The Earnheardt house is full of “Stranger Things” fans.
Up until last week, I was a Twitter follower of “Stranger Things” star Millie Bobby Brown, who plays the role of Eleven, a young girl with a shaved-head and supernatural powers.
Okay. Eleven’s shaved head was season one. I’ll get back to that in a minute.
In any other case it would seem weird, maybe even creepy, for me to follow a then 13-year-old girl (Brown is now 14). But when that girl is the star of your family’s favorite TV show, it feels less, well, strange.
This is, in part, because we had a brief exchange on Twitter over a year ago.
Again, I’m well aware this sounds super creepy. I promise, it’s not.
Around the same time we were watching season one, we shaved our son’s head. He was having a bout with lice, and shaving his head helped speed the cure.
When we shaved his head, everyone in our home took notice of his uncanny resemblance to Brown (aka, Eleven with a shaved head).
I took a quick snap and posted a side-by-side comparison picture with my son and Brown, and a quip on the likeness:
“Pretty sure my Ozzie could play Eleven’s (aka @milliebbrown) long lost bro in @Stranger_Things season 3. Spitting image in a hospital gown.”
She responded with a:
Of course, her account is now deleted, and her "so cute" tweet no longer exists.
It doesn’t sound like much, but that quick tweet turned into thousands of “favorites” and only strengthened our family’s Stranger-Things-fandom resolve. Over the last year, I’ve continued to share Brown’s posts and update with our kids for no other reason than it was fun to connect over our family’s favorite show.
That was until last week, when Brown was forced to quit Twitter in the wake of harassment by cyberbullies who distorted her image, pegging her as someone violently homophobic (Brown is actually a champion of the LGBTQ community).
For me, it begs the bigger question of the appropriate age for social media use, let alone Twitter, even when that user is a celebrity.
I was complicit in the use of Twitter by a celebrity teen who I’m no longer convinced was the right age to handle the nuances of social media. Now I’m even more concerned about how non-celebrity kids are faring in such a hostile environment.
Instagram and Snapchat have their problems, but Twitter really requires an entirely different level of maturity.
Most platforms won’t allow users under the age of 13. The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998 (COPPA) dictates this age for U.S.-based accounts.
Celebrity or not, most teens aren’t mature enough to handle the complexities of being social media mass communicators, and they probably won’t learn it in middle school or on the set of a popular TV show.
Maybe it’s time for COPPA to rethink that minimum age.
Jerry Springer said, “Because of social media, everyone is a politician. Everyone is a columnist.”
Springer said this in his remarks to newspaper columnists and writers at this past weekend’s National Society of Newspaper Columnists conference in Cincinnati.
It reminded me of a favorite saying I often use (and my wife is sick of hearing), “Because of social media, everyone is a mass communicator.”
Springer and I are both referring to the abundance of social media posts that resemble candidate stump speeches or “deep” critical analyses of some issue, and that because of social media, we all have a megaphone to share and react to that content.
The problem is, of course, that some of these posts include content from the misinformed, the un- or undereducated, and the conspiracy theorists.
The bigger problem is that these posts are drowning out the informed, educated, rational discussions from some rather smart writers.
David Lieber, “Watchdog” columnist for the Dallas Morning News, sees this problem first-hand.
“I kill in print, but I get killed online,” he said, referring to the number of “hits” or views (of lack thereof) his column gets on the newspaper’s website.
His most loyal followers are those who like ink on their fingers, those who still walk to the corner newspaper box to get their daily news fix.
It’s no secret to Lieber and other columnists who attended the conference that, unfortunately, it’s hard to attract new online readers.
Four decades into his news career, 30 years of that as a columnist, Lieber isn’t giving up, even if he openly admits that his days may be numbered.
“Look at this guy,” he said. “How can anyone compete with that,” Lieber asked with a wry grin when showing a picture of his fellow columnist standing next to Stormy Daniels.
His colleague, Lieber admits, “kills online” because he’s able to attract readers who use social media to reach readers who devour these kinds of stories and opinions.
So, rather than fade away, Lieber fights on — online.
“I know what I have to do to build my online fan base,” Lieber said before laying out his strategies, step-by-step, for finding readers and those all-important page views. “But it’s not easy to do it.”
Getting people to follow him on various social media platforms is part of it, but it still is about good, genuine storytelling.
Good stories, according to Lieber, still include foreshadowing (telling the reader what they’re going to get) and good editing. He also suggests using self-deprecation, humor and vulnerability to let your readers know you’re human.
There’s something to be learned from Lieber’s list of strategies for nurturing a fan base. Regardless of what great social media tactics you use to find those fans, telling a good story should always be at the top of that list.
