Tag Archives: Facebook

Choosing our words carefully

Just go with the flow

Just go with the flow

On the theory that words actually do have power, each year various armchair lexicographers issue lists of those they fear have the power to corrupt tender, young minds. Naturally, each year, the rest of the phrase-coining world happily ignores the peeve merchants in their midst.

Still, the good folks at Lake Superior State University in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, fights on bravely to banish trite, nonsensical and overused terminology from the English language. Its 2014 Banished Word List includes: selfie, twerk, hashtag, twittersphere, mister mom, t-bone, and the suffixes “-ageddon” and “-pocalypse”.

As for “selfie”, Lawrence of Coventry, Connecticut, writes on the Banished Word List’s Facebook page, “People have taken pictures of themselves for almost as long as George Eastman’s company made film and cameras. Suddenly, with the advent of smartphones, snapping a ‘pic’ of one’s own image has acquired a vastly overused term that seems to pop up on almost every form of social media available to us. . .A self-snapped picture need not have a name all its own beyond ‘photograph’. It may only be a matter of time before photos of one’s self and a friend will become ‘dualies.’”

Please, Lawrence, don’t give the culture more ideas than it can handle.

Meanwhile, Lisa from New York quips, “Myselfie disparages the word because it’s too selfie-serving. But enough about me, how about yourselfie?”

Lisa also has a problem with “twerk”, that hip-thrust made famous by certain B-list celebrities with defiantly adolescent proclivities. She writes: “I twitch when I hear twerk, for to twerk proves one is a jerk – or is at least twitching like a jerk. Twerking has brought us to a new low in our lexicon.”

Perhaps not as low as has the incessant appending of end-of-the-world parts of speech to commonplace items and events.

“Come on down, we’re havin’ car-ageddon, wine-ageddon, budget-ageddon, a sale-ageddon, flower-ageddon, and so-on-and-so-forth-ageddon,” complains Michael of Haslett, Michigan. “None of these appear in the Book of Revelations.”

Indeed, adds Rob of Sellersville, Pennsylvania, “Every passing storm or event is tagged as ice-ageddon or snow-pocalypse. There’s a limited supply of. . .ageddons and. . .pocalypses; I believe it’s one, each. When running out of cashews becomes nut-ageddon, it’s time to re-evaluate your metaphors.”

It’s all well and it’s all good. Still, allow me to offer my own pet peeves which have not, to my knowledge, appeared on anyone else’s list thus far.

Is it my imagination, or is it getting a little crowded in here? According to a Wikipedia entry, “Crowdsourcing is the practice of obtaining needed services, ideas, or content by soliciting contributions from a large group of people, and especially from an online community, rather than from traditional employees or suppliers.”

This “process”, we are reliably informed, is deployed to render boring tasks more tolerable (a “many-hands-make-light-work” type of thing) and to raise money for business start-ups, charities, arts initiatives and just about anything else the human mind can conjure on any given day.

Fair enough. But isn’t this what people do, and have done for thousands of years, anyway? What was building ancient Egypt’s pyramids, or the cathedral at Rouen, but prime examples of “crowdsourcing”? Were those projects’ workforces so collegial, so “traditional”, that they did not qualify as “crowds” to be “sourced”?

Do we really need a new word for what is essentially that most ancient of humanity’s unique tricks: creating culture?

Or is it all about the way we feel and talk about the culture we create? In other words, do we get that the “meta-joke” really is on us?

Again, according to the experts (this time the online urban dictionary), “meta” is a prefix, “a term, especially in art, used to characterize something that is characteristically self-referential.”

These days, you can’t walk out the door without encountering some form of  meta-monster, but humour is especially vulnerable to attack: Knock knock. Who’s there? Really. Really who? Really can’t stand knock knock jokes.

If words do have power, let us hope, in this instance, it is not absolute.

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Big Brother’s eyes are everywhere

Birds of a feather?

Birds of a feather?

I summon a certain phrase whenever the world’s Internet-traveling tech companies assert their moral authority to protect their millions upon millions of customers from Big Government’s snoops and sneaks: something about foxes guarding henhouses.

In ads in major newspapers across the U.S., and on dozens of websites, Google, Microsoft, Apple, AOL, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Yahoo (call them the eight horsemen of the digital apocalypse) have announced a new consortium, the purpose of which is to pressure governments everywhere to stop the growing practice of warrantless and unaccountable spying.

That’s a little like asking a gossip to keep a secret. Nevertheless, here’s what they say: “We understand that governments have a duty to protect their citizens. But this summer’s revelations highlighted the urgent need to reform government surveillance practices worldwide. The balance in many countries has tipped too far in favor of the state and away from the rights of the individual – rights that are enshrined in our Constitution. This undermines the freedoms we all cherish. It’s time for a change.”

What’s more, and for their part, “We are focused on keeping users’ data secure –deploying the latest encryption technology to prevent unauthorized surveillance on our networks and by pushing back on government requests to ensure that they are legal and reasonable in scope. We urge the U.S. to take the lead and make reforms that ensure that government surveillance efforts are clearly restricted by law, proportionate to the risks, transparent and subject to independent oversight.”

All of which raises but one question: Do these 100th-of-a-one-percenters, these brilliant geeks who, in some cases, kissed off their Ivy League educations to make billions of bucks in the open market, seriously think we buy their pieties about personal privacy? This is all about business, pure and simple.

That’s what Google CEO Larry Page means when he observes that “the security of users’ data is critical, which is why we’ve invested so much in encryption and fight for transparency around government requests for information. This is undermined by the apparent wholesale collection of data, in secret and without independent oversight, by many governments around the world. It’s time for reform, and we urge the U.S. government to lead the way.”

