Being Present

 

Credit: Pinterest

Last week I came across the above quote and it really spoke to me. Being physically present and being mentally present have two completely different definitions. Lately I have been feeling the absence of deep, meaningful conversations in my life and I yearn for that void to be filled.

I cannot remember the last time a phone wasn’t pulled out at some point during a conversation. When hanging out with a group of friends all it takes is one person to pick up their phone and everyone feels obligated to check theirs too. We have grown accustomed to the presence of technology and it is getting harder and harder to be fully present in day to day life. The truth about technology is saddening because no one my age knows how to entertain themselves without a screen. Someone whip out Yahtzee or Pictionary, PLEASE.

It may seem ridiculous to live without technology but pulling back from constant screen use is a great way to slow down your brain. Lock your phone and instead pass some time by reading, journaling or drawing…unleash the creativity! Once enough time is focused in a more constructive place than the depths of someone’s Instagram page a feeling of relaxation arises. There will always be time to be engrossed in social media but I hope more than anything that young people can learn to stay present in the more simple joys of life.

When having a conversation, I try to remind myself to continuously look someone in the eye and ask questions about what they are saying. That is the best way to show your true interest in another person. It is just too easy to get lost behind a screen when the world is going by around us. We walk around engrossed in the latest Tasty video or Snapchat story, completely oblivious to the beauty passing by with every step.

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It may seem impossible to go a full day without your phone but the experience will allow you to see the world a little differently. You don’t need that perfectly staged Snapchat video or Instagram story to show that you are having fun with your friends. There is definitely pressure in our world today about posting constantly to ensure that your followers know you are maintaining an interesting life. Your friends that you are hanging out with already know how much fun you are. Pictures and videos are great, but soaking in the memories with your eyes and ears is more organic and fulfilling.

It is always great to snap some pics of a new place or some cool food, but save the editing and posting until after in order to enjoy the rest of the day. People always seemed surprised when I say I left my phone at home for the day or night; it’s like a security blanket that is thought to be a necessity when I can function just as well without it.

Right now you are looking at a screen, as are billions of people around the world. Try taking a breather from all the screens and pay attention to the beautiful details all around you because the world is a lot more interesting than the Instagram popular page.

I snapped this pic before embarking on a beautiful walk down the beach a few weeks ago. Left my phone in the car (:

 

Why You Should Care About Senior Dogs

There are few pleasant places left on the internet, save for the Facebook page belonging to Old Friends Senior Dog Sanctuary (OFSDS). I first discovered OFSDS sometime last year, after seeing the organization mentioned in one of the many dog-friendly Facebook groups I’m a part of. After finding their Facebook page, the rest was history. I became enamored with the organization and the dogs it takes care of. As the name of OFSDS might suggest, they absolutely create a sanctuary for senior dogs. While senior dogs are often abandoned or euthanized, OFSDS provides them a second chance. Besides the fact that the dogs are cute, the good that they do is the real reason you should be supporting them on social media.

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Adventures in Creating New & Differentiated Identities

We all know that every company in existence has a certain brand – a look, a message, a name, a logo which are components of the brand’s identity. However, brands can go even further than companies: almost every music artist has created their own specific brand identity that coincides with their musical identity.

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Life After Vine

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By now, you’ve probably heard the news. On October 27, Vine announced that they would soon be discontinuing their mobile app. Twitter, Vine’s current owner, has evidently decided that the app is no longer economically viable. For the social-media-savvy, this announcement was shocking. Though most people were not as active on Vine as they may have been on sites like Instagram or Facebook, Vine has remained a staple in the online world for years. Since 2013, users have been using the Vine application to make and share content. Many videos posted on Vine have later become viral, leading to them being shared across multiple platforms. How many “memes” can you recall that trace their origins to a Vine?

