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From The Editors Technology

Smartphones Are Destroying Our Face-to-Face Conversational Skills

Various studies and surveys have been conducted by researchers and psychologists about the negative impact the smartphone has had on our society, and it will not come as a surprise to anyone that there is a consensus among them about the fact that it has, to a worrying extent, eroded our social fabric.

There is no denying the truth that the smartphone is a way of life now and has numerous advantages – and nobody is advocating doing away with it. However, one has to admit that it has murdered the art of face-to-face conversation. Rather than using it as a great piece of technology and making the most of its various benefits we have become collectively obsessed with it, so much so, that it has virtually become an extension of ourselves.

An observational study conducted in this regard revealed that pairs and small groups sitting in a coffee shop habitually checked their phones every 3.-5 minutes on an average, and in most cases the phones were never out of sight – most preferring to keep their phones in their hands or right in front of them on the tables where they could see them.

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Shalini Misra, a psychology professor at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, believes that the mere presence of a smartphone during a face-to-face conversation adversely affects the quality of the interaction.

According to a study led by Misra on “The iPhone Effect: The Quality of In-Person Social Interactions in the Presence of Mobile Devices,” published in July 2014, in the journal, Environment & Behavior, the research team observes that conversations where a smartphone was used or even pulled out, were less satisfying as compared to those where no one during the conversation made any attempt to take out a mobile device.

“Mobile phones hold symbolic meaning in advanced technological societies,” the research team wrote in the journal. “In their presence, people have the constant urge to seek out information, check for communication and direct their thoughts to other people and worlds.”

“Both non-verbal and verbal elements of in-person communication are important for a focused and fulfilling conversation,” says Misra. “In the presence of a mobile device, there is less eye contact. A person is potentially more likely to miss subtle cues, facial expressions, and changes in the tone of their conversation partner’s voice when his or her thoughts are directed to other concerns.”

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Dr. James Roberts, Professor of Marketing at Baylor University and author of “Too Much of a Good Thing: Are You Addicted to Your Smartphone?” echoed Misra’s conclusions when he told Digital Trends:

“In a good conversation, the words we say are only one small part of the meaning that we convey, there’s also body language, tone of voice, facial expression.”

“When we send a text or email, or we post or tweet, we lose all but what is being said and so there is a lot of misinformation, miscommunication, and hurt feelings, because we don’t have those other sources of information that help us imbue some kind of meaning into what somebody is saying.”

Sherry Turkle, MIT Professor, during an interview promoting her book Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age, said: “89 percent of Americans say that during their last social interaction, they took out a phone, and 82 percent said that it deteriorated the conversation they were in.”

“When some people start to feel insecure, they instantly look to their lifeline, their smartphone. They don’t realize that sometimes pregnant pauses and uncomfortable lulls in conversation are something to work through,” says Professor Roberts. “The mere presence of a phone undermines conversation quality.”

Leave alone public places and surveys and researches; if we just look around us and within our own homes, the growing trend will become more than apparent. Family discussions are dying out; siblings hardly converse with each other or with their parents; even couples in a relationship are busy with their individual devices most of the time when together – there is just no end to it. Checking your smartphone every now and then has become more of a reflex action than a voluntary activity.

While the aforementioned scenarios may be involuntary, smartphones have become a handy tool to intentionally avoid conversations and eye contact. Moreover, the additional features that are being continually added to the devices are compounding the issue. In the past when we wanted to take a picture of ourselves when alone, it was not uncommon to request a stranger to take the snapshot. Well, with the inclusion of the selfie camera even that interaction has become a thing of the past.

Talking about selfies, numerous deaths have been reported trying to get that perfect shot, particularly among the young generation. Also, everyone has heard some time or the other about injuries and deaths as a result of mobile device distractions.

While we have gone too far ahead even to contemplate doing away with the smartphone – and as mentioned earlier, nobody is even suggesting that – what we can and should do is become smart enough not to let the smartphone outsmart us and destroy our social lives or be the cause of any physical harm to ourselves.

