(Screenshot of an app called Split.)
Social media is all about staying connected. It’s why we carry our phones with us constantly, posting status updates, photos and videos. And when we aren’t on our phones, we’re on our computers, refreshing these sites so we don’t miss a beat.
And this technology isn’t just encouraging us to be social online: Apps such as Foursquare and Tinder — a dating app I experimented with for my last column — are using location services to help us connect with people digitally in order to meet up in person.
Recently, Facebook announced a new feature called Nearby Friends, which allows users to broadcast their location to friends in the area. With the tap of a button, you can send a friend your exact location, complete with a map of where to find you.
But increasingly, more people are opting out of social media, whether they’re leaving social networks entirely or simply choosing more discerning methods for their social consumption.
For instance, last week, Twitter unveiled the mute button, a new tool that enables users to “turn off” tweets from specific people without their knowledge. It’s essentially the same thing as hiding a friend’s posts from your Facebook News Feed — a polite way of ignoring someone you don’t want to hear about. And, of course, instant-messaging platforms have always offered the “invisible” function, which lets you appear to be offline to specified users.
The logic behind these options is that instead of blocking or unfriending someone altogether, you can choose the less harsh route to keep the peace.
“Everybody has somebody they want to avoid,” Udi Dagan told Reuters. “For some people, it’s their exes; for others, it’s their bosses or even relatives that they don’t feel like bumping into during their free time.”
(Screenshot of an app called Split.)
Dagan is CEO of a technology company that recently released a new app called Split. Designed for iOS and Android devices, the free app connects through Facebook and notifies users when a certain person they want to avoid is nearby, offering an alternative route so paths don’t have to cross.
Cloak is an app with a similar premise: It collects location data from Instagram, Foursquare, Facebook and Twitter and displays a map of a where your friends have last been. You can set alerts to be notified when certain people are anywhere from a half a block to 2 miles away.
“Cloak refers to itself as ‘incognito mode for real life’ — a tip of the hat to Google’s private browsing setting on its Chrome web browser,” TIME notes.
(Screenshot of an app called Cloak.)
This new trendy technology been coined “anti-social media” — “explicitly marketing itself as a means of social evasion, (which) seems to account for its appeal,” Mark O’Connell wrote in the New Yorker.
“There’s a certain novelty value in the idea,” he said, “a kind of satirical inversion of the assumption of gregariousness built into your Facebook and your Foursquare.”
Of course, the catch of this technology is that users must have geolocation enabled on their devices. And as someone who almost never posts my location, I would be hard to avoid.
But what if avoiding people isn’t enough? Well, there’s an app for that, too.
It’s called Duster, and it was developed by two computer science students at Boston University. The app connects to your Facebook account and provides a list of people you haven’t interacted with lately — trying to filter the acquaintances from the actual friends. You then have the option of either hiding these people’s posts from your News Feed or unfriending them all together.
There’s a popular new app called Tinder that promises to make dating less awkward. For curiosity’s sake, I surveyed my friends and tried it out myself to see whether it accomplishes that.
Spoiler alert: It does not.
Tinder is a location-based app that allows users to sign in through their Facebook accounts. It displays a very basic profile that shows up to 6 photos, an optional short bio, and mutual Facebook friends and “likes.” If you’re interested, you swipe right; if not, you swipe left.
“Tinder works like walking into a room, looking around and subconsciously going ‘yes, no, yes, no’ while scanning people,” co-founder Sean Rad explained. “If you give someone across the room that look and they give you that look back, you’re now both responding in the moment and that’s a match.”
Essentially, users make snap judgments about whether they find a person hot or not. It’s as simple, and superficial, as that. The main benefit it touts is there’s no risk of rejection. If two people both swipe right, they become a match and can communicate. But if an interest is one-sided, the uninterested party is none the wiser.
Tinder has been around for more than a year, but its popularity — at least in Knoxville — is much more recent. I heard mention of the app a couple of months ago, unsure of what it was exactly. So I downloaded it and quickly figured it out.
Weird encounter #1
My first interaction on Tinder was a bizarre one. Only a few minutes after matching with a guy, with whom I shared no mutual friends, I received a friend request on Facebook. Kinda creepy. Moments later, I get a 600-word email — sent to my work account. Totally creepy.
