Eat. Sleep. Status update? How Facebook is changing our relationships.

For many people Facebook has almost become a way of life; it can be the first thing you check when you wake up and the last thing you see before you fall asleep.  A 2011 article on Mashable.com states that the average user can spend almost 8 hours a month on Facebook. That translates to approximately 15.5 minutes per day.

Although many of us simply use Facebook to procrastinate throughout the day, we all have those 2 or 3 friends that almost posess an addictive like quality; seemingly spending hours on the site every day. While some may argue that this is just a form of deep procrastination, a study has found that Facebook satisfies both our entertainment needs as well as a need for interpersonal communication.  Just think of how many times you’ve learned about something in someone’s life through a status update or an album upload vs. verbal communication. As a society we are quite nosy. Gossiping and learning personal details, although not always in line with social etiquette, allows us to feel connected to those around us. Facebook has perpetuated on that inner desire, making many of our decisions and life events public.

It’s hard to argue that Facebook hasn’t changed the way many of us view our relationships. Everything from new friends, to vacation destinations, to new relationships, it’s all on public display. Take a new relationship for instance; it wasn’t that long ago where you would go on a first date to learn the basics about the other person. Now through social networking, you can see who their friends are, their education history, possibly their work history, while at the same time viewing incriminating photos from that party last weekend.

‘Facebook Stalking’ has almost become the social norm. We learn detail after detail about a person to the point where, when you have an actual face to face conversation; it’s the constant struggle not to reveal just how much you already know. However the problems don’t stop after you’ve met, becoming ‘Facebook official’ is a new issue that couples are facing. Long gone are the days where you would simply have a conversation to define the relationship or whether you were exclusive; now a simple change in status does all that talking for you. However there is always the issue of who initiates the change first; as seen in this clip from The Big Bang Theory, you don’t want to jump the gun for fear of rejection.

Becoming Facebook official creates a whole new set of problems. By having such a public outing of your relationship, you are opening up your personal life to any friends, family or acquaintances that you may have on your contacts list. While this may not be a problem when posting cutesy pictures or wall posts, there is the inevitable issue of what happens if/when you break up? When the relationship goes sour, your breakup is also a public one. I’m sure we’ve all witnessed the awkward moment where a friend changes their relationship status from ‘in a relationship’ to ‘single.’ Even this simple change in status can become an issue; you don’t want to do it immediately following the conversation to avoid appearing cold, however not changing your status can look like you’re holding onto a fallen relationship. Of course we have all heard the horror stories of couples finding out they’ve broken up through a change in facebook status, remember how much easier this whole process was before the internet complicated things?

Facebook’s new Timeline option doesn’t seem to be making things any easier. By highlighting memorable events from your online history, it brings new meaning to the phrase once it’s on the internet, it’s permanent. Your present girlfriend can track back all of your past relationships; too many and she might think of you as a player, not enough and she might think of herself as a rebound. While the idea of a virtual scrapbook may seem like an appealing one, considering the extent of personal information that is posted on facebook, some things are better left in the past.

This over analysis of data can affect your other relationships as well. Now once two people become friends after attending a mutual event, that mutual event appears on Facebook. This may not always be a problem, but when you suddenly add the guy you were caught making out with at a friends birthday it can almost be an unwanted reminder.

Now you might be thinking, well if I just make sure my privacy settings are strong enough (and keep my relationship details secret) than there’s no problem right? Wrong. People are relying more and more on technology to keep in touch with their contacts. Between Facebook messaging and text messaging, many people seem to have forgotten the benefits of face to face communication. You can never tell inflection through a computer screen, nor can you read someone’s body language.  This disastrous combination can lead to many misinterpreted conversations while over-analyzing a situation. There is always the possibility of reading too much into a situation. A significant other may mistake a friendly wall post as a flirtatious one or a friend may mistake an inside joke as a comment about her. By not knowing the entire conversation its almost like playing a game of Telephone. You try to put the pieces together in a way that makes sense but you usually end up a ways away from the original intent.

