What's up, Google Plus?

There's a new kid on the social networking playground this year. Google's gone social with the introduction of Google Plus. It's been hailed as Google's "Facebook-killer" and Google's "answer to Facebook" by so many people that by now it's a meaningless cliche. The weird thing is, as anyone who has used Plus knows, it's not a damn thing like Facebook.

Facebook was founded on the belief that everyone in your life has the same relationship to you: they're a friend. That made sense when Facebook was in its infancy and was used solely as a way for college students to cyberstalk each other, but as its user base has grown, that model didn't work any more. People didn't want their parents seeing their party photos, their bosses to seeing them complaining about work, or to bombard their friends with photos of the family barbecue. Features to accommodate this division of relationships have been added after the fact, and have resulted in an inelegant system that still has the reciprocal "friend" relationship at its core.

Google Plus, on the other hand, aimed to reflect real-life relationships from the start. Waaaayyyyy back in 2010, a Googler put together a slideshow about what was wrong with social networks at the time: namely, that they didn't reflect the different types of relationships that everyone maintains. Google Plus calls these groups and relationships "circles." When you "add" someone on Google Plus, you actually just put them in a circle. There are the usual default circles - family, friends, etc - but you can make your own, too. Circles themselves are little more than labels you apply to people, but they are a very powerful tool for how simple they are.

Unlike Facebook where you friend someone and then optionally add them to a list, in Plus the act of adding them also puts them into a category. Then, you can make posts that only people in that circle can see, or only people from certain circles, or everyone you have circled. That's all great, but here's the best part: someone doesn't have to add you back in order for you to receive their public posts in your stream.

That means you can "follow" someone on Plus without being their friend or without them having to set up a "Page." That's why I've always said that Plus was never intended to be a Facebook-killer. Facebook is already well-established as the place for people to share baby stories and barbecue pictures. Instead, I insist that Google has set its sights on Twitter.

The attraction of Twitter is that you can just follow anyone without them having to follow you back, meaning you can follow interesting accounts maintained by celebrities, comedians, scientists, writers, and all kinds of others. The attraction of Facebook is that you can share private information with people who you are close to. The beauty of Plus is that it seamlessly brings together both "following" and privacy.

Has Plus replaced Facebook for me? No, not really. Facebook is far too popular for people to migrate away from it. If I want to keep in touch with family, I pretty much have to use Facebook. So what do I use Plus for? Well, the thing is, Facebook isn't really that interesting. Let's admit it, the quality of posts on a typical Facebook feed aren't that high. These days, my Facebook feed is full of meme images, party photos, pictures of people posing for their webcams, and links to music videos. Captivating stuff, right? My Plus stream is full of links to interesting scientific, technological and psychological articles, podcasts, blog posts, art, jokes, intelligent rants, discussions of social causes, and meme images.

Okay, so you can't have it all, but my point still stands: interesting people are interesting, and the chances are pretty low that the kid you had seventh grade math with is extremely interesting. So, I use Google Plus as a way to have more personal contact with folks I've met online, and as a midpoint between Twitter and an RSS feed. It's not that it's replaced any social networking service, but rather it created a new niche in my life that it fills perfectly.

Long live Plus!

What's up, you neurotic introvert, you?

An individual is an extrovert if they are energized by interacting with other people. An introvert is a person who needs quiet time to recharge. Being introverted doesn't mean someone is antisocial; just that they cannot be "on" all the time. While introversion and shyness often go hand-in-hand, they are not the same thing. Shyness describes a reservation or nervousness in social situations, while introversion describes sensitivity to external stimulus. Because introverts maintain a complex "inner world," they have a higher neutral level of stimulation and therefore have a lower threshold for being overwhelmed by external stimulus. The result of that lower threshold is that introverts will become tired and drained by social interaction long before an extrovert will.

There is no question that our society values extroversion. We demand extroversion in our body language, in our conversations, in our socially-acceptable forms of entertainment, in our classrooms and work environments. It's in the principles of small talk, discussion groups, and eye contact. We are taught to become offended if someone prefers silence to conversation, or to think it's weird if someone would rather stay inside on the weekend rather than go out dancing. A significant part of professional interviews has nothing to do with technical skills, but is all about how candidates present themselves. In work places and in schools, we group strangers together and expect them to produce good results. These are all situations that an extrovert can happily navigate, but which could overwhelm an introvert.

