The first scream came from the basement, where my two oldest daughters usually go to watch YouTube videos. What they were watching might surprise you, unless you’re the parent of a Minecraft-obsessed kid.
Minecraft can best be described as a video game based on block building. Think of it as a hyper-electronic version of playing Legos.
For the last two years, my kids have been watching other people play Minecraft on YouTube. Essentially, the videos are created by people playing the game, sometimes with other people, and recording their actions and reactions.
When I asked my daughters why they were screaming, they said, “Because you never know what they’re going to do next,” and, “It’s exciting when they race and play games.”
For Minecrafters like my daughters, it’s a world without boundaries and very few rules.
Go to YouTube and do a search of “Stampy” or “DanTDM” to find good examples. These Minecrafters offer some of the more popular, kid-friendly videos.
In reality, my kids tend to watch more YouTube videos than they do cable television, and I’m okay with this.
They once took a large cardboard box, cut out a hole and turned it into a TV. Of course, their new TV also had a YouTube logo crudely drawn on the side of the box.
For the most part, what they’re watching on YouTube is generally more acceptable for their age group than some shows on cable TV.
This is because we don’t let them watch every video they find on YouTube. Even among the Minecraft superstars, there are some videos will simply won’t let our kids watch.
One of their favorites used to be “SkyDoesMinecraft,” until we heard a volley of expletives that would make a sailor cry. Now they say, “Oh, we don’t watch him cause he swears too much.”
Dig deeper and you’ll find that kids love to watch these videos for several reasons:
1. Learning. My kids like to try to recreate parts of worlds created by famous Minecrafters. For example, when they see duo Mincrafters “TheAtlanticCraft” create something new (usually something that explodes), they try to emulate it in their own worlds.
2. Evolution. As new versions of Minecraft are released and new modifications (or “mods”) are developed, the more skilled Minecraft users uncover new strategies for playing the game. Mods offer something unexpected, and these changes keep the game and videos fresh and exciting.
3. Entertainment. They love to watch Minecraft parody videos. Some players will take popular songs, keep the tune but change the words, and create a Minecraft-based video using game references that only those who play the game will understand.
Popular Minecrafter BebopVox’s parody of Katy Perry’s “Last Friday Night” received more than 60 million views. What’s strange is that when the real Katy Perry song came on the radio, my 8-year-old said, “Hey, it’s the Minecraft song!”
Some of you may never play Minecraft, but there’s a whole generation creating their own virtual worlds, inviting people to play, explore and interact in a world they’ve created.
When the National Football League announced sanctions against the New England Patriots and their star quarterback, Tom Brady, for tampering with game balls, the world went to social media to react.
A recent NFL investigation showed that Brady and the Patriots deliberately broke rules by deflating footballs before a playoff game. Apparently, slightly deflated footballs are easier to grip and throw.
Regardless of where you come down on “Deflategate,” it was fascinating to watch how fans and nonfans, spectators and commentators used social media to voice support. Some people supported the Patriots and Brady, some supported the NFL’s decision, and some just didn’t care and wish the whole thing would go away.
Here are a few interesting observations:
1. The Patriots and Brady are united. In a sign of solidarity, the New England Patriots changed their profile pictures on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to a picture of Brady.
The image is a shot of Brady’s back, wearing his No. 12 jersey. The message from the Patriots to Brady is obvious: “We’ve got your back, Tom.” It was also a reaffirming message to all the supporters (and nonsupporters) of Tom Brady.
It’s somewhat unusual for a team to promote one individual player at any one time on social media in such a high-profile way. The other 31 teams use logos as their profile image. For example, the classic orange helmet identifies the Cleveland Browns, and the Pittsburgh Steelers use the “Steelmark” logo.
The other teams could feature stars, but they don’t.
It’s unclear if this move violates the NFL’s social media policy, but it probably only aggravates an already-tense relationship between the league and the team.
2. Patriots fans are united. As part of the sanctions against the Patriots, the team was fined $1 million. In response, a few loyal fans created a GoFundMe account to help the Patriots pay the fine.
