How the iPhone has changed the way we communicate

OPINION, TECHNOLOGY

Editor’s note: This post was originally published in the New York Women in Communications Aloud blog.

iphone

Since Steve Jobs unveiled the iPhone back on Jan. 9, 2007, one billion devices have been sold worldwide, revolutionizing the entire mobile phone industry. It’s not a stretch to say that the iPhone — which Jobs defined at its introduction as three devices in one, “a widescreen iPod with touch controls, a revolutionary mobile phone and a breakthrough internet communications device” with its many iterations over the years — has changed the world and fundamentally altered the way we communicate.

The iPhone has made employees more connected than ever. Email and calendars are easily accessed on-the-go, and push notifications ensure we never miss a message or an appointment. We’re hyper connected 24/7, responding faster than we ever have. Many people I know use their personal iPhone for business rather than have a separate work phone: The iPhone has blurred the line between work and personal life.

And then there’s texting. I’ve been texting since my preteen years but not texting in paragraph-long spurts the way I do now. Remember those QWERTY keyboards? And word limits? They made texting more of a novelty than a primary form of communication. In the fall of 2008, just one year after the iPhone hit the markets, Nielsen reported that texting increased by 450% from the same period in 2006. With the iPhone’s touchscreen and easy-to-use interface, texting has now become as natural as speaking.

The iPhone changed how we browse the Internet: We’re connected 24/7, either through WiFi or a cellular network. This means we are constantly consuming information and value being connected to the virtual world around us — but not necessarily the people around us. We’re scrolling through our phones at bars, at dinner, while walking or while riding the bus. Moments of down time are filled by looking at our phones, allowing for fewer personal interactions on the go.

The iPhone also fueled the rise of social media. Snapchat, of course, is mobile-only, Instagram is mobile-first and more than 90% of Facebook’s daily active users access the platform via mobile. We broadcast vacations and nights out by taking photos on our phones and instantly sharing them through an app. We check and post news in real time through Twitter. We share live video and funny moments we eventually want to disappear. The iPhone is an active participant in our lives and the catalyst behind most of our social interactions, real and digital.

I was a latecomer to the iPhone revolution. I bought my first iPhone in 2012, five years after its release, when I realized my Samsung “smart” phone was completely obsolete. But now I can’t imagine life without it. My iPhone is my calendar, my alarm clock, my camera, my calculator, my travel companion and my GPS system. It’s how I communicate with friends and family, find out the weather, jot down notes for stories, post to social media and pay for my coffee. My iPhone is where I get my news, my bus tickets, my restaurant recommendations and my music.

And sometimes — but rarely — my iPhone is just my phone.

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ARTIST SPOTLIGHT: Enoch Wu

CAREER, JOURNALISM, NEWS, PHOTOGRAPHY, TECHNOLOGY

Photo courtesy of Enoch Wu

Enoch and I met two summers ago while I was interning as a reporter for The Toledo Blade. He is a photojournalist for the nearby Bowling Green Sentinel-Tribune, and we ended up on the same assignment out on an airport runway in Millbury, Ohio. I noticed he was holding an iPad (back then they still seemed pretty scarce!) so while waiting for our interviews and photo opportunities we began discussing technology and the future of journalism.

Enoch is a talented photographer who is also technologically savvy. He says his interest in technology goes back to childhood, when he was exposed to computers at an early age and “always had a sense to tinker [with] things and break things.” When he used a computer, Enoch said, he would dig into the software to see what he could change or manipulate. As a child, he even mischievously figured out how to subscribe to PCWorld Magazine and have it charged to his parents’ credit card. Today, his morning ritual includes keeping up-to-date with the industry by checking various photography and technology sites.

In addition to his work for the Sentinel-Tribune, Enoch shoots event photography for Toledo.com. He is also a freelance wedding and portrait photographer. For Enoch, whose primary passion was music before college, photojournalism is more than the act of capturing a moment with a camera.

It’s about telling a story through an image.

“Henri Cartier-Besson, the father of photojournalism said it the best: ‘Photography is nothing — it’s life that interests me,’” Enoch said.

Here are the highlights from my Q & A session with Enoch, including some of his work from the Sentinel-Tribune. And make sure to check out more of his photography at enochwu.net!

