I have a group of friends who meet every Tuesday night. We huddle around our TVs and watch our favorite show, “The Curse of Oak Island,” on The History Channel.
It’s hard to give an accurate count on how many friends are in our group. Most of us have never actually met face-to-face. Yet, we chat and joke like lifelong friends, like buddies who meet up to unwind after a long day.
Our group assembles on Twitter using the hashtag #OakIslandCursers as our rallying cry.
Twitter is our meeting place for sharing this common interest, for sharing a passion for history and the hunt for buried treasure.
In truth, we’re not all that different from other groups who use Twitter to celebrate their love for favorite TV shows.
By comparison, the Oak Island Cursers aren’t even a big group. While there may be other shows with bigger followings using unique hashtags such as #GameOfThrones or #Greys- Anatomy, the passion for Oak Island is just as strong, even if our tweets aren’t trending across the nation.
Chris Freeman of Brunswick, Ohio, is a fellow Curser who shares that Oak Island passion.
“I’m a big history fan, but not a big reality-show guy,” Freeman said. “A friend of mine watched the first episodes and encouraged me to check it out. The combination of history and treasure hunt really attracted me.”
For many Cursers, it’s the Twitter group that keeps them coming back.
“There’s a healthy amount of skepticism anyone has when you’re parsing theories of the Templars and the Holy Grail and Shakespeare letters,” Freeman added. “The way I was able to find a group who wanted them to find something, but also could point out the ridiculousness of the show at times, was the perfect match.”
For other Cursers, following Oak Island on Twitter is more about trying to piece together important historical timelines, like putting together a giant puzzle one tweet at a time.
“Twitter makes it fun to watch because I find others who, like me, have different theories about what and who were on Oak Island,” said Christie Brooks of Tyler, Texas. “I’ve read several books on the Templar Knights, and I’m a little obsessed with them.”
Cursers are keen to share theories about what happened over the centuries on Oak Island and about what treasurer hunters will ultimately unearth. Theories range from the Ark of the Covenant to the Holy Grail to Templar gold.
“Even if they never find a lump of treasure, it’s still intriguing to wonder how human bones from European and Middle Eastern origins were found around the island, buried so far beneath the ground,” Brooks added.
Whatever they find next, you can bet the Cursers will be there to tweet about it, offering endless theories, and connecting with like-minded friends to explore the mysteries of Oak Island.
Citing problems with another security bug, Google announced last week they’ve moved up the shutdown date for its ailing social media platform, Google+, from August 2019 to April 2019.
“We want to give users ample opportunity to transition off of consumer Google+,” said David Thacker Google’s VP for Product Management and G Suite.
“Over the coming months, we will continue to provide users with additional information, including ways they can safely and securely download and migrate their data.”
The fact is, only a handful of users remain on Google+, still creating “circles” of friends and connections. Pulling the plug a few months early won’t cause much user angst. Although we learned a lot from Google’s failed experiment, the Google+ death knell probably won’t make big headlines.
So, in anticipation of the end for a service with so much unfulfilled potential, I’ve penned an early eulogy for the soon-to-be defunct platform:
It seems like only a few short years ago when we were introduced to Google+.
Or is it Google Plus? I could never tell for sure how Google preferred its name to be written in stories like these. Honestly, I’m sure that “+” sign was an unfortunate design choice for Google, and always a little tricky when trying to brand the platform.
Now, I guess, it doesn’t really matter anymore.
It’s hard to write this and not get a little emotional. After all, Google+ was the little social media engine that almost could, always fighting an uphill climb against the social neighborhood rock stars (I’m looking at you, Facebook).
Even today, we see the legacy of Google’s platform on lists of social sharing buttons at the top of news articles and blog posts.
For example, if you’re reading this online on the desktop version at Vindy.com, look at the top of the page. Next to the Facebook “Share” and Twitter “Tweet” buttons, you might see the ghost of Google+ haunting us in the form of a social share icon.
We just didn’t appreciate Google+ when it was here, not as much as we appreciated other social media. In fact, Google told us that Google+ had such low usage and minimal engagement that in its last days, most of us were spending less than five seconds on the platform.
I’ll always remember that silly controversy over its “+1” buttons that appear at the top of some Google search results. The thought was that if you built a website using the “+1” button, you’d improve your Google rankings.
That didn’t really happen.
Instead, the “+1” option allowed us to discover new content, and help Google index that content for better search results. Some developers suggest that adding the “+1” button increased the time we spend on their sites.
So, while most of us won’t miss the friends and circles, there are some features that will live on as a legacy of the Google+ platform.
Our two oldest daughters are best friends.
