To ‘Like’ or Not to ‘Like’: Facebook’s New Reactions

facebook-reactions

Since the humble beginnings of the ‘like’ button, users had been faced with one overarching dilemma: “To like or not to like”.

It’s been a few weeks since social media juggernaut, Facebook, launched the new ‘reactions’ feature on their site, allowing users a broader scope in which to express their emotions online. The change comes seven years after the introduction of the original ‘like’ button, which has since become a primary tool of interaction on the social media platform. In the face of these recent changes, the original ‘like’ button remains intact, but has merely been expanded to enable for more post-specific engagement.

For years in the lead up to this change, Facebookers had come to realise the limitations of the like button and began petitioning for a ‘dislike’ or ‘thumbs down’ feature to counter the onslaught of users forever ‘liking’ stuff. Quite early on in the piece, even the most like-hungry users discovered that not exactly all posts, comments and photos were actually ‘likeable’. For these social media savants, as with many of the less vocal users, it didn’t take much scrolling down a news feed to discern that a tool as subjective as the like button carried with it, a multitude of issues.

Since the humble beginnings of the original like button, users had been faced with one key dilemma and overarching query: “To like or not to like”. Take, for example, the case of a Facebook post made by a friend regarding the passing of their grandmother, a hospital emergency or other life crisis. In these situations, would it be impolite to ‘like’ the post? And if the user did, it would be hoped that it would be implied to the person on the receiving end of this interaction that they didn’t exactly ‘like’ the fact their Facebook friend lost their dear grandma.

It was in these instances where things had the potential to get messy. At the crux of it, the user simply wanted to express their support, but may have felt uncomfortable doing so in a more ‘personal’ manner. And with Facebook being a largely impersonal medium, one wouldn’t dare send their friend a private message to pass on their condolences, or, god* forbid, write an actual sympathy card (yes, apparently those things still exist). So it would be in these predicaments, that the user would be faced with a bit of a virtual world conundrum.

While Zuckerberg and Co. took their time, they finally did come to the party and grant the wishes of the petitioners, albeit partially, by introducing the new emoji-based features. The new buttons have broadened the horizon, but what remains to be seen is whether they’ll actually resolve the problems inherent in communicating online.

After seven long years of being confined to the lonesome ‘like’ feature, it seems users came to use the tool more intuitively, imposing their own meanings onto the tool based on the context in which the like is handed out or received. It can be argued that the whole nature of ‘liking’ something developed to symbolise, more generally, one’s support of the user behind the post or the sentiment expressed within it. In most cases, users would just ‘know’ that no offence was intended in liking a post about anything ranging from a personal crisis to an international tragedy.

So, with all this in mind, are the new reactions already redundant? With all the flaws in communication manifested most strongly in the digital world, it appears that even the most incompetent users have acquired a means to ‘adequately’ express their emotions through the like feature alone. While some of these outspoken petitioners demanded for a tool to expand upon the like feature, amongst all the shouting, it was possibly forgotten that the entire definition of ‘liking’ something had already been revolutionised thanks to Facebook.

Just as Facebook had reinvented the definition of ‘friend’ to include something as vague as an unknown, middle aged man from Estonia who happens to send a friend request, the meaning of ‘like’ had also been altered. Now, we live in a social media world where our Facebook friends are not necessarily ‘friends’, at least in the traditional sense of the word, and where ‘liking’ no longer involves actually possessing a fondness for something.

In the meantime, it seems, regardless of whether Zuckerberg has succeeded in appeasing the Facebook masses with the new tool, the reactions feature will remain in place. But what is unclear is whether the tools will ever really go far in improving the online interaction some users mistakenly believed had been ‘damaged’ by the revolutionary like button.

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Why Corporate Jargon is Inefficient, Common-Sense Depriving Nonsense of Limited Empirical Value. Or, in Common Speak: Total BS.

Corporate jargon

The job interview: Just like the resume, but in 3D…

If there’s one form of writing I despise with absolute passion, it would be resume writing.

The most deceiving of all official documents, forcing you to cram all those life ‘achievements’, ‘skills’ and ‘talents’ into the space of a few egocentric pages. A document which often translates relatively straightforward and basic information into one big, pretentious farce.

Throughout my teenage years, my hatred of resume writing led me to put off actually compiling one of my own until I was almost 19 years of age and no longer sheltered by the job-free joys of high school life. It was not until I had finished my HSC and had reached a point of desperation in terms of financial independence (i.e. started feeling guilty about sponging off the wondrous financial institution that is the Bank of Mum and Dad) that I finally gave in to the new-world, corporate based, individualistic nonsense that is the resume.

