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Being Multi-Social

We have all heard the cliché expression, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” Well, if that’s the case then I hope you brought your reading glasses with you, because according to DMR (Digital Mobile Radio)  as of January of this year on average 9,000 pictures were shared on Snapchat every second. Snapchat has over 100 million daily active users with 73% of those users being millennials; that’s a lot of snaps. The question is, does snapchatting take away from enjoying the moment or make us less social when we use it in the presence of others?

If you have ever observed or been a part of a group teenagers hanging out for an extended period of time, then chances are at some point there was no conversation taking place and every member of that group was looking at their phones. But can you truly call using Snapchat, while sitting next to other friend’s anti-social behavior? I would argue no.

Image result for teenagers on phone

Snapchat is a way for us to connect with others by sending images and videos to friends. With 100 million daily users there is virtually no limit to the amount of friends you can have on Snapchat, although it can be very difficult to snapchat all of your friends if you have a lot. On Snapchat you can post an image or video to your story for 24 hours, allowing for all your friends to see what you are up to, enabling many to many communication.

Although a person might not be talking to the friend that is right next to them, they are still being social by communicating with their other friends through Snapchat. Not to mention teenagers love to pull their friends over to take selfies to send to other friends. Often times, the person on Snapchat not talking to their friend next to them will see a funny image or video that they can’t resist sharing and show the friend right beside them, making them multi-social.

Observing a real life experience through your phone camera can take away from the enjoyment of the experience. In the back of your mind you are concerned with getting the best camera angle and recording the best quality video instead of focusing completely on the event unfolding right before your eyes. While snapchatting events might take away from a person fully appreciating what is going on, to some it is worth it to be able to share their experiences with others and save it so they will never forget. Who knows how many times in the future you will look fondly back upon a funny video you took with a friend and saved to Snapchat with nostalgia?

The Dangers of Filter Bubbles

Snapchat is usually praised by their users for their updates to the app, which seem to consistently make it more enjoyable. But according to TechCrunch, Snapchat is getting rid of their auto-advance feature, which automatically moves a user to the next Snapchat story their friend posted as soon as they are done watching the previous one. This auto-play feature is being replaced with a story playlist, which will allow users to select the stories they want to view and then play the selected ones back-to-back.

This story playlist feature of the app makes it more customizable since the users can now select their friends stories based on which ones they want to see. Another aspect of Snapchat that varies with each person is the order of the discover channels that appear across a user’s screen. Snapchat analyses the channels you click on the most often, along with a number of other variables, in order to put the channels you are more likely to click on first.

Many other social media platforms do something similar to this, where they display what they predict you’ll want to see, creating a filter bubble. Techopedia  defines a filter bubble as “the intellectual isolation that can occur when websites make use of algorithms to selectively assume the information a user would want to see, and then give information to the user according to this assumption.” A Ted Talk by Eli Pariser draws attention to Facebook and Google specifically, noting how Facebook analyses which of your friends’ post you click on and then edits out the posts that their algorithm doesn’t think you will click on or care about from your newsfeed. It also mentions how Google uses a number of different variables, even if you are signed out of your account, to customize the search results that appear so that the results you and someone else on a different computer get could be very different.

If I only use Google for entertainment, like searching for online games and music videos, then when I want to use it for learning more about the current state of the Presidential election I might not see all the relevant information I need. If on Facebook I only encounter the posts of my friends that have similar viewpoints as I do, then their filter bubble can have the same impact as group polarization. Group polarization is the idea that when a group of individuals share an attitude, that attitude is likely to become intensified after group discussion. For example being exposed to only the posts of your liberal friends on Facebook, even if they are all moderate, will strengthen your liberal beliefs if you were already liberal before. Filter bubbles have an impact on your beliefs and viewpoints, which is an issue considering that you are being exposed to what you are expected to like, which isn’t always an accurate representation of the information available.

