Cassette Comeback: Blame it on Bieber

The Wall Street Journal: “Sales figures for streaming music and even vinyl may dwarf those of cassettes, but the format still thrives: An estimated 129,000 tapes sold last year, up from 74,000 the year before, according to Nielsen Music.Blame the resurgence, in part, on Justin Bieber. So says Gigi Johnson, director of UCLA’s Center for Music Innovation. When the heartthrob released a cassette version of his Grammy-nominated album “Purpose” in 2016, more than 1,000 copies of the retro iteration sold (a relatively significant sum).”

“Among the labels duping new releases to tape will be Anticon Records … Its manager Shaun Koplow has long appreciated cassettes, despite their demise in the ’90s. He said he finds that vinyl offers the best sound quality and that streaming is the most convenient—but when he gets home after a long day, he often reaches for cassette.” He explains: “Cassette tapes demand that you’re patient. You’re not going to be skipping tracks as you would on your phone. It’s nice to have something to force you to relax.”

“Indeed, anyone can create and share a playlist with a few clicks on Spotify. But the instantly shareable, streamed compilation will never be as meaningful as a handmade mixtape … Although audiophiles have never embraced the cassette for its audio quality the way they have vinyl records, the format does imbue music with a subtle hiss and other audio vestiges that appeal to the discerning.” And: “Getting into cassettes, unlike vinyl, is relatively inexpensive: Even high-end players cost less than $150.”

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Are Smartphones Worse Than Drugs?

The New York Times: “Researchers are starting to ponder an intriguing question: Are teenagers using drugs less in part because they are constantly stimulated and entertained by their computers and phones? The possibility is worth exploring, they say, because use of smartphones and tablets has exploded over the same period that drug use has declined. This correlation does not mean that one phenomenon is causing the other, but scientists say interactive media appears to play to similar impulses as drug experimentation, including sensation-seeking and the desire for independence.”

“Or it might be that gadgets simply absorb a lot of time that could be used for other pursuits, including partying … Though smartphones seem ubiquitous in daily life, they are actually so new that researchers are just beginning to understand what the devices may do to the brain. Researchers say phones and social media not only serve a primitive need for connection but can also create powerful feedback loops Alexandra Elliott, 17, a senior at George Washington High School in San Francisco, said using her phone for social media ‘really feels good’ in a way consistent with a ‘chemical release.’ A heavy phone user who smokes marijuana occasionally, Alexandra said she didn’t think the two were mutually exclusive.”

“However, she said, the phone provides a valuable tool for people at parties who don’t want to do drugs because ‘you can sit around and look like you’re doing something, even if you’re not doing something, like just surfing the web’.” Eric Elliott, “who has counseled young people for 19 years, said he had seen a decrease in drug and alcohol use among students in recent years. He said he was ‘more likely to have a challenge with a student who has a video game addiction than I am a student who is addicted to drugs’ … In the case of his own daughter, he worried more about the device than the drugs.” He explains: “I see her at this point and time as not being a person who is controlled in any way by smoking pot, but her phone is something she sleeps with.”

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Why is Snapchat So Confusing?

Business Insider: “The reason Snapchat can feel hard to understand happens to be the same reason it’s popular with younger people, according to Snapchat’s first investor, Jeremy Liew of Lightspeed Ventures.” Liew says Snapchat “is confusing to some because it breaks traditional metaphors and conventions for app design. Hence it is confusing to those who are expecting those conventions.”

He continues: “But to those who do not come in with any expectations about ‘how an app should work’, it isn’t confusing at all. In fact, it is more intuitive because it takes a fresh look at UI from first principles, rather than starting with established metaphor. And because it is more intuitive, it rewards those who use the app heavily … This is why Snapchat found an initial user base with teens; those with the least expectation for what UI ‘should’ look like, and those who use it the most.”

“Snapchat’s ‘unfolded cube’ design, as Liew put it, is a different take on how to navigate an app. Instead of using a menu button or drop-down, you simply swipe in any direction to move between different parts of the app.”

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De Stijl & Digital Design, Dutch-Style

Backchannel: “2017 marks the 100th anniversary of the founding of a Dutch art movement that has had a worldwide impact: De Stijl. Right up to the present day, De Stijl has influenced art, architecture, and product design. But the impact of De Stijl is particularly apparent in contemporary design—more specifically, in digital design.”

“The key principles of De Stijl still resonate. In the 1990s and early aughts digital design was an explosion of designs, colors, and patterns. But in these times of digital overstimulation, design has shifted. Now we look for something to hold onto, and we often find it in functional, minimalist designs: abstract and elegant, stripped of any frills.”