The page creator, Michael Whitman, posted “We obviously know we won’t reach One Million Dollars, however we do believe the fine is bulls**t and want to help anyway we can ... whatever is donated will be donated to the New England Patriots in help with the fine ... we will fly down there [on our own expenses] and deliver a check in person!”
We can only assume Whitman means to “fly down” to the NFL headquarters in New York City and hand the check directly to commissioner Roger Goodell.
Clearly, the Patriots don’t need the money. According to Forbes magazine, the team is worth in excess of $2.6 billion. They’re the second-most-valuable team in the league (behind the Dallas Cowboys at $3 billion).
And there’s no indication the Patriots would even accept the donations.
This hasn’t deterred Whitman.
“If our donations are not accepted by The New England Patriots [assuming we get in contact with them], we plan to donate the money to some great causes,” Whitman posted.
So far, the account has generated a little more than $16,000 in pledges.
~ A version of this column appeared in the Sunday, May 17, 2015 "Connected" section of The Vindicator newspaper.
My mother is an extrovert. She loves to share her life story and to learn more about the people she meets. She loves big social events, like birthday parties, and to be surrounded by people (especially her grandchildren).
As a child, my father would capture her on our 8mm camera talking to random people. During a visit to the Washington Monument, she took up half a reel of film peppering some poor soul from Ireland with questions about his life.
So it should be no surprise that my mother uses social media to connect with old friends and to make new ones. When she can’t get out of the house, she uses social media to bond with the world beyond Youngstown, Ohio.
For my mother, Facebook is like a big social event. And with social media, the party never ends.
She doesn’t classify herself as a senior citizen. Mom looks younger than her age (she’s 60-something), and she often does and says the kinds of things we expect from 20-year-olds. Still, her physical condition often limits her mobility, and sometimes she’s stuck with few options for joining the outside world in person. And this frustrates her.
This begs the question: How can we assist older adults who crave links to the world outside their homes?
Before Facebook and other social media, this was a problem for caregivers. Now, with social media, there are endless options for my mother and others like her to make those connections.
The fact is, the benefits for older adults’ use of social media go way beyond maintaining relationships with family and friends.
Enter the Ages 2.0 project, a study of the elderly in the U.K. and Italy and their uses of social media. The researchers looked at how new technologies promote social connections and lead to a better life for older adults.
Dr. Lucia Di Furia, coordinator of the Ages 2.0 project, suggested that training older adults to use computers and social media can promote social interaction and lead to improved health.
Di Furia and her colleagues found that as older adults learned to use social technologies they reported increased levels of self-competence. Of course, this is probably true for most people learning any new technological tool. Figure out how to use Twitter or send out your first Instagram pic and you feel like a gold-medal winner.
But the Ages 2.0 researchers also found that social media and computer use improved cognitive capacity. They also suggest that social media use could have a beneficial overall impact on physical and mental health.
When my mother talks about her recent social media escapade, I see the Ages 2.0 findings for myself. She’s proud when she figures out Skype or some new platform, and she wants to learn more.
And if using social media leads to a stronger body and mind, I’ll encourage her to use social media everyday.
~ A version of this column appeared in the Sunday, May 10, 2015 "Connected" section of the Vindicator newspaper.
Spring and summer are big home-remodeling seasons. But for many homeowners, finding the right plumber, electrician or general contractor is a risky proposition.
Before the Internet, we found contractors using the neighborhood referral system. If a neighbor had a roof replaced, and our roof was leaking, we simply walked next door to ask about the contractor.
Did the contractor do a good job? Was it expensive? How long did it take? And the biggest question of all: Do you think I should hire this person to fix my roof?
Many of us still rely on those neighborhood recommendations. A few summers ago, I asked my neighbor about the person who repaired her roof. A few months later, the same contractor repaired our roof.
The problem is my neighbors don’t always have the best experiences with contractors, regardless of the scope of project. So, we’re left to fend for ourselves when entering the labyrinth of home-repair options.
Enter Angie’s List.