Unfortunately, I was never genetically graced with my dad’s mastery of this ridiculous job market jargon. But thankfully, I didn’t need to go at this dreaded task alone, with this unusually adept resume writer at my disposal offering to help get this 19-year undertaking over and done with.

The whole newspeak of the business world has just never sat well with me. More recently, it’s this type of language that has been exploited and churned out by big business, PR agents and the old crowd favourite- politicians -time and time again. While it’s with some relief that those on the receiving end of this corporate spin have wised up to this subtle yet overpowering manipulation, this language continues to live on through the resume. At the end of the day, isn’t it the subtle manipulation of others to view us in a positive light that we aim to achieve through our professional portfolios, right?

They’re the phrases and buzzwords I now cringe at whenever I hear them uttered- “moving forward”, “thinking outside the box”, “raising the bar”, “spring boarding”… I am struggling to think of any other set of phrases that send deep, tingling chills down my spine quite like these. What a wonderful world it would be if these corporate clichés could be completely obliterated from the English language! But it’s these very words that form the foundation of the prime entry point into corporate communication. Of course, it’s the (not-so-humble) resume.

If I was to compare the resume to a person, he would fall into the category of that irritating, friend of a friend who you can’t seem to get away from at social gatherings. He’ll be the one to boast shamelessly about his absolute magnificence at dinner parties: the academic, jock, prefect, musician and all-round ‘cool guy’. But while he may seem like the complete package on the surface, he’ll rarely deliver on these self-declared ‘skills’ and ‘talents’. In reality, he’ll be a walking Comic Sans, disguised as Times New Roman.

When compiling my resume, I attempted with unrivalled determination to eliminate as much corporate jargon from the document as possible. But somehow, as I typed my final full stop, what lay before me were those creeping elements of corporate pretence. Somehow, during the process, things as simple as “What I’ve done with my life” became “Demonstrated skills and capacities”. “Working in an office filling out an excel spreadsheet” became “Professional administration assistant with a proficient knowledge of the workings of Microsoft Office applications.” A former cash-in-hand tutoring job for a family friend suddenly transformed me into a “Self-employed, educational entrepreneur”. And basic entry-level office administration positions gave me the titles such as “Coordinator” or “Officer”.

So there is was. In the short space of 500~ words, I had become the most darn efficient, time managing, problem solving, team playing, goal oriented person I had ever encountered. And there was no going back. The person I had created was so passionate about customer service, even the least gullible employer would be led to believe I actually enjoy selling mass-produced, unethical, imported goods to the basest human beings ever to walk the earth.

In this process, I never once set out to dishonestly bolster my professional standing through being manipulative or expanding upon the truth. As far as I was concerned, all the educational and work experience I had listed was entirely legitimate. But somewhere in the midst of compiling my own resume, the grip of corporate jargon had taken hold, and the document I had produced was further evidence of its cold, unrelenting grasp.

It’s Time the ‘Glory Box’ got an Update

I sure do hope I can fit all my hopes and dreams in this small, wooden box...

I sure do hope I can fit all my hopes and dreams in this small, wooden box…

Times are surely a-changin’.

In the current day, it’s common knowledge that young Australian women are delaying marriage and motherhood, and simultaneously staying at home longer. Soaring house prices, economic pressures to obtain a tertiary qualification and wider social acceptance of de-facto relationships have all played a part in shaping these news trends.

As the norms surrounding marriage have shifted, so too have some of the traditions associated with them. The amassing of the good old ‘glory box’ (or ‘hope chest’ as it’s known in the U.S.) is one outdated custom.

Up until the mid-20th century, the collection of items for a glory box formed a rite of passage for young, ready-to-be-married women. The terms ‘glory’ or hope’, which are used to describe the box, evoke an image of a Jane Austen character, waiting in great anticipation for her future husband. While in the meantime, until such man arrives, she’ll remain content accumulating various household items for use during married life. In this context, marriage is the pinnacle of the woman’s life, with the glory box a symbol of this aspiration. But while marriage and motherhood remain significant life goals for many modern women, economic and non-family related desires have become increasingly important.

Today, the word ‘glory box’ is so far removed from the vocabularies of young women, that when I uttered the word ironically to my Dad the other day, he responded in shock that his young, self-declared feminist of a daughter would even know what the word meant. To him, and many others, the word is a remnant of a bygone era.

