presence in search results.

In this older article from Dave Young he writes about the change of how we interact with computers and their filesystems. He notes how the hierarchical structure of files and folders is being replaced by an app-centric interface.

In the present though, it has become increasingly clear that the interface bias of the smart OS prioritises data-access and content-delivery, focusing on consumption rather than production […] we can’t easily understand the behaviour of an app and the data it produces/accesses, we can’t explore what logs exist on our devices, and what personal data is potentially exposed to typical threats such as viruses, malware, hacks, and thieves. The perspective we have is simplified, and in this case, to simplify is to remove options, alternatives, and user-agency. The use-possibilities of our devices are parametrised, governed, and constrained by the overarching system of app-centricity, while opportunities for subversive intervention and creative misuse are reduced as we are obliged to act and respond within the increasingly powerful context of app store regimes.

This reminds me of a Twitter thread I recently saw in which teachers were complaining about their students no longer having enough knowlegde about “traditional” file management using hierarchical file systems. There seems to be a major paradigm shift in file retrieval: from knowing where your files are located (and using our own file structures), to retrieval through the use of search.

The article from MIT Technology Review mentioned in my previous post referenced a paper from Nick Yee & Jeremy Bailenson titled “The Proteus Effect: The Effect of Transformed Self-Representation on Behavior”. The researchers found that appearance of avatars shapes the behaviour of users:

[…] self-representations have a significant and instantaneous impact on our behavior. The appearances of our avatars shape how we interact with others. As we choose our self-representations in virtual environments, our self-representations shape our behaviors in turn. These changes happen not over hours or weeks but within minutes.

A copy of the paper can be found here.

In a brilliant article at MIT Technology Review, Tate Ryan-Mosley gives an overview of the history and challenges of face and beauty filters that are popular on social media apps and platforms:

The face filters that have become commonplace across social media are perhaps the most widespread use of augmented reality. Researchers don’t yet understand the impact that sustained use of augmented reality may have, but they do know there are real risks—and with face filters, young girls are the ones taking that risk. They are subjects in an experiment that will show how the technology changes the way we form our identities, represent ourselves, and relate to others. And it’s all happening without much oversight.

He also mentions an interesting bit of history of face filter technology that originated in Japan:

These real-time video filters are a recent advance, but beauty filters more broadly are an extension of the decades-old selfie phenomenon. The movement is rooted in Japanese “kawaii” culture, which obsesses over (typically girly) cuteness, and it developed when purikura—photo booths that allowed customers to decorate self-portraits—became staples in Japanese video arcades in the mid-1990s. In May of 1999, Japanese electronics manufacturer Kyocera released the first mobile phone with a front-facing camera, and selfies started to break out to the mainstream.

Apparently rare user names on big social media platform have become so valuable that there is even a marketplace for such names that have been obtained by hackers. As an article at The Verge details:

These usernames tend to be single words — in rare cases, individual letters or numbers — and they can fetch tens of thousands of dollars on underground markets for stolen digital goods. And because platforms like Instagram and Twitter have rules barring the buying and selling of accounts, the hackers interested in procuring one of these coveted handles often resort to illegal means to obtain them.

Some more interesting articles and quotes critical of the newly popular non-fungible tokens (NFT):

In a blog post on medium user everest pipkin claims that the “current ecological cost of cryptoart and cryptocurrency is very real and very large, and while steps can be taken to reign in some of that energy cost, the crypto- market is still based in a value system that fundamentally ties worth to spent physical resources.

Author Seth Godin furthermore warns that NFTS are “a dangerous trap”:

The more time and passion that creators devote to chasing the NFT, the more time they’ll spend trying to create the appearance of scarcity and hustling people to believe that the tokens will go up in value. They’ll become promoters of digital tokens more than they are creators. Because that’s the only reason that someone is likely to buy one–like a stock, they hope it will go up in value. Unlike some stocks, it doesn’t pay dividends or come with any other rights. And unlike actual works of art, NFTs aren’t usually aesthetically beautiful on their own, they simply represent something that is.