I have a love-hate relationship with screens. That's the thing you're looking at (or through?) to read this.
Screens are plentiful in the Earnheardt house.
Aside from a few TVs, we have a smattering of mobile devices either plugged into walls, dangling precariously from the edge of a table, or in the grip of some grubby, ketchup-caked fingers.
I could spend hours regaling you with tales of cracked screens and our semi-ingenious methods for tracking lost devices, but the bigger questions I’ve had lately have to do with how we got to this point:
Why do we have so many screens? Do we really need them?
Put those questions in successive order to an Earnheardt kid and you’ll get, “Because” and “Yes,” respectively.
Somewhere in the last decade, we started to accumulate this tech in our home. It started slow with just a few small TVs and flip phones. As we added Earnheardts, we added more screens. A 70-inch plasma here, an iPad there, old smartphones in a drawer.
It's equal parts maddening and comforting.
We’re really not all that different from other families. Our kids like games and YouTube. My wife and I like news and social media. It’s just that, well, foolishly I thought we’d be more efficient by now – that we’d have fewer screens and more time to enjoy other things in life.
After all, that continues to be the unfulfilled promise of technology:
Use this device, or software, and your life will be simpler.
To this day, that promise serves as a primary sales tactic for every piece of tech we get sucked into buying. Ironically, our life is more complicated with it, but we can't life without it.
That promise, however, also led me to realize two undeniable facts.
Fact one: Yes, I’m no more productive than I used to be before screens, but I fear I’d be even less productive without them. Right or wrong, I sometimes feel a little secure with a screen nearby.
You’d never know this by reading it, but last week’s column was written on my smartphone while I was on a school bus filled with 7th graders, chaperoning my daughter band on a field trip to Kennywood Park, an amusement park in Pittsburgh, PA.
Somewhere between the long weekend, my fear of spending the day with tweens, and my deadline, I lost track of time and didn’t finish the column. When I loaded the bus, a wave of panic flushed my body – until I realized, “Oh, I have my phone. I can write it on here.”
Problem solved, thanks to my trusty screen.
Fact two: I rely heavily on my screens to maintain connections to people with whom I need (or want) to communicate professionally and personally.
This post is a perfect example. I’m writing this on a screen. When I’m done, I’ll open an email and send it off to my editor. When published on Vindy.com, I'll share it on social media and here, on my blog. When others read it, they’ll post comments about what they liked and disliked about my column (that's your cue). :)
At every step of the process, I use a screen to make those personal and professional connections.
The trick for all of us drowning in screens is to find a working balance between life with and without them, because accumulating screens does very little to help us grow what really matters: relationships with friends, colleagues and family.
Americans have finally found something we (mostly) agree on.
The vast majority of internet users think it brings value to their lives.
That’s right, a full 88 percent of us perceive of the internet and technology as contributing positively to our lives, according to a recent study published by the Pew Research Center.
Those numbers are down a bit from four years ago when 90 percent said the internet has been “mostly a good thing” for them. Still it’s hard to ignore the positive feelings most of us have for the internet.
That’s good for businesses and community organizers who ponder the value in posting their information on websites and sharing other relevant online content.
That’s also good news for people whose job it is to develop websites, write web content, and make information easy to find online.
It’s not good news for the rest of society, at least not in the eyes of those surveyed for this study. While Americans generally agree the Internet has been good for us on an individual basis, some 70 percent think it’s been mostly a good thing for society. That percentage looks strong, but it’s down from 76 percent in 2014.
Slightly less surprising is our perception of the Internet based on age. Turns out that as we get older, we become a little more skeptical of the internet’s value.
“This shift in opinion regarding the ultimate social impact of the internet is particularly stark among older Americans, despite the fact that older adults have been especially rapid adopters of consumer technologies such as social media and smartphones in recent years,” wrote Pew researchers Aaron Smith and Kenneth Olmstead.
“Today 64 percent of online adults ages 65 and older say the internet has been a mostly good thing for society. That represents a 14-point decline from the 78 percent who said this in 2014.”
Okay, maybe not “stark”. After all, more than 6 in 10 in this older age group think the Internet is mostly a “good thing.”
The study pointed to two other positive issues concerning our perception of the Internet.
First, those who feel good about the Internet enjoy having information close at hand. We value the ability to use technology to help us find answers quickly and efficiently.
The second most valuable positive service is connecting to others. We value the way tech allows us to stay close to the people we care about.
“Most mentioned how the internet makes information much easier and faster to access,” Smith and Olmstead reported.
