The Happiness Effect: The Dark Side of Social Media

From a review of The Happiness Effect, by Donna Freitas, in The Wall Street Journal: “The real downside of Facebook, Instagram and their ilk … is constant cheeriness. Young people learn that any hint of unhappiness or failure may not be posted; it can haunt their futures and damage their ‘brands.’ This imperative then creates a vicious circle.” Freitas writes: “Because young people feel so pressured to post happy things on social media, most of what everyone sees on social media from their peers are happy things; as a result, they often feel inferior because they aren’t actually happy all the time.”

“Young people feel that they have to be online almost all the time, but they cannot share their real selves there, a situation that produces even greater unhappiness … Yet avoiding social media is almost impossible; professors, for instance, create discussion groups on Facebook. So the beast must be mollified and a ‘personal brand’ maintained: that of a studious yet social person who does the right activities and holds the right opinions. ‘Many students have begun to see what they post (on Facebook, especially) as a chore—a homework assignment to build a happy facade,’ Ms. Freitas reports.”

“Some of her interviews contain real gems … One young man tells her that he doesn’t think his generation is any more self-centered or self-obsessed than any other … ‘Everybody wants to be noticed,’ he says. ‘Everybody likes feeling approval. They all like it when other people like them.’ Anyone who has posted a photo on Instagram and then checked 10 times over the next two hours to count the number of ‘likes’ … knows this feeling.”


Bank of America Tests ‘Robo-Banks’

The Washington Post: “Bank of America has opened three mini-bank branches­ since the new year that have ATMs and video­conferencing but no people. Two opened in Denver and one in Minneapolis. In addition to the ATMs, the new robo-banks — called automated centers — allow customers to make a video­conference call to a Bank of America employee at another location to discuss more complicated money issues.”

Peter Fitzgerald, a former U.S. senator from Illinois, lifelong banker and founder of Chain Bridge Bank, comments: “This is the beginning of the end of the American bank branch. Bank branches are dead. They were killed by the iPhone. It’s like the horseshoe when the automobile came along.”

“Bank of America spokeswoman Anne Pace said live banking isn’t disappearing … She also said Bank of America is adding 50 to 60 traditional centers.” She also says: “We are simply following our clients … Mobile banking users increased to 21.6 million, and 19 percent of deposit transactions are done through mobile. That’s equivalent to 880 financial centers. We need to be there whether it’s through the mobile phone or inside a financial center.”


Quote of the Day: Derek Thompson

“We want to live in a world where originality constantly wins and the best stuff constantly wins. But instead, we live in a somewhat arbitrary world where people just want that which is ultimately familiar and it’s the companies which own distribution power who have the capacity to dictate popularity.” – Derek Thompson, author, Hit Makers, quoted on Vox.


What Makes Doritos The Perfect Snack Food?

Business Insider: “Doritos are one of the most successful snack foods ever, with a market-leading $1.5 billion in annual sales in the US. What makes them so good? Food scientist Steven Witherly explained ‘the perfect snack food’ at length in his book, Why Humans Like Junk Food.” His analysis, in part:

“That red powder is high in salt and sugar — two major pleasure solutes — and loaded with flavor-boosters like MSG, disodium inosinate, and disodium guanylate. Not to mention garlic, Romano cheese, cheddar cheese, and more … The powder also contains acids (buttermilk solids, lactic acid, and citric acid) that trigger the release of saliva … Your brain is excited by the sensation of biting into a hard substance that quickly dissolves. This is also an example of vanishing caloric density, where food seems to disappear in your mouth, tricking your brain into wanting more.”

“A complex mix of flavors, known as non-specific aroma quality, keeps your brain from getting bored … the stuff on your fingers is 5-6 times more concentrated than the stuff on the chip, says Witherly. Your brain gets a pleasure explosion when you lick it off.”


What Makes ‘Snap’ Crackle & Pop?

The New York Times: “When Evan Spiegel and Bobby Murphy were undergraduates at Stanford University, they made an unconventional observation about what makes a social network valuable. Thanks to the rise of Facebook, most everyone believed that networks became exponentially more valuable by amassing more users. But Mr. Spiegel noticed that in real life, even people with thousands of acquaintances spent most of their time with just a few friends whose value outweighed a large number of looser ties.”

“So when Mr. Spiegel and Mr. Murphy created Snapchat in 2011, they inverted the social networking dynamic. Out of their Stanford dorm rooms, they made Snapchat as an app that would send disappearing messages and photos in a way that more closely mimicked the dynamics of a real world conversation. That would increase the appeal of Snapchat as a service that people used with a small number of good friends, they figured.”

“While online identity previously emphasized everything anyone has ever done, with Snapchat ‘my identity is who I am right now,’ Mr. Spiegel said in a 2015 video to describe the app:”


Amazon’s Alexa: The Ultimate ‘Marshmallow’ Test?

Jenna Wortham: “There’s a theory that behavioral economists use to explain our consumption habits called ‘hyperbolic discounting,’ which is the tendency to choose short-term rewards over long-term gains. The ‘marshmallow test’ of the 1960s tested the ability of preschoolers to resist temptation — the titular marshmallow, within reach — with the promise that they would be rewarded with two if they waited.”

