Arguing online over food ownership

With the current state of U.S. politics, we’re all aware of the contentious debates that are taking place in many online spaces today.  But you might be surprised to learn how heated things have recently gotten on social media spaces dedicated to…cooking?  As this week’s RDM guest blogger, Jessica Giovanni, explains, Facebook’s “Tasty” page is a site that’s full of drama.

tasty-logo

Jessica writes:

Tasty specializes in video recipes that are both creative yet easy to recreate, thus their target audience is presumably people who enjoy trying new things and/or need an easy meal to cook due to their busy schedules, lack of culinary skills, or both. Most of Tasty’s videos contain simple ingredients, simple cooking methods, short cooking times, and an unconventional spin on established traditional recipes. So, as both a user of the site and a researcher of online discourse, I’ve been surprised to see the hundreds of people flooding the “Comment” sections of these videos with negative evaluations of the site’s recipes.

In last semester’s Discourse Analysis class, I chose to focus on comments responding to a Tasty video showing a recipe for a spaghetti and meatball bake.

spaghetti-meatball-bake

This recipe had a total of 11,542 comments and about 14 million views associated with it, for likely a couple of reasons. 1) Spaghetti and meatballs is a highly Americanized take on the classic Italian dish of spaghetti with meat sauce. 2) Also at issue is the way that the dish is prepared, namely, that it is baked. This unusual (at least from an Italian perspective) method of preparation serves Tasty’s main purposes: speed and ease of the cooking process.

I analyzed 50 comments from the video, as automatically sorted by Facebook’s Top 50 Comments algorithm. There were two main groups of people commenting in this space: 1) those who objected to the video recipe in some way, and 2) those who positioned themselves against the first group. Example 1 is representative of the first group’s comments, which dominated the data set, with 25 out of 50 comments.  (The second group was represented by 13/50 comments, and 12/50 were neutral.)

Example #1

Please stop fake italian recipes.

Remember, in real italian recipes:

-we don’t use paprika in any foods, paprika is not in italian culture.

-doesn’t exist pasta with potato or chicken, or KETCHUP. Pasta with ketchup is the biggest insult to the italian kitchen, please use tomato souce.

-we use garlic, not garlic powder, in italy doesn’t exist

-parsley with meat balls? Why?

-we cook pasta in boil water and only after it we bake it

-in Italy DOESN’T EXIST PASTA WITH MEATBALLS!! Is Ragú, is not with meatballs, google it

– what is Alfredo souce?!? And Bolognese souce?!? Please stop it, we call french fries, hamburger or hot dog with their name, please do the same with our foods.

The opening line, framed as a request (“Please stop fake italian recipes”) summarizes the main point of the entire commentary: This user objects to the recipe in the video because it is inauthentic.  As the text continues, the author of Example 1 establishes authenticity, both through contrasting constructions ( “fake” vs. “real” Italian food) and by making a series of claims about what “does not exist in Italy/Italian cuisine” (i.e., paprika, garlic powder – or any pasta dishes that include chicken, potatoes, ketchup, and, of course, meatballs).   These repeated statements about what does and doesn’t exist in Italy – combined with several first person plural pronoun “we” statements (e.g., “we use” “we don’t use” “we cook”) –  position the author as an expert on Italian food, and as a member of the culture from which the dish (ostensibly) originates.

In contrast, the second group of commenters explicitly react against the opinions of the people who have negatively evaluated the video.  Their comments focus more on who has the right to comment in the space, based on the presumed target audience of the page. Since Tasty’s videos seem to cater to people who either do not have the time nor the skills to put together complicated meals, the second group of commenters uses this line of argumentation to counter the comments made by the first group. This oppositional stance is illustrated in Example 2.

Example #2

Hey people please stop complaining! This is a site that is for inspiration… i think the idea is great… if i cook Bolognese sauce its always too much so i can make that on the next day… so i make my own sauce and i would rather take normal spaghetti and i would make my own way of meatball… everybody can make it in another way but the idea is good… and remember that there are people out there that are not good cooker and dor them this is easy to make… so PLEASE STOP BITCHING!!!