Simply being "in public" for a few hours is enough to tire me out. Even if I'm just working quietly in our school's computer lab, not actively interacting with other people, I'm still completely drained and numb by supper time. Being away from quiet private places for so long makes me feel fragile and tired; it's almost as if it's emotionally draining.

What's crazy about this is that introverts aren't rare; we make up nearly 50% of the population. So why the heavy focus on social ceremony and group work? If extroversion is so valued, does it put introverts at a disadvantage?

The short answer is, "You bet your ass it does." Introversion combined with social reservations like shyness or neuroticism is a near-crippling one-two. People who experience both - like myself - can be so overwhelmed by simply being in a social situation that they can't concentrate on the interaction itself. When I'm thrust into a group of people I don't know, I have to concentrate very hard on not freezing or panicking. With so much of my mind devoted to not freaking the fuck out, it's no wonder that I edge off to the sides of the group and phone in the conversation.

How to look like an Arts student

There are two bus stops on my way to class that pass by the Liberal Arts university. At this stop there is always a sizable line of young students waiting to file into the bus, and so I always get a good few minutes to check out what each of them are wearing. In the event that someone out there desperately wants to pass as an Arts student, I have prepared a handy guide to the costume:

Illustration of a "typical" Arts student, with parts of their clothing and appearance labelled: Dark roots, stage makeup, ratty canvas tote, hoodie, non-white iPod, leggings only, Ugg boots.

The easiest way to spot a young arts student is to look for their characteristic combination of a high-effort beauty regimen and low-effort outfits. My current theory is that they spend so much time applying makeup and fixing their hair in the morning that they are chronically late for their first class and end up running out the door wearing the same things they slept in.

The main point of confusion I have is that they all appear to be wearing stage makeup. I was under the impression that in an Arts program, you spent a lot of time writing essays and over-analysing classic literature, rather than actively performing on a stage every single day of the school year. I suppose I could be wrong; my only experience with Arts courses have been a couple sociology and history courses, which I understand to be child's play considering the largest essay we wrote was three pages long, and they didn't involve any stage acting.

I am convinced that they are actually wearing stage makeup because I refuse to believe that every single one of them is so colour-blind as to not notice that their foundation is two shades too dark, and my faith in humanity relies on the fact that everyone realizes that raccoon eyes aren't a good day-time look. I mean, if I can see the clumps in their mascara from half a bus away, they have to be doing it on purpose, right?

I will give 'em this: their eyebrows are so perfectly arched and penciled that I get a little bit of a envy-boner.

The second key is, of course, the no-pants thing. I spend a lot of time wandering the Internet looking at fashion, and I always notice what other people are wearing. I have yet to see a person wearing leggings as pants who doesn't look like they got dressed so quickly in the morning that they forgot their bottoms. I think it's really cute when people wear leggings under a tunic-length top; it takes something that would be obscenely short on its own and makes it far more versatile. I can totally understand people not wanting to wear jeans every day, and leggings let you wear bits of your wardrobe that you couldn't wear with tights, shorts or a skirt. But, leggings look stupid when worn as pants. It takes only a couple inches of shirt fabric to go from "Umm, you were in a rush this morning, huh?" to "Day-um, those legs are measured in miles."

Ugg boots. How I hate those things. First of all, they look like a kindergartener's vision of how shoes look. Secondly, while they may be warm, as everyone insists, they are by no means waterproof. 90% of the Ugg boots I see are all salt-stained, clearly damp, manky with street grime, and have patches at the heels where the fabric has worn through because they aren't designed to fit actual feet and seem to have an inherent instability in the heel area. I always feel a little bit sick when I imagine how those fuckers must smell.

I am convinced that this will be the characteristic outfit of the 2010s. Just like how neon colors and huge shoulders characterize the 80s, hoodies, Uggs and leggings-as-pants will be our fashion legacy.
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"Whenever you find that you are on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect."