Monthly Archives: February 2016

What I Read: February 2016

To help me stay on track in my 2016 goals, I’m documenting the books I read all year. Here is what I read in February:

Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison: I bought this book from ThriftBooks a few months ago because I had heard the title and the author’s name multiple times in college classes. I walked into reading the book not knowing anything about it, which is unusual for me — I am also That Person who Googles movie plots before she goes into the movie theater. But just by the opening paragraph alone, I was hooked:

“I am an invisible man. No, I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allen Poe; nor am I one of your Hollywood-movie extoplasms. I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids—and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me. Like the bodiless heads you see sometimes in circus sideshows, it is as though I have been surrounded by mirrors of hard, distorting glass. When they approach me they see only my surroundings, themselves, or figments of their imagination—indeed, everything and anything except me.”

The story focuses on an unnamed black man  — which is a crucial detail — who realizes that his racially-divided society refuses to see him as a real human being. The entire novel is a series of flashbacks to very unfair and traumatizing events, beginning when he’s a college student in the South and ending as an older man in an underground hideout in New York. At the end of the novel, he realizes that writing about his story helps him to be a voice for the socially and politically invisible. 

What I loved the most about it was that for a book that was written in the 1950s, it felt incredibly contemporary. I loved that the narrative style was experimental, and that I could feel echoes of today’s social movements and the discussion surrounding minority rights, identity, racial inequality and micro-aggression. Sixty years later, the African-American community is still dealing with the same issues that this novel explores. I find that to be so disconcerting, but that’s why literature as a method of historical documentation and reference is so, so important.

If you’re interested in reading more African-American literature from the United States — and even if you aren’t — I recommend Invisible Man. And if you like it, read Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God (which also has an incredible opening) and Colson Whitehead’s The Intuitionist.

Do you have recommendations for me? Leave them in the comments below.

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Think Tank: Facebook’s Expansion of the Like

If you use Facebook, you have probably noticed that in the last few days there has been a significant change to your News Feed that a lot of people are talking about. In addition to just plain old Liking a post, you can now react in varying degrees of emotion:

What a range.

What a range.

The impetus for this change is that users have always complained about how limited the Facebook Like is when it comes to posts that aren’t happy announcements or accomplishments. If you’re on Facebook, you’ve maybe commented “dislike” or some variation on someone’s post to register that you’re not really Liking the post, or you’ve seen other people do this. Now, Facebook provides an expanded range of reactions to help signify exactly how you feel about your friend’s posts.

When I found out about the expansion and saw it roll on my News Feed, I thought about how I use Facebook and how it has shaped my Internet identity. I’m somewhere between an active participant and lurker. I post a fair amount: links to these blog posts, statuses where I try to seem funny, interesting articles I can’t wait to share, YouTube music videos and some of my Instagram photos. I don’t really make personal announcements, and I don’t post anything to get my friend’s sympathy — if I’m having a terrible day or something bad happens, I do not mention it on Facebook.

For the interacting part of Facebook, I’m also the same kind of user. For my closest friends and even people I don’t see regularly but really like, I like about 90 percent of their posts and leave birthday messages. For former classmates and coworkers, I’ll like the accomplishment statuses or photos of cool things they’re doing. And for people I haven’t interacted with face-to-face in years, a like from me on anything is rare — the same goes for posts from pages I’ve subscribed to. When it comes to my Facebook friends, I both want to keep up with how things are going and also have the option to virtually observe. Even though I don’t Like a lot of content that comes across my social media feeds, that doesn’t mean I didn’t see it or that it didn’t impact me in some way.

This all goes to say that I operate in a particular way within Facebook’s structure — as do you — and the choices that I make and Faceboook makes for me shape my Internet identity. I don’t think I’ll use these reactions (much in the same way I have yet to abandon the Instagram square photo format), but I can’t prevent my friends from using them to interact with my posts. It’s become part of the social construct and discourse that is Facebook, and it’s now pretty much inescapable unless Facebook decides to pull it. What you post or the way you utilize the Like and commenting systems are actions also say something about who you are on the Internet, and by extension who you are in real life. These expanded reactions now impact this shaping, regardless of whether or not you decide to use them. 

The most important thing that this Like expansion magnifies is that it is a form of social currency that validates our feelings and experiences and makes us feel that they are real. Think about when you post something on Facebook — you might expect your close friends to Like it, and you’re surprised when someone you haven’t talked to in awhile hits that thumbs up or leaves a comment. You may even feel obligated to return the favors as a way to maintain relationships. If someone you’re close with doesn’t like your status or leave a comment on your photo, you at least wonder why and may jump to conclusions that are probably not good. Facebook has made and facilitates these social constructions that have affected the way we live our everyday lives, and it is rooted in the Like.