As a young, unmarried woman (and ardent feminist), I’ve found myself rejecting the old definition of the glory box and instead opted for a modern-day definition. In line with these new social trends, the 21st Century glory box should not be seen as a symbol of submission to one’s future husband and married life (as it can be seen) but as a expression of freedom and independence.

While I’ve currently been using the term ‘glory box’ as a scapegoat for my tendency to hoard and stockpile home decor items, it’s intended use is for a time when I hope to have my own house and career. My ‘freedom’ box will be filled with things I hope to fill my own future house with, purchased with my own income from my own career. With this box, one’s hoped-for relationship status is irrelevant. The aspirational nature of the box remains unchanged, but the hopes slightly updated. Not only is the box a female undertaking, but something for both young men and women can use to express their desire to live their own lives on their own means.

But one thing I hope, is that my dreams and aspirations will require something a little bigger than a wooden box to fit in.

An Instagrammed Life

Instagram: where the grass is always greener

Instagram: where the grass is always greener

In the digital era, our mobile devices have become faux limbs and our days have come to revolve around our news feeds. In the process, it’s increasingly difficult to detach from social media. The lines between cyberspace and reality have become blurred as we share more of our private lives online. In many instances, it’s through Facebook that friends and relatives derive important information about one another, often before hearing it directly, in-person from the source.

As a twenty-something at the heart of the digital native generation, I’ve become an avid user of social media since first signing up to the nostalgia-evoking, tween-esque platform ‘Bebo’ in my early high school years. As time has passed and social media has further developed, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter have become integral to my social life. And at many times, these sites constitute the entirety of my social life.. (Ok, perhaps not all of it, but a significant portion, for sure).

News or gossip about the latest engagement or relationship break-up is first heard on social media. It’s rare to see a day through without at least one pregnancy announcement, European holiday album upload or a new job placement. But with all these life event-based posts, comes a load of excess dribble. It was only the other day the extent to which such unnecessary social news has come to implant itself on my brain became fully apparent.

As my friend and I were discussing our shared envy over an old high school acquaintance’s endless travel adventures, we both realised the alarming amount of trivial facts we had retained from the hours spent mindlessly scrolling through our social media pages.

“Is Sandra still dating that guy with the facial tattoo?”

“Yeah, they’ve been together over 5 years now. She travels interstate to see him all the time.”

It may sound rather mundane and irrelevant to our lives, and that’s because it is. But how did we know all about this? Facebook. We both haven’t seen or conversed with Sandra in about 6 years, but thanks to the wondrous pool of wisdom that is Facebook, we know all about her life and her relationship with guy, who to us, is a perfect stranger marked with overly conspicuous ink. And it gets worse.

“Have you been keeping up with Nicole’s (another high school acquaintance we both haven’t seen since our foetus days) travels?”

“Last I saw she was in the Greek Islands. Oh and her parents celebrated their 20th wedding anniversary the other day.”

“Yes, I saw. Wow, it seems like only yesterday they were celebrating their 19th…”

And that’s when it hit us. Recalling the wedding anniversary celebrations of an old high school acquaintance’s parents (whom we have never seen or met in person) is definitely a little concerning. It’s one thing to track the global movements of a travel bug-infected acquaintance on their Instagram account; but the incognito recognition of their parents’ relationship milestones, is another story.

It’s this very information that has come to overload our social media accounts, and now too, our brains. Fortunately, in the meantime, it’s all just something to have a laugh about, but it’s a timely reminder to avoid becoming too immersed in our social media contacts’ business. For the most part, things aren’t really that much greener on the other side of the Instagram post.

Dr Strangetown: How I Learned To Stop Worrying and ‘Love’ Blacktown (Part 2)

'I Love Blacktown': a rarely uttered phrase indeed

‘I Love Blacktown’: a rarely uttered phrase indeed

Up until my early teen years, I had been oblivious of the stigma that overshadowed my local community. In the years that followed, the media stocked me with reports, outlining the details of everything crime related in Western Sydney. The local weekly newspaper, the Blacktown Advocate, with front-page crime reports, provided further fuel for the fire that was my loathing of Blacktown. Bad things happened all over Sydney, but the good rarely filtered out to us in the West.

During this time, my entire conception of my local area- a radius of about 5km- was formed through a self-created ‘dodginess scale’, which mapped the various streets, reserves and laneways that I deemed either safe or off limits. The western side of Blacktown Road, where many of my school friends called home, was close to a series of walkways and reserves which cut through to nearby bushland, the scene of the infamous Anita Cobby murder. This dense bushland, which stretched along both sides of the Great Western Highway, ranked highly on my ‘dodginess scale’. Ironically, last summer, this very bushland became the site of Sydney’s newest family tourist attraction- Wet’n’Wild.