The author of Example 2 highlights Tasty’s intended purpose (“a site that is for inspiration”) and dismisses those comments made by the first group as non-legitimate, by referring to them as “complaining” and “bitching.”  This author stresses in different ways the main objectives of the cooking videos: to prepare food that is simple and quick to prepare (“easy to make”). In this way, the user projects his/her membership as a legitimate in-group member of the page’s intended audience, and positions those who are against the video as outgroup members, who are missing the point of the site.

Online discourses such as these reveal differing food ideologies.  The two groups’ claims to authority and their membership statements demonstrate opposing stances on the issue of whether or not it is appropriate to recontextualize ethnic cuisines. The first group’s comments indicate that some users reject any version of an original recipe that deviates from the traditionally accepted preparation methods of the origin culture, while the second group believes that traditional recipes can be altered, provided that the reasons for those alterations are made clear. Discussions such as these, especially in online spaces, not only reveal a range of beliefs about food “ownership,” but also reinforce and (re)circulate those ideas, by exploiting the particular affordances of the social media platform on which they appear. Having an awareness of the different ways that those ideologies are represented linguistically can help users identify the rhetorical strategies that are used in social media communications and to better understand what people believe as well as how they represent those beliefs to others. As social media continue to have increasing influence on/presence in our lives, it is more important than ever to become a critical consumer of online discourse and to consider its impact on our identities and cultures.

Are there any bad Airbnb experiences?

My first experience with Airbnb was 5 years ago.  A group of us were planning to meet for a 4-day conference in Boston, and one friend suggested we rent a 2-story brownstone on Airbnb.  Her idea was that rather than staying in 3 separate hotel rooms, we could all save some money this way – and we could also see each other a bit more, since at that time, we were scattered across different parts of the world. The plan sounded good to all of us.

Our Airbnb host was pleasant young woman who lived on the ground level of the same building, and as she gave us the key and showed us around the 2 floors of our unit, she assured us that we could use anything and everything we found in the house:  the kitchen was fully stocked, the living spaces were filled with fascinating vintage objects… but the real highlight was our host’s eclectic collection of over 2,000 records.  She said we could play those too. (We took up her offer: the 5 of us stayed up really late one night, drinking wine, and listening to genres of music we didn’t even know existed.)  After our initial orientation, we never saw our host again, but every now and again, we could hear her footsteps below us (which, at least to us, felt more reassuring than obtrusive).

In the end, the house was a bit out of the way, and Boston was cold, so what we ended up saving on hotel rooms we probably spent in taxi fares.  But we definitely got to spend more time as a group – making breakfast together in the morning, and at the end of each day, lounging around comfortably in “our” living room, chatting, and catching up with each other.  It’s one of my favorite conference memories.

Since then, I’ve used Airbnb over a dozen times.  Sometimes because Airbnb was a more economical option than a hotel (Barcelona, Helsinki); other times because I wanted to stay in a particular neighborhood that didn’t even have any hotels in it (Chicago, Philadelphia); and a few other times, out of nothing more than a sheer sense of adventure (Bali).  All of these stays have been memorable – either due to some unique features of the property itself, or due to the host’s fun or quirky perspective which expressed itself in the property’s furnishings (like in our Boston house), or perhaps due to an unexpected interpersonal interaction associated with our stay (either with the host, or with other guests).

Of all of my Airbnb experiences, only 1 has been unacceptable.  And this seems to be the general trend.  For most people I’ve talked to, the overwhelming majority of their Airbnb experiences have been great…and sometimes even amazing. I’ve collected stories of Airbnb hosts picking guests up at the airport late at night, of making them breakfast or cooking them dinner, of showing them around the city, of introducing them to their group of local friends: in other words, experiences which involve some kind of actual “sharing” – as is implied by the broader label of “the sharing economy.”

However, most people who use Airbnb regularly have also shared at least one story of a not-so-great — or even downright-unpleasant — experience (a dirty property, a unit that looked nothing like what was advertised, an unresponsive host, etc.).  These experiences are certainly the exception rather than the norm.  But I always ask: “Did you leave a negative review on Airbnb’s site?”  And the answer, invariably, is “no.”