“Meanwhile, 23 percent of this group mentioned the ability to connect with other people, or the ways in which the internet helps them keep more closely in touch with friends and family.”
More than two decades since its birth, the internet is continuing to fulfill its promise of connecting us to the world and the people in it.
For more information on this and other Pew studies, visit www.pewinternet.org.
The 2018 FIFA World Cup is a mere three weeks away.
Wait, why aren’t you celebrating the start of the only sporting event larger than the Super Bowl?
If you’re uninterested in the massive soccer (or football or futbol) spectacle, it’s easy to understand why.
The U.S. men’s soccer team failed to qualify, leaving many fans to turn to Twitter to revolt and rage, feeling a deep sting to our national pride.
We know this because, according to Jay Bavishi, partner manager for FIFA at Twitter, the United States is still the second most tweeted-about team (@ussoccer), right behind Japan (@JFA).
Chile (@LaRoja) didn’t qualify either. Yet like the United States, they also made the “most tweeted about teams” list.
“As you can see, despite the United States and Chile not qualifying for the tournament, excitement for this summer’s event has not waned as both teams are still among the most discussed on Twitter,” Bavishi said.
So, even after the United States was ousted from Cup contention months ago, we’re still talking about @ussoccer on Twitter. Why?
When you look back at those tweets about @ussoccer, they’re not pretty. I tend to shy away from the negative, but there was something very telling about our growing interest in soccer among those posts.
It’s no secret that the United States lags behind other countries in soccer appeal. But over the last decade, there has been a groundswell of interest based in cultural shifts – oh, and social media.
The shifts are clear: the introduction of youth soccer leagues; an influx of immigrants who brought with them a love for soccer; the introduction of Major League Soccer (MLS) in 1996.
Sure, the MLS can’t touch the other major sports in ratings and revenues, but the fan base is just as fervent. MLS fans let their passion shine social media, in particular on Twitter, where they rally support for teams, communities and causes.
I noticed this first-hand while attending the International Association for Communication and Sport’s Summit at Indiana University a few weeks ago.
During one presentation, researcher Stephen Andon (Nova Southeastern University) discussed fan reaction to the Columbus Crew owner’s plan to move the team from Ohio.
Using the hashtag #SaveTheCrew, the rallying cry for Crew fans on Twitter and around the world set on keeping the team in Columbus, I tweeted a message of support for Andon’s research and for Ohio’s lone MLS team.
Within minutes, Crew fans were sharing that post, and interacting with Andon and other fans.
One fan even invited me to a tailgate party in Columbus.
It’s clear that soccer in the United States doesn’t have the power of other major league sports. But what it lacks in money and media exposure it more than makes up for in a passionate fan base on social media.
I have a wallet full of department store, gas station and restaurant loyalty program cards. Some I use on a nearly daily basis. Sheetz, Giant Eagle, Panera Bread, and others get frequent swipes.
The others? Not so much.
In fact, I have a stack of loyalty cards saved in a plastic container, tucked away in the family junk drawer, because I foolishly think I’ll start frequenting those businesses some day.
When a cashier says, “Hey, if you join our loyalty program, you can get 20-percent off your purchase today. And it’s free,” I’m usually game.
Okay, I get it. It’s their job to get me to sign up. And okay, the loyalty program is not technically free. I’m paying for those benefits with my data and info on my purchasing behaviors.
Obviously I have no major hang-ups with loyalty programs or giving them my data in order to tailor shopping and dining experiences to my tastes. I am, after all, the stereotypical middle-aged Dad who likes his grocery discounts, free restaurant appetizers, and fuel perks.
But being connected to my favorite businesses is important to me, too – businesses that serve my needs and that want to have a relationship with me through these programs.
I just wish it didn’t involve so many darn cards.
So, it was with both excitement and utter terror this week when reports surfaced of Sweden’s new human microchip implant initiative.
Thousands of Swedes agreed to be “chipped,” a process that includes injecting a tiny microchip under the skin to be used in place of credit cards, workplace IDs, gym memberships, and those pesky loyalty cards.
Conspiracy theorists have taken to the streets (and message boards) to protest chipping and offer end-of-days warnings. Futurists and technophiles have, for the most part, offered a few cautions while also praising the possibilities for implementing this technology.
It’s safe to say I fall somewhere in between those favoring the new tech and those scared to death of it.
Chip implants are actually old news for the Swedes. They’ve been at it since 2015.
What’s new in this iteration is the level of information that can be stored on a chip. Also, aside from New World Order fears are more pressing matters, such as privacy and security (e.g., hacking an chip), though it seems for the time-being some are willing to ignore these issues in trade for convenience.