This article hits the nail on the head of what these Likes mean: “The more “liked” a post or tweet is, the more present it becomes, and since online we are little more than the sum of our posts, the more real we feel ourselves becoming.” The acknowledgement of our posts makes us feel that we are legitimate and that we can feel things that mean something, even though it’s all happening in a virtual space. I think the leaders at Facebook are hyperaware of how their service is changing the way we live our everyday lives, and do things like this expansion in order to cement the social media network as a cultural behemoth. If it didn’t happen on Facebook, it might not have really happened at all.

What do you think about any or all of this? Let’s talk about it in the comments.

 

 

 

 

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Link Party: 2/22-2/26

I like this sentiment a lot.

I like this sentiment a lot.

If you’re into DIYing, I just started a cool new gig as an eHow contributor! You can read my articles here.

Here’s what I read this week:

1. The origin and ramifications of Bernie Sanders’ Dank Meme Stash.

2. Unpacking the Southern Black identity in Beyoncé’s “I got hot sauce in my bag / swag.” (This is very, very good. Read this.)

3. This is a masterpiece on the political power of single women, and I’m excited to see Rebecca Traister at a Call Your Girlfriend event in a few weeks. (My favorite part: “Today’s women are, for the most part, not abstaining from or delaying marriage to prove a point about equality. They are doing it because they have internalized assumptions that just a half-century ago would have seemed radical: that it’s okay for them not to be married; that they are whole people able to live full professional, economic, social, sexual, and parental lives on their own if they don’t happen to meet a person to whom they want to legally bind themselves.”)

4. What literary discourse offers in an age of extremism.

5. On my way home one night this week, I listened to an incredible episode of This American Life about the power of the mind. One story brings up an important conversation about mental health, hospitals and guns (in collaboration with the New York Times) and the other was about another man’s denial of his Parkinson’s disease. I highly recommend it.

And a bonus: I’m so, so excited for “Loving Vincent” to come out. It’s going to be gorgeous.

Have a great weekend.

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Link Party: 2/15-2/19

Seeing the sky open up on my way to work one morning made up for the time I spent in torrential downpour traffic.

Seeing the sky open up on my way to work one morning made up for the time I spent in torrential downpour traffic.

Here’s what I read this week:

1. This article about Tumblr teens was wild at every turn.

2. I’ve never been a huge fan of Buzzfeed’s content (besides a really great podcast called Another Round), but I’ve always found their business strategies and virality fascinating. Read this interview with Buzzfeed’s publisher and you’ll see what I mean.

3. The world of Instagram-famous animals.

4. The obsession with Neko Atsume: Kitty Collector.

5. I loved this article about reproductions on display in art museums, so much so that it inspired me to write a post about something I had kind of forgotten about — stay tuned.

And a bonus: Kanye West’s “Wolves,” illustrated. (I’m still trying to collect my thoughts on “The Life Of Pablo.”)

Have a great weekend.

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Gold Star For The Internet: theSkimm

 

When people find out that I have a journalism background, some like to inform me that they don’t like watching or reading the news. They think the everyday news is depressing or ultra-politicized, or they don’t like the clickbait stories. If this is also your sentiment, or even if you are just a news junkie like me, you’ll like what I’m about to share. It gives you the news you need to know for the day, straight to your inbox. It’s called theSkimm.

theSkimm is a daily email newsletter that shows up in your email on weekday mornings. The content of the newsletter varies from international news and entertainment to sports and technology, but it does have heavy political coverage. The tone of the newsletter is also conversational, which I appreciate — It’s like you’re getting your news from a very well-informed (and occasionally snarky) friend. Each item is about 150 words or less, so you don’t have to read full-length stories if that’s not your thing. If you really want to know more, there is usually at least one link to an exterior source. The newsletter’s writers are just skimming what you really need to know from the endless sea of news content, hence its name. 

My friend Kelly told me about theSkimm, and I’ve been subscribing to the newsletter for about a month now. I’m impressed with how the writers never seem to miss an important item, and admire how they can distill complicated stories in 100 words. In particular, I’ve really liked how the newsletter has covered the 2016 elections, and it’s a great place to get general information about the candidates and the election calendar.

I like reading theSkimm while I’m getting ready for work in the morning, so I can catch up with the east coast and international news cycles. While I love using both Twitter and Feedly to get articles from multiple publications in one place, it’s really easy for me to lose track of my timeline or let the articles digitally pile up. If I’m busy during the week and know that I’m going to be doing most of my in-depth reading at the end of the week or on the weekend, I know that I’m going to at least know the basics of what happened in the news via theSkimm. Staying informed about what’s happening in the world around me is important to me, and theSkimm has my back. For that, this newsletter gets a big gold star.

