Monthly Archives: August 2015

Link Party: 8/24-8/28

The weather has been super hot in SoCal, but the pretty clouds in the evening make up for it.

The weather has been super hot in SoCal, but the pretty clouds in the evening make up for it.

Oh man, what a week. That’s all I can say. Here’s what I read:

1. This writer played a word game based on Moby Dick when he had insomnia. His observations are fascinating.

2. A highly scientific, real-life exploration into how anyone could possibly like the rapper J. Cole. (Disclosure: I liked his latest album when it came out, but have become more ambivalent with time. He’s fine, I guess.)

3. Here’s a great profile on Marc Jacobs.

4. Why does the Internet love Amal Clooney?

5. How to tell if you’re in a chivalric romance by Chrétien de Troyes. (This is probably only funny if you’ve read Chrétien de Troyes, but I promise that it is very funny and you should probably read some Chrétien de Troyes.)

And a bonus: If we’re friends on Facebook, you’ve probably noticed that I am in a first-class seat on the Oscar Isaac train. Watch this and melt.

Have a great weekend.


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Think Tank: Instagram’s Embrace of Landscape and Portrait Photos

Hey look, you can upload non-square photos to Instagram now and nothing gets cut off!

Hey look, now you can upload non-square photos to Instagram and nothing gets cut off!

Instagram announced today that in addition to its signature square posts, the app will now allow users to upload  photos and videos in both portrait and landscape orientations. Prior to this change, users made their whole photos fit by using other apps to add borders. Instagram realized that 20 percent of its users use these apps extensively out of protest, and decided to lift the square-only requirement.

I guess  I don’t really have an outright problem with this. I use Instagram regularly, and I guess it’ll be nice to expand my photography choices if I choose. It’s Instagram’s prerogative to change its app when it pleases, and you can always delete the app when you don’t like it. But I think that beyond the obvious “a very popular app has done something significant to its user interface,” there are some points worth exploring.

Because people sign up for Instagram and agree to its terms, Instagram by default controls at least part of the overall aesthetics. You can’t really change the layout or theme of your profile beyond the photos you upload, but you can edit these as you please. And despite this change in the aesthetic that Instagram governs,  you can still add your own borders and do what you like to your photos — there’s nothing prohibiting you from continuing to operate as if square is the only option. You still have as much freedom over your own Instagram feed that Instagram has decided to give you — in fact, even more if you decide to embrace the change. And I do appreciate that this move gives more artistic freedom to photographers who use the app to share their art, which is a fantastic effort.

But this kind of seems like policing in the guise of aesthetic freedom. Now when you see a non-square photo on your feed, the white border a user would have added for a portrait or landscape-oriented photo is either added or deleted to the UI, which to me seems like a subtle recapturing. Adding borders within the design options and keeping the square-only ethos would have been a viable option for Instagram, like how they developed Hyperlapse and Layout to edge out the competition. This is entirely speculation on my part, but it seems that Instagram got tired of its users outsourcing and tried to take back even more power. It’s also probably a business move, so that advertisers can do even more. At the user’s level, you can now devote more time to uploading content and contributing to Instagram’s position in the zeitgeist, uncropped photos and all.


This is also an interesting comment on the clout of the App in 2015, and how something like Instagram affects our daily life. This decision to abandon the square-only format made headlines, alongside analysis of today’s stock market and recalls for bread. This was such a shift in the way we think about social media and photography that it made the Wall Street Journal’s coverage, which noted that “Instagram’s move coincides with consumers increasingly purchasing smart phones with larger screens that provide a better mobile viewing experience for widescreen videos.”  Today’s smartphones also  have options to take square photos — which wasn’t a coincidence. A few people will still continue to use apps like Squaready and Afterlight, but I’m curious to know how these apps will bounce back from such a shift. There might be a resurgence in standard photography, or maybe the square has captured our attention so tightly that we won’t even notice the difference.

I might be crazy, and this might not actually mean much in the way we share photos on Instagram. But what do you think? Let’s talk about it in the comments.


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Link Party: 8/17-8/21

A sneak peek of my art journal.

                 A sneak peek of my art journal.

Here’s what I read this week:

1. A discussion of the color black in the art world.

2. Living in a post-delete world.

3. The research this article is based on is kind of old, but this is still an interesting perspective on the geography of New York business lunches that I think may be applicable elsewhere.

4. Stephen Colbert is a gem.

5. The makeup tax is a real thing.

And a bonus: Have you guys seen Mark Ronson cover Queens of the Stone Age’s “I Sat By the Ocean” with Kevin Parker from Tame Impala and Andrew Wyatt from Miike Snow? It’s a few weeks old but get on it.

Have a wonderful weekend.