Angie’s List was launched in Columbus as a way to connect residents in the surrounding area with reliable contractors (the original name for Angie’s List was actually Columbus Neighbors).
Although it’s been around for almost two decades, Angie’s List still is the go-to app for millions of people seeking reliable information about local contractors. More importantly, it contains useful reviews from my neighbors, if you consider my “neighbors” to be the residents of Northeast Ohio and not just the people on my street.
Thanks to Angie’s List and other referral sites such as Yelp, Porch.com and Google Local, my “neighborhood” can include anyone within a certain geographical range. Like other referrals sites, I provide Angie’s List some basic information about who I am, where I live and what I want to do. In return, the app gives me a list of potentially reliable options and provides me with reviews from people that used those options.
Those reviews come with grades, ranging from A’s to F’s.
And like Yelp, Angie’s List isn’t just about finding the right contractors. Because the model is built around crowd-sourced assessments of local businesses, you can find reviews of doctors and dentists, auto mechanics, cleaners and more.
Like any good social media app, Angie’s List isn’t without critics. They regularly solicit advertisements from businesses, which some argue creates a conflict of interest and impedes on their original philosophy. But some of these same companies (many with good ratings) also post valuable coupons (e.g., I once used an Angie’s List coupon to knock 10 percent off a $300 plumbing charge).
The other problem is that some people are reluctant to pay to access Angie’s List. The subscription service will cost you $9.99 for the year. If you’re feeling bold, you can get a three-year subscription for $20.98.
As always, you should do your homework when hiring anyone to work on your house (or teeth, or taxes). Ask around, get advice, but consider the referral apps as one of many tools at your disposal.
~ A version of this column appeared in the Sunday, May 3, 2015 "Connected" section of the Vindicator newspaper.
My wife and I are in the throes of parenthood. We have four small children, and they demand most of our time. The problem is that our time is in limited supply.
In between work, playing chauffeur, and picking up yet another gallon of milk, I try to talk to my wife and share the ups and downs of my day. We have similar responsibilities, so it’s not always easy to have a meaningful conversation about anything.
This, I think, is where social media comes into play.
I use social media to date my wife. Whether it’s Twitter or Trivia Crack, we found a few apps that help us talk about fun things. The following is advice I offer busy married couples looking for ways to reconnect:
Have A Twitterdate
The kids are safely (although not consistently) tucked into their beds. The house is quiet, and we’re trying to unwind. We start a TV show, and a few minutes in, one of us falls asleep.
This leaves the other one with the choice of: A.) Keep watching; or B.) postponing gratification until the next night when we’ll watch together for another 15 or 20 minutes.
Enter Twitter. Using Twitter, we sometimes follow our favorite shows using hashtags to engage audience members — and to connect with each other. We’ll tweet something about a show and then try to get our followers to favorite or retweet our messages.
Our new Twitterdate is the trending hashtag. Once, we competed with each other to see who had the best tweet for #ruinadatein5words. We laughed about the things we were reading and posting, and it made us feel more connected because we were sharing the experience together.
For Her Eyes Only
We connect with a lot of people through Facebook, so this might seem a little unoriginal. But bear with me.
There are items that I specifically post something to my page for my wife to read. I also share news articles that I think she’d like (she’s a news junkie).
By populating her feed with this stuff, I set us up with conversation topics. “Did you see what I posted to your wall?” Instead of making all our conversations about the kids or work or the house, we share topics to discuss.
Addicted To Trivia Crack
Trivia Crack is a social game that you can download to your smartphone. It allows you to challenge any of your social media friends to a quick trivia game.
In a strange way, it makes me feel appreciated when I open my phone to see that it’s my turn because she played. It’s a way to use those minutes that you spend waiting in line at the store or before a meeting.
I don’t want to wish away these years with my young children. I know they’re fleeting. But when they do end, I don’t want to wake up with a stranger.
Social media is helping me maintain a connection to the love of my life. Maybe it can help you, too.
Dr. Adam C. Earnheardt is associate professor and chair of the department of communication at Youngstown State University in Youngstown, OH, USA. He researches and writes about social media and technology, sports and fans.