This begs the question for Swedes and others welcoming a future of wrist or hand or, dare I say, forehead scanning: how much are we willing to sacrifice for access to cheap food, clothes, and gas?
Convenience is a factor when embracing or rejecting chip implants. Injecting a chip under our skin may come with a price most aren’t willing to pay, even if it means missing out on a few restaurant discounts.
Laughter filled Gate A10 of the Pittsburgh International Airport as I exited the moving walkway. It was late January and I distinctly remember being tired and cold and done with winter.
Hearing the glee echo through the cavernous terminal warmed my heart.
It’s not often you hear those sounds in an airport terminal – far away from the eruptions of joyous reunions in places like baggage claim and curbside pick-ups.
This kind of infectious laughter can only be described as rowdy squeals, snorts and happy tears. Someone lets out an unexpected laugh so genuine, so pure, so hearty that everyone soon joins in with a laugh or, at the very least, a smile.
These laughs weren’t caused by a reunion, or the anticipation of a great adventure, or giddiness brought on by a few too many drinks from the restaurant adjacent to our gate.
What fueled this amusement was nothing more than a social media post; a video, to be precise. That’s it.
How we got to that point, however, is what really strengthened my hope in humanity.
A 20-something young man clad in black sweatpants, a LeBron James jersey, black flip-flops and white socks was mindlessly scanning his social media feeds. “I was bored,” he told me in the aftermath of the laughter.
“I had my sound up, and when I scrolled over that video, it was probably a little too loud. She heard it and started laughing. Like really laughing.”
The “she” he was referring to was a wonderfully gregarious woman, 70-something (my best guess), and just as pleasant as the best grandma image you can muster.
She was sitting beside him, waiting to board the plane, minding her own business, and – as he recalled – she just reacted to the sound of a baby laughing on the video and “looked at my phone to see what was making so much noise.”
The video was of a bright-eyed baby, sitting mid-floor, being playfully circled by the family dog. It was almost as if the dog knew it was entertaining the baby – clearly taking the laughter as a sign of approval.
“When she saw it, she was just laughing so hard, I gave her my phone so she could see it closer,” he said. “But then she started laughing louder, and everyone around us did too,” he added.
We weren’t laughing at her. We weren’t laughing at the video. We were laughing with her and the pure joy she exuded.
She handed the phone back to the young man and simply said, “Thank you. I needed that.”
“I think everyone needed that,” he replied.
This laughter contagion creates the kind of connection to others we need today more than ever (yes, even strangers in an airport), to celebrate moments that connect through happiness – albeit with a little help from an entertaining video.
I don’t really know anyone on my father’s side of the family. He didn’t talk much, and when he did, it was never about his family.
What I knew was limited to weird bits about step-brothers, an alcoholic mother and years spent bouncing around through Illinois’ foster care system. It sounded bleak, so I never really pressed the issue for fear of drumming up some unnecessary pain.
As kids, my siblings and I met his cousin once as she was passing through our town. Or was it an aunt? I really can’t remember. I was 10 years old and the moment so fleeting and so long ago that the memory is now hazy.
Thanks to Facebook, I’ve connected with another family member – Ruby, my father’s cousin. She is a wealth of information about his past, supplying me with great pictures of his parents and other relatives, many of whom died before I was even born. My grandfather looks very tall in the pictures, which helps to explain my hulking 6-foot-8-inch frame.
But that’s it. A random visit from someone I can’t remember and a Facebook friend who sends the occasional picture serve as my only connections to his past.
He died a few years ago, right around the time consumer-based DNA testing was becoming readily available in the United States.
23andMe and a smattering of other DNA ancestry services are now part of our everyday lexicon, luring us with the promise of a deeper sense of genetic heritage in exchange for a little saliva, $150 and the ability to store our DNA profile on some random computer in California.
As a researcher and writer, the offer to have more data was enticing. But if I’m being honest, it really came from a longing to learn more of the truth behind what little I already knew of my dad’s story.
Unfortunately, what I found told me very little about his life.
What it did tell me was that my life was bigger than the DNA contributions of one person, painting a bigger picture of a vast lineage, a family journey from places such as England, Ireland, Germany and Switzerland.
Buying into the DNA hype comes with risks. I get it. For me, it seemed like the secondary reward was knowing more about my genetic health, wellness traits and other reports these services provide.
What I didn’t expect was a connection to a possible paternal relative. “Open Sharing,” or connecting with DNA relatives who use the service, connected me to a third or fourth cousin (we share a great-great grandfather on my father’s side). She reached out, asking questions to see if we shared other connections.