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How to Keep in Touch with College Friends Over Break

The bonds you create when you share a bathroom with someone or many someones are powerful. You become so close with people so quickly that being ripped away from them at the beginning of summer break can feel like having a piece of your soul missing. Though it’s never the same, there are a lot of fun ways to keep in touch with all of your college friends over this long, hot dry spell.

Netflix and Skype

I don’t know about you, but for me one of the worst things about going home is that I have no one to binge watch with. I start watching shows with about 5 different people and then suddenly it all comes crashing to a halt when break starts. It’s too tragic to keep watching the show without each other, so you just wait until next semester when you’ve already forgotten all the characters. Well, there’s another way! You and your friends can make Skype dates to watch your shows together. This way you can experience the drama together rather than waiting to recap the show four months later. Or if Skyping while you watch the show is too inconvenient you can Skype afterwards, or text and/or Snapchat during.

Go on a Trip

If you have the means and the opportunity, a great way to ease the separation anxiety is to take a trip to visit each other. One great thing about going to college is you get to meet so many people from diverse backgrounds. What better way to get to know your friends better than going to see them in their hometown, or having them come visit you. You can even plan a grand tour with some of your friends and take a road trip to each person’s hometown. Now all your friends will know how good that local restaurant you’ve been talking about really is. Or if you don’t live far from each other or don’t want your college friends to collide with your hometown friends you could go on a road trip together. The summer is a great time for a weekend-long beach getaway!

Snapchat

Snapchat is a game changer when it comes to communicating long distance because it’s as convenient as texting and you still get to see each others’ faces. It can be really hard to communicate effectively without facial expressions, and Snapchat gives you the opportunity. Sometimes I just can’t convey how hard I’m judging my roommate with words! It can also be a fun game to see how long you can keep your fire going when you’re not around each other all the time.

Send Letters

There’s no question that social media has eased the pain of separation exponentially by making communication so much more convenient, but sometimes it’s worth it to return to the classics. Becoming pen pals with your college buddies can be a fun way to feel like you have an intimate connection with a person when they’re thousands of miles away. You can send each other postcards from your travels or just from your hometown. You could even send each other momentos like a flower from your backyard. I’m always up for the opportunity to pretend I’m from the 1800’s.

Try out a few of these tips, and by the time school rolls around, it will be like no time has passed at all. Your friendships will start right back up where they left off with minimal recovery time!

Social Media’s Role in Times of Turmoil

When it comes to terrorism, social media seems to be a double edged sword. In the recent attacks on Paris and Brussels, social media has played a huge role in building momentum for the terrorist groups before the attacks and in helping victims recover from them.

There are many ways in which social media helps in the face of a terror attack by allowing people to reach out in a way they previously couldn’t. One great advancement was how victims or people in the area were able to use a Safety Check feature on Facebook in order to show their family and loved ones that they were safe. Another benefit of social media is that people can show their support for those across the world through social media campaigns, such as after the Paris and Brussels attacks when people could post using hashtags like #JeSuisBruxelles. Hashtags also played a role in helping refugees of these attacks find shelter such as #PorteOuverte (“open door”), #ikwilhelpen (“I want to help”) and #BrusselsWelcome. Social media also has the ability to circulate awareness and opportunities to donate to relief funds such as a GoFundMe campaign that was started for the victims in Brussels.

However, just as social media can inspire people to support terror victims it can also inspire people to join terrorist causes. Terrorist groups are able to create propaganda that calls people to action using Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, etc. Before the attack in Paris, ISIS released several videos encouraging young Parisians to join their terrorist group. Even before these recent attacks in Europe, ISIS began using social media to create fear and raise support, such as on August 19, 2014, when they uploaded a video onto YouTube of one of their members beheading an American journalist named James Foley. According to CNN, the video also shows him reading a message that “his ‘real killer’ is America” before the murder. Using these platforms, terrorists are able to raise fear and bring others into their cause.

This calls into question what tech companies can do to fix this situation and if they should. Many companies including Google, which owns YouTube, have algorithms that allow them to sift through content to prevent the posting of things like copyrighted material or child pornography that might be applicable to a search for terrorist propaganda. So why don’t they?