Image result for filter bubble(Image from Eli Pariser’s Ted Talk: Beware online “filter bubbles”)

Filter bubbles present a serious concern regarding the search for online information. With Facebook and Google you can’t even see the information that is being excluded from your search. This is a problem, especially when you consider that many times what people want to see is not necessarily what they need to see. Often times I turn to Google and the internet to provide me with points of view that I am less likely to encounter in real life because I’m surrounded with people from similar backgrounds. I rely on many of the things Facebook’s and Google’s algorithms will predict I don’t want to see to challenge my existing world views and cause me to look at subject areas from a different mindset. Being able to see viewpoints you disagree with and search results you wouldn’t normally search for intentionally provides individuals with the information they need to learn and grow as a person.

Transparency and openness are the keys to combating the negative impacts of filter bubbles. One of the dangers of filter bubbles is that you don’t know what information is being excluded from the results of your search. By simply including the search results that aren’t filtered by any algorithm to predict what an individual will want to see or including an option to turn off the algorithm for a search result will provide people with a less skewed set of information to draw conclusions from and learn from. At the very least they will be more cognizant of the filter bubbles they encounter and will hopefully take the filter bubbles into consideration when analyzing the information provided.

The Merging of Two Worlds

Snapchat recently announced that along with changing the company’s name from Snapchat to Snap Inc. that it will also start selling sunglasses, called Spectacles, which have the ability to record videos that can be transferred to your phone using Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. It wasn’t that long ago that in order to connect or upload something to the internet you needed to be sitting down in front of a computer. But with the wonders of modern technology, there now exist a plethora of devices that allow users access to the internet. According to Global Web Index the average consumer has 3.64 connected devices.

The introduction of Spectacles and similar technology including smart TVs, smart watches, and tablets pose an important question. How far will this trend continue? How long until virtually every object in a room will be a portal to the digital world? It is happening already. Books are no longer just read on the printed page, but rather on the electronic screen of a Kindle, where people can download books as they please. Watches no longer just tell the time, but also post to your Facebook wall how far you just ran. Even as I type this I’m using my lamp to charge my phone.

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(Image from Google’s advanced image search)

People now have multiple ways to go online. What started out with computers and then phones has since evolved to encompass many more connected devices that grant owners access to the digital world. Many of you may be asking “So what? Who cares if I have more options to choose from when going online?” Well you should. All these different ways to enter the digital world are also making it harder to escape. While writing this blog post I have gotten distracted by a number of text notifications on my phone and email and update notifications on my laptop beckoning me to the digital world.

Whether it’s the vibration of your phone laying on your bed, the sound of receiving an email on the laptop on your desk, or even a notification on your wrist alerting you to how much a friend just ran, it is becoming increasingly harder to remain solely in the real world. All these connected devices are dividing our presence and attention between two worlds, the real world and the digital world, making it difficult to be completely focused in the real world.

Laptops, while portable, can be put away. Phones can be silenced and put in a pocket. But with smart watches, it’s going to be hard to look at the time without wanting to check in on what other notifications you might have. And with Snap Inc.’s Spectacle sunglasses, the portal to the online world is literally right before your eyes, making the transition to the digital world hard to resist. With wearable connected devices you carry the temptation of entering the online world wherever you go.

Now, I’m not saying that we should only have one device to connect us to the digital world. I’m simply stating the importance of being cognizant of the portals to the digital world that are all around so you can take the necessary steps to reduce the distractions these devices provide; especially when it comes time to focus on what’s at hand in the real world. But there might also come a time when the sheer number of connected devices makes it impossible to escape the online world, leaving us stuck between two worlds, never completely in either.

Using Snapchat for Good

Snapchat is a fun social media platform where users can send pictures and videos to one another, but there is so much more to do on Snapchat than send pictures to friends. Users can browse through the multiple discover channels Snapchat offers, reading news articles from their favorite networks and magazines. They can also go through and look at their friends’ Snapchat stories, a place where users can post pictures and videos for all their friends to see for 24 hours.

Going through everyone’s stories can vary in the amount of time it takes, depending on the number of friends a user has, the time of day and week, and if there is a concert or major Snapchat worthy event taking place that night. If all this wasn’t enough to keep users entertained, Snapchat also has a lens feature that adds real time special effects on top of a user’s picture or video.

