Selfies for Good?

The Posted Video Kept Getting Shorter….but Funnier!!

This is a screenshot of words, translated from Italian to English by Google. The writer is saying a YouTube video of a tourist falling int he canal is a fake.
Is this fake news? A public comment posted on YouTube

Dear Ms. Smartphone: This week you posted on your Instagram a YouTube video on selfies that went viral in November (2019). It’s about a man with a selfie stick that falls in the water.  It was funny, but honestly, what is the difference between your own repost and say an edited short on Quibi TV? Russ, San Francisco.

Dear Russ:  Correct, I seldom post videos or watch Quibi because they require that I hand over my most precious resources: my time, my attention, and possibly, my privacy. But, the post you mention is more content on selfie-sticks and our isolated future. In 2014, the sales of self-sticks peaked and my prediction is that they will resurge, as we reach out to strangers less and less.

The video you mentioned shows an unidentified man in a Santa Hat obliviously stepping into a Venice, (Italy) canal during the “Alta Aqua,” or high water. He is looking at his phone screen, steps off the sidewalk, and plunges under. In this four second video, only the selfie stick and his phone remain above the water line.

EEK! Which Version Is THE Real?

I am happy to tell you that the plunge was not fatal and selfie-man emerged a micro-second later. But, and here’s the point, I know this because I found an earlier version of the video that was 17 seconds long. In a 26 second version of the video, the Santa hatted man pops right back up, and says a few words to a friend, seemingly the one filming him. This version is the first I can find online, it was posted about a week earlier, and it is from the UK Daily Mail.

The shorter version you saw, just four seconds long, also got posted on Facebook and it gets all the laughs. There was a lot of back discussion on Reddit of whether the whole video was staged (after all, someone is assiduously shooting selfie man) and in the public comments there is a small remark, in Italian, that the video is Chioggiotti stunt (see image). I also tried to contact the person who posted the shortened version of the video on Reddit, but no surprise, he did not message back. I want to know who edited the video…and why!

Fake News or Amateurs?

Maybe we only have attention spans of four second now, particularly on Instagram or TikTok. The problem is that the fuller story has been truncated and it’s easy for the naive viewer to reach the wrong conclusions. Why is this relevant? Fake news doesn’t have to originate in made-up events, it just has to be real events that lead us, often because of what is left unsaid, to misinterpretation or wrong conclusions. 

Seeing “Aqua Alta” from someone’s homemade video is, in many ways, as powerful as the news clip from a professional network TV crew (I personally like the news shots of suitcases floating like gondolas down the Grand Canal). But, when we are in the field as amateur journalists, we need to be there with a sense of responsibility. When we post: who is taking the picture, why are they telling the story, and is this the full story or one with edits?

We are all amateur journalists as the selfie-stick makes a rebound. I’m not putting down funny, I’m just saying that we also need to bake in reliability and trust as we edit and post our experiences in our brave new post Covid world.

Memes: Why So Popular?

What is it about Memes? Am I missing out?

A meme that won't bite. There is a picture of two wirefox terriers side by side. One has a horrible haircut and one is groomed. Is your dog groomer qualified?
A meme that won’t bite!

Dear Ms. Smartphone: I don’t usually browse much online but during the quarantine, I was scrolling on Instagram and came across your site. There was a picture of a sign-board, and a meme you called the ‘me me.’ It seemed like a big joke, but not to me. My 12 year old preteen and her friends talk about memes all the time. Can you explain memes please and let me in on the joke! Lea, Belvedere

Dear Lea: Without sounding like a communications PhD, the word meme comes from Greek mimema, signifying something which is imaged. Memes have a tendency, like the times we live in, to go viral. Memes are pieces of cultural information that pass along from person to person, but gradually scale into a shared social phenomenon.

When people like you and me post on social media we are neither professional journalists nor story tellers. We need to create content that is simple, entertaining, and attention grabbing. And, the words and graphics need to be bite-sized, like our smartphones. Once we post, there are few social constraints: sometimes we don’t know, and sometimes we don’t care if the content is offensive or misinterpreted.

Inside Jokes?

During an earlier time of TV and newspapers, content was transmitted from ONE (the media corporation) to MANY (the public). The Internet flips that equation. There is a price for that: content is now fast, free and uncensored. Think of it like playing an old-fashioned game of ‘telephone’; the original message morphs over time and through different oral speakers, often in funny ways.

For most teens, memes are probably a safe way to share ‘inside’ jokes. They are old enough to separate meme- talk from real-talk. This is important because a lot of content does seem to me to condone aggression, bullying, taking drugs and alcohol, or being a smart-aleck.

What if we believe them?

I have two worries: one is that younger children who are not old enough to comprehend the subtlety will come to view the adult-world with cynicism and disrespect. Take, for example, the bizarro memes about Bert and Ernie. Today’s kids don’t watch Sesame Street so they just see puppet figures talking trash. On a broader level, I worry that the content treadmill will spiral even more outlandish, off-color memes in order to grab our increasingly jaded attention.

Like a virus that spreads without vaccines, there are limits to what you can do as a parent right now, except limit your kid’s exposure (i.e. time on the Internet). Perhaps ask your preteen to help you create a meme (disclaimer: this is not a recommendation for the site, just an example). Once your meme is posted, follow it with your daughter to see how often that message is remixed and shared. It may be one of the few things to enjoy that goes viral these days.

Phones & RideHail?

Is it rude to the driver if I make a phone call during an Uber trip? What’s the etiquette here?

This is a passenger in a vehicle holding a smartphone. She looks angry.
image source: Boogich/Getty. Mashable (2018)

Dear Ms. Smartphone: When I take a ride hail trip in an Uber or Lyft do I have to make small talk to the driver? And, do you think it’s OK to pull out my phone and make a call to someone? I was in a vehicle last night with a friend, and they said it was rude to then call to a friend we had in common. Mike, Mill Valley.

Dear Mike: In the early days of Uber and it was almost required that you sat up front and exchanged conversation with the driver. Ride hailing trips were unlike a taxi with the plexiglass divide, and more like riding in someone’s personal vehicle. Here in 2020 we are still riding in someone’s personal vehicle, but the business model has become far more, well, business like.

Still, we all better off if we try to approach the driver with a conversational ice-breaker. A really nice piece by Anthony Ponce, a journalist turned driver, observes that when it comes to getting around town we’re living in a Goldilocks Zone. Taxis are on the decline and driverless cars are still at least a few years away. He says that leaves us in a unique window in history where we travel with others in the most natural places for conversation: personal cars.

OUtside YOur Phone..people

Talking on your phone in the ride hail vehicles reminds me of irritating customers who talk in a grocery store as a poor clerk, probably part time and underpaid, rings up the order and packs the bags. The caller on the phone is oblivious to the person in front of them who is providing a service.

On a different note, there is some evidence that a passenger talking on a phone will distract a driver, as the driver cannot avoid cognitively ‘tuning in’ to the conversation. I won’t go there and say that you should never talk on your phone during the trip, but consider texting instead. 

Share the journey…silently

There is one instance that riders overlook, and an opportunity to stay in touch with a third party outside the vehicle. Use the ‘safety toolkit’ in the Uber (or Lyft) app to send a bread-crumb trail of your journey, so your trusted contact will know exactly where you are en-route and when you will arrive.