Copyright © 2012 Bowling Green Sentinel-Tribune. All rights reserved.

SF: We’ve all heard the common expression, “A picture is worth a thousand words.”  To what extent do you agree with that? What do you think a photo can portray that a written story cannot?

EW: I tend to think that in today’s world, with technology and mobile phones, a picture has become a commodity and there is not enough emphasis put into making a photo worth a thousand words. The process is so instantaneous that people don’t think about how and what they are photographing—a proper photo is worth a thousand words. 

It’s hard for me to say what a photo can portray that a written story cannot. Both photos and stories can evoke emotion and thought; both can open doors to new ideas and take people to new worlds. I’d say the main difference is that in reading, people must imagine a scene and a moment, whereas with a photo, that information is provided in a condensed visual form and does not require as much imagination.

SF: Who are some interesting people you’ve gotten to photograph or work with through your job?

EW: Oh, there are so many interesting people with interesting stories. Perhaps too many. [Recently] I photographed a smart 10-year-old, deemed the youngest developer with an app in the Apple App Store. It was exciting for me to see such a young “geek” doing something cool. It was also exciting to associate a little one with technical jargon and to see the wonderful support of his father, who is an intellectual property lawyer. What a perfect team.

Copyright © 2012 Bowling Green Sentinel-Tribune. All rights reserved.

SF: Dream subject to photograph?

EW: I don’t “dream” to shoot anyone since I believe that it’s about my subjects, I care more to hear their story and to photograph them the best way to tell their story. My subjects are on level ground, whether it is a three-year-old or the president of the United States.

But now that I think of it, it would be interesting to photograph Paypal/SpaceX/Tesla founder Elon Musk, or Jonathan Ive, the lead designer at Apple. There are musicians, too—it would be interesting to shoot Andrea Bocelli, the blind Italian classical artist, or Regina Spektor, Fiona Apple, or Björk, for that matter.

Copyright © 2012 Bowling Green Sentinel-Tribune. All rights reserved.

SF: Clearly, the newspaper industry is in a state of rapid change, and must transform drastically to survive. If you had the power to revolutionize the industry, offering different forms of digital content, what would you do? 

EW: I would use my entrepreneurship knowledge to find a way to raise the bar for journalism once again, to bring long-form journalism back and to draw people to enjoy reading again. Some of us still love reading, but I have a sense that it can be made enjoyable for those who may not necessarily enjoy it at the moment, and for those who are glued to the television.

In my work, quality is key, and I stand firm in the matter that my work should speak for itself. Therefore, I would expect the same had I the power to “revolutionize” the industry.

Copyright © 2012 Bowling Green Sentinel-Tribune. All rights reserved.

It’s more complicated than just digital content and pay walls. We need to reevaluate newspaper business models and practices that rely on a world when print journalism was at its peak. We need to bring the right people in—visionaries who are concerned about the future of editors, journalists, photojournalists and other newspaper staff rather than people [only] concerned primarily about monetary gains, finding Band-Aids to put off bankruptcy. We need to include people who look at the web seriously in all aspects: security, intellectual property, design and digital content, of course.

Solutions must be concrete, not half-baked ideas that fail. This is no time for failure as the jobs of so many great newspaper staffers are at risk. The medium of written journalism and the importance of reading are at stake, too. Written journalism is an imperative part of our future—our democracy and its success depend on it.

SF. What are your goals for the future?

EW: Right now I’m taking life as it goes—taking advantage of my full-time position at the paper and freelance jobs in Northwest Ohio, with the goal of building my ideal collection of gear and continuing to meet new people and create connections.

One of my personal goals is to return to music with a greater passion towards it. My standing long-term goal, lets say a period of five years, is to utilize my entrepreneurial sense to develop something that will secure my future as a photojournalist as well as the future of many other newspaper staffers. I’ve always wanted to run my own design firm too, but that is a tabled goal until the ones above come to fruition.

SF: Interesting fact about yourself?

EW: I secretly aspire to be Steve Jobs, to change the world…and photography is a cover.

*This interview was condensed and edited.

Header photo: Copyright © 2012 Bowling Green Sentinel-Tribune. All rights reserved.