It turns out to be much more complicated than that. Some believe that it is worth this material being on the internet if it can be used to help government officials find information about the terrorists based on user profiles or information embedded in the content. However, according to an article on Forbes, it is not worth the risk of escalating recruitment because we must “consider that jihadis who post this content are fully aware that it is being monitored by Western security agencies” and thus would be careful not to reveal any useful information.

Others believe that allowing the government to search through social media would be an invasion of privacy. Emma Llansó, director of the Free Expression Project at the Center of Democracy and Technology, said in a Morning Consult article that “If the government were to patrol social media websites and decide what is or isn’t suspicious, that could veer into censorship.” She seems to think a better solution would be “if private companies report content they find suspicious to the government; it’s less like censorship and more like a business simply overseeing its customer service.”

There’s no denying social media has a lot of influence. “Going viral” seems to be the only way to make history these days. Social media can create a sense of community by raising awareness about issues and inspiring people to help. On the other hand, this power to spread a message can be dangerous in the wrong hands. Social media is a powerful weapon and there is a lot of controversy about how to control it. And ultimately it is up to us to make sure it is used for good.

Pic City: The Return of Visual Communication

Social media has left the text world behind and returned to pictures through the creation of mobile apps like Instagram and Snapchat—moving back to a form of communication that has been ingrained in the human race since the caveman years. Visual communication itself has expended over the last few years due to technological advancements that have made the world of communication easier than ever. The increase in the “selfie” has also brought about the increase in platforms that cater to communicating visually.

These advancements in technology that allowed for mobile apps to grow and become the force that they have, brought about things like Instagram and Snapchat. These new ways of sharing visual communication, that exist almost entirely on a mobile platform, gained popularity rather quickly. According to an article released by Digitaltrends.com, Instagram has reached almost 20 billion images shared since its release in October 2010.

“I would say the evolution of it, the ubiquitous of it and the ease of use,” says Professor David Gerzof Richard, Professor of Media Relations, Social Media and Marketing at Emerson College, is the key to technology’s promotion of these new platforms in social media. “It’s evolved. It’s come from digits to sending photos. It’s ubiquitous in that last year was the first year that smartphone penetration in the US was over 50 percent.”

Visual communication has always been a way to communicate, dating back to the years of the cavemen. Cueva de las Manos, or the Cave of Hands as it’s translated, is located in Santa Cruz, Argentina and can be said to be one of the earliest forms of social media, something that dates almost 13,000 to 9,000 years ago.

“They didn’t have Facebook, they didn’t have text messaging or picture messaging; they had cave walls, they had a dye and they had reeds,” says Gerzof-Richard about the ancient’s way of communicating. “Before there was Facebook, there was ‘handbook’ and that’s how they connected.”

These caves aren’t the only way people communicated visually. People have been using art to depict events and people for centuries. Before the creation of photography, artists would paint portraits for paying customers. Unlike pictures, which were more correct when it came to being perfectly precise with features, these early versions of selfies were up to the interpretation of the artist. When photography was created, many were afraid of this new invention, believing that it took something from the subject every time a picture was taken. It became popular anyway, due to the fact that it was cheaper than having a portrait painted.

In 1839, the first self-portrait was accomplished in the world of photography. According to The Public Domain Review, Robert Cornelius was the first to snap a picture of himself. It was accomplished by removing the lens cap and then running into the frame where he sat for a minute. He replaced the lens. According to the article, early self-portraits like Cornelius’ were common in the early days of photography as people were continuously experimenting with this new platform.

The launch of MySpace in 2003 brought about the first time that a self-portrait was used in social media at such a high rate, as people used these selfies for profile pictures. Since then, the selfie has spread to other social media platforms, especially Facebook and Twitter. As the selfie became more popular on social media, it also opened up a new way of expressing ones self.