The internet has given us a tremendous expansion in technology with the ability to send a message in a matter of seconds. However we must not forget the benefits of face to face communication. Though its convenience is tempting, putting your personal information out on the internet creates a whole new set of obstacles. Rather than creeping a friends wall posts to see what’s been happening in their life, try sending them a personal message. It’s always nice to hear from someone you haven’t spoken to in a while and hearing a personal re-telling always outweighs reading about it through a third party.

Piracy and the Media: who really watches TV anymore?

Convenience is everything. We want fast, we want high quality and we want instant. An article in the New York Times estimates that the average American watches 4 hours and 39 minutes of television every day. Television is a business, a VERY successful business as is evident by the paychecks for the stars of some of the most popular shows. However with more people using DVRs , declining ratings and many people fast forwarding through commercials, are we slowly witnessing the decline in television? If video killed the radio star, did the internet kill the television star?

How do you measure TV viewing?

I will admit, it stills boggles my mind how networks can measure TV views. Are live views the only ones that count? Do DVR recordings have an effect? Are the ratings measured in a specific geographic location? And how do you keep track of it all?

Many of us have heard of Nielsen ratings, these are the statistics usually quoted in various articles and are used to measure TV ratings week by week. Nielsen ratings are used to measure audience size and demographic; the system was developed by the Nielsen Company, a leading global provider of information and insight. Nielsen is used in 100 countries with headquarters in New York, USA and Demain, Netherlands.

Which members of a household are watching which shows? What shows do they watch together? Does income or education have an effect on the types of shows people watch? These questions are all part of Nielsen’s very detailed analysis which makes use of consumer behavior as well as demographic.

Nielsen ratings make use of set meters and people meters, which are devices that are connected to televisions in selected ‘Nielsen family’ homes. They measure what is being watched and when. And can also tell advertisers who and how many people are watching. Nielsen also makes use of paper diaries which are a key component during ‘sweeps.’ Sweeps is defined as a duration of time in which Nielsen ratings are recorded. During sweeps, 8 day diaries are used to keep track of what is being watched and by whom. Sweeps takes place a couple times a year, typically in November, February, May and July. You might notice that these months are typically when television shows have their major story arcs, these ratings provide key information for advertisers so networks want to entice you to watch their programs.

A typical Nielsen rating box

The Technology Effect

There is no lack of demand for entertainment. With the use of smartphones and tablets on the rise, people like having their entertainment on the go. It is estimated that 145 million people watch television online versus the 290 million that watch traditional TV. Americans between the ages of 12-34 are spending less time watching television in front of  a TV set compared to those 35 and older. The New York Times states that adults aged 24-35 watched 4 ½ fewer hours of television during the 3rd quarter of 2011 compared to that same time frame in 2010. Although this may not seem like a huge difference now, it is a sign that viewing habits are changing.

Advertisers covet the 18-34 age group (known as the target demographic) and since this demographic is typically the first group to try new things, advertisers pay attention when their viewing habits change. More young people are turning to devises besides TV to watch video. As an almost new form of DVR, many major networks in the United States (NBC, CBS, ABC etc.) will post the latest episode online less than 12 hours after it airs. The change in traditional viewing methods make it harder to determine who is watching what. Nielsen reports use cross platform practices, which allows the use of various devices for streaming. The following video demonstrates how viewing is measured via multiple platforms:

However with many people watching TV via the internet, this represents a new hurdle for the entertainment industry. We all know how distracting the internet is due to the sheer volume of available material; and with attention span decreasing, there becomes  increased competition for consumers to watch your show instead of reading blogs, playing virtual games etc. YouTube represents a new hurdle with copyright and competition.

YouTube is a procrastinator’s worst nightmare. With the availability of endless music videos, tv clips and vlogs (video blogs) you could spend hours on YouTube without getting bored. There was a time when a new TV episode could be found on YouTube within a few days of airing. I will admit, since YouTube is such an open video forum for content, I never seem to think about the frequent piracy or copyrighted material. In 2009, record labels started to crack down on the use of copyright songs as background music, silencing the audio for many videos. A site that has become synonymous for album covers suddenly became silenced. There are multiple videos ranting on the topic with a few mentioning how to avoid the WMG (Warner Music Group) copyright. While covers and background music seem to be safe within recent years, it is still difficult to find rebroadcasted episodes on the site. With record labels and major artists using programs such as Vevo to legally post their music videos and singles online, perhaps we will soon see a similar program for television and movies.