There are many reasons for this, as Judith Bridges and I discuss in our recent Current Issues in Tourism article: “If nearly all Airbnb reviews are positive, does that make them meaningless?”  As we explain, sometimes reviews that appear to be positive on the surface, actually reflect less-than-positive experiences.  We also provide a few tips Airbnb consumers can use for “reading between the lines” as they consult reviews on the site.

Parody Reviews… and Final Video Projects

I’m very happy to share this update : my first “Amazon parody reviews” article has just been published in the online journal, Language@Internet!  I’ve been working on this topic ever since I finished writing my book about review language, two years ago. I’ve even given 3 or 4 conference talks about it since then.  But, for some reason, figuring out exactly the right angle to take has been a challenging and lengthy ordeal.  Nevertheless, once the writing finally got underway, I was lucky enough to have a couple of other related papers come out of the process.  So… if all goes well, a second article about narrative identities in parody reviews, and a book chapter comparing references to gender in legitimate versus parody reviews, should appear later — perhaps sometime in 2017.  Stay tuned!

I have one other piece of digital media to share.  Rather than writing final term papers this semester, my awesome undergraduate Language & Society students (these guys):groupworked on multi-phase, group video projects. They modeled their projects after a video made by Manchester University.  My main objectives were: 1) for students to gain an experiential understanding of the linguistic diversity of Tampa Bay (something that many folks at our university and in our area take for granted); 2) to interact with people whose experiences may be different from their own; 3) to demonstrate a few things that they learned from our course readings and discussions throughout this semester; and 4) to gain experience synthesizing and presenting information effectively in a multi-modal digital format.  One of the groups uploaded their video to YouTube, and I’m very pleased to showcase it here. Enjoy!

I definitely plan to incorporate more video projects in my future teaching.

From Internet Rules!…to Bad Hombres?

A couple weeks ago, I attended the annual conference of the Association of Internet Researchers (AOIR) in Berlin.  This conference has been held every year since 2000, and it’s dedicated to exploring all things internet-related = it’s impressively multidisciplinary.   This year’s theme was “Internet Rules!”  (polysemously referencing ideas related to who rules the internet?” as well as “what are the rules of the internet?”).  I attended 4 days of mind-blowingly good presentations, on topics ranging from humorous memes, to peer economy platforms and post-colonial computing, to what happens in our digital afterlives, to big-data visualizations.

I participated in a panel on “Sociolinguistic perspectives on everyday digital practices,” where my colleagues talked about topics such as: academics’ stances on digital writing practices (David Barton), the role of hashtags in Hong Kong’s umbrella movement (Carmen Lee), and the implications of surveillance for our digital interactions (Rodney Jones).  In my own talk, I used the conference theme as a point of departure, in exploring various types of “rule-breaking” in the Amazon review space – as well as related metadiscourse(s).

Returning from Berlin, I bounced right back into the classroom, and in my UG “Language & Society” course, one of our readings this week was Jane Hill’s “Language, Race and White Public Space.”  (I make it a point to work some discussion of “mock Spanish” into any Sociolinguistics course that I teach…but this is the first time I’m teaching this content to undergraduates.)  More than half of the students seemed to understand how covert racism operates in the examples that Jane Hill presents…but I could tell that a few students still weren’t completely convinced, as they tried to argue for alternative interpretations of the “mock Spanish” examples discussed (e.g., “they’re just having fun,” ” lighthearted Spanish practice,” “I wouldn’t take it so seriously” …)

And then presidential debate #3 happened.  Any lingering doubts about the reality of mock Spanish were instantly erased: the following day, my students came to class and ALL they wanted to talk about was Trump’s use of “bad hombres”! As my colleague, Adam Schwartz, explains so beautifully in this post, “bad hombres” may be the most emblematic example of mock Spanish that we have seen to date.  And as it continues to generate more memes and become more embedded in our online collective consciousness, I know I’ll be using this example in my own teaching for many years to come.

Viewing social media data from a qualitative perspective

When it comes to mining social media for information, I’ve observed that it’s quite unusual for folks from the business world to consider alternatives to “big data” approaches.   So I was delighted to see that, in this recent article from the Harvard Business Review, the authors argue that qualitative approaches to social media listening can generate new insights for companies.