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Think Tank: 22 Things That Make Me Happy

I’m not a big fan of having big birthday celebrations. But I do think that on special occasions, whether that’s a birthday or a holiday or an anniversary, it’s important to reflect on what you love about your life and who you want to be. Twenty-one has been incredible, and I feel really lucky to wake up every morning to a happy and full life. In honor of turning 22, here are 22 things that make me happy. In no particular order:

1. My family.

2. My friends.

3. Diet Coke.

4. Books.

5. Good restaurants and good food.

6. Making art.

7. Seeing art.

8. When my hair curls just right.

9. Going on adventures. 

10. Good coffee.

11. Henri Matisse’s “La Gerbe.”

12. Doing a good deed. 

13. Reading The New Yorker.

14. Shopping for school or office supplies.

15. Emails and messages that start with or include “I thought of you…”

16. Yoga.

17. Driving with the windows down and my favorite music on the stereo.

18. Writing.

19. Wearing a sweater. 

20. Being on time.

21. Checking everything off my to-do list. 

22. Inspiring other people.

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Think Tank: Internet Detoxing

In case you were wondering, I completed my Internet Detox and lived to tell the tale. As a refresher, here were the rules:

1. Because so much of life in 2015 is dependent on the Internet, I detoxed just for the week: Monday morning (actually, I unofficially started on Sunday night after dinner) when I woke up to Friday at noon.

2. No browsing, researching or posting was allowed…

3. …but I checked my emails once a day at noon just to make sure nothing super important came through. This was the only rule I continually broke throughout the week out of necessity, and now I see that once a day was the most unrealistic when I still had to communicate with people.

4. I was still available via text.

To make it more interesting and see how good my willpower was, I didn’t delete any of the social media or messaging apps on my phone or block my Internet browser. However, I did turn off push notifications.

It wasn’t as hard as I thought it might be, but I definitely learned more about my Internet consumption and social media in general. I didn’t realize it, but about five days, which amounts to 120 hours, was the perfect amount of time to gain some insight.

Unwittingly, I picked a great time to do it.

Like I said in the explainer post, I had been feeling particularly uninspired and thought getting off the grid would help. Luckily, this week became a lot busier than I had anticipated it to be: planning and decorating for my mom’s birthday party, helping my sister get ready to go back to school, working on creative projects and hanging out with friends. I did play a lot of 1010! in my downtime, which was a pretty good brain workout. I thought I was going to read more, but I just read and finished one book. I took the time to take evening walks, where I noticed a lot of things about my neighborhood that I missed when I was ultra-busy in work and school. Being out and about or otherwise focused didn’t leave that much time to check anything, which really helped me stay on track.

Some parts of the detox were easier than others.

The easiest parts? I didn’t touch Facebook or Twitter for the entire time. I also never opened my Feedly, which houses all of the feeds for my favorite websites and blogs. When I came back to that on Friday, I had over 2,000 articles to sift through — but more on that later. Turning off push notifications was maybe cheating, but I think that would have been even harder to get through the detox seeing all of this stuff come across my screen and resist temptation.

The hardest parts? The email thing, like I said earlier. And especially on Monday and Tuesday, I found myself absentmindedly opening both Instagram and Snapchat, realizing quickly that I wasn’t supposed to be on it and closing out the apps before anything could load. That probably happened about 15 times. I’m thinking this happened because Instagram is much more visually stimulating than status updates or long reads and therefore I’m drawn more to checking it, and Snapchat is so ephemeral that if I don’t see someone’s story it’s gone the next day and I’ll never see it again.

I was also hoping to not use the Internet at all for the week, and that was nearly impossible just because of how much information is hosted online. I had to research where to find clear latex balloons, what time “The Gift” was playing on Thursday, and when the city’s new parks and rec classes registration opened. I also applied for a job, which required an online application. You don’t really realize just how much of life has become digital until you’re forced or you force yourself to disconnect.

It forced me to be more resourceful.

I spend a significant amount of my time on the Internet looking for new things, whether that’s new art, music, television, film or ideas. I get a lot of that from how I’ve curated my social media and content feeds, but also through falling down rabbit holes and finding new outlets. For the week, I couldn’t do any of that. I also couldn’t browse Pinterest for ideas on my mom’s birthday party, and turning off that spigot was good too because it forced me to trust my own taste. Finally, I didn’t buy anything online for the week, and I count that as an achievement in itself. Having to read a book from my own stockpile instead of researching/buying a new one or listening to what’s in my iTunes library made me more appreciative of what I already have, and enjoy what I’ve already culled for myself.

Facebook was the most interesting to come back to — and it wasn’t what people were posting.

I’ve never spent enough time away from Facebook to know this, but Facebook does some really interesting things while you’re away from it for periods of time. When I opened it up and saw that I had nine notifications, I expected them to be things directly related to me. For the most part, they weren’t. Facebook told me that someone I’m friends with changed her profile photo on Thursday. Another one was someone’s benign status update on Friday morning. There were even notifications that multiple friends were attending a event near me (the Bernie Sanders rally), and if I knew someone I have a lot of mutual friends with and wanted to friend request her. With regular usage, none of this stuff pops up. In addition, Facebook consolidated a lot of information for me when I scrolled through my newsfeed. For example, it would say “So-and-so posted four updates” and would show me, all together, four status updates from throughout the week. This made it easy to see everything that had been posted since Sunday night.