Streaming vs. Downloading, is there a difference?

Streaming and Downloading have become the latest method of viewing and virtual ownership. You can download music videos, albums, tv clips etc. for later use.  Although many people may not care about the legal differences between streaming and downloading (hey as long as you get to watch the video right?) here is a great metaphor from nahimaslaw.com.

To paraphrase, Jordan compares downloading/streaming content to bathtub/shower use. When you stream content (shower), you have a reservoir of information (water) that flows freely. However the water passes through you, meaning you haven’t contained it so it passes through to the drain. Similarly with streaming, you technically aren’t keeping the data therefore it is far less likely that you will redistribute or duplicate it. From a legal standpoint you are using the data for the sole purpose of consumption avoiding any licensing or distributing issues.

Conversely with downloading (bath) we have the same control of stopping or starting the flow of content (opening and closing the faucet) as we did with streaming. However a download is only useful when it is complete, similarly to how a bath is only good when the tub is full. Therefore we need to ‘plug the drain’ or store the content for an extended period of time until completed. Downloading involves many legal issues, since you are holding onto the data instead of letting it ‘pass through,’ therefore there is a licensing issue involved. When you download a song via a program such as iTunes or (legally) purchase a dvd , you enter a licensing agreement that lets you consume the content over an extended period of time; however you are prohibited from distribution of the material or making copies. So while both forms can be seen as morally unjust when done illegally, streaming seems to be the lesser of the two evils. As a note for anyone worried about their bandwidth usage, streaming a video uses MUCH less bandwidth than downloading one.

Location, Location, Location

As I previously mentioned, many US networks now post episodes online hours after they have aired live on TV. These videos are often of the highest quality, with many now being posted in HD. Episodes posted online are typically separate from those live on TV in terms of advertising. Online there are a few commercials thrown in between the episode with the option of viewing all of the commercials in a given episode (typically about 5) at the beginning. Advertisers and major networks realize the demand for online, portable streaming; so much so that the 2012 Superbowl was streamed online for the first time. Of course these major network video players have competition from unaffiliated sites such as Hulu.com which typically provide even fewer commercials.

So you might be wondering what’s the problem with these high quality legal video players? Again, as long as I get to watch the video right? The issue is that because of licensing many of these sites only work in the United States. Canadian networks such as CTV have a similar video player however the reliability doesn’t seem to be on par with its American counterpart. I have frequently had errors with the site saying that ‘the clip cannot be played outside of Canada’…while sitting in my bedroom in Guelph.  The problem is that the legal sources of online media are so unreliable that it almost forces people to look elsewhere to find the clip they are looking for.

As a university student, I typically don’t have the time to watch many shows when they air live on TV. Schoolwork, studying and life take precedence over scheduling a specified TV time every week. Therefore I wholeheartedly support online streaming (when done legally) for the convenience and portability. Because of the unreliability of many legal Canadian sources (as well as those who refuse to watch even 5 commercials), illegal streaming has flourished. A quick google search of ‘watch tv online,’ reveals numerous online websites.

Students are all aware of the dangers of downloading with viruses and more recently various vicious lawsuits (e.g. Brittany Kruger) looming over us like a dark grey storm cloud. Many students that I know are far more likely to stream videos and media rather than download. Although this may still be a detriment to the entertainment industry, entertainment should be just that; something you can enjoy on your downtime rather than having to schedule a set time slot every week to uphold certain moral justifications. Unfortunately many students will resort to downloading due to program restrictions on their devices

I’m looking at YOU flash-based sites!

In Conclusion

With more and more people watching television on devices other than the traditional TV set, networks need to pay attention to consumer demands. Having high quality, legal and reliable streaming websites allows the network to stay in control of their content while giving consumers the portability and convenience of online TV. Who knows with DVD and CD sales declining, maybe in the next 100 years televisions will be a device of the past.

Phone Hacking: A Worry for the Future or is the Threat just around the Corner?