This resonates with what I’ve been saying for the last couple of years.  When I’ve had opportunities to speak to, or work with, companies in the travel industry for example, I have been advocating a “small data” approach to the analysis of user-generated online reviews.  There is no question that  big data approaches can be useful in revealing large, general patterns of consumer behavior.  However, like the authors of this HBR article, I have found that close, careful, qualitative text analysis can yield very different types of contextually-relevant insights into consumer experience and sentiment.

Ratings and Reviews…not the same thing.

It’s been years since I’ve watched the film version of the Hitchikers Guide to the Galaxy, and the only scene I remember is the one in which a group of humans ask a supercomputer to provide the answer to the “ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything.”   After much computational activity, the supercomputer responds: “42.”  I think that this is a brilliant illustration of the limits of quantification.  We want to believe in the importance of numbers and statistics, but we often fail to consider how those numbers are generated, what they actually represent, and how they might be variably interpreted.  And let’s face it, reducing complex realities into a single number is… well, pretty reductive.

David Streitfield´s article “Online Reviews? Researchers Give Them a Low Rating “ takes the perspective that online reviews aren’t very useful, but actually, his article concentrates far more on the related phenomenon of ratings, rather than reviews. “Rating” refers to a numeric score assigned from a given scale, such as 1-5 or 1-10.   In the context of Yelp or Amazon, this number is used to  quantify a subjective evaluation of experience. “Reviews” in contrast, refers to the more qualitative, narrative texts, which are also used to evaluate a subjective experience.  Obviously, ratings are less informative than reviews, because assigning a numeric score to a multifaceted experience such as dining in a restaurant or reading a novel inevitably means reducing a whole LOT of different kinds of information and opinions into a single integer.

Many reviewers are fully aware of the challenges involved in assigning a single numeric score to a multidimensional consumer experience.  As I described in my book,  The Discourse of Online Reviews, some reviewers even go so far as to explain the logic and calculations behind their ratings.   Here’s one of my favorite examples from a  Netflix review of the film, Shallow Hal:

I give it a bunch of stars for being funny, I take away a bunch of stars for being hypocritical, I give it some more stars for trying to deliver a good message, and then take away a few stars for it continuing to be hypocritical.  In the end it averages out to 3 stars.

Furthermore, sites like Amazon and Yelp often provide an composite star rating for each product or service, which represents the average of ALL of the ratings assigned by multiple individuals.  How meaningful are these composite ratings?  Especially when it comes to “experience goods,”  such as novels or movies, where people’s tastes vary so widely?  On a related note, even though I’ve been studying hotel reviews on  Tripadvisor for nearly a decade now, I still can’t tell you how much of a difference there is between a hotel with a rating of 4.6 and a hotel with a rating of 4.7.

So while  I wholeheartedly agree with many of the points made in Streitfield´s article, in order to more accurately reflect his content, the linguist in me wants to change his title to “Online Ratings? Researchers Give them Unfavorable Reviews.

Too much English spoken!

…or “parle trop Anglais!” to be more precise.  This excerpt comes from a tourist’s review of a Belgian hotel, posted on bookings.com, as reported in a recent article by Patrick Goethals about multilingual online reviews.

This study looked at all mentions of language in 11,000+ reviews of Belgian hotels (in cities located in the Dutch-speaking region of Belgium: Antwerp, Bruges, and Ghent ).

It’s important to pause for a moment here to point out that Belgium is officially multilingual, with three official languages (Dutch, French & German).  Each language is roughly associated with a particular region of the country, as illustrated on this map:

Belgium_Language Map

 

In this study, hotel reviews written by tourists in 3 languages — French, German, and Spanish — were analyzed in order to find out how the 3 different groups of tourists discussed their language experiences in the hotels where they stayed.

The researcher found that, of the 3 groups, the German reviewers commented the least often on language-related issues.  They didn’t seem to care too much about who spoke which language(s) in the Belgian hotels they stayed at.  In contrast, the Spanish reviewers commented the most frequently on language related issues: nearly 8 percent of the 2,500 Spanish-language reviews made some mention of language.  And interestingly, when they did, their comments tended — for the most part — to be pretty positive, as in the following  example:

El personal encantador, a pesar de no ablar español, cosa que queda discuplada por su simpatia y amabilidad.  (Charming personnel, although they did not speak Spanish, which we can forgive them for, thanks to their friendliness and kindness).