In specific detail, this stranger divulges a very personal story. Apparently he’d read a previous #trending column I wrote about addiction and wanted to share his own struggle with me.
While I can appreciate the connection he felt to my work, it seemed a bit intense, especially when Tinder doesn’t include last names. In fact, he admitted …
" … to falling victim to contributing to the creepiness of tinder by googling your name/knoxville journalism."
My first experiment with Tinder ended there.
As the weeks went on, so did the Tinder buzz. I couldn’t escape it and, honestly, felt my curiosity creeping back. If my first experience was so strange, I wondered what else might happen.
Weird encounter #2
I downloaded the app again and gave it a second chance. My second impression was that Knoxville is small. So many of the people I came across were either friends or people I regularly see around town. I even “matched” with my ex, and several of his friends. (In fact, I made a habit of swiping right to anyone I knew in real life — because, you know, it’s funny.)
Still, I carried on. At this point, I had several dozen matches and a couple of interesting conversations. It was a few days into Experiment No. 2 before I had another unusual encounter.
A guy visiting from New York to work the Big Ears music festival struck up a conversation. I offered up some suggestions for things he could do in town but said I would, unfortunately, not be able to attend Big Ears. A few hours later, he offered me a free weekend pass. Did I want it? he asked. Um, YES, I replied.
I met up with him at a show, where a bunch of my friends already were. He was a nice enough guy who had obviously sought out a wristband to offer me.
I felt obligated to hang out for at least a little while but soon departed. We exchanged numbers and I said I’d text him later that night. I did, and he met my friends and me at the Tennessee Theatre for the Television show.
He turned out to be one of those people who asks a lot of really annoying questions when you’re trying to watch a show — but, all things considered, Tinder really came through for me this time.
Something for everyone?
Everyone uses Tinder in a different way. Some people genuinely are looking to meet a partner on the app. Many use it almost exclusively as a “hook-up” app. Others think of it as a big joke and use it in such a way.
I know people who fall into each of the above categories.
A friend who recently moved from Knoxville to Colorado found her current boyfriend using Tinder.
"I downloaded the app, not taking it seriously at all, and I met him the first day," Carli Ferrari, 26, said. "Now we’re talking about our future together. I never in a million years thought I’d meet my fiance on an app."
In fact, the founders of the app recently revealed that they are hearing about "at least one marriage proposal a day" from people who met on Tinder.
Many more, it seems, use the app as a means for casual sexual encounters. In fact, Tinder has somewhat of a reputation for this. There are countless blogs and Twitter accounts dedicated to these stories. Some people put it right out there and disclose their intentions in their bios, while others make it clear with their opening lines. I’ve experienced both methods firsthand.
But perhaps my favorite use of Tinder, and the one that feels most natural to me, is Tinder as a joke. Online dating can be incredibly uncomfortable, so having a sense of humor with it is necessary.
I can’t tell you how many screenshots I’ve seen from friends of awkward and hilarious conversations. It’s helpful, of course, when both parties are in on the joke — but it’s pretty funny when it’s one-sided, too.
My favorite Tinder feature is by College Humor — a compilation of one user’s hysterical attempts at chatting up women on Tinder.
The Tinder end
Since my second go at Tinder, I’ve been looking forward to the day I could delete the app. It’s been an interesting experiment, but frankly, it’s just not for me. This might work for some people, and I’ve certainly got some interesting stories to tell, but I think I’ll stick to perusing the Tinder stories shared by others.
For the record, I’m a grilled cheese sandwich who should have attended Yale and should live in South Africa. I’m also Dumbledore, Led Zeppelin and a tiny turtle on a skateboard.
As ludicrous as that list might sound, chances are, if you’re on social media, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Online personality quizzes by sites like BuzzFeed and Zimbio have exploded in recent months. Want to know what kind of sandwich you are? Or which Harry Potter character? How about which U.S. president?
These types of quizzes are nothing new — they’ve been featured in teen and women’s magazines for decades — but their popularity and propensity for going viral certainly are.