10 Essential Tools for the Modern Writer

COFFEE, CREATIVE WRITING, FOOD & DRINK, QUOTES, TECHNOLOGY

Laptop. Coffee. Water. All a writer needs for a long day of creative composition, right?

Sitting in my favorite Cool Beans today, I thought about the most important things for my productivity as a writer.  I’ve been writing creatively, almost innately, since I was very young, but I realized I needed these “tools” when I began thinking of writing as a craft or a profession.

Essential tools in my writer’s toolbox (besides coffee, water and laptop) 

1. Books: It doesn’t matter whether they’re digital or print. Reading is absolutely vital for good writing. A writer who doesn’t read is like a musician who doesn’t practice or an athlete who doesn’t train.  There is almost no chance for growth.

2. Internet: Maybe there was a day, way back in 1990, when access to the Internet wasn’t important for the modern writer. Nowadays, I get significant inspiration from flipping through random writing blogs, The New Yorker fiction archives, magazines and online newspapers. That being said, the Internet can sometimes be detrimental to the writing process.  Author Zadie Smith suggests working on a computer that’s disconnected to the Internet. I don’t totally agree, but when it’s time to get down to the really hard stuff, the Internet can be counterproductive.

3. Coffee shops: For me, coffee shops make the perfect environment for writing. I need the stimulation of conversation and buzzing espresso machines. I also need a place that’s quiet enough for me to isolate myself with headphones.

4. Notepad. Again, whether it’s an iPhone or a Moleskin, that doesn’t matter. What does matter is that I always something on hand to jot down ideas or paragraphs when the muse strikes.

5. Thesaurus. Let’s face it: no writer always has the perfect word to describe their perfect image. The thesaurus is a fabulous writer’s tool for constructing with words the image already constructed in your mind.

7. Music. The way runners have pump-up playlists, most writers use a playlist of songs to help them transition into a writing mood. Sometimes it’s very difficult to go from the mindset of rushed every day life to the very patient, isolated and introverted mindset of writing.  Music is also one of the best tools for climbing out of the trenches of writer’s block.

–> What are your essential writing tools?

ND Magazine: The Light of Loneliness

CREATIVE WRITING, LIFE, OPINION, PUBLISHED WORK, TECHNOLOGY

Author’s Note: this article was first published in Notre Dame Magazine at magazine.nd.edu

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The Light of Loneliness

BY SARA FELSENSTEIN ’12

PUBLISHED: NOVEMBER 14, 2012 POSTED IN: ALUMNI BLOGS

It’s 2 a.m. and for whatever reason you’re lonely.

Maybe family issues have escalated, or the guy you like barely waved at the bar, or you’ve been holed up at work alone for the last three days. But right now you need the quickest distraction you can find, a barrier from your thoughts.

You grab your laptop from its resting place on the bed. It had been humming, sleeping quietly at your feet. You open it, and for a moment feel relief as you prop it up on a pillow and your fingers resume their familiar places on the keyboard. You begin typing “facebook.com” except all you really need to type is “f” and the site loads instantly.

No real notifications, other than a mass invitation to a concert in Chicago you can’t go to. And a slew of notifications from a picture you now wish you hadn’t commented on.

False hope.

Your newsfeed offers unlimited stories and photos, a colorful digital collage so bright it strains your eyes. As you trudge through this wealth of stimulation, other people’s lives become a distraction from your own. But watching as friends post Instagram-filtered pictures of pomegranate mojitos isn’t helping the lonesomeness.

It’s not helping at all.

But you keep staring. That computer backlight — steady, sterile — at this time of night is like the light of loneliness. It reminds you that at any moment in time you could be connected to anyone but at this very moment you’re alone. The light serves no purpose other than to illuminate the infinitely more fabulous lives of others.

What are you looking for? Not what you’re finding. You scroll and scroll. You’re looking for validation, but of what sort you don’t know.

It’s 3 a.m. now. The laptop heats up and the fan starts going, puncturing the silence. Nothing exciting is on Facebook anymore but you keep “watching” it, blankly, blindly, your fingers dragging languidly down the touchpad.

You close the laptop, shove it away. You’re done. Time to sleep, but you’re less tired than ever. The bright computer backlight is gone but now the small light on the side of your Macbook pulses in the darkness. You cover it with a pillow and everything is dark.