Overall, the French reviewers commented on language-related issues just slightly less than the Spanish.  However, when they did, they tended to be the most critical in their language related judgments, as can be seen in complaints like the following:

Rien en francais lamentable!  (Nothing in French — pitiful!)

Obviously the role of context is key here.  For the French reviewers, there seems to be an assumption that since Belgium is a multilingual country — and since French is one of Belgium’s three official languages — staff in Belgian hotels should be fluent in French…even though ALL of the hotels reviewed happened to be located in the Dutch-speaking part of Belgium.

It would be interesting to replicate this study with the same 3 language groups in other European (or international) contexts, where none of their languages have an official status. For instance, would the French be as likely to comment on language-related issues when traveling to, say, Turkey, or Poland, … or Japan?

This is an interesting study which uses to travel reviews to tap into peoples’ language attitudes.  It also reveals a tension between multilingualism at the level of national policy on the one hand, and the interactions between language beliefs and the on-the-ground realities of actual language use as they occur in the context of travel, tourism, and hospitality, on the other.

Woman Banned from Yelp! for Breaking Online Community Norms

One of the highlights from this semester has been my Lang & Tech students’ contributions to what I call “Digital Show & Tell.”  Each class session, a different student brings in some sample of internet discourse and explains to us what they find interesting about it.  We’ve talked about copypasta, Tumblr chats, CoffeeDad, Redditt’s photoshop battles, confessions on scarymommy.com, and many other weird, wonderful, creative – and very often, humorous – internet phenomena.

Today’s RDM guest blogger, Judith Bridges, chose to focus on one particular Yelp reviewer, who has been appearing on different social media sites for her uniquely irreverent approach to reviewing.

Judith writes:

My digital show-and-tell is the case of Nathalie Walker who wrote reviews of businesses on Yelp! where she went on dates, basing the review content exclusively on how the date went. If the date was a disaster, that business got 1 star. When the date resulted in a four-and-a-half-year-long relationship, that business got 5 stars.

Nathalie has Instagram  and Twitter accounts, where she posted screen-shots of her disorderly Yelp! reviews to share them with her friends. Below is an image she posted on Instagram of her first four date reviews on Yelp!:

Instagram YelpReviews

 

Soon after, she was notified by a Yelp Support employee named Pam that her behavior disobeyed Yelp’s Content Guidelines. Nathalie used this opportunity to ask Pam out on a date. Nathalie continued to share screenshots of her email dialogue with Pam on social media. Her multimodal communication practices, i.e. sharing screenshots on Instagram and Twitter of her unruly behavior on Yelp, eventually helped her date reviews go viral after Buzzfeed, Cosmopolitan, Yahoo, Self and other websites featured her hilarious story. She even got positive tweets from ex-boyfriends —  as well as the writer of the song alluded to in the review above.

I believe this example is notable because it shows how in online spaces, there are norms of communication, established by the online community, which regulate the discourse in that particular space. As Kiesler, Kraut, Resnick, and Kittur (2011) point out, “normative behaviors may be codified and articulated or may be left implicit, and they may be contested by some members at times, but most of the time, people will agree about behaviors that are acceptable, and those that are not” (p. 3). Rules for online communication can either be developed, negotiated and co-constructed by  users, or they can be set a priori by  moderators who regulate people’s communicative behavior (Kytölä & Westinen, 2015). When someone disobeys the set conventions in a particular online space, this behavior stands out. In some cases it can be considered trolling, but in  the case of Natalie W, her  unique approach to review writing makes her texts comical. For regulated sites like Yelp!, texts that challenge community norms are removed, but that didn’t stop Natalie W. from continuing the comedy show on other platforms, and this is likely what helped her story go viral.