The advancements in technology helped the selfie become an every day fad, as phones like the iPhone began to be equipped with cameras. By 2010, when the iPhone was equipped with a frontal camera in order to support video chatting services, the selfie was cemented into history as users began taking pictures of themselves. Now, it’s not only pictures of themselves that people are posting on these picture based apps, but also of their food, their pets, their friends, anything that a person can deem picturesque has been snapped and uploaded to one of these apps.

According to ROI Research’s Performic Life on Demand Summery from 2012, people using social media platforms like Facebook or Twitter paid more attention to pictures posted by their friends. These numbers, at 35 percent, were 9 percent higher than the second interest that was status updates (25%), providing a starting point for this new trend.

By the time Mary Meeker’s 2014 Internet Trends Report, posted by Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, came about, the trend had increased, showing that SnapChat alone shared about 700 million snaps per day, while 1.8 billion photos are uploaded and shared per day throughout all image accessible platforms. By sharing this many photos daily, the trend has increased from where it had been merely five years ago, where only 50 million pictures had been shared.

“At this point, SnapChat, Instagram and other platforms are becoming more popular for now and it so happens that they are image based,” says Professor Roxana Maiorescu, an assistant professor in the Department of Marketing Communication at Emerson College, “but it’s just a matter of time until corporations and your parents and other entities are going to use those social media platforms and [the younger generation] are going to come up with something new.”

The rate at which visual communication has returned since the lunch of mobile apps like Instagram and SnapChat has been fast paced. And both of these apps, especially the later, are being populated by the younger generation. SnapChat, in fact, owes most of its success to teenagers, who are incredibly active on the app.

“I think it’s being driven by the younger generation, folks that are sort of playing with the latest apps,” confirms Professor David Gerzof-Richard.

In a world where communication is key, visual based apps have risen to the top. Driven to that peak by the younger generation, social media platforms are continuously expanding as one is always searching for the best new thing, moving from Facebook to Instagram to SnapChat. Visual communication, while always having been part of the human culture dating back to ancient times 13,000 years ago, has proven to be the new thing, condensing what could be said in 140 words to a simple picture. As communication evolves, the future is uncertain but for now, just smile.

Taylurking: Taylor Swift Takes Over Tumblr

Sometime last year, Taylor Swift got a Tumblr and I was skeptical. I didn’t think it was actually her. However,  I follow a few Swifties on Tumblr and they confirmed that it was indeed her official account.

As soon as the account was created, Taylor began interacting with her fans. By searching the Taylor Swift tag, she was able to follow her fans, like and reblog their posts and even reply to them or send them messages. This was really cool to see especially because I didn’t have too much respect for Taylor during her Red era. This was when she was receiving a lot of hate, because the media was buzzing about how she was always dating men and then writing songs about them. A lot of these rumors really affected my perception of her. Then, she joined Tumblr and released 1989 and I started to gain a lot more respect for her. Her Tumblr presence started to grow so much that her fans even gave an official name to it: Taylurking.

My first exposure to Taylurking came around the holidays. I saw posts surfacing that some fans had received replies from Taylor on some of their posts with the Santa emoji. More fans started to receive this reply and they started to realize Taylor was planning something big.

They were right. Taylor looked through the Tumblrs of some lucky fans and went shopping for them based on their interests. She packed the gifts up in boxes, wrote out cards and sent all of the goodies to her fans. She even went to a fan’s house to surprise her and her young son with gifts. For a more in depth look at what she did, as well as the reactions of her fans, check out this video.

It was such a kind thing for Taylor to do. She honestly could have just sent a bunch of fans money or concert tickets, but she decided to take the time to learn about them through their Tumblrs and send them personalized gifts she knew they would enjoy. I even read an article about how Taylor sent a watercolor painting to a super-fan named Rebekah Bortniker and paid $1,989 toward Rebekah’s student loans (album reference). Taylor knew that her fan was in college struggling with student loans, so she did her part to try to help her as much as she could.