These days everyone seems to be upgrading to the latest iPhone, Android or blackberry smartphone. In 2011 Microsoft Tag released statistics on mobile phone stating that of the 4 billion mobile phones in use around the world, 1.08 billion are smartphones. With many relying on their phone as their camera, alarm clock and gaming device, just to name a few; long gone are the days when a cell phone was used just to make a quick phone call. With more and more people depending on their phones, it begs the question, how long until phone hacking becomes semi-normal.

Weren’t hackers always criminals?

In present day 2012 a hacker is synonymous with a criminal; with viruses, the release of personal documents, and identity theft leading the list of threats. This is a far cry from 1983 when hackers where known to be ‘harmless pranksters.’ WindowsSecurity.com has a lengthy article on the history of computer hacking dating as far back as the early 60’s. To get an idea of the difference between a hacker in 1983 compared to one in the present day, here is an example of a typical hack

 In the early 80s hackers love to pull pranks. Joe College sits down at his dumb terminal to the University DEC 10 and decides to poke around the campus network.  Here’s Star Trek! Here’s Adventure! Zork! Hmm, what’s this program called Sex? He runs it. A message pops up: “Warning: playing with sex is hazardous. Are you sure you want to play? Y/N” Who can resist? With that “Y” the screen bursts into a display of ASCII characters, then up comes the message: “Proceeding to delete all files in this account.” Joe is weeping, cursing, jumping up and down. He gives the list files command. Nothing! Zilch! Nada! He runs to the sysadmin. They log back into his account but his files are all still there. A prank.

Mind you hacking hasn’t quite reached the level of the Matrix… although I would probably think twice about living in a simulated reality if I could do the signature Matrix 360 rotation.

Awesome!

We have seen examples time and time again where hackers release private celebrity photos, break into secured databases and steal personal information.

I can’t even keep track of the number of times Vanessa Hudgens has had racy photos released by a hacker

Virus Protection

It has become commonplace to have some sort of virus protection for your computer, especially when using a Windows based variety. And although there are plenty of free online virus protection services, Norton and McAfee still remain the most popular; with the University of Guelph offering a free version of McAfee virus scan to all faculty, staff and registered students. Despite the hefty $100 price tag I will admit that I, perhaps stupidly, have the mindset that you get what you pay for when it comes to virus protection. When my sister downloaded the free AVG, I kept blowing if off since I had my doubts that anything free off the internet would do much in terms of virus protection.

Although I have such a strong bias towards computer virus protection, it has never occurred to me to get any sort of virus protection on either my phone or my tablet. Although I will admit I’m not as phone obsessed as many of my friends, I’m the annoying friend who always leaves their phone in the other room when you’re waiting for a response. Albeit my phone is password protected, with the amount of web searching and app downloading/updating I’m surprised I haven’t heard of more phone hacks through my circle of friends.

Phone hacking is too far in the future for me to really care…right?

Unfortunately, with the phone hacking scandal in Great Britain last year, phone hacking seems to be looming right around the corner. To those who haven’t kept up with British news, the phone hacking scandal (or hackgate) involved many British newspapers who were all published by the newspaper division of News Corporation (a mass media co-corporation with divisions all over the world, in 2011 they had the second largest revenue of any media group but I digress…) Basically, several employees were accused of using unethical techniques to get the scoop for their stories including phone hacking and phone bribery. It isn’t surprising that these tactics were mostly used by entertainment reporters on celebrities, politicians and even members of the British Royals! Pierce Morgan was even accused at being part of this scandal!

Hide yo’ phones, hide yo’ tablets cause I be hackin’ e’rything out here!

There’s an app for that!

We all know virus protection is important and thankfully there are numerous virus protection apps available on the market

To name a few…

–           Avast

–           Dr. Web

–           F-Secure

Some of these apps are surprisingly effective, here is an exert of some data published by AV-test (full pdf file in the hyperlink) which compares the malware detection rate between different virus protection programs, with dark green being the most effective

In conclusion

Technology is rapidly evolving, in both the positive and the negative. As our reliance on technology increases, so does the potential for damage through hacks. Anti-virus software is important for all devices that use an internet connection and we should always be cautious with random clicking and downloads. Who knows, soon we may have fingerprint detection on our smart phones and voice activated passwords (something already proposed by Congressman Steve Isreal). To end this entry here are some more statistics released by Microsoft Tag (courtesy of digitalbuzzblog.com)