Do you have any email newsletters or publications you get your news from? Let’s talk about it in the comments.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Link Party: 2/8-2/12

What a day, what a life.

What a day, what a life.

Here’s what I read this week:

1. A bikini, a toothbrush and 44 issues of the New Yorker.

2. I will read anything about Joan Didion, especially in connection to Los Angeles.

3. I’ve been meaning to read Aziz Ansari’s “Modern Romance” for awhile, but after reading this excerpt about texting I really want to dive into it.

4. The romance of planning your wedding in one week.

5. This article about a teenager teaching an adult how to use Snapchat is a wild, wild ride.

And a bonus: I have had this video of Gustavo Dudamel conducting Arturo Márquez’s “Danzón No. 2″ on repeat for the past week.

Have a great weekend.

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Think Tank: Concert Tickets and the Price of Art

I have been a big fan of the Arctic Monkeys since I was 12 years old. I listen to all of the music, attend their concerts when they come to Los Angeles and read any articles or interviews about them. I love their discography for many reasons, but I will always tie memories and feelings about my youth to their music. Think about the band that you loved during your adolescence, and you’ll know exactly how I feel about the Arctic Monkeys.

When I found out that frontman Alex Turner’s side project, The Last Shadow Puppets, was going to release a new album and go on tour, I decided that I was going to buy a ticket and go to the LA show. The new single, “Bad Habits,” was really catchy and I wanted to experience the band live. I found out there was a ticket presale — Thursday at 9 a.m. — so I marked the time down on my calendar and waited. At 8:50 a.m. on Thursday morning, I opened the link to the ticket website, entered my presale code and filled out all of my information. So far, so good.

At five minutes before the official opening, the website took me into the virtual waiting room where I could purchase my tickets. At 9 a.m., my web browser refreshed to show me where there were available seats — except that there were none. 

I was really surprised that the show sold out within the first minute, and I thought that maybe the presale had only released a finite amount of tickets. The venue, the theatre at the Ace Hotel, is also not that big. I thought I’d try again during the general sale, but I didn’t have any luck in that round either.

I was immediately curious about why this show — one where the band is really not that well known compared to Turner’s main project — sold out so quickly, because I’d never had this much trouble buying tickets for a concert. I quickly cruised through Stub Hub to see if there were any tickets for sale, and there were — marked up astronomically high. (The most expensive ticket for this show in the regular sale was about $50 excluding fees, but Stub Hub’s resale prices were between $115 and $250 a piece.)

This experience made me think about, for the first time, the commercial aspect of being a fan. This resale practice for concerts and sporting events is commonplace, and these resellers make money off of capitalizing on the fan’s desire to go to events. The profit never makes it back to the musicians, athletes or the staff that put on these events. Something like Stub Hub is legalized ticket scalping for the people who buy eight or 10 tickets to resell immediately, and I don’t know why we as a society have allowed it.

General ticket prices these days are insane, which I have to believe is linked to both a Coachella and a streaming music effect. The first Coachella ticket was only $50 per day in 1999, but weekend tickets for the 2016 festival are going for close to $500. Not only have the headliners gotten bigger, but so has the festival’s cultural pull. I’m not the first person to make this observation, but many people go to these shows and festivals just to say that they were there. This demand for tickets drives overall prices up (#capitalism), which makes going to these events a serious economic decision. Plus, people aren’t buying physical albums like they used to and are turning to Spotify where they can listen to just about anything for a small monthly fee. This kind of cultural shift has a trickle down effect in how artistic industries approach business, whether that’s music or film or television. Adele and Taylor Swift have made headlines for removing their catalogs or being highly selective about streaming services, and while neither woman seems to be hurting for money, they’ve certainly made a statement about the cultural value of what they make.

I am most concerned with and interested in how our society commodifies art, and how things like concerts, films or exhibits have become more about the business than the significance of a culturally-shared experience. Think about it: the average movie ticket is close to $10, and you can easily spend $20 for admission to a museum and a special exhibit. This is a different conversation for a different day, but the price of art is also tied to accessibility, class structure and racial and gender representation. And while life continues to get more and more expensive and more and more complicated, we have to decide where to draw the line between compensating the artist and making the art available to all.

Look — I will pay for a copy of an album. I will buy the merchandise. I will pay for a concert ticket. I am 100 percent for the people involved in the art getting paid what they deserve for contributing to our culture, and I truly want to be able to support the artists I love. What I am not for, however, is this business that hikes up prices and shuts people out of seeing something that is deeply meaningful to them. At what point do we value profit over artistic experiences?

What do you think? Let’s talk about it in the comments.

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