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From The Editors Technology

Snapchat Goes Public – Initial Public Offering (IPO) More Than Expected

Snapchat went public on Thursday under the name Snap Inc. and debuted with a great IPO of $24 per share more than the company’s estimation. This share price is 41 percent higher than the IPO of $17 set by the company, effectively meaning the business could have made about a billion dollars more had it set the price at $24 at the opening.

Although it can’t match the levels of Facebook and Google regarding advertising revenue, it can bring some parity with hardware sales which it got into a few months ago with the release of “Spectacles” which coincided with changing Snapchat to Snap and announcing itself as a camera company. The product got great reviews and because of a crafty marketing strategy and limited availability “Spectacles” was highly in demand.

Snapchat says it has 158 million service users a day who create 2.5bn “snaps” between them. However, the user base is way below that of Facebook which has over 1 billion users on its platform.

The company is especially patronized by the teens because of its more than popular messaging app Snapchat. However, the question that investors are most likely to ask is: Will the company be able to reach out beyond its youthful user base to a huge global audience?

Clement Thibault, a senior analyst with Investing.com, believes that “Snap Inc.’s valuation at $17 a share, or $24 billion as a business, is a stretch at best – and most likely one of the most overvalued IPOs in recent years.”

The company’s strong product vision and popularity with the young users are the main reasons for Investor demand as of now. It is this potential that has softened the impact of Snapchat’s decline in terms of growth and mounting losses. However, the potential has to be converted into big profits soon, or else Snap will find itself alongside Twitter with a massive user base but negligible profit and unattractive to talent.

“While the company’s optimism for its potential growth makes sense given the trajectory of previous social media darlings, there’s reason for caution,” said Jessica Liu at Forrester Research.

“First, Facebook’s success is an anomaly. Second, while Snapchat has a grasp on mobile video, its TV-like revenue pursuit is new and untested. Snapchat has much room for improvement in the areas of user growth and delivering data and measurement to advertisers in order to live up to its high expectations,” she added.

“The stock market conditions are good, there’s cash available on the sidelines, so the market will welcome an offering like this,” said Josef Schuster, founder of IPOX Schuster, the index provider. “Investors are optimistic about the company’s revenue growth, so while there’s some uncertainty, they still want this stock in their portfolio.”

With growth slowing down to 48% year-on-year and losses increasing to $ 514 million from $373 million a year back in spite of the revenue increasing to $404.5 million in 2016 from the $58.7 million figure in 2015, Snap will have to get investor priorities bang on target if it is to continue to command a high share value.

Mark Zuckerberg’s buyout offer of $3 billion in 2013 was declined by Snapchat co-founders Evan Spiegel and Bobby Murphy who have become paper billionaires many times over and are now ranked among the top notch billionaires in the tech industry after going public.

The main beneficiaries of this windfall are, of course, Spiegel and Murphy with their shares worth billions now in the NYSE, plus a few other executives and investment funds who have made some serious money, as well.

It is the largest public opening since the IPO of Alibaba, the Chinese e-commerce company, in 2014.

This sale has taken Snap way ahead of Twitter which is valued at $11 billion. However, it would do well not to meet the same fate of Twitter which proved to be an anti-climax for investors after all the build-up before its own IPO.

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From The Editors Technology

Mark Zuckerberg Wants to Create Global Utopia With Facebook

In a letter posted on Facebook this morning, Mark Zuckerberg plays savior as he addresses the global community with a 6000-word letter, outlining his growing concerns about the divided world we are living in and how Facebook can help create the perfect global community that is a win-win for all.

According to Facebook CEO, the world seems to be going in the opposite direction to the global community he had envisioned with the introduction of his social networking site.

With Trump pushing for stronger borders, his attempt to crackdown on immigrants with his Executive Order, and the U.K. opting out of the European Union he feels that the Facebook mission of keeping the world harmoniously connected is in jeopardy AND it is Facebook that can come to the rescue of the global communities.

“When we began, this idea was not controversial,” he explains. Every year, the world got more connected and this was seen as a positive trend. Yet now, across the world there are people left behind by globalization, and movements for withdrawing from global connection.”