“In the experiment’s most popular interpretation, those who had self-control grew up to be much more successful than those who did not. It is one of the most formative studies in self-control and how people make decisions.”

“Alexa is the ultimate marshmallow test, and most of us are failing. We are being conditioned, as a population, to never wait, to never delay our gratification, to accept thoughtless, constant consumption as the new norm. But how we think about consumption and willpower carry enormous implications for the environment and the culture of society as a whole. Think about that the next time you ask Alexa to order you another roll of toilet paper.”


Indie Theaters Reinvent Movie Experience

The Guardian: “From themed weddings to live-streamed operas and interactive movie nights, (UK) indie theatres are reinventing themselves as the new entertainment hubs on the high street – eating into the market share of the multiplex giants and in-home rivals such as Netflix and Amazon Prime. These independents accounted for almost a quarter – 23% – of all screens nationwide in 2016, up from 17% the year before, according to data from research firm Mintel.”

“Sam Neophytou would vouch for that. Together with a small group of actor friends, he founded the Arthouse in Crouch End, north London in 2014, converting a former snooker hall into an indie cinema. Its two 85-seater screens have been a huge success.” He comments: “People want to be in this kind of environment rather than a multiplex where there isn’t that intimacy.”

“When Lyndsey Holden, from Birmingham, was planning her wedding last year, she didn’t want a church or a register office … She and husband-to-be James Burrows ended up walking down the aisle of their local indie cinema, the Electric, flanked by half a dozen stormtroopers and a 6ft 7in Chewbacca … The cinema’s manager, Sam Bishop, says he is constantly thinking up new ideas … Special wine-tasting evenings have been staged in sync with the film Sideways, pausing the movie whenever the main characters have a drink and serving customers the same wine.” He comments: “You drink cathartically with their journey and leave as spiritually uplifted – and as drunk – as the main characters.”


Pottery Barn Catalogs: What a Mess!

The Wall Street Journal: “Shoppers have long wanted to live in the pages of a home furnishings catalog. Now brands are obsessing over shots that are just untidy enough that they look more like places where real people actually might live. It’s the décor equivalent of a model with bed-head hair or a partially untucked shirt … Pottery Barn’s January catalogs have photos of unmade beds and overflowing storage baskets. But there is a line they will not cross: A dining room scene doesn’t feature stacks of dirty plates, but it does have a chair pulled out with an unfolded napkin strewn across it.”

“The catalog from the Land of Nod, Crate and Barrel’s children’s division … makes sure its props include items found in many children’s rooms, such as a well-loved stuffed animal. There are shoes on the floor and books on the shelf. Toys are often tossed about, but in a controlled way—one that looks as if it could be tidied quickly if needed.”

Pottery Barn’s “makeover extends into its product design, with the introduction of shrunken, more affordable pieces. The collection aims to change the brand’s perception of selling only oversize , often pricey furniture designed for sprawling suburban homes. The new merchandise, including a $299 arm chair, is meant to appeal to two sets of new shoppers: young adults outfitting their first apartment and boomers relocating from the suburbs to smaller, urban spaces.”


Crowd Cow: The New Digital Slaughterhouse

The New York Times: Crowd Cow is “an online service that sells whole cows from small ranchers, divided into manageable orders, usually about 10 to 12 pounds, and delivered to homes as frozen, vacuum-sealed cuts … Rather than putting its own brand on the meat it buys, Crowd Cow advertises the beef’s producers and allows them to tell the stories of their ranches on its website.”

“Joe Heitzeberg, the chief executive of Crowd Cow, which has sold nearly 200 cows online, founded the company with Ethan Lowry. He said their idea was to teach the consumer about the particulars of each ranch.” He explains: “We’re saying it’s like microbrews and wine. There are differences. We want you to understand the differences.”

“Most of the beef on Crowd Cow and similar websites is grass-fed, which research has shown has higher levels of healthful omega-3 fatty acids … While even large commercial cattle operations now sell grass-fed beef and many supermarkets stock it, some consumers prefer the beef they get from small producers online … Much of its beef comes in variety packs: A recent sale from Step by Step Farm in Curtis, Wash., featured a $69 package that included four eight-ounce flat iron steaks, two 10-ounce chuck steaks and two pounds of ground beef.”


Birch Coffee: Laptop Ban is Interactive Boon

The Wall Street Journal: “Birch Coffee, a local, eight-store mini chain … eliminated Wi-Fi about a year ago, prompted by yet another customer griping about the slow internet connection … Sales are up and tables are turning over faster.” Jeremy Lyman, the owner, comments: “When you walk into our store, there’s a few laptops, but nothing close to how many there were. There’s people talking. It’s such a beautiful thing.”

“Café Grumpy, another local mini chain … banned laptops in several of its eight locations.” Says co-owner Caroline Bell: “It feels more fun, more interactive, more like New York City.”

“In his efforts to get customers talking, Mr. Lyman created conversation-starter cards that patrons can set on their table to invite encounters with strangers … Human interaction, after all, is what he hopes will set his cafes apart.” He observes: “I’ve never seen anyone say, ‘You gotta go to this place, the Wi-Fi is really great!’”