Digital cultures

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.

Vox published an article about the recent deal between the financial services company Square and the steaming music service Tidal. They note that a possible outcome of the deal may involve using so-called NFTs (non-fungible tokens) to sell digital collectibles of musicians:

More intriguingly, given Dorsey’s love of All Things Blockchain, and the current mania over NFTs, it won’t be surprising to see Square + Tidal work on their own NFT scheme. NFTs (non-fungible tokens) are blockchain-enabled digital pieces of … anything that investors and speculators and collectors are hoovering up at a crazy rate. Even if none of this makes sense to you, you may have heard about people paying real money — a lot of money — for digital ephemera like cartoon cat GIFs or animated trading cards of NBA players dunking or blocking. It’s a thing, for now.

Read the full article here.

Ben Thomas on Stratchery.com writes why he considers Tesla a “meme company”:

It turned out, though, that TSLA was itself a meme, one about a car company, but also sustainability, and most of all, about Elon Musk himself. Issuing more stock was not diluting existing shareholders; it was extending the opportunity to propagate the TSLA meme to that many more people, and while Musk’s haters multiplied, so did his fans. The Internet, after all, is about abundance, not scarcity. The end result is that instead of infrastructure leading to a movement, a movement, via the stock market, funded the building out of infrastructure.