You push off the pillow.

You open the laptop.

You click click click click. This isn’t like watching TV before bed, when sounds eventually turn rhythmic and distant, luring you to sleep. No, the computer keeps you constantly engaged, and the only way to sleep is to close it.

You’re not the only one. Other people peruse Facebook late at night, circling like hawks on friends’ walls, revisiting friendship pages with exes, desiring nothing but distraction from whatever they’re thinking about. But Facebook is so overwhelmingly positive, select moments from the best of times, it’s much too easy to forget that.

It’s too easy to forget that a few nights ago, others may have enviously come across your own photos from an evening out in the city, feeling the same feelings you’re feeling right now.

Tonight, though, you’re on the other side of the virtual wall.

Your last resort is to log onto Facebook chat. Late-night chats tend to be unfulfilling, and the people available at those times are never the ones you want to chat with, but a small bead of hope rises in your chest. But the only “friends” you even recognize are your fifth cousin and some people you barely knew in high school who “friended” you three years into college.

Who would be up at 3:30 a.m. on a Tuesday, anyway?

You close the laptop, tenderly this time, like you’re caring for a child.

But now it’s just you and your thoughts. And that light of loneliness — persistent, gnawing, refusing to subside until you slip into sleep. For all you know it will vanish by morning, but it’s so potent right now.

The light on the side of your MacBook keeps pulsing, ominously. Like someone sleeping beside you. Like millions sleeping beside you. It’s a very small light, just a heartbeat, and it hardly breaks the darkness.

You click Apple, Sleep and pray that you can too.

ND Magazine: The Subscription Dilemma

NOTRE DAME, NYC, OPINION, PUBLISHED WORK, TECHNOLOGY

The approach of another new year begs the question: is it time to give up our print subscriptions? Check out my first blog post for Notre Dame Magazine below!

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The Subscription Dilemma

BY SARA FELSENSTEIN ’12

PUBLISHED: OCTOBER 18, 2012 POSTED IN: ALUMNI BLOGSSCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY, AND SOCIETY & CULTURE Bookmark and Share

I remember one morning as a 10-year-old I was up early, reading a book by the living room window. A black car slowed before our house, the window rolled down and a package was thrust onto our driveway. I paused for a moment before running outside to retrieve the paper, thrilled that I’d actually seen the man who delivers The New York Times. My excitement was a mere step below seeing Santa or the Tooth Fairy. The paper’s magic was still preserved — I didn’t know where exactly they came from — but I was one step closer to solving the mystery.

That was 12 years ago. Twelve years ago, we had barely purchased our first bulky Dell, much less consider taking the morning news from a backlit screen. Twelve years ago, we still had dial-up Internet, woefully barren email inboxes and asked Jeeves instead of Googling.

A lot has changed in 12 years. That’s why my mom recently sat my dad down at the kitchen table to bring up a two-word, volatile phrase in my household: digital subscription.

“Bruce,” she said, “Don’t you think it’s about time we get a digital subscription to The Times?

I knew where this conversation would end even before it started. My dad shook his head and sighed.

“Sally, please. We’ve talked about this. It’s really not that much cheaper. We’re just not getting one.”

My mom protested, laying down her arguments. That we read the news on the NYTimes.com each day, pretty much only reading the physical paper on car trips. That it’s a heck of a lot of recycling and wasted paper for a low percentage of use. That the most functional purpose of the paper at this point is not the paper itself but the blue plastic bag it arrives in, which we collect and use for doggie waste receptacles.

“It’s an unnecessary expense,” my mom argued.

“We’re keeping the subscription,” my dad said, and that was that.

While it wasn’t my place to weigh in on this discussion, partly because I’m not paying for the subscription but mostly because I read news online 95 percent of the time, I was privately relieved at my dad’s decision.

As a member of the digital age, I spend most of my day working and socializing in the online sphere. But with The Times, I wasn’t ready to go digital. Somehow, making my life both wireless and paperless feels less like moving forward and more like giving in.