Blommaert and Varis (2014) explain that virality comes from the re-entextualizations of existing signs, or “meaningful communicative operations that demand different levels of agency and creativity of the user” (p. 16). Although Blommeart and Varis (2014) focus on memes, I would argue that what Natalie W. has done on Yelp! (and sharing the screenshots on other social media) performs a similar action of taking something recognizable, giving it a new and unique twist , and re-contextualizing it across various social media sites.

It’s worth noting that Natalie W. was aware of the impact negative Yelp! reviews can have on a business, especially a small one. This is why she only left these reviews for only large companies who wouldn’t be hurt by a 1-star review, such as a football stadium or Times Square. “If someone decides not to attend Yale University because of a one-star review some bizarre Internet girl wrote on Yelp!, that person probably should not be attending Yale University,” she said.

References

Barnes, Z. (2016, Jan 11). “This woman got banned from Yelp for her hilarious date reviews.” Self.com Retrieved from http://www.self.com/trending/2016/01/this-woman-got-banned-from-yelp-for-her-hilarious-date-reviews/

Kiesler, S., Kraut, R., Resnick, P., & Kittur, A. (2011). “Regulating Behavior in Online Communities.” In R. Kraut & P. Resnick (Eds.) Building Successful Online Communities: Evidence-Based Social Design (pp. 125-178) Cambridge, MA: Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Kytölä, S., & Westinen, E. (2015). “I be da reel gansta”—A Finnish footballer’s twitter writing and metapragmatic evaluations of authenticity. Discourse, Context & Media, 8(1), 6-19.

McNeal, S. (2016, Jan 10). “Woman gets kicked off Yelp after posting a bunch of reviews of her dates.” Buzzfeed.com. Retrieved from http://www.buzzfeed.com/stephaniemcneal/yelp-date-reviews#.hsZwdVEK5

Varis, P., & Blommaert, J. (2014). Conviviality and collectives on social media: Virality, memes and new social structures. Tilburg Papers in Culture Studies, 108, 1-21.

A Day in the Life… What our Contemporary Digital Practices Look Like

I am teaching “Language & Technology” this semester.  One of the first assignments – drawing on David Barton’s suggestions for writing ‘techno-linguistic biographies’ – asks students to write a journal-style entry in response to the following prompt: “Thinking of yesterday, what digital technologies did you first deal with when you woke up, and how did this continue during the day?  Walk me through your engagement with different online media throughout the day, in a chronological fashion.”

Reading my students’ responses, I am equally impressed by their talent for writing (by this, I mean that each and every response is compelling in its own way), as well with several of the trends that I’m seeing.  I’ve chosen to write about these trends using the collective pronoun ‘we,’ because I believe that many of us go about our daily existence in a similarly mediated (and mediatized) fashion.

So here we go.  This is a composite snapshot of what our typical daily engagement with technology looks like.

90% of us (18/20) are awakened by our phones, which we reach for and “check” for notifications (email, text) and then “scroll” through social media apps.  Several of us do this while we are still in bed, and before we have even had our morning coffee.  The adverbials that appear alongside our descriptions of this activity include instantly, consistently, automatically, first thing, every morning, still half-asleep, and with eyes half-open.

Facebook is still the most frequently mentioned type of social media.  Many of us (8/10) mention “checking Facebook,” yet none of us really conveys a very strong sense of enthusiasm about Facebook  (…as in “I even checked FB” x2).  For those of us who listed our “typical” daily sequence of checking social media accounts, Facebook is the very last one we check. It seems like our growing dissatisfaction with Facebook has to do with a sense that it has been colonized by commercial interests.  As one of us points out “…recently, Facebook has been getting filled with more and more advertisements, viral videos and click bait.”

Checking Facebook almost feels like an obligatory ritual, or a chore.  Only one of us mentions posting a status update.  A handful of us post birthday wishes we have been notified about, and several of us “like” something that’s been posted by someone else.  One of us works in place that posts daily work updates on FB;  one of us has an academic advisor who uses FB as primary mode of communication.

In contrast, Instagram is the social media app we tend to use primarily to communicate with family and friends (for 7/20 of us, anyway), followed by Snapchat (5/20).  Only 20% of us are looking at Twitter today – including one of us who identifies Twitter as the only form of social media used.

Only two of us post photos on social media.  In both cases they are selfies.

