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I found this article via Slate, and I found it interesting enough to blog about it. Josh Miller, the author/Princeton dropout/tech start-up founder* interviewed his 15-year-old sister regarding her and her peers’ perceptions of social networks.   Despite the fact that you couldn’t get me into a K-12 environment if you paid me in Euros at this point in my life, I’m interested to see what social networks high school students use.  It’s important to know what they use now so that we can be prepared when they become college students in a few years.

Here’s what surprised me:

1.  Snapchat is a thing.  I was surprised by this because I had not heard of Snapchat.  Miller describes Snapchat as the platform his sister uses to share “the type of thing that you want to share with somebody, but it’s insignificance would make it awkward in a text or status update.”  Snapchat’s own FAQ describes it as “the fastest way to share a moment on iPhone and Android – up to 10x faster than MMS.”  Additionally, they say that users “control how long you want your friends to view your messages. We’ll let you know if they try to take a screenshot!” Also, photos are deleted shortly after they are opened, which means that you can take a screenshot “if you’re quick.”

Think real hard about the popular uses of this app. (Hint, it became popular too late for Anthony Weiner to make good use of it).

On Branch, the sharing startup that Miller founded (and that I’m still learning to navigate), Snapchat describes itself like this:

The Internet has done a terrific job empowering publication but hasn’t exactly revolutionized human communication.

There’s a reason why it’s illegal to record a phone call without consent – and it’s not because everyone is having phone sex. Recording a conversation is a violation of the ephemeral nature of the communication – it robs the conversation of its authenticity and immediacy.

Digital publication is inherently rehearsed, prepared, and composed for an audience. We want to make sure communication isn’t. It’s just more fun that way.

After all, what can life be worth if the first rehearsal for life is life itself?

Serious questions: Is it really faster than text?  Do I need to be that much faster than MMS if I only use MMS to share photos of cats and construction equipment on-campus with my husband?  What could be done with this tool to enhance engagement with students?  How has the internet not revolutionized human communication?

Ok, the last question was a fundamental disagreement stated in a rhetorical manner.  If I was applying Euclidean logic to social media, one of my initial postulates would be that anyone who thinks that the internet has not revolutionized human communication is crazy.  That said, Snapchat is describing itself here as an attempt to make the exchange of photos feel more like a conversation and less like the exchange of discovery during a legal proceeding.

2.  Twitter is for special flowers.  Miller’s sister’s description of Twitter is as follows:

Nobody uses it. I know you love it but I don’t get it. I mean, I guess a a few kids use it but they’re all the ones who won’t shut up in class, who always think they have something important to say.

Miller mentioned, parenthetically, that he was this kid in high school.  Me too, Josh Miller, me too.  I just didn’t have Twitter (my inner cranky old lady is wailing about how back in my day we had to use a hotmail account … in the snow … both ways, and my cell phone had a black and white screen and two choices of ringtone … in the snow … both ways).  In these more enlightened times, I love Twitter because I can use it to gather information from news outlets, student affairs folks and feminist thinkers, talk about it and re-package the things I like.  When I feel I have something to say, I can broadcast ideas widely and quickly if I know how to write my tweet and to what users or hashtag to include.  That is awesome.  We are living in a great era for folks like me who think they have something important to say, and that makes me happy.

3.  Tumblr is for babies.  Miller’s sister informs us that the only people who use Tumblr are “middle schoolers” and “hipsters.” I know this isn’t true, because many of my students use Tumblr, as do I (though I use it primarily to follow blogs with titles like “Animals Talking in All Caps” and “Daily Cat GIF”).  However, I’ll agree with her that it seems that all people do on Tumblr is re-blog.  I’ll admit that I’m still getting a hang of the tool, but I can think of three people who create original content on tumblr.

  • an anonymous person with access to the complete works of bell hooks
  • the proprietor of #whatshouldwecallme
  • a former colleague who actually has a great Tumblr-based blog about tech

There’s something about the platform that makes me feel uninspired.  It lends itself so easily to re-blogging that the writer’s ideas get easily jumbled together in a cascade of other people’s thoughts.

4.  I’m really interested in Branch.  Miller uses his own company’s platform to share supplemental information throughout the above linked article.  It seems like a great tool for those times when you have a thought that you’d like to share that is too long for a Tweet and too short for a full blog post.  You share your idea in Branch and then Tweet it out.  Then people can engage with you on Twitter or they can comment more lengthy replies in Branch.  It reminds me of Sulia, which I joined a few months ago hoping for a similar experience.  The problem I encountered with Sulia is that it is an “expert network,” so as a non-Sulia-approved expert, I couldn’t create original post.  At least I couldn’t figure out how to do so.  I’m looking forward to learning more about Branch and using it in the future.

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