Around Valentine’s Day, I saw rumors on Tumblr that Taylor was Taylurking again, this time with envelope and heart emojis for Valentine’s Day. I didn’t know if this was true, but then I saw a whole bunch of posts where people posted videos of themselves reacting and Taylor replied with such sweet notes.

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I also saw a post where a fan told Taylor about a breakup and Taylor responded with advice as if they were old friends who talked all the time.

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The playlist did it. I officially gained more respect for Taylor Swift than I knew what to do with. I also had a very strange desire to make her my best friend. I’ve seen celebrities interact with their fans and do sweet things for them before, but never quite like this. I may not be a Swiftie, but the amount of love I gained for Taylor after my look into Taylurking may as well label me as one.

Adventures in Tinder-land

If there’s one thing I love, it’s hearing about my friends’ love lives. I’m always the first to want to know who went out with whom, what they did and how it went. You know that obnoxious female relative at family parties who always wants to know if you’re dating someone? That’s me. But there is nothing like living vicariously through your friend’s dating successes and blunders.

One of my friends, who frequently entertains me with his many tales, told me about some of the apps he used to meet people. He encouraged me to try one, just for fun. He recommended Tinder.

Tinder is a social media app that quickly became a popular forum for online dating. You sign into the app using Facebook and it transfers your basic information, such as your first name, age and interests, as well as your photos. You choose which photos you want to use and add a brief description of yourself. The app then finds your location and will find potential matches within a certain radius that you set.

Using the app is simple. If you like someone, you swipe right. If you dislike them, you swipe left. If you and the other person both swipe right, you have a match and have the option to message them.

The original aim of the app was to help the user meet other people. It has since evolved into a hook-up app. Yet, friends assured me that I could find people on there actually interested in just meeting new people. Still, I was hesitant to even try it. Using an app to find a suitable guy seemed like going to Forever 21 to find investment pieces: you are simply not looking in the right place.

Still, I downloaded Tinder. Its orange flame icon beckoned to me as if I were a moth. I wanted to go in to see if there were people I knew on there. I had no intent of actually using the app to find a match. And yet, it happened. Infrequently, at the encouragement of my app-savvy friend, I found my finger going right. The key word is infrequently.

“Oh, he has facial hair?” Swipe left.

“Is that a girl in his photo? Nice try.” Swipe left.

“There is more than one guy in this photo and I can’t be bothered to figure out which one is him.” Swipe left.

Occasionally, I would swipe right. In these cases, the candidates would have to meet my clean-shaven, solo photo criteria and often have another appealing factor. One guy had a questionable style blog; another had several dogs in his photos. It surprised me when I began getting matches for every right swipe. Soon enough, I got my first message from a guy who I’d liked because he too had a black lab.

Mr. Comedian, as I called him, messaged me with a classic, if not frightening opening line: “Knock, knock.”

Oh, you have got to be kidding me, I thought to myself as I sarcastically replied:  “Oh boy, who’s there?”

“Noah,” he answered.

This was too much for me to handle kindly.

“Noah you, right?” I answered, thinking I had cracked the riddle.

“Haha noo, you’re supposed to say Noah who?”

Apparently, he did not catch my displeasure with the conversation and thought I didn’t understand the concept of a knock-knock joke.

“Fine,” I typed back. “Noah who?”

“Noah good place for our first date, Erin?” It came complete with a winky face emoji.

Excuse me? You haven’t even taken the time to get to know me and you want me to go out on a date with you? I simply could not help the sarcasm in my reply.

“I’m afraid I don’t know of any good places amidst the glaring dullness of American suburbia to go with a person who I just connected with on a mildly sketchy app based on a singular photo.”

My conversation with Mr. Comedian ended shortly after that. But there were others. I soon discovered that the turnover rate is high on Tinder. If it doesn’t work out with one guy, then there are several more lined up right behind him.