In fact, the productive relationship between government R&D and the technology sector, has produced most, if not all, of the communications innovations of the past 75 years. That includes everything from the application software that makes your smart phone chatter on command to the Internet, itself. Separating these partners in this continuum of invention would be akin to extracting chlorine from a swimming pool.

What’s at stake is the integrity of Big Data – a jewell so profoundly valuable in the tech world that anything that might cause a public (i.e. consumer) rebellion against its collection and deployment in the service of capitalist enterprise must be quelled. Simply put: When Big Brother overreaches, he hurts the bottom line.

Technology writer, Katherine Arline had this to say in a piece for mobile.pro last month: “Telecommunications equipment maker Cisco Systems announced an anticipated 8 to 10 per cent drop in revenue for the current quarter, sending shares tumbling 13 per cent . . .Cisco said concerns about network security in the wake of Edward Snowden’s disclosures fueled the decline.”

Specifically, Frank Calderone, the company’s CFO said he had seen “a significant increase in the ‘level of uncertainty or concern’ among international consumers. ‘I have never seen that fast a move in emerging markets,’ Calderone said. Cisco customers are concerned that the NSA has backdoors into network hardware from U.S. makers, and analysts think  that companies including IBM and Microsoft are also at risk. Jim Lewis, a senior fellow with the Center for Strategic Studies in Washington, told Reuters that more U.S. companies are likely to be affected. ‘All the big U.S. IT companies are concerned,’ Lewis said. ‘But so far Cisco is bearing the brunt.’”

It may be true that the allegations against the National Security Agency – that it routinely and illegally snoops on average folks by extracting data from unwilling tech companies who must, nevertheless, comply with its edicts – are exaggerated.

But in an industry where reputations are everything and brand loyalty is paramount, perceptions are even more important than reality. Internet-traveling tech companies playing the role of public defender No. 1 is great spin.

Indeed, it might even work.

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Fare thee well, sociable media

Adieu to the feeding frenzy that is social media

Adieu to the feeding frenzy that is social media

My on-again, off-again romance with social media is off-again. This will be my first trial separation from LinkedIn and Twitter, my second from Facebook. I’m even reconsidering the role my blog plays in my newly simplified life.

I’ve deactivated my accounts for a couple of reasons: First, I’m genuinely interested in discovering the degree to which I have become hooked on these seamless communications platforms. But, mostly, and in the words of Greta Garbo, I just want to be alone. It’s time to leave the cocktail party that never ends, at least for awhile.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I have grown to dislike my online friends, followers and contacts. On the contrary, I’m quite fond of them (from a distance, naturally, as I don’t know most of them personally). It’s simply that I can’t get myriad updates and “timelines” and status reports – theirs and mine – out of my mind. The busy work of social media is taking over.

It wasn’t always this way. As a tenderfoot in the online world, I was happy to ignore the dozens of ways I could use it to distract myself from the actual business of making a living (or, simply, living). I was happy because I was ignorant. I didn’t really understand how Twitter worked, or what distinguished it from Facebook.

The more I learned, however, the more determined I became to wield these instruments of my virtual identity as they were designed: with near consuming attention to detail and timeliness, regardless of need or import. (Does the world really need me retweeting somebody else’s observation of a junior league hockey game?)

In fact, I am not alone in hooking off. About a year go, just prior to Facebook’s initial public offering, CNN reported, “With a website that boasts 901 million active users,  it seems unlikely that once you get on Facebook, you’d ever leave. But deactivating from the social networking site is not that unusual. Close to half of Americans think Facebook is a passing fad, according to the results of a new Associated Press-CNBC poll. More and more people are stepping away from the technological realm and de-teching. There are even sites where they can pledge to delete their Facebook accounts.   And tech writer Paul Miller from The Verge decided to leave the Internet for a year to reassess his relationship with it.”

Regarding his decision, Mr. Miller explained on his blog last April, “I’m abandoning one of my ‘top 5’ technological innovations of all time for a little peace and quiet. . .By separating myself from the constant connectivity, I can see which aspects are truly valuable, which are distractions for me, and which parts are corrupting my very soul. What I worry is that I’m so ‘adept’ at the internet that I’ve found ways to fill every crevice of my life with it, and I’m pretty sure the internet has invaded some places where it doesn’t belong.”

I’m, not especially “adept” at any of this stuff, but I appreciate his point. Just as I do Jonathan Minton’s. According to Dahlia Kurtz, Sun Media’s social media columnist, in a piece she wrote in January, Mr. Minton, “calls Facebook mental junk food. He twice de-activated and re-activated his account. ‘It became a mind-numbing and addictive distraction,’ says the 31-year-old. So why did Minton return? ‘Because it’s a mind numbing and addictive distraction.’”

As for Mr. Miller, now that his year-long hiatus is nearly up, what has he learned? In his latest column (a colleague posted it for him) he writes, “Leaving the internet was so great. . .at first. It was the relief of pressure that I’d wanted for years. No more push notifications, no more calendar invites, no more reply-all’d email threads, no more retweets, friend requests, text messages, or rabbit holes. I was alone with my thoughts. . .But then old habits reared their ugly heads. Time-wasting habits like video games and pulpy sci-fi novels, and then more disturbing signs like a general avoidance of social activities.”

So, then, maybe there is no solution, no real escape from the inescapable. Technology is not the enemy. As American cartoonist Walt Kelly once wrote, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

I’ll mull this over in the weeks ahead, while I’m not updating my Facebook status.

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