These initial naïve fears for my safety ebbed and flowed during my high school years, occasionally resurfacing after watching a sensationalistic news piece, but quickly fading into the background within the space of a few days. As I reached my senior high school years and moved to a school beyond Blacktown, my new-found freedom helped quell my contempt. I began to un-bookmark real estate websites I had frequented in my attempt to convince my parents to move suburbs. I ceased putting my energy into the Blacktown newspaper crime reports. I instead began to experience the suburb for myself as a young adult with a mature state of mind. But I still sought an escape; not out of loathing, but in search of opportunity.

Last year, I set off on my first overseas journey to America’s West Coast with a close friend and fellow Blacktown resident. On the day of our departure, I left Blacktown with an impression of the world formed through a lifelong exposure to American media. I had browsed through towering piles of travel magazines and followed the activities of my favourite American musicians and actors as they boasted about their perfect Californian lifestyles on Twitter and Instagram. When we booked our grand American adventure, these manufactured images danced around in my mind. As I sat in the travel agency, I traced my hand over our scheduled tour route on a ceiling-high world map. I imagined the stark white Hollywood sign nestled snugly in the L.A. hills and the contrast of the red ochre Golden Gate Bridge against the deep blues of the San Francisco Bay.

I wasn’t entirely naïve though; my mother had attempted to prepare me for the scenes I was about to encounter during my travels. Influenced by one too many Louis Theroux or Ross Kemp documentaries on gangland USA, my mother, in the months leading up to my travel, called me into the lounge room on numerous occasions to show me the latest American crime story or underworld exposé. She’d look on at the TV screen, shaking her head in dismay. Apart from the guns, the sights I saw on TV didn’t differ all that much from Blacktown; I believed it couldn’t be much worse than what I’d known for the past 17 years in Western Sydney.

Upon my arrival in Downtown L.A. at the start of my American adventure, I came to observe a new and unfamiliar way of living. There were signs of glamour and ridiculous wealth, everything I had come to expect in the Hollywood city, but there were equally just as many signs of crime and poverty. Dilapidated buildings, urine-coated footpaths and deserted city streets. Even McDonalds employed round-the-clock security. On my first morning in L.A., I sat in a Downtown McDonalds only a few blocks away from the poverty-stricken Skid Row and watched on as scores of homeless men and women filed into the restaurant, using any spare pennies, dimes and quarters to purchase some sort of nourishment. I was confronted and saddened as I bore witness to this average day on the streets, experienced by over half a million Americans.

Three weeks later, I arrived home in Blacktown wearing my Los Angeles sweatshirt. Behind me, I dragged a large suitcase filled with the American-themed merchandise I had collected during my journey. But what I didn’t notice at the time was the additional souvenir I brought home with me- a feeling of gratitude and dare I say it, local pride.

While the Sydney turf wars continue to be fought on the battlefields of suburbia, I still struggle to confess my deeper appreciation of Blacktown, but the horizon has been broadened. Although I surely won’t be adorning myself with an ‘I Heart Blacktown’ t-shirt any time soon, I won’t be burning one in a blazing bonfire either.

Dr Strangetown: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and ‘Love’ Blacktown (Part 1)

Something about this just isn't t-shirt worthy...

Something about this just isn’t t-shirt worthy…

Nothing has ever quite intrigued me as much as American ‘hometown patriotism’. Differing from the overbearing George Bush Jnr-style nationalism of the 9/11 era, this form of geographical pride ranges from the small towns to the big cities. It’s not uncommon to see people proudly profess their hometown pride by adorning their bodies with city-themed t-shirts, tanks and sweatshirts. The ‘I Heart NY’ shirt is a wardrobe staple on the East Coast, while for the Southern Californian, at least one item of clothing is sure to have a classic surfer-esque beach print. But what has intrigued me further, is the fact that it only seems to work for American cities and towns. Why are Brooklyn beanies and Compton snapbacks so much cooler than a Hobart-embroidered sweater? The fundamental question of our time…

A few years back, my local council attempted to induce some of this American-inspired pride amongst the Western Sydney suburb of Blacktown. Within a few weeks, Blacktown’s infamous Main Street was decorated with ‘I Heart Blacktown’ banners and the odd sticker affixed by young hooligans to the occasional telegraph pole. The bumper stickers, however, weren’t so much of a hit. Only on rare occasions did I notice such a sticker proudly stamped across a car bumper, and that was usually on late model government cars as they left the Blacktown Council car park. The ‘I Heart Blacktown’ enviro bags evoked a similarly lacklustre response, reserved for use by pensioners during their weekly shopping errands.