With so much content available in the digital world and on Snapchat to keep you occupied it’s easy to lose track of time and feel like you have been neglecting the responsibilities of the real world.

Snapchat recently introduced a new feature that allows users to register to vote within the app. Snapchat has partnered with TurboVote in order to encourage voter registration.

Young adults count for a significant amount of possible voters in America, but a smaller percentage actually register to vote and end up voting than other age groups. With so much content online to keep a person immersed in the digital world, I for one am glad that Snapchat is using their online presence to encourage millennials to exercise their political rights in the real world and vote in the upcoming election.

Image result for hillary clinton selfiePictured above is Hillary Clinton taking a selfie with a supporter (courtesy of Google’s advanced image search)

A lot of other social media platforms encourage activism by signing an online petition or sharing an article to raise awareness. Snapchat takes this a step further and encourages its users to make a difference by taking action in the real world and going out to vote.  Snapchat along with many other companies are beginning to recognize that sometimes the best way to get young people to do something in the real world is to reach them in the digital world, where they spend vast amounts of time.

According to an article in The Atlantic, “In many salient ways, voters are not like nonvoters: voters are richer, whiter, and older than other Americans.” By encouraging voter registration Snapchat is attempting to increase voter turnout, making voters more representative of America.

Many social media apps provide users with a place where their voices can be heard. But typically their voice is only heard online and by a limited amount of friends and followers. By encouraging voter registration Snapchat is encouraging its users to have their voices heard by the entire country in a way that has a profound impact in influencing the direction the world we live in is headed. Instead of just coming up with more exciting content to keep users spending more time on the app, Snapchat is using their online presence for good, influencing its users to take action in the real world to shape the future of America.

Interactive Advertisements

In today’s day and age advertisements have become a part of everyday life. On YouTube people watch commercials before they can view the video they want to watch, on Facebook people see ads on the side of their news feed, and on Twitter people see ads as they scroll down their timeline. No matter where a person turns, it seems impossible to avoid seeing an advertisement.

According to SJ Insights, adults are exposed to roughly 360 ads a day. It’s no shock that most people don’t like ads and find commercials annoying; but who can blame them when they are exposed to that many every day? But many social media platforms rely on ad revenue for a significant amount of their profits. For most social media platforms the solution to this is to provide users with options to avoid seeing ads. YouTube, for example, allows viewers to skip watching an ad after a certain amount of time and also offers YouTube Red, a paid-for subscription service that is ad free. Snapchat, however, takes a more creative approach.

Snapchat makes ads fun by including sponsored geofilters, which MarketingLand defines as “Digital stickers that Snapchat users overlay on photos and videos they post on the social messaging network.” Pictured below is an example of Snapchat users with a Disneyland geofilter.

Image result for disneyland geofilter

Snapchat also provides sponsored lenses, which adds real time special effects. Snapchat has created a new form of advertisements that not only their users appreciate, but can actually interact with and become a part of. With this new form of interactive advertisements, ads are getting more exposure. Instead of just reaching the individual who sees the sponsored geofilter, it also reaches whoever that user sends the snapchat too.

Snapchat has managed to turn advertisements, which were once viewed as an annoyance, into an enjoyable part of their app. With these geofilter and lens features Snapchat entices it’s users to include advertisements in the content they create. By presenting advertisements in a fun way that users can interact with, they are simultaneously making the app more enjoyable for users and expanding the reach of advertisements. By recognizing the desire of users to view their peers user generated content, Snapchat was able to capitalize by creating advertisements that become a part of the content users create.

With this additional content on the app, there is now so much more to do than send picture messages to friends. A user can post a picture with a cool, new geofilter, or browse the discover channel, or send their friends a funny video featuring a lens that makes them look 70. With all this additional content on the app, users are spending more time on it and the amount of users is constantly increasing, which only makes Snapchat more appealing for corporations looking to advertise to millennials.