Tag Archives: culture

Snapchat, Huxley and Orwell

I’ve been struggling to articulate for a while why I find Snapchat unsettling. The crude and narrow observation is that while I’ve received a couple of delightful, clever snaps, I’m bemused by the inanity of the bulk of the snaps I get from otherwise sharp peers – that the medium seems somehow to make infants of them. I’ve often surmised that mediation by Snapchat would quickly make a Nobel laureate insufferable. The broader, and more sophisticated perhaps, assessment is this: Snapchat awakes in me both Huxleyan and Orwellian anxieties.

Huxley deals a lot with man’s “infinite appetite for distraction”, and extending from it, an economy of attention ruled by the inane, that nurtures an unreflective culture and allows power and privilege to operate unchallenged. I’m afraid that Snapchat, in its ephemerality and because of its structural limitations – character limit, no linking off to content, no forwarding, among others  – demands, or at least suggests as primary, vacuousness on a whole other level than media like Facebook or Twitter.

Snapchat suggests that we should share things not worth keeping, and while that informality represents interesting possibilities, including potential for departure in a way from Facebook-age identity curation, and a move towards lower-commitment, unfiltered engagement with intimate circles (closer to an in-person dynamic, some would argue), it also has a much darker possibility set.

Arguably, you can convey a lot with an image or short video and very few words, but if something like Snapchat becomes a core communication medium the incidental benefits of Facebook and Twitter – that people actually surface and converse around things of substance sometimes – will be lost due to limitations of the same.

If a world mediated by Facebook or Twitter is 80% fluff, a world mediated by Snapchat is 99%.

At the same time, there is the belief by many Snapchat users, encouraged by the company itself, in the impermanence and thus confidentiality  of communication, and a safety and liberty that extends from that. That implicit promise doesn’t quite square with the technical reality of the medium, such that it isn’t even a good tool for organizing and messaging dissent. Quite the opposite, it’s perfect for surveillance (in an Orwellian vein, if you will).

Snapchat is evolving of course, and I’m curious to see if it continues to fail at being a medium with incidental benefits, and whether it otherwise contributes to a reduced quality of discourse.

How to blog about social media, gen-y and other buzzwords – a satire

There are certain essential elements which anyone who writes about social media, web 2.0, gen-y, personal branding, careers or closely related subjects should be aware of. They form a canon, a sort of tao, if you will.

Let's begin at the beginning. Well, before the beginning really. Mark Twain once wrote,"Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society." Start by putting on your clothes. Before you write you must establish your ethos.

This means settling on a good head-shot, coming up with a compelling story around why you're unemployed (referencing "The 4-hour Workweek", of course), deciding what niche you'll be a self-proclaimed expert in and creating a profile on every social media site. With your ethos firmly established, now you may begin to write.

Titles are what really draw people in, so use one or all of the following conventions around title writing. The best is generally "X ways to do Y" (e.g. "5 ways to be inane on twitter while gaining followers"), but sometimes the urgent  call to action like "X things you/your business needs to know in order to do/avoid Y", is a better option (e.g. "5 social media tools every business should use to avoid bringing about the twit-pocalypse").

gen-yAlso, if you are afraid your title is a little too vanilla, throw in a buzz word or two -"social media" or "web 2.0" will usually do just fine. If there is a new mobile media device coming out soon, like an iphone, ipad or netbook, you can use that too, even if it doesn't have much to do with the content of the post (e.g. "5 ways the ipad will revolutionize your love life"). Also, consider adding "2.0" to any noun or verb to make it somehow new, exciting and hip (e.g. "Detroit 2.0" or "Gutter Cleaning 2.0"). 

Then there is the somewhat more trivial matter of content. Try these out as rules of thumb. It's rarely a good idea to write anything longer than 300 words – it makes people's heads hurt, especially if you use big words, like "rigorous". Begin, or end, your post with a common quote or truism like "we all know how important it is to be yourself" or "we can do anything we want if we stick to it long enough" – anything you've seen re-tweeted or on a refrigerator magnet will do. Also, consider a selection from any number of self-help books.

Next, create a list – numbers are better, but bold sub-headings will do. This breaks the post up into chunks telling your readers, "this is a blog and narrative flow has no place here". If you don't have anything to say, that's fine – interview a pseudo celebrity or self-proclaimed expert.

Alternately, share a story or experience about how motivated and smart you are – remember to add in some buzz words (I suggest "personal brand" or "Millennials") to make it topical. Also, add an inspirational take-way or call to action, like "What would you do if you were as beautiful and talented as me?" at the end so as not to seem self-centered.

If you are writing about careers, talk about "passion" and "loving what you do". Be careful not to define concepts too clearly. Also talk about the importance of developing a unique brand and putting yourself out there with social media tools – it's been said before, but you must be brazen enough to say it again.

For posts on the value and potentials of social media, either be exuberant or damning. Do not be nuanced – it might be confused for a lack of an opinionated stance. Alternatively, be completely ambiguous.

The same is true about writing about Gen-y; make broad generalizations about either how unrealistic, un-disciplined or illiterate we are or pine about how digitally enlightened and natively skilled we are. Also, consider writing about how to manage or market to Millennials – they do not speak English but rather English 2.0.

Never forget to note the "fundamental differences" between Gen-Y's approach to anything, and every one else's. If Baby Boomers shaved with straight razors, Gen-y will buck that and do it using the power of the social web.

Your audience is the most important element, so keep in mind that, for the most part, you are preaching to the choir – most of your readers are other bloggers who write about the same things you do. Do not critically analyze anything – by doing so you risk being critically analyzed yourself.

To appeal to your audience, raise your credibility and as a killer starting (or ending) point for a post on just about any topic, quote Penelope Trunk, Dan Schawbel, Chris Brogan or Seth Godin. Finally, fluff is the stuff that fills your stuffed animals and your pillows – it is comforting and it is good! 

What do you think are the essential elements for blogging about social media, careers, gen-y and personal branding?

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Over the past several months I've read dozens of blogs and hundreds of posts, many of them around topics like personal branding, careers, social media and gen-y/millennials. In this piece I share some observations I've taken away about how to write on these topics. I make this entry into the public record in the tradition of "How to write about Africa" and "How to write about poor people", hoping it is received in the playful (if somewhat satirical) spirit in which it was conceived. I am guilty of most of the things I satirize.


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