The return to Facebook was one of the most interesting aspects of the detox for me, because with so much of what Facebook is trying to do in terms of getting to know its users better for supposedly better service (but really better advertising), it completely missed the mark. None of it was important to me, and it didn’t even pick people that I interact with on a regular basis. I would love to know what the algorithms are, what the cutoff was (Is it two days? Four?) for all of it to start popping up and why Facebook would think that I would want all of that consolidation and want to know everything that had happened. I hope that eventually social media becomes a more interesting site of research, because I think there are a lot of mechanisms that we don’t notice that affect how we consume it.

It felt like I hadn’t taken a break from the Internet at all.

When I came back on Friday, nothing seemed to have really changed in the general media landscape. I didn’t really miss anything so big or catastrophic that was a shock five days later. I didn’t expect for any of that to change, but to come back and not feel like I missed anything in a week was scary. It’s insane to me that the 24-hour news cycle desensitizes everything, and for the most part everyone is just doing the same things and making the same decisions. Same shit, different day.

As an aside, I noticed during a trip through my RSS feeds yesterday that at least three different publications wrote about Jimmy Fallon’s contract extension. If I had read any of them the day of publication, I probably would have thought the item was interesting and maybe looked to see if anyone had written about what that meant for the future of late night television. Reading it days after made me initially wonder why that was important enough for everyone to report on it.

And at the end, I wasn’t all that excited to come back to it. 

At noon on Friday, I was in the middle of dropping my dad off at the optometrist’s and didn’t even realize what time it was. I wasn’t counting down the minutes, and I wasn’t full of anticipation. Shortly after coming home, I did open everything up one by one to see what my closest friends had posted. But throughout the afternoon, I looked through all of the feeds just to see what had happened. But I didn’t open anything later out of boredom, and as I’m writing this I have no desire to check my Twitter feed or scroll aimlessly through Pinterest. I’m hoping it lasts for awhile, and that I won’t revert.

Would I do this experiment again? Absolutely. In some strange way, I feel reinvigorated and more aware. It was weird to feel disconnected, but it was worth it to step back and gain the insight. As you can tell if you’ve been reading for awhile (if you have, thank you) I’m fascinated with the Internet and how it affects culture around the world. Now I’m even more intrigued.

Have questions? Ask me anything about my Internet detox in the comments.




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This Has Been A Post: Zoë is Going on an Internet Detox

I’ve been feeling particularly uninspired lately, and I think I need a detox. Specifically, an Internet detox.

The breaking point was earlier this week when I aimlessly opened Facebook on my phone while I had Facebook open on my computer — I was apparently so distracted by boredom scrolling through my social media feeds that subconsciously I felt opening it elsewhere would suddenly lead to more new and exciting things. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that lately I haven’t found much Internet content that made me learn something beyond the accepted view that most of the Internet is pretty much shit. When I went to compile my favorite web reads for this week’s link party, I had exactly six things to share instead of the 10 or 15 articles I usually pare down. And despite really wanting to write another blog post, I had no spark to come up with something. I don’t know if it’s because my life has considerably slowed down lately, but I have to recharge my motivation and creativity. Besides deactivating my Facebook for a spell a few years ago, I’ve never detached myself from my Internet presence. Now I’m going to try it and see if it helps.

Here are my detox rules:

1. Because so much of life in 2015 is dependent on the Internet, I’ll be detoxing just for the week: Monday morning when I wake up to Friday at noon.

2. No browsing, researching or posting is allowed…

3. …but I’ll be checking my emails once a day at noon just to make sure nothing super important comes through. (Disclosure: I have to send one important email Monday morning, but that’s it.)

4. I’ll still be available via text.

To make it more interesting and see how good my willpower is, I won’t delete any of the social media or messaging apps on my phone or block my Internet browser. However, I will be turning off push notifications.

On Friday afternoon, I’ll write about my results and post it here. If you’re also feeling in need of a recharge, feel free to join me and share your thoughts at the end of the week.

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Link Party: 8/3-8/7

Morning walks are fantastic because I get to see my neighborhood in bloom.

Morning walks are great because I get to see my neighborhood in bloom.

I had a really difficult time this week getting interested in what I was reading and finding stuff to write about — the motivation for a forthcoming blog post. Here’s what I read that I actually found insightful:

1. Adventures in typography.

2. Infiltrating a white pride Facebook group and turning it into a LGBT Southerners for Michelle Obama group is a hardcore example of trolling that’s going to be hard to top.

3. I’m sad to say that it might be time to break up with Drake.

4. Why is Jean-Michel Basquiat’s artwork so woefully underrepresented in museum collections?

5. Beryl Markham might just be the greatest feminist icon most of us have never heard of.

And a bonus: Fascinating historical photos of New York City, decorated to welcome WWI allies in 1917.

Have a wonderful weekend and week.

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