I didn’t learn more about my father from the DNA sample, but maybe I’ve made a connection to his past and my family that wasn’t there just a few short years ago.
It’s safe to say Facebook is having a crappy 2018.
Endless scandals. Bountiful lawsuits. Congressional testimony. It’s hard to know if Facebook has hit bottom, and if they have, how they intend to claw out.
This is where Facebook’s “Hard Questions” feature shines. Some top-level exec will provide answers to big issues facing the company and their billions of users.
On Monday, it was Rob Goldman’s turn. He’s Face-book’s VP for Ads, and his question was a doozy:
“What do Facebook advertisers know about me?”
“To build a product that connects people across continents and cultures, we need to make sure everyone can afford it,” Goldman stated. “Advertising lets us keep Facebook free. But we aren’t blind to the challenges this model poses. It requires a steadfast commitment to privacy.”
I have to admit a little skepticism. This is the same company that earlier this month sent millions of us a message saying that our information had been sucked up into the Cambridge Analytica vortex.
Oh, and it happened two years ago.
I’m a forgiving soul, so I slogged through his answers, looking for loopholes, hoping to learn something new about how advertisers are trying to connect with me.
What I found actually opened me to the idea of maybe trusting Facebook again. Well not today, but some day.
According to Goldman, there are a few ways advertisers can reach us.
They take information from our use of Facebook (including age, gender, hometown, friends), and when we like posts or articles, they use that information to understand what might interest us in terms of products and services.
Next, advertisers will share information with Facebook about us (i.e., customer information) so that they can reach us. Advertisers might know our email addresses from a purchase or from some other non-Facebook data source.
Lastly, there’s a ton of information that websites and apps send to Facebook about our use of their services. Some apps we use, for example, may utilize Facebook tools (e.g., such as using Facebook to login to the app) to make their ads more relevant to us and to evaluate the success of their ad campaigns.
“For example, if an online retailer is using Facebook Pixel, they can ask Facebook to show ads to people who looked at a certain style of shoe or put a pair of shoes into their shopping cart,” Goldman said.
“We do not tell advertisers who you are or sell your information to anyone. That has always been true. We think relevant advertising and privacy aren’t in conflict, and we’re committed to doing both well.”
Only time will tell if we can hold Facebook to this promise and trust them again.
If you want to manage what information advertisers know about you, go to “ad preferences” and edit what you’re willing to share.
About a decade ago, while out with my then-3-year-old daughter, we stopped for ice cream in the late afternoon.
I knew this was a mistake. There was a chance my wife was cooking dinner. I knew that by getting ice cream there was likely no way my kid would eat anything for dinner that night.
So, I did what any rookie dad (and husband) would do in this situation. I told my daughter, “Don’t tell your mom we got ice cream. She might get mad.”
“Okay Daddy. Our secret,” was my daughter’s reply.
Whew, I thought. Crisis averted. Surely I could trust my daughter with this important information.
Alas, as soon as we walked in the door, my beautiful daughter threw me under the bus by announcing our little secret side trip to Handel’s Ice Cream.
Needless to say, I was in the doghouse for a few days after this. But I learned an important lesson: Don’t share secrets with people you can’t trust, including chatty 3-year-olds.
Ten years later, I’ve slightly adjusted this personal rule to include the sharing of personal information on Facebook and other social media platforms.
There. I did it. I compared trusting my toddler with a secret to sharing personal information on Facebook.
Is it really any different?
Don’t get me wrong. I occasionally share personal information on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other platforms that I probably shouldn’t. I know the risks. But I also know that I’m exchanging data (money) for access to their platform (service).
As shocking is this may sound to some people, Facebook isn’t a free service.
Although critics have bellowed from social media soapboxes about the risks of sharing too much information, few actually listened to the warnings. Those are the people who did not receive the little “thanks for playing” message from Facebook last week.
That message, sent to some 80 million users, was Facebook’s attempt at an explanation and apology.
Thinking our personal information is somehow safe online is as laughable as telling a toddler to keep quiet. No one expects the kid will keep the secret. If they do, they probably shouldn’t be on social media.
I was one of the lucky Facebook suckers to receive the Cambridge Analytica message. Yes, I freely gave up personal data to play a game or complete some dumb quiz.
Boom. Credibility blown. Time to follow my own advice.
The bigger question is this: What will we do now that we know what we already knew? That’s a confusing question, but the answer is simple.
We can continue to share information we hope will be kept private by people we don’t know and on machines we’ll never see for a service we think is “free,” or we can treat Facebook and other platforms like toddlers who can’t be trusted to keep a secret.
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.