Following Mr. Comedian was Basketball Boy, a guy I had liked because one of his photos featured my former workplace in the background. I began to regret this impulsive right-swipe when most of the conversation revolved around him asking me basketball trivia and being amazed that I actually know something about sports, despite the fact I am not overly interested in them. He did not quite get my sarcasm and told me he felt like I was “writing a book with (my) words”. I tired of him quickly and the conversation mercifully ended once I told him I liked Glee.

There were others though with whom I actually managed to have engaging conversations. There was “Fitz”, a guy who I warmed up to when he complimented me on my Great Gatsby t-shirt. We ended up discussing F. Scott Fitzgerald, which led to a discussion of favorite books. I was impressed with him and we ended up talking for several days.

I also kept up a long-standing conversation with a guy I referred to as “Mr. Worldwide”. We had both just returned from studying abroad and lamented together about missing Europe.

The appeal of these random conversations quickly wore off and after just a day, I became tired of constantly having messages and worrying about what to say. After another few days the messages trickled down, as I stopped right swiping. However, Fitz and Mr. Worldwide continued messaging me, trying to keep up the momentum of our admittedly good conversations. I just had too much going on though to really care. I was working, travelling and spending time focusing on what was in front of me. I wasn’t interested in being on my phone and talking to someone I didn’t even know.

My lack of interest in conversing with strangers should have been a sign to end my Tinder career. But I simply could not give it up; I was drawn in to see the profiles of people I know and was determined to stay on just to do so. Things took a turn for the comical when I visited my friend one night and decided to lower my distance range so people we knew would start popping up. There is something oddly humorous about seeing people you know on online dating and getting to see how they present themselves to total strangers.

We sat on our phones, shrieking when we found someone we knew. It was all fun and games until I decided to swipe right on a guy we knew from high school, just to see what would happen. To my bemused delight and horror, we matched.  Oops.

I sat there, unsure of what to do as our little photos popped up in the screen while Tinder declared the match, encouraging me to message him. I was unsure of what to do. Do I message him? Block him? Pretend it never happened? What if he messaged me? What if he didn’t? I had no clue what the etiquette was for this sort of social snafu.

Later in the night, Mr. NAHS (North Attleboro High School, my alma mater) messaged me, acknowledging the match. I replied, also acknowledging the overall weirdness of the situation and haven’t heard from him since. Here’s hoping for no awkward home-for-the-summer run-ins.

Great minds think alike and sometimes collide on Tinder. At least, that’s what I’m thinking was the case when I matched with Mr. NAHS. Chances are he too was swiping right to see would come of it. But I also knew there was the slim chance that he swiped right due to actual interest and here I was, treating it all like a joke.

This was one of the problems that motivated me to go into Tinder retirement.  I was becoming too disconnected. This became painfully obvious when I got the most awkward match in the history of Tinder. I knew what could happen when I swiped right, yet here I was, shocked and confused when the match was made. It’s easy to say and do whatever you want and forget that there’s an actual person behind there, potentially feeling the sting of rejection and sass. It all became very real when my Tinder path awkwardly crossed with Mr. NAHS, a person who is more than just a few photos and words on a phone screen to me.

I also discovered that I’m not crazy about the whole idea of online dating. In fact, I think it’s really weird. What initially kept me off Tinder was the idea that someone chose you based on a photo and a brief description. It all seemed so shallow to me. I realized that what I want from someone I’m dating is for him to like me, not just for my looks, but for who I am as a person. Granted, there are guys on Tinder who do want to get to know you, such as Fitz and Mr. Worldwide. Even to connect though is based on whether or not they like one photo. What if they accidentally swipe left or just don’t like that one photo? There goes a chance to connect. The idea of my meeting someone being based off a photo and a finger swipe leaves too much up to chance for my liking.

Yet, the Tinder app remains on my phone for now. I still hop on occasionally, never swiping right, but only to poke around and see who I know who’s on there. Who knows though? Maybe someday, the orange flame will beckon me  and I’ll try my luck again; hopefully better next time around.