open cities & new media

Between facebook and twitter, I’m connected to a lot of my blood relatives on social media. In facet, if you count non-blood relatives like my in-laws and the extended families of both of my step-parents (with whom I’m close), I have several dozen relative-friends on social media. Their behaviors fall into three categories, largely correlating to age:

1. Normal Behavior (roughly ages 25-55)

These folks post updates about their thoughts, feelings, and activities. It’s great to connect with them and learn about what’s going on in their lives and I also like that they expose me to things that my self-selected friends don’t generally do, like bible study camps and people who don’t support Obama, for instance. They also exhibit very normal interactions like compliments on photos of my daughters, expressions of sympathy when I post sad or angry or frustrated thoughts, and cheerful notes on birthdays and holidays. These interactions are total wins and I want more of them.

2. Stalkers (over age 55)

When I friend these people, or they follow me on twitter, I often forget that the virtual relationship exists because they never post anything. Silence. Crickets chirping. My mom has two different facebook accounts, one with 5 friends and one with 6. To date, neither one has acknowledged my request to link to her as my mother. Yet, when I talk to my mom on the phone, she’ll ask me about my trip to Ikea or the splash park and I have to remind myself that she knows about these mundane details through her twitter stalking. Who knows how many of these relatives there are, but I’d venture dozens.

3. People who post updates that I literally do not comprehend (under 25 year olds).

Seriously, it’s like these folks are speaking a different language. Here are some examples:


I’m guessing the first one is about a messaging service and the second is about a class schedule, but the grammar just makes me feel old.

I’ll keep following and maybe I’ll understand more of it.

In the mean time, enjoy Aziz Ansari on the subject:




From The Economist:

“The most dramatic result, though, was the one that showed a doubling in the number of people who were prepared to steal in a condition of disorder. In this case an envelope with a €5 ($6) note inside (and the note clearly visible through the address window) was left sticking out of a post box. In a condition of order, 13% of those passing took the envelope (instead of leaving it or pushing it into the box). But if the post box was covered in graffiti, 27% did. Even if the post box had no graffiti on it, but the area around it was littered with paper, orange peel, cigarette butts and empty cans, 25% still took the envelope.
The researchers’ conclusion is that one example of disorder, like graffiti or littering, can indeed encourage another, like stealing. Dr Kelling was right. The message for policymakers and police officers is that clearing up graffiti or littering promptly could help fight the spread of crime.”

Frankly, ladies and gentlemen, I’m a little tired of the whole Rudy-Giuliani-broken-windows-lead-to-more-disorder kind of theory, and if these experiments weren’t so freakin’ cute, I’d say that this scientific study was a boring application of whatever research funds went to pay for it. I’m much more interested in WHAT graffiti artists decide to tag. Besides gang tags, which are used to mark turfs, usually for drug trafficking, graffiti seems to claim mostly awful examples of urban design: blank walls, false windows, dark re-entrant corners.

Maybe someone could throw some science weight behind that theory and then we’d all live in urban places where the envelope get stuffed back into the mailbox.