The eldest, a teenager, sees herself as a sort of guide for her little sister, a pre-teen.
They both share the same interests, art and anime. They share secrets. They stay up long hours chatting away about nonsensical things.
My kids also bond over social media, specifically Instagram, the elder sister teaching her young apprentice the tips and tricks for curating and sharing the best content.
They post silly pictures, favorite art and anime clips, and they use the platform as a way to celebrate their sisterhood.
I follow them on Instagram. I’m a snoop, an over-protective father, and I need to be sure no one is posting inappropriate content.
I’m also genuinely interested in seeing how they and their friends are using social media to cultivate relationships. I learn so much about how to use social media simply through observation.
Turns out they’re much better at this whole social media thing than most of us.
They know the importance of being lighthearted, and how to not take themselves (or life) too seriously.
Our teens and pre-teens see the benefits of using social media and how those benefits far outweigh the costs.
A Pew Research Center study released recently suggests that many teens know the costs of using social media, and they understand the challenges of growing up with technology.
They also realize the benefits to using technology, such as staying better connected to friends and learning about the world.
According to the study, teens say they sometimes feel “overwhelmed by the drama on social media and pressure to construct only positive images of themselves, they simultaneously credit these online platforms with several positive outcomes – including strengthening friendships.”
Teens also like seeing different ideas, values and opinions, and helping fellow teens with important causes.
Of the 13- to 17-year-olds surveyed, 81-percent said social media made them feel “more connected to what’s going on in their friends’ lives,” and 68-percent said social media made them feel as if they had people who would “support them through tough times.”
Many teens had positive rather than negative emotions about their social media use. For example, 71-percent said they felt included (as opposed to excluded) and 69-percent felt confident (as opposed to insecure).
Some also recognized the negative aspects, such as the 45 percent who felt a little overwhelmed by the drama on social media, and 37 percent who felt pressure to only post content that would generate a lot of comments and likes.
Like my daughters who see the value in using social media to learn about the world and connect with friends, it’s clear that other teens see those same benefits. And when we see those benefits through the eyes of our children, it allows us to reassess the value we see in our own uses of social media.
Narcissus is one of my favorite characters from Greek mythology.
If you’re not familiar with his story, it’s a simple yet powerful and cautionary tale.
As Narcissus walked by a lake, he stopped for a drink. When he leaned down, he saw his reflection in the water and was surprised by the youth and beauty staring back at him.
Narcissus became transfixed by his reflection, how young and handsome he looked.
He died on the bank of the lake from sorrow because he could not reclaim the beauty of his youth, and he could not look away.
Narcissus would have loved social media and the ability to see his image reflected back at him on platforms such as Instagram, in pictures and posts, all searchable with hashtags and keywords.
Narcissus would have died in front of his computer screen with a mouse in one hand and his smartphone in the other.
Beyond the myth, we have Narcissus to thank for the oft-used term that describes our obsession with seeing ourselves on social media: narcissism.
Today’s Narcissus is not myth. He and she are alive and well, and now we have data to prove it.
In the December issue of Computers In Human Behavior, researchers Antonia Erz, Ben Marder and Elena Osadchaya of the Copenhagen Business School identified what drives social media influencers and followers to use hashtags and other “look at me” strategies for self-promotion.
When looking at Instagram, Erz’s team found telltale signs of narcissism.
“Influencers... are heavy hashtag-users,” Erz’s team noted. These influencers also had a high followers-to-followings ratio, which means they had a high number of followers, but they didn’t really follow many others in return.
They also found that influencers were driven by motives of self-presentation through hashtags and “look at me” status-seeking on the image-sharing platform.
Influencers in this study had high scores for narcissism, extraversion and self-monitoring traits. In other words, influencers spent more time looking at themselves on social media, with deep concern over how they were seen by others, rather than making stronger connections to their followers.
Erz’s team found that, in recent years, some social media platforms have “experienced a growing number of influencers and microcelebrities, who use social media to connect, not for the sake of community but for the sake of broadcasting themselves.”
And apparently influencers love hashtags.
“We show that users who chose Instagram to seek status, were largely driven by self-presentation motives, which in turn increased the propensity to add hashtags and use many hashtags in a post,” Erz’s team added.
If we’re caught up in the endless cycle of searching for likes and shares for the content and witty hashtags we post, it’s time to look away from our social media reflections.
After all, legend has it that Narcissus is still admiring himself in the afterlife, searching the waters of the River Styx for his reflection.
Dr. Adam C. Earnheardt is professor and chair of the department of communication at Youngstown State University in Youngstown, OH, USA. He researches and writes about communication and relationships, parenting and sports. He writes a weekly column for The Vindicator newspaper on social media and society.