‘How Snapchat Built a Business by Confusing Olds’ and 4 Other Stories You Should Read

By Contently March 4th, 2016

Here’s what you missed while you spent the week lamenting the end of Downton Abbey

The American ScholarSaving the Self in the Age of the Selfie

Selected by Carly Miller, editorial intern

As a member of the very last generation to experience life without the Internet, this American Scholar cover article struck a chord. Professor and author James McWilliams examines the nuance of the human–digital relationship without resorting to crotchety declarations for us to put down the damn phones. Instead, he explores how we can develop a healthier relationship with technology. Drawing from sources like Socrates, David Foster Wallace, World Economic Forum bigwigs, and precocious Gen Xers, McWilliams challenges us to embrace boredom and push back against digital disarmament.

While I don’t like to call myself a technophobe—which would be hypocritical since I sit at my computer and scroll the day away—I am someone who defiantly clings to the boundaries between digital life and IRL, sometimes at the expense of my social and professional connections. But reading this article made me acutely aware of how often, in the span of 15 minutes, I toggled between tabs, charted incoming emails, and instinctively jumped at the buzzing of the phone hiding inside my purse.

Deadspin: How SB Nation Published Their Daniel Holtzclaw Story

Selected by Joe Lazauskas, editor-in-chief

Two weeks ago, SB Nation published an unconscionably apologetic story about Daniel Holtzclaw, a 29-year-old former college football player who was tried this winter for raping 13 black women while on duty as a police officer and convicted on 18 counts. The story was met with immediate backlash and pulled within 5 hours, leading to the suspension of SB Nation’s longform vertical. In its wake, the media industry has been wondering one thing: How the hell did this get published?

SB Nation, after all, isn’t some two-man blog. It’s a cornerstone site of Vox Media, and the longform vertical was supposed to bring the site particular prestige. In this piece, Greg Howard—Deadspin’s finest journalist and a recent recipient of the David Carr Fellowship at The New York Times—reconstructs the fundamental shortcomings and biases inside SB Nation before skewering the idea of “longform” as a medium all together. It’s a must-read and a worthy mic drop for Howard as he leaves for the Times on March 15.

Aeon: How the Internet Flips Elections and Alters Our Thoughts

Selected by Erin Nelson, marketing editor

According to author Robert Epstein, Google has subliminal control over the individual based on the order of search results (a phenomenon he calls the Search Engine Manipulation Effect, or SEME). For Epstein, this effect has scarier societal implications than the worlds depicted in 1984 and Brave New World, because this time, it’s not fiction.

Presenting research about political elections and search engine behavior in the U.S., Australia, and India, Epstein asks if Google controls more than just consumer decisions. Can the search engine, and its inconspicuous leadership, alter the way we think? Change the outcome of political elections? If we are unaware of these altercations, are we all just puppets in Larry Page’s game? Whatever you do, just don’t Google the answers.

The Washington PostVice Media goes gonzo on the news. Advertisers may be a different story.

Selected by Dillon Baker, associate editor

Over the weekend, I watched a Vice documentary for the first time. Actually, I watched three. The first two were part of the company’s new cable channel, Viceland—one, called Weediquette, explored medical marijuana use among child cancer patients; the second was titled Balls Deep, basically boiling down to 25 minutes of a guy playing Woody Allen at a tent revival in Arkansas. The third was a special investigation into ISIS.

I was kind of embarrassed I watched them. I’m a millennial, but I honestly don’t know one person who doesn’t reflexively make fun of Vice (see also: The Onion and Documentary Now!).

The documentaries weren’t terrible, though. The ISIS one was legitimately interesting; it featured interviews with captured ISIS operatives and went to every frontline in Iraq—though it turned out to be more of a summary of recent Middle Eastern history than any sort of ground breaking investigation, as the title suggested.

That’s kind of the problem. Vice, despite its reputation, isn’t all that edgy. BuzzFeed News, for example, has produced multiple high-impact investigative reports, something Vice has never done, to my knowledge. This article makes it clear why: Vice is terrified of pissing off the corporate sponsors that fund its massive internal ad agency.

No wonder everyone makes fun of it.

BloombergHow Snapchat Built a Business By Confusing Olds

Selected by Jordan Teicher, senior editor

After reading this feature on Snapchat’s advertising prospects, I’m convinced that nobody in the ad industry really knows how to make the platform work. The only thing they know for sure is that Snapchat is incredibly popular. And that disconnect makes for some great unintentional comedy.

One person who does get it is DJ Khaled, who is on the cover of Bloomberg Businessweek right now. (Think about that for a second.) Khaled’s path to Snapchat success, as the writers insinuate, comes from the fact that he doesn’t really have much of a plan. He’s just himself—ridiculous in a way where you’re not sure if he’s serious or joking.

But thanks to people liked Khaled, Snapchat can now charge brands seven figures for access to its audience of 100 million. The marketing execs quoted in this piece sound dumbfounded, desperate, and subtly annoyed. The CIO of a media buying firm said, “It’s like how the Kardashians are famous because they’re famous. Snapchat is expensive because it’s expensive.”

In other words, he just doesn’t get it.

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