Zuckerberg goes on to talk about his fanciful and ambitious plans of creating a utopian world community by providing an ideal platform, read Facebook, to crack down on unwanted elements like terrorists, fake news and propaganda proponents with the help of technology such as Artificial Intelligence, new tools to “encourage thoughtful civic engagement” and “additional perspectives and information” in news feeds.

Don’t forget that Facebook and a few others were on the receiving end of some hard criticism on the role they played in the outcome of the US presidential election by encouraging fake news and propaganda on their social platforms.

Although Mark Zuckerberg had played down Facebook’s role in the eventual result of the 2016 election, “I do think there is a certain profound lack of empathy in asserting that the only reason someone could have voted the way they did is they saw some fake news,” he had also gone on to say, “We have already launched work enabling our community to flag hoaxes and fake news, and there is more we can do here. We have made progress, and we will continue to work on this to improve further.”

Coming back to the letter, without speaking about the business aspects of Facebook, he talks about ways Facebook seeks to reverse the trend that is going against his “global community” vision.

He speaks about how Facebook could help people build “supportive communities”, “safe community”, “smart community”, “informed community”, “civically-engaged community”, and “inclusive community” and goes on to elaborate at length on each of these areas of concern.

Zuckerberg, however, does realize that elaborate plans such as the ones he has in mind will take a long time to implement and, perhaps, even longer to see them come to fruition. This, he makes very clear at the outset itself.

“This is a time when many of us around the world are reflecting on how we can have the most positive impact. I am reminded of my favorite saying about technology: “We always overestimate what we can do in two years, and we underestimate what we can do in ten years.” We may not have the power to create the world we want immediately, but we can all start working on the long term today. In times like these, the most important thing we at Facebook can do is develop the social infrastructure to give people the power to build a global community that works for all of us.

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From The Editors Technology

Twitter to Fix Abusive Tweets Issue

Following on the heels of a promise he made at the end of January to make necessary changes to the social networking service, in order to tackle the menace of abusive and harassing tweets, Twitter Vice President of engineering, Ed Ho, announced three new features on Tuesday that will be incorporated into the service in the immediate future.

Ho had said that Twitter’s main aim, as of the moment, was to make Twitter abuse and harassment free and had even acknowledged its failure in not having controlled the abuse of the popular platform sooner.

We heard you, we didn’t move fast enough last year,” he had tweeted.” “Now we’re thinking about progress in days and hours, not weeks and months,” and true to his word, he announced Tuesday, the 3-pronged attack on abusive tweets, rampant harassment, and serial offenders who do not care if they have been blocked or muted – they simply open up new accounts and continue merrily with their nefarious online activities.

First up, Twitter plans to take the serial offender issue head-on by putting a system in place to stop banned users from coming back with a new account. Probably wary of twisted users who can, potentially, find a workaround, Twitter did not provide details of exactly how it planned to stop the creation of new accounts. Well, not many are worried about it as long as whatever Twitter is planning, checks, if not eliminates, the troll issue.

The second step in the anti-abuse measures will be the enhancement of its search capabilities so that abusive and obnoxious content do not show up in regular search results including messages from any user who has been blocked or muted by another.

“While this type of content will be discoverable if you want to find it, it won’t clutter search results any longer,” said the company’s post without giving a timeline.

The third tool will be a filtering system that will seek out and hide or collapse “abusive and low-quality” replies to tweets thereby saving space for the more deserving ones. However, to see the filtered tweets all the user has to do is click or tap the “show less relevant replies” button being included in the service.

Reportedly, Twitter plans to incorporate machine learning or artificial intelligence, if you will, to seek out “low quality” replies based on some type of flagging system. If a user gets a nasty reply to a tweet from a new account with zero followers it will be kind of a red flag for the system to hide the tweet.

It is heartening to see that Twitter is finally taking the abuse scourge very seriously and adopting ways to check it including the use of artificial intelligence. However, it has not yet set a time frame for the intended changes but one is tempted to hope that Twitter delivers on its promise of sorting out the abuse issues on a war footing.