“Today’s digital design shows a clear preference for horizontally oriented shapes, and a grid-based layout. Naturally, this results in a visual vocabulary that is strongly reminiscent of the characteristic De Stijl compositions, as is evident in the grid-based interface of Pinterest, for example. Other examples include Google’s Material Design, a design theory that explains how every manifestation of Google is constructed. Windows 10, the most geometric looking operating system so far, also invokes De Stijl.”

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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:”

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Lather Rinse Repeat: Netflix Finds Its ‘Tipping Point’

Wired: “In 2016, Netflix spent $5 billion on original programming. Five of the 10 shows people searched for most often last year are Netflix originals … Eager to build on that, Netflix plans to spend $6 billion creating 1000 hours of new content this year, more than doubling its 2016 lineup. At this point, it’s clear Netflix isn’t just a streaming service anymore. ‘For many millions of consumers around the world, Netflix has already become television,’ says Tony Gunnarsson, a television analyst with Ovum.”

“Tony Wible, a Drexel Hamilton analyst, argues that Netflix has a sound business model, one best described as, Spend so aggressively that you dominate, making it impossible for anyone to compete … He expects Netflix to monetize existing subscriptions by doing things like adopting higher pricing tiers for 4K content. And you can bet it will keep cranking out premium original content. After all, it isn’t a single show that hooks new subscribers all over the world. It’s a solid lineup of remarkable programming like The Crown and Gilmore Girls and Black Mirror.”

Netflix CEO Reed Hastings comments: “Very few people will join Netflix for just one title. But there’s a tipping point, one more title you’re hearing about, that causes you to join.” In other words, as Hastings says: “Lather, rinse, repeat.”

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Printed Books Are Not Beaten to a Pulp

Gallup: “Despite the abundance of digital diversions vying for their time and attention, most Americans are still reading books. In fact, they are consuming books at nearly the same rate that they were when Gallup last asked this question in 2002 — before smartphones, Facebook or Twitter became ubiquitous. More than one in three (35%) appear to be heavy readers, reading 11 or more books in the past year, while close to half (48%) read between one and 10 and just 16% read none.”

“The number of Americans who say they read no books in the past year has doubled since the first time Gallup asked this in 1978, from 8% then to 16% now, but has been fairly steady near the current level since 1990 … Although the survey did not track the types of books that Americans read by age group, book reading in general is fairly similar by age group among U.S. adults. It is a bit more prevalent among the oldest and youngest age groups than among those in the middle years.”

“With the advent of e-readers and tablets in the past decade, some futurists predicted the imminent extinction of printed books … However, this prophecy appears to be far from true — so far. Among those who say they read at least one book last year, the vast majority say they most often read printed books, at 73%. About one in five most often read electronic books, while only 6% mostly experienced books in audio form.”

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Paper Tigers: Calendars Keep Their Cool

The New York Times: “It may seem counterintuitive that a print product can thrive in the digital age. But the continued success of some paper calendars mirrors that of printed books, an industry that several years ago was confronting what seemed like the very real possibility that e-books would outsell the printed variety. Instead, a Pew survey this fall found that most readers still preferred their reading material printed on paper.”

“Bertel King Jr., in a blog post last year for Make Use Of, a technology and productivity site, made the case for paper calendars.” He wrote: “Having to open another tab, fire up another piece of software, or launch another app to access my calendar amounts to one more onscreen thing vying for my attention. Suddenly a paper planner starts to make sense.”

“Melissa Ralston, marketing director for BIC Graphic, said in an email that companies have found paper calendars to be an effective advertising vehicle with a mass market appeal. She said studies have found that 82 percent of recipients enjoy getting a calendar as a complimentary gift and 70 percent plan to do business with the company that provided the calendar.”

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Snapchat: The Cause is Not Celebre

The New York Times: “Snapchat wants to provide a more authentic experience, one that does not depend on whether a celebrity is on its service, and one that is not cluttered by adlike endorsements from influencers. The more someone’s real life shows up on its service, Snapchat figures, the more intimate and personal it feels. And marketers may be more attracted to this authenticity, spurring them to buy ads from Snapchat rather than pay celebrities and influencers to do product placements.”

“Snapchat says it prefers that celebrities use the app like everyday users, rather than as a platform to sell products. The company’s terms of service prohibit getting paid to post, making influencer marketing a no-no. The company, based in Venice, Calif., said it does not want to harm Snapchat’s image as a place where people go to interact with their friends … remaining relatively marketing-free will help the company differentiate itself.”

“The ads are typically designed to mirror the look and the feel of videos and photos that users already see on the messaging service. By keeping that quality control, Snapchat is able to charge a lot for its ads: $350,000 to $600,000 for a daylong national geofilter — a branded image that people can overlay on their photos — and up to $700,000 for so-called lenses that can transform a user’s selfie.”

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