I tried to determine why I am so attached to print newspapers when reading news online is more convenient for my lifestyle. I guess I’m nostalgic for “old times,” remembering the excitement I felt as a kid when “I read an article Mom!” or picked up the morning paper and the ink was still wet. Even at a young age, I had a basic understanding of what amazes me today — that all of these stories were compiled, researched, written, packaged and delivered — in the span of one day.

That sense of a day’s entirety is lost on the homepage of a website. The NYTimes.com constantly updates and changes its top stories throughout the day. I rarely do it, but I want the possibility of reading from cover to cover, the satisfaction of tackling the news without the nagging feeling that some bold headline appeared just as I looked away.

The scope of The Times website is infinite — between all of the articles, archives, photo galleries, timelines and podcasts, I can never read enough, be on top of the news enough. Sometimes, this wealth of information and visual stimulation is exactly what I’m looking for. But I do find myself flitting from headline to headline and am much more committed to a story when I read it in print.

Those are my reasons for being conflicted. Of course, my dad has his own.

With the click of “submit,” so goes another year, another print subscription. Yes, we’re essentially buying the paper for the off-chance that we go on a car trip, that we want to read in bed, that the Internet goes out, but for now, that’s good enough.

I’ve decided The New York Times and the NYTimes.com are not interchangeable.


This article was published first in Notre Dame Magazine.  

Irony and the iPhone

OPINION, TECHNOLOGY

What is it about our generation and being ironic?

We love to point out irony. We love to create irony. We even accessorize with irony.

The phrase “that’s so ironic” is probably misused thousands of times a day, in place of “that’s such a coincidence” or “that’s so cliche,” even “that’s so cool!”  But in a way, it doesn’t matter whether it’s used correctly.

No, the irony of irony is that just about anything can be ironic.

Take the iPhone. There’s this trend of hiding one of the most advanced tools of communication of our time in retro cases. (Don’t get me wrong, I think the cases are really cool.) But in stuffing the iPhone inside a replica of a cassette tape, or attaching it to an old school receiver,  we’re forcing irony onto a machine that’s inherently unironic. We’re very intentional in doing so, reminding others that we are more than the technology we grew up with.  We still have the capacity to think for ourselves — if anything the Internet Age has made us more quick-thinking — and we manifest our wittiness in the way we recognize or create irony in daily situations.

Why?  Because irony makes us different. In a way, the iPhone (or comparable smartphone) is one of the great levelers of the world. Each day, the phone becomes more ubiquitous. Apple advertises to people across the world, old and young. Since owning an iPhone no longer corresponds with coolness or technological savviness, we young people need some way to set ourselves apart, to make the phone reflect our identities.

Facebook breaks wall between digital, real life

NEWS, NOTRE DAME, PUBLISHED WORK, TECHNOLOGY

Published in The Observer

Take a photo. Photoshop. Upload to Facebook.

The steps sound simple, but Notre Dame professors said more thought goes into the process than most people realize.

Jessica Collett, assistant professor of sociology, said we are much more “intentional” in our online interactions with others.

“It’s not that we want to put up an image of ourselves that is untrue or inaccurate,” Collett said. “[But people] are going to look for clues about who you are. Because we only have that split second, that first impression … we’re going to choose pieces of information to put up there that we think reflect who we really are.”

As a result, the effects of Facebook can extend far beyond online profiles and into people’s lives and relationships.

She said others will often treat us according to the image of ourselves we present on Facebook. In turn, we act according to how we are treated.

“If we have a preconceived notion about somebody, then we’ll interpret any kind of information in ways that support that [notion],” she said.

Collett said Facebook also prompts us to define and categorize ourselves based on our interests.

“Facebook is really about us putting forth our identities,” she said. “That when we say that we like a particular [TV] show, we’re not just trying to say that ‘This is what I watch,’ we’re saying something about … the kind of person we are.”

Susan Blum, a professor of anthropology who has studied the effects of new media on the “self” for the past decade, said Facebook can function to prove or validate occurrences in our lives.

“People are very aware of the way they’re being seen,” she said. “I’ve heard people say, ‘Oh, wait until I post this on Facebook.’ So as they’re acting, they’re simultaneously conscious of the fact that their real-life action will become almost ‘realer’ when it’s posted.”