And it’s not just sites known for entertainment and lists that have realized this trend. The New York Times revealed its most popular story of 2013 was a dialect quiz that aimed to guess where you’re from based on your vocabulary and pronunciation.
For BuzzFeed, it all started with the realization that their most-shared post from 2013 was a quiz called “Which ‘Grease’ Pink Lady Are You?” Then in January, “What City Should You Actually Live In?” quickly became one of their most viral posts of all time.
For the most part, the nature of these quizzes is by no means scientific. In fact, the questions and answers choices seem arbitrary at best. So why are people, even those “BuzzFeed haters” who otherwise snub the site, taking these quizzes and sharing their results?
The most obvious answer might be that it’s a fun, humorous way to kill time — but psychologists say there might be more to it.
Atlanta-based psychologist Robert Simmermon told the Huffington Post it has to do with “a sense of narrative psychology.”
“It goes into our own ongoing developing narrative and it gives some credence of ourselves as heroes of our own story,” Simmermon said. “It reinforces a sense of (self), whether it has any legitimacy or not.”
While we understand these results aren’t necessarily accurate, he explains, we secretly hope they say something about who we are and where we fit in the world.
And their success, according to author Jonah Berger, is due to social networking: They “live and die by sharing.”
“People love knowing and talking about themselves. It’s social currency,” Berger told Mashable. “And these quizzes are a great opportunity for people to compare themselves with others.”
(Actor Philip Seymour Hoffman. Photo by Victoria Will/Invision/AP)
When news broke that Oscar-winning actor Philip Seymour Hoffman had died, it triggered an outpouring of heartfelt reactions online. It was news big enough to eclipse the Super Bowl and heartbreaking enough to elicit genuine sadness.
But not all reactions were sympathetic. That day, actor Jared Padalecki called Hoffman’s death “stupid” and “senseless,” and he’s not the only one who voiced this opinion.
According to the New York Times, police confirmed Hoffman died of a drug overdose, most likely due to heroin.
All over social media, peppered amid the deluge of mourning, were comments similar to Padlecki’s — people claiming Hoffman’s death was not tragic, that they had a hard time feeling sad because, after all, these were his bad choices. No one forced a needle into his arm.
And while that’s true, it also ignores so many important parts of his story and of addiction in general. Writing it off in such a way is unfairly callous.
Hoffman was reportedly sober for 23 years and only recently relapsed. Addiction is a disease an afflicted person will battle his entire life — one that requires treatment and compassion.
Steve Wildsmith is the weekend editor at the Daily Times in Maryville, and he’s also a recovering addict.
“It’s a fundamental disease that most people cannot comprehend,” Wildsmith said. “It doesn’t matter how long you’re clean, your disease is out there doing pushups, waiting for you to slip up.”
When you’re an addict, “you exist, but you don’t live,” he explained. “It’s a place of darkness, like you’re one of the extras in ‘The Walking Dead.’ ”
Hoffman’s death, while tragic, has had at least one positive effect: It’s sparked important conversations about addiction that many, especially those quick to judge, need to hear.
As celebrities and journalists open up about their own struggles with addiction (I found David Carr's and Jeff Deeney's accounts particularly insightful) and new drug legislation is discussed (Have you heard of naloxone, an opiate overdose reversal medicine that can help save people from overdoses?), these issues come into better focus.
“The takeaway is that it can happen to anybody,” Wildsmith said. “So we need to do what we can to help all these other Philip Seymour Hoffmans who don’t have his fame or money or recognition.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are more than 38,000 drug overdose deaths per year in the United States — more than 100 per day. And help isn’t always readily available, even locally.
“It’s a terrible thing here in Knoxville. There are more (people) than there are places to go,” said Johnny Lewis, executive director of the E.M. Jellinek Center, where the waiting list is approximately four to five months. “The majority just stay in jail until they can get in over here.”
And at Knoxville’s Helen Ross McNabb Center’s drug rehab facility, it’s even longer. According to PR coordinator Emily Scheuneman, if someone were to come in wanting immediate inpatient care, the waiting list is one year. For someone seeking outpatient care, it would still be 10 weeks.