Only two of us mention looking at online reviews (Rotten Tomatoes, Amazon).

There are just a few of us (4/20) who use What’s App, but others of us mention using other chat programs.  Only one of us mentions using Skype, and it’s to talk to someone who’s in another country.  Several of us, of course, still use our phone to call people.

Lots of us multitask, like having multiple tabs open at once – the highest number reported is 16.    Also we often interrupt other activities we are engaged in, e.g.: “In the time it’s taken me to write this full paragraph, I’ve stopped to check my email and Facebook twice each, and checked Snapchat on my phone once.”  Or taking breaks during reading (between paragraphs) to see what the family group is chatting about on What’s App.

ALL of us use email and text messages.   Most of us refer to having more than one email account: three seems to be the average.  The majority of us refer to “checking” email and texting on multiple occasions throughout the day.

Many of us use apps for informational purposes, like weather reports, traffic updates, and news.  And to do business (shop, pay bills, do banking).

All of us use technology on a daily basis for educational purposes (Canvas, Google to look stuff up, Google translate, GoogleCalendar and Dropbox). Many of us use technology  for entertainment (Netflix, Amazon, Hulu).  Lots of us use technologies to listen to music at various points throughout the day (often in our cars, or while working out): Spotify, Pandora, Rhapsody, itunes, Youtube.  And the majority of us mentions Youtube – not only for music, but for watching other kinds of videos as well.

Only 3 of us mention our favorite game, which we play regularly.

Social media, for many of us, is an important tool for staying connected with our families and friends (and, as one of us puts it, SM enables us “to feel like [we’re] not alone in cyberspace”). At the same time, several of us admit that we use these platforms as a way to “eat up time” “kill time” and “pass the time.”  We are, it turns out, doing a lot of “checking” “scrolling” and “clicking” in our daily lives.

Finally, about 25% of us refer to deliberately restricting or limiting our use of digital media at different points in our day.

Author Brett Easton Ellis (and the characters of South Park) take on our “rate and review” culture

A couple of weeks ago someone alerted me to a recent episode of South Park, where the show’s characters discover – and become obsessed with – Yelp.  Presented in the program’s characteristic crude and scatological humorous style, the episode satirizes the ways in which the online review dynamic may create a cycle of tension and hostility between consumers and business owners.

South Park

Fiction writer Brett Easton Ellis references this particular episode of South Park in his latest essay, “Living in the Cult of Likeability.” Though his essay tackles the broader issues of reputation management and the construction of relational capital in social media, one of the threads running throughout the essay has to do with the alleged democratization of expertise afforded by online review sites, such as Yelp.  Ellis writes:

The idea that everyone thinks that they’re specialists with voices that deserve to be heard has actually made everyone’s voice less meaningful.  All we’re doing is setting ourselves up to be sold to – to be branded, targeted, and data-mined.

Hmmmm…that’s certainly a paradox that’s worth pondering further.

Ellis continues by discussing his own authorial experiences with critics (“I was liked as often as I was disliked and that was OK because I didn’t get emotionally involved.”), and complains that the opportunity for more and more of us to become “critics” thanks to online review venues has actually created a situation where there are fewer – rather than more – dissenting voices.  Because no one wants to come across as a “hater” (which, according to Ellis, is why we’re always “liking” stuff on Facebook…and why we hope that others will reciprocate by “liking” our posts too.)

Where reviews are concerned, Ellis sort of has a point.  Several studies have found a consistent trend across all of the review sites: there are always more positive ratings than negative ones.  For instance, even the Amazon reviews for Ellis’s HUGELY controversial novel, American Psycho, (which has an overall rating of 3.7)  appear as the standard “J-shaped” distribution: with mostly 5- and 4-star reviews, followed by 1-star reviews, followed by 3- and 2-star reviews. Am Psycho Reviews

Ellis provides many interesting insights about the reputation economy in this piece.  However, I question his nostalgia for the past – the alleged good-old-days before social media, back when “People could have differing opinions and discuss them rationally.”  While it’s true that social media may be exacerbating certain cultural tendencies…my guess is that those cultural tendencies were well-established long before social media came on the scene.