Generational Cultures in Apps: Tools vs Modes

The scene may be familiar to many of you. A chat in your family’s app of choice— LINE, WeChat, etc— is created to get everyone in one centralized communication channel. It was meant for logistics and updates. Was.

Now it’s full of clickbait links and the “um”s and “ah”s of audio messages. A 1254 notifications badge scares away any hope for a visit.

Why does it seem like there’s such a wide disparity in how chat apps are used? It seems like on one hand there are the young— with curt and succinct responses, punctuated by heavily contextual content like memes— and on the other, are the older— superfluous and verbose, preferring audio, and seeming to replicate real life conversation directly onto chat.

We know different users use services differently, but for something like communication— which is so basic and foundational to our species— how is it so reliably different? Is it just an issue of age?

Tools vs Modes

What finally shined a light on the topic for me was analyzing a list of the different styles. In particular, it was realizing that it was actually the older’s use of the tool that seemed the most natural. Their conversations were the most faithful and coherent with real speech: the preference for audio, the filler words, and the lack of tech-contextual abstraction (Animojis, GIFs, etc).

For them: they are fitting in their conversation to the application. Everything that they will and want to say, they stuff into the chat— no filter, no additions, no transformations. The app is just a tool for them to now literally throw in their sound waves.

But what about the other side? For the saplings that reserve specific use cases and styles for the chat app (“Don’t ask someone out over text,” “Keep messages short,” etc), if it is not a tool— what is it? As the title gives away: I’d like to think that for those of us born in or living deep in technology, we see them as a mode or environment as real as the room we sit in. Like the different behavior we exhibit in a classroom vs a cafe then, so are our speeches and expectations.

An example of this difference may the fake news crisis. A study by Pew Research showed that those older are more susceptible to believing in false information. Most telling perhaps is the difference in ability of recognizing opinion statements versus facts. Though the experiment did not present the statements via a simulated tech service, I can’t help but think that their familiarity/daily habits with online news and broadcasts have influenced their results.

After all, tools are dumb. No one distrusts a hammer, whether that hammer is a news station or your Facebook/Twitter.

But seeing the internet and its technologies as more of a context would differ from that. Entering a context is like entering a new world: it causes a subconscious change in mentality, a raise of guard, and a shift of expectations. To put it simply: it’s knowing that the tool has baggage.


So then what does this mean? Users are adopting fundamentally different attitudes and subconscious expectations for technology— isn’t that normal? It’s why user personas exist after all.

But it’s not, because this dives much deeper into the very core of how the user interacts with a service. It’s not just about how to optimize their workflow and education, but putting the entire environment into the right context and frame of mind. Depending on the service, it may literally mean defining a user’s world and their definition of fact.

Take the feeds on platforms like Facebook, and why they have such a large and varied effect. Do users see it as a tool to check on people– and everyone you check on seems to be having fun? Or do they see as a context– where the feed is a room where people show off times they’re having fun just like a billboard or trophy case?

For the former, we only need think about what it needs to accomplish. For the latter, we have to think about what moods we want to elicit and expectations to bear. To rely on persona design only pushes off the responsibility onto the user.

Whether we’re building or using these products, we should bear this in mind. Tech companies everywhere are facing the storm now because at their time of inception, they didn’t have the clearest understanding of what impacts their services would have. And so they built hammers.

Little did they know, they should have made workshops.

Airbnb vs Amazon: A Dualistic Approach to the Future of Employment

It’s no secret that the giant minds of the world are thinking themselves silly over what to do about the future of employment. Will AI replace all humans in their jobs? Will new industries and services rise up to create new jobs uniquely manageable by humans only?

Steve Jobs spoke about the computer and technology as a “bicycle of the mind,” that they are nothing but tools to allow humankind to reach greater heights and achieve more. But try telling that to people in sectors long supplanted by machinery. They’d probably tell you to keep the bike. Continue reading “Airbnb vs Amazon: A Dualistic Approach to the Future of Employment”

TicketMaster, Taylor Swift, and the Future of Tickets

In recent news, Taylor Swift partnered with TicketMaster to introduce a new ticket-buying system that would help fans “beat the bots.” Instead of a standard queue as instituted for some events such as New York’s infamous Comic-Con however, the fan’s position in line could be advanced and authenticated through shows of “real fandom.”

Or at least that’s how they’re pitching the new #TaylorSwiftTix system.

Because the factors that would change the fan’s position in queue include things like posting about the event in social media, buying other Swift merchandise, and just about anything that would either give them more money or help them market. If it does help beat the bots, it’ll make people go back to the good old fashioned “beating other people.”

Now I should make a disclaimer that I’m no big Taylor Swift fan (though I admit have a small weakness for “Mean”), but I can’t help but find myself both horrified and unceasingly fascinated by this push. Continue reading “TicketMaster, Taylor Swift, and the Future of Tickets”

GREE: Games as a Cultural Export

As an avid gamer, the news of GREE shuttering its international offices last week came as a shock. In a bit of snark schadenfreude, the news of their international titles not doing well wasn’t anything unexpected– I’ve played some of them before and seen their respective rankings in the App store. Yet what really caught my attention was the plan that their executives had mentioned going forward: “[to shift] to a “Japan-first content strategy” – the plan being to launch games in its home territory, then localise and distribute the most successful ones in other markets around the world.”

Coming from Japan where a shrinking domestic market means businesses need to expand internationally more than ever— this news was disappointing beyond words. PR doublespeak aside, it just seems like GREE is withdrawing inwards, choosing to stick with the safe and known.

But is this really the right move? Continue reading “GREE: Games as a Cultural Export”

The Perfect Cannibal

It’s been a while since the last time I felt so excited by a WWDC keynote. There’s evidently a staggering amount of innovation gone into the iOS UI, particularly on the iPad. We’re talking about an implementation of drag-and-drop that’s far superior than your click-and-drag equivalent, a multitasking framework designed for simultaneous touching, and numerous killer features like instant note and instant markup with the Apple Pencil. At this point, there is no doubt that the iOS platform is the future of Apple’s personal computing. It reminded me of the early days of OS X UI innovations. They truly made people happy and excited.

All this demonstration of vision piqued an interest of a completely different kind in me. It got me thinking about cannibalism, the non-bloody kind. The word cannibalism in the western world carries a connotation of cruelty. One product cannibalizes another with a competing function and reduces the other’s revenue. What I’m intrigued to explore, however, is the effects on innovation driven by intentional and designed product cannibalism, and the ramifications of which on the company as a whole.

Continue reading “The Perfect Cannibal”