As a 17-year-old high school student at the time, operation ‘I Heart Blacktown’ represented little more than a contrived attempt to repair the area’s widely known image problem. Upon announcement of the campaign, I took to social media and swiftly seized the campaign’s comedic potential. Contrasts were quickly drawn between the hugely popular and even trendy ‘I Heart NY’ campaign, while the criticisms voiced by TV personality (and Eastern Suburbs resident) Deborah Hutton drowned out any lingering praise. It was clear: Blacktown’s morale-raising attempt didn’t stand much of a chance.

This wider sense of contempt towards Blacktown was deeply embedded in my own psyche from adolescence. For years, I refused to consider myself a Western Sydney native and instead clung onto my infant years spent on NSW’s Mid-North Coast. At social gatherings and parties, the stock-standard icebreaker question of “Where are you from?” resulted in me subconsciously bypassing my 17 years in Blacktown and consequently recalling the few hazy memories from my infancy. To this day, on social media, there’s also little trace of my Blacktown inhabitance, with the ‘Hometown’ tab on my Facebook profile proudly listing my birthplace of Port Macquarie. I’ll change it, but maybe when I celebrate my 20th anniversary as a Blacktown resident in 2017…

The word ‘bogan’ had not entered my vocabulary until I was well into my teens. Used to describe a (typically Anglo-Australian) ‘working-class’ person of uncouth character, the ‘bogan’ is the Australian equivalent of the American ‘redneck’. The epitome of unsophistication, the bogan is bad, brash and Blacktown-dwelling. The ‘bogan’ quip has since become a main weapon in the Sydney turf wars, deployed from the arsenal of rival Northern and Eastern suburbs residents. In Sydney, the boundaries of the North, East, South and West are clearly demarcated by the land’s natural topography of coastline, rivers and mountains. In this landscape, anything west of Parramatta is declared as bogan territory.

As I approached adolescence, media-fuelled representations of the bogan deepened the shame I felt growing up in Blacktown. Even if I wasn’t categorised as bogan myself, it was my fellow supposedly criminal neighbours that were. And it was through mere geographical association that I too, became bogan….

The Real Cost of our Convenience Culture: MNCs, the Minimum Wage and Worker Exploitation

Ronald McDonald: Is this happy clown really the face of global exploitation?

Ronald McDonald: Is this happy clown really the face of global exploitation?

On a global scale, the exploitation of workers, especially in developing countries, is nothing new. The sweatshop culture from which we derive most of our everyday products is something we’re all aware of- we continue to buy and wear those $18 K-Mart jeans because they’re cheap, look relatively decent to wear and we’ve grown somewhat doubtful as to whether it would actually make a difference if we were to stop purchasing them anyway. In many cases, rather unsuspectingly, we turn a blind eye to the origins of the products we buy because it’s the most efficient option. And in a society driven by the ever-pressing need for efficiency and cost reduction, those K-Mart jeans are just the perfect fit.

While it is easy and convenient to distance ourselves from the exploitation of workers in the sweatshops of multinational corporations in ‘faraway lands’, a possible step forward could be to firstly begin acknowledging the unfair working conditions of low wage earners in the developed world.

In the US, the debates surrounding the minimum rage are ongoing, with thousands of McDonald’s workers staging large-scale protests against their highly exploitative pay conditions just yesterday. While the situation isn’t quite as dire here in the ‘lucky country’, the fast-food chain still retains some degree of infamy for its low wages. We’ve all joked about the paltry $11 an hour our Maccas friends earned as teenagers, but at the same time, fail to realise just how sad of a joke it is. In the process, we fail to acknowledge the culture of convenience, profit-making and blatant exploitation that this is based upon.

Call it a first-world problem if you will, but it is not until we realise the destructive nature of this culture in our own country that we will ever stand a chance of facing up to it on a broader, global level. For as long as it remains convenient for us to ignore the power these multinational corporations exert over the common worker, this behaviour will be deemed ‘acceptable’ and in a sense, encouraged. We’ll continue to buy the McDonald’s burger made by a grossly underpaid yet willing teen in a restaurant down the road and we’ll also continue to wear the jeans made by a poverty stricken worker in a sweatshop overseas. But while we justify these actions as harmless and convenient, we’ll only further justify our very own exploitation.

I don’t wish to sound high and mighty here, though, it’s just some food for thought.