Dangers to identity

Blum said one of the potential downsides to using Facebook, or any similar social media site, is that it causes people to perform an exaggerated identity that may or may not be real.

“I think there’s plenty of motivation to do that in our lives anyway, and so Facebook increases that tendency,” she said.

Collett said these exaggerations of identity can trigger anxiety as relationships transition from the digital world to the real world.

“Sometimes you can believe that what you’re presenting isn’t accurate … maybe you choose your most flattering picture, and then you meet people who maybe you haven’t even met in person yet, and then there’s just this stress [of] living up to expectations,” she said.

Facebook use also becomes risky, Collett said, when digital identities are too calculated.

“I think it can be dangerous … if people get too caught up in the way that they’re presenting themselves, and don’t have a space where they feel like they can be their authentic selves,” she said.

Blum said she questions whether online interaction makes face-to-face interaction even more “scary” than it already is.

“Facebook, you can control because you do it at your own pace. You can almost post something, and change your mind,” she said. “In speaking, there’s all this sort of uncontrollable stuff that happens, which is why human speech is so powerful.”

But Blum said interactions on social networking sites can actually augment real life interactions.

“There’s been what sociologists call ‘moral panic’ about social media, [concern about] the fact that people are more comfortable interacting digitally than they are face to face,” she said. “But there was a recent study from the Pew [Research] Center [that shows] the more active people are in social media, the more real life interactions they have as well.”

Public sphere

Anita Kelly, a professor of psychology who has researched the effects of public versus private self-representation, said what we choose to say publicly has a much greater impact on our identity than what we say privately.

She said the public nature of Facebook is what makes it so influential.

“To the extent that Facebook is more public, it has great potential to help or harm that identity,” she said. “Once you think others have this view of yourself, you feel you have to behave in a way that [confirms] those views.”

Collett said that on Facebook, we must live up to a multitude of identities because different “types” of friends see us in different ways.

“You have this clash of worlds … and it can incite drama,” Collett said. “So, it’s not just your Notre Dame friends, but it’s your high school friends … and it’s your friends from back home and it’s your grandmother and your aunt.”

The question is, who will see that wall post or status update?

Blum said college students usually think of their intended audience as their peers despite having a wide range of Facebook friends.

“You’re creating a persona, as we do all the time in our real life, but you have time to create it and you’re aware of all the eyes that will be seeing it,” Blum said. “Although if you have 1,000 friends, that’s a lot of eyes.”

Kelly said people should be more aware of just how much Facebook profiles impact the way others view us.

“People should be more careful,” Kelly said. “There’s a mentality of ‘it doesn’t matter what people think,’ but no one [really] believes that,” she said.

She said negative images posted on Facebook can be forgotten, but not if they are vivid.

“People remember things that are prototypes of a broader category, [for example] dancing on a tabletop without clothes, that fits the prototype of wildness,” she said. “It’s hard to undo that.”

Past, present and future 

Blum said the extent of the cyber footprint we leave on Facebook is striking.

“There’s a sort of a digital self that’s out there, and even though Facebook only started seven or eight years ago, it’s going to predate itself [for example] by finding our baby pictures that people have posted, so pretty soon our whole life and biography will be digitally mapped,” she said.

She said psychologists and sociologists have conducted extensive research on the way Facebook affects identity, but the enormous amount of data Facebook houses is used in other settings as well.

“It’s an interesting idea that there is all this data out there … which is somewhat terrifying,” Blum said. “And Facebook, like Google, can analyze it and organize it with no volition on our part, no intention on our part.”

Collett said the new Facebook Timeline profile, which offers users the opportunity to sort and highlight life events chronologically, also makes it easier for users to look back on the past.

And sometimes, looking back on the past lies outside our comfort zones.

“We like to be selective about what it is that we remember, in the same way that we like to be selective about what it is we put forth [on Facebook],” Collett said. “I do think the Timeline is about people suddenly feeling, ‘Oh my goodness, am I defined by this page?'”

But regardless of how Facebook is formatted, Collett said the site still reflects our identity in much the same way.

“[People] are reacting against the fact that [Timeline] feels like it’s defining your life for you, but ultimately actually that’s what we’ve been doing for a long time,” she said. “I would argue that for a long time Facebook has been representing who we are, as far as our identities go.”