Friday, July 23, 2010

TTYL - Teens build relationships, find temporal freedom via TXT MSGS

"Dad! No body emails anymore!!"

This is a direct quote from two daughters (spoken in stereo) exasperatedly exclaimed to a friend of mine recently. This caused me to conduct an informal survey of teens and pre-teens about their texting habits and social network usage.

Overwhelmingly texting as communication was the most popular for several reasons: ubiquity ("it's on my phone which I always have with me"), functional privacy ("this way mom/dad can't hear what I'm saying") and perceived privacy ("a boyfriend and girlfriend sent each other photos of themselves which was OK, until their parents found out then they got in trouble").

A mere 20 years ago, the modes of discourse for teens were the telephone, in person speech or more metaphorically and abstractly, the mix-tape. Now it's the cell phone and texting or instant messaging within a social networking platform like Twitter, Facebook or Myspace. The mix-tape has been replaced by the CD or viral video. Although it seems unlikely, teens still communicate face to face, but these situations are frequently punctuated by back-channel chat and commentary "stuff you just couldn't say aloud" i.e.: when a voice call is impractical, impossible or unacceptable.

It is ironic that fearful, helicopter parents seeking control over their children's whereabouts purchased these phones for tracking purposes only to discover that the devices are being used by their children to engage in private, un-moderated conversation.

Confiscating the mobile phone is one of the more popular forms of punishment for the behavioral infractions of misbehaving youth. Over 60 percent of parents admitted to doing this and 64 percent of those same parents admitted that they viewed the content of their kid's phone according to a study by The Pew Internet and American Life project.

But what is it about texting? Why is it such a preferred mode and what has made it so commonplace? Is it the immediacy, the speed that mimics a face to face conversation? Does the text message encourage a sense of intimacy which in turn creates a feeling of limerence?

Ah limerence! A feeling that teens (girls especially) are familiar with. Limerent bonds manifest as intense feelings of attachment and preoccupation with the object of affection. Intrusive thoughts invade, cognitive obsession grows. Teens of both genders have reported that texting and participating in virtual social networks have an addictive quality. The need to remain connected is strong and "reachability" is highly valued. They report feeling a need to "keep up" with what was happening currently. They felt lost not knowing what people were doing or where they were while participating in a voluntary break from Facebook for a 24 hour period.

StudentSpeak Webisode 2 from Spotlight on Vimeo.

Texting also allows teens to multi-task. "It's a lot easier to be doing my homework or watching TV while I am texting." Texting also allows them to carry on multiple conversations, "I'll probably be texting five or so of my friends over the course of an evening." These interactions can range from homework questions, quick social check-ins "hi!" and complaints "my sister's being a B*tch". They have their own acronyms idk, gtg and lingo. Teens carry out conversations with one another without being expected to reply within a short amount of time, as in a mobile phone conversation where reception can be shoddy. Texting offers a flexibility and freedom from temporal constraint.

Teens communicate in this way all day long, even falling asleep in the virtual company of their correspondents -- effectively texting themselves to sleep. But the sound of a voice is just as important as one 17 year old boy told me, "I'll text a girl, but if I'm interested (in her) I'll also call her and talk on the phone too." Thus reinforcing a bond, with every call or 1 txt @ a time.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Monster Media - the Social Economics of Vampires and Zombies

It seems one can track the socio-economic trends in popular culture by the appearance of either Zombies or Vampires showing up in our consciousness.

Right now we seem to be in Vampire overdrive with the Twilight series and HBO's True Blood though Zombies have been making a steady showing in films such as Zombieland and in remixed versions of classic literature with Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Either way, the monsters are among us, either sucking us dry or eating us alive.

Vampires are the monsters of our intellect. They suffer our existential dilemmas, some even our guilt and shame. They are the ultimate prisoners of body consciousness. Trapped in an eternity that mortals always tend to romanticize because we are (as yet) incapable of living for centuries. In Freudian terms, vampires are the super ego made manifest. These graceful dandies drive fast cars as they struggle to control their carnal desire for human blood. You can find a comprehensive history of vampires here.

Zombies on the other hand can be seen as manifestations of the id. Zombies are dim-witted, staggering louts, poor conversationalists. They are anonymous, remorseless, endless in number, viral. They are all about self-gratification, excess, engorgement, acquisition of more. And oddly, any organized authority is unable to stop them. Zombies are only defeated by a rag tag band of individuals teaming up together to wipe our their scourge - one gore-spattered shotgun blast at a time. What better Zombie movie has there ever been than George Romero's Dawn of the Dead where a shopping mall is the common ground. Zombies frantically search for food in a lusty frenzy while the living are holed up, determined to cling to their last outpost of humanity? A cinematic Zombie timeline is here.

Zombies and Vampires are us, transformed version of humans, our monstrous selves. Writers and artists have used them as metaphors for our political, social and economic fears. They stand in for despotic regimes, our psychological terrors, fears of the other and fear of intimacy, for miscegenation, sexism, xenophobia, communists, homosexuals, consumers. Our fears concerning sexually transmitted disease, mental illness, technology and class division have all been addressed by these fantastic creatures of our mind who define and create by destroying others. If one looks back over the 20th century, it's possible to view the boom times through a filter of Zombies (1950's, 1980's) and the bust with Vampires (1970's, 1990's) so the trend would appear cyclical and somewhat predictable. Which ever genre has the upper hand, there appears to be no end to our monster mania as long as we remain human.

At the intersection of art and new media, a place where the convergence emerges.