Whether it’s 10 weeks, five months or one year, that can feel like more than a lifetime to an addict needing help.
The answer to this epidemic is neither to judge nor to punish — it’s to provide treatment and empathy.
As Meghan Ralston of the Drug Policy Alliance said, “We need doctors, not jail cells.”
For Sunday’s News Sentinel, I’ve written a column on Google Glass. It’s not a fanboy piece, because I’m anything but. I tend to find the device kind of ridiculous and creepy.
They remind me of the Opti-Grab from ‘The Jerk.’
I think years down the road we’re going to see lawsuits popping up that claim Google Glass has permanently damaged people’s eyesight or given them a wandering eye.
Regardless of my personal feelings about the device, it’s made the news recently - not all of it great press, but even bad press is good advertising, right?
Bring back home economics.
The argument is nothing new, but a Boston Globe essay published a few months ago by Ruth Graham offered a fresh take on an old idea.
Graham’s essay, “Bring back home ec! The case for a revival of the most retro class in school,” made a compelling case for a new kind of home ec that would help address the specific needs of a new generation. She argues there are three areas in which young people today struggle most: health and nutrition; financial literacy; and general self sufficiency.
Home economics has a storied history dating back to the late 1800s. There have been many iterations of this course, and its curriculum has helped teach a vast range of skills to students from elementary school to college. In the Depression era, Eleanor Roosevelt urged girls to enroll in home ec “to learn how to run an efficient household.” It was a staple in junior high and high school classrooms through the 1960s for many young girls and even some boys.
“In 1959, about half of all American high school girls were enrolled in home ec,” Graham writes, “where they learned how to cook, sew, make a budget, and, crucially, how to shop.”
However, as historian Helen Zoe Veit notes, “Today we remember only the stereotypes about home economics, while forgetting the movement’s crucial lessons on healthy eating and cooking.”
The most common argument for a home ec resurgence concerns the declining health and rising obesity numbers for young people who rely on cheap processed foods.
Almost one-third of Americans under the age of 19 are overweight or obese, Graham reports, and the number is closer to 50 percent in minority populations. Frozen meals or fast food are the go-to for many families, a habit that’s often hard to break in young adults who live on their own.
Instead of simply training girls to be housewives, a modern home ec could teach students to cook healthy, easy meals and make smart choices when shopping at the grocery store.
The course could also teach invaluable lessons on how to make a budget, balance a checkbook and handle the many tasks that come with student loans, credit card payments and other financial responsibilities. Even general self sufficiency has become a struggle for young adults, a record number of whom still live at home. And more specialized skills like sewing, car care and even basic home maintenance could be covered.
I cringe when I think of how unprepared many young people are — especially if we were to remove YouTube tutorials and Pinterest from the equation.
In the words of Ruth Graham, it’s time to bring back “a forward-thinking new kind of class that would give a generation of young people — not just women, but everyone — the skills to shop intelligently, cook healthily, manage money and live well.”
The holiday season is officially underway, and along with festive family dinners and joyous gift giving comes the annual debate: Merry Christmas or happy holidays?
Every year, the debate grows and grows, with viewpoints from both sides becoming increasingly emphatic. This year, there is at least one organization that has intensified its argument.
The American Family Association has amped up its tradition of naming companies “Naughty or Nice” based on how “Christmas-friendly” they are with their advertising. Using a four-tier ranking system in addition to the two categories, the AFA is calling out companies that use inclusive language — such as references to the holiday season or winter season in lieu of Christmas.
“If a company has items associated with Christmas, but did not use the word ‘Christmas,’ then the company is considered as censoring ‘Christmas,’ ” the AFA website explains.
AFA’s “Christmas-friendly” rankings range in color from blue to red: A blue-rated company is applauded for promoting Christmas on “an exceptional basis,” whereas a red-rated company is admonished for using “ ‘Christmas’ sparingly in a single or unique product description.”
In defending the list, AFA President Tim Wildmon said, “We’ve become a society that is overly concerned that something we say, even when true or right, might offend someone.” But it seems Wildmon has it backwards.
