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.

Zoom & Telework make me sad?

We spend the day in on-line meetings and the evenings in on-line meetups. Does that make us feel connected with each other?

Dear Ms. Smartphone: I am spending a lot of time with my co-workers on Zoom and other video platforms; then I do online yoga in the evenings. When I am working I find that I am really distracted by the backdrops and feel like I am peering into people’s personal lives. Do I say something? When I do yoga, I feel alone and I miss the studio. At the end of the day I am really tired even though I have not gone out ? Is it like this for others during the quarantine? Valerie, Sausalito

Dear Valerie: These are indeed unusual times and I hope that you have a support network of friends and family. It’s good to reach out to others. They are probably feeling just like you.

We are all learning new communications etiquette. When we meet in person, say for a business meeting, all parties process the visual cues in micro-seconds… that’s probably why in-person meetings start off slowly with small talk. When you get invited to the boss’s office for the first time or have a job interview with a higher-up, subconsciously process data about this new space. You observe the decorations, diplomas and favorite photos, and spatial layout, as you also (try to) maintain the thread of conversation.

Kinesics

So, your question about backgrounds and micro-cues is relevant. Ray Birdwhistell, whom I studied with at Penn, proposed that kinesics, the study of human body motion, is culturally specific, and deeply invisible. There is a maxim frequently attributed to him that 30 to 40 percent of communications is verbal and 60 to 70 percent is paralinguistic (body language). I honestly never heard him say this. But, he did believe that all movement conveyed meaning. He would have a heyday today processing all the gestures, twitches, and blinks on telework channels.

Perhaps that is what makes Zoom-like video so tiring. We are trying to follow the the cues, but can’t quite grasp the subtlety: the speaker’s lips, eyebrows raise and lower, eye squint, flick of the hair: kinesics we need to interpret and respond to if we verbally jump in or back off. 

Connection Channels !!

Meanwhile, there is a third channel that Birdwhistell could not anticipate. We also have to process imperfect technology: things like a fuzzy connection, asynchronous dialogue, and poor background lighting. While TV watching brings expectations for professional media, this standard does not happen from home. I know this linked study was done in 2017 to support a video compression pitch…… but it suggests that we use subconscious reactions to judge video.

https://nscreenmedia.com/poor-quality-video-streaming-ruin-brand/


Does lower quality streaming decrease happiness and focus, and increase negative emotions? And, does better streaming make us happier, as the image suggests? Here is a PhD dissertation ready to be written!

Pink Kitty Backgrounds

During the past week, I found that simplicity works… yoga studios that stream a class with a blank wall and a live instructor keep my focus. That said, instructors who would normally be effective in-person do not necessarily translate well or telegenically into video. 

And, like you I find that meetings or classes with teleworkers can be jarring. Instead of focusing on the conversation, my attention wanders to the pink-kitty pillows and lumberjack shirts (are they really wearing pants?) Even when the background is a non-descriptive doorframe or window, our minds leap to fill in the pattern of the full room.

There’s a reason that business people have discovered backdrops, just like professionals on TV news! So, for practical tips, see this helpful Wall St. Journal article.

Video UNHappy Hours…

Perhaps the ultimate stress is “video happy hour.” It tends to be less happy that it sounds because of the intense time we stare at the screen without being able to look away and wander out. If we were sitting at a bar stool ‘IRL’ we might be nominally engaged with our phone, with the bartender and guests, and reacting, in a subtle way to sounds and motion throughout the establishment.

When we sit at home, it is all so new, and we are learning thee new video protocols together. As the technology matures, and we mature with it, we will, collectively, become more adept at reading on-line kinesics, wandering on and off the screen both mentally and physically, and settling into other peoples’ personal spaces. 

Corona Virus, Smartphone Transmit ?

Will touching an infected user’s smartphone help spread the Corona Virus?

Photo serves as metaphor: a doll with say eyes has a a facemask partially covering her visage. This raises a question about the hygiene and safety of using the touchscreen on our phones.

Dear Ms. Smartphone: With the Covic-19 virus spreading, should I be worried if someone shares a smartphone with me? I was looking at some pictures my friends had on their phones,  and I had to touch their screens to scroll. Meanwhile, it seems like my kids are always passing their phones back and forth to look at YouTube.  And, how about those TV screens on airplanes?  Lance, San Francisco.

Dear Lance:  I am a doctor of social science, not a medical doctor, so I cannot fully give you the advice you seek. But, on the social science side of things, some years ago Stephen King wrote a thriller called ‘Cell.’ Phones were at the heart of the pandemic. It was the signal, not germs, that spread the illness.

But, what is spreading COVIC-19? The Center for Disease Control (CDC) site says it might spread by touching the surface of an object that has the virus on it and then touching your own mouth, nose, or eyes….but they don’t think that’s the main way. Still, it’s good practice to be careful if you have a shared phone that passes among people you do not know well. This is not uncommon among groups of itinerants, the homeless, and poor. They are more likely to share a common phone and might be at a higher health risk to begin with.

Assuming you have a personal phone, you will likely touch it up to 2000 times a day. Good hygiene, in any season, says keep your phone out of the bathroom. Also, make it a regular habit to wipe down the screen with a soft cloth (not soap and water). A Web-MD story says ultra-violet light might be a way to eliminate airborne flu viruses, but other experts, like a clinical professor of pathology, says these effects are superficial.

Time-tested sage advice from the CDC is to routinely wash your hands with a 60% + alcohol based cleaner, or with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.

That said, transmission is not only about germs.  This gets us closer to social science and to the pandemonium Stephen King predicted. Speed of information and fragmented, half-truths can also broadcast fear and panic.