As a non-Christian and someone who has never celebrated what many claim is “the meaning of Christmas,” I’m never offended when someone tells me “Merry Christmas.” So why, exactly, are others offended by a more general, inclusive and still accurate “Happy holidays” or “Season’s greetings”?
While it’s often dubbed the “War on Christmas” by these Christian groups and organizations, I feel it’s more precise to call it the “War Against Inclusion.”
One of the many facets of this debate concerns the phrase “Reason for the season.” Those on the Keep-the-Christ-in-Christmas side argue that it’s because of Jesus that we celebrate in December. Dissenters rebut that the winter solstice, the mark of winter that’s been celebrated since ancient times, is what came first and is more factual.
I can’t help but think how silly it is to claim that Christmas is what it’s all about. To me, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, the winter solstice, Christmas, Kwanzaa and the new year all comprise the holiday season. So why not be inclusive and celebrate all there is to celebrate?
Of course, consumers have every right to shop where they want, and they are free to make whatever qualifications they’d like about their choice of retailer. But to suggest that companies that are more inclusive are somehow “against” Christmas is absurd and unfair. As one blogger put it, it’s “confusing neutrality for persecution.”
November is National Epilepsy Awareness Month. I wrote my column this week about the staggering difference in funding between epilepsy and breast cancer. A similar number of people suffer from both each year (though more die from epilepsy), yet on average $215.25 is spent on research per breast cancer patient (both current and survivor) while $76.50 is spent per person with epilepsy.
One in 26 people - that’s one person per average K-12 classroom - will develop epilepsy in their lifetime. More than 2 million people in the US and 65 million people worldwide have epilepsy and that number will continue to grow as traumatic brain injuries from sports and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan become more common.
What follows is my personal story of how I was diagnosed and have lived with epilepsy.
My story with epilepsy began when I had a seizure in front of Mrs. McGuffey’s talented and gifted class at Flenniken Elementary School in South Knoxville. I was eight years old and, it will shock no one who knows me, I was in the middle of being sassy to my friend Jerome when my first tonic-clonic hit me like a freight train.
It took about 20 years to remember that much.
I awoke in the nurse’s room - a bleak white room with a creaky metal institutional-type twin size bed - with Mrs. McGuffey by my side.
She was always put together, that lady. Not one hair was out of place in her dark brown June Cleaver hairstyle and her hands were calmly clasped in the navy blue lap of her dress.
“What happened?” I asked.
“You fell,” she answered. “We’re just going to wait here until your mother arrives.”
My column this Sunday is about all the older folks in my family and their latest obsession: tablets. My father and stepmother both have Kindle Fires. My Uncle Terry is getting an iPad for his 70th birthday this weekend (Happy birthday, Terry!) and ever since my in-laws arrived for their visit from New Mexico last Friday, my mother-in-law has been grilling me about the devices.
After some research and talking with her about her needs (email, browsing, maybe some reading and entertainment), I suggested she buy a Kindle Fire HDX 7” tablet. The big selling point for this is the “Mayday” button that will let her speak with a live person whenever she has a question about how to work her device. Living on top of a mountain with only a Wal-Mart nearby makes tech support extremely important.
With all these seniors in my life leaping into the 21st century with their new-fangled technogadgets, I started looking at apps that might make their lives a little easier or more enjoyable.
Discovery.com put together a decent top 10 list. My only gripe is that they didn’t link out to any of the apps, so if you want to find more information or go ahead and download it, you have to do all the searching yourself. (Yes, I know how lazy that sounds.)
The in-laws usually argue over who gets to play solitaire on the desktop computer, so I looked up my favorite game: Free Flow. This is a puzzle-type game that requires you to connect the same colored dots without crossing another colored line.
Lumosity is great for keeping the mind sharp, but is only offered on iTunes (for iPads and iPhones).
I’m not putting this out there for my MiL — she’s taken, gentlemen. This is for all you single seniors out there. If you’re looking for a companion, there are plenty of dating apps geared toward 65+ folks in your area.
For the most part, anything you might be interested in probably has an app. I’ve found hiking apps, pedometer apps, GPS and restaurant apps. There are apps to diagnose your latest health issues (but please don’t be that person) and apps that will help you cook dinner.