Advertisement

KILLINGS, daily columns and blog —

2014 columns, Gaming & Technology

Speaking with pixels

by Connor Tomas O'Brien , September 1, 2014Leave a comment

Owl

On the Facebook Newsfeed, it’s now possible to click a tiny smiley face inside almost any textbox to bring up a series of thumbnail images: an alligator bawling into a tissue, say, or a whistling fox dropping a turd, or a green owl vomiting rainbows. These “stickers” aren’t new – they’ve been available in FB Messenger for over a year, and almost every IM client now has an equivalent functionality – but this is the first time the stock graphics have been made available for use on Facebook proper.

In one sense, virtual stickers have exploded in popularity because they represent an expansion of communicative possibility: whereas once the choice was between “liking/faving/hearting” something, leaving a comment, or ignoring it completely, stickers facilitate a kind of Hallmark card model of caring, requiring a low – but not too low – emotional cost. We can express ourselves with reference to a huge, but not limitless, set of go-to images. Emojis exist in this space, too, but as fresh emojis are introduced only sporadically, emojis tend to rapidly lose their novelty with reuse: the thumbs-up emoji still conveys “good job” the thousandth time it is employed, but feels pretty dull and utilitarian when compared to, say, a sticker of Sly Stallone smoking a cigar in front of a wall of flames apparently ready to give a fist-bump. Stickers are fun because, while you’ll probably see a lot of the same images reused (familiarity is part of the appeal), there’s always the possibility somebody might have access to a brand new set you haven’t used before.

By encouraging users to dip into sets of canned visual responses instead of leaving text-based comments, Facebook and other tech companies have done something clever: they can more easily a track engagement with a piece of content moving through their network if they monitor which stickers users apply to it. There are three different stickers of Oakley the Owl looking fed up, for example, and it’s likely that Facebook will end up making a decision about the kind of person you are based on which of these images you opt for and when. Eventually, providing the sticker fad doesn’t end as abruptly as it began, our use of stickers may end up saying more about us (to tech companies) than the content we like or the comments we leave. “Liking”, after all, is binary (either you like something or you don’t), and text-based comments are still much too hard for computers to properly break apart and decipher. Stickers, on the other hand, provide users with a machine-readable method of emotional expression, while still allowing them to feel they’re communicating naturally.

None of this is really very worrying, though – trying to figure us out is Facebook’s bread and butter. What’s more worrisome is that the introduction of stickers across Facebook seems to represent the total collapse of the wall delineating advertising from real personal content. Most stickers in Facebook’s Sticker Store are simply advertisements, very loosely disguised. The “Language of Soccer” sticker set, for example, features illustrations of players and soccer balls, all emblazoned with tiny Nike swooshes, the Cut the Rope set features images of the game’s Om Nom character making strange faces, and Sly Stallone appears in sticker form only because Lionsgate have paid to use Facebook stickers to promote The Expendables 3. With stickers, users are encouraged to inadvertently communicate with others in the form of tiny, semi-subliminal graphical advertisements for multinational entertainment companies. Several months ago, I only realised Muppets Most Wanted existed at all because my incoming Facebook messages were suddenly full of images of Fozzie Bear eating a sandwich as friends tested out the Muppets sticker set.

It’s sometimes not clear exactly how seriously we should take any of this. Does it really matter if Facebook encourages us to express ourselves in the form of graphics created to get us craving shoes or Lego construction sets? If it does matter, it matters because we feel as though we are being manipulated and made to shill products when we just want to have personal conversations. It was only when I started writing this column that I really gave any thought to the fact that almost all of my Facebook message threads now carry these kinds of strange advertisements: one friend uses the Adventure Time sticker set, another the Candy Crush set, another the Nike Football set, each of them essentially sending me advertisements every time they want to convey any kind of emotional message or response.

Perhaps stickers will fade out fast, like those dinky $1 Facebook pixel image gifts you used to see littered around the social network in 2007 (somebody gave me a teddy bear!), but I’m not sure they will. A shared and expansive (and often slightly wacky) emotive visual shorthand is actually fairly valuable. It would just be great if, going forward, we didn’t tie our digital emotional signifiers to ads for sweatshop sneakers.

Connor Tomas O’Brien is a web designer and writer, co-founder of ebookstore platform Tomely, and co-director of the Digital Writers’ Festival.

ACO logo




9781847086273

What We’re Reading: Readings staff share their picks

Is your to-read pile looking particularly uninspiring at the moment? Or maybe you’ve just finished a novel and aren’t quite sure what to read next. Never fear! The staff from Readings bookshop have your back. Here they share what they’ve been reading this month. Read more »

anchorpoint_cover-hi-res-2

James Tierney

Unblinkingly Into Harsh Terrain: Alice Robinson’s Anchor Point

The Australian landscape is much traversed in our national imagination, yet rarely entirely comfortably. For the 85 per cent of Australians living within 50 kilometres of the coast, the continent that lies at our backs that is emptier, hotter, and remains haunted by the circumstance of its possession. Read more »

loitering-cover-cmyk-570

Sam van Zweden

The Writer at the Centre of the Essay: Charles D’Ambrosio’s Loitering

Loitering is Charles D’Ambrosio’s quietly brave collection of experimental essays. It doesn’t announce itself noisily, but associations slide sideways through the essays in unexpected ways. This collection is lyric in both senses – freely associative and loose, it borrows from the world, trying meaning on for size, producing metaphors and connections wherever it sees fit. Read more »

6314976-3x2-940x627

Rebecca Shaw

Out of Alignment: Religion, politics and priorities

Throughout your (hopefully long) life, you will often be forced to prioritise one thing over another thing.
Because we make these decisions based on what we personally think is important or morally right, the things other people choose to prioritise can be confusing or upsetting to us. I find this happens regularly when bearing witness to what some religious people or religious groups choose to place importance on. Read more »

Rebecca Shaw

TERF War: Transphobia in the LGBTQI community

I started to realise that I was ‘not like other girls’ about the time I hit puberty. From that point on I underwent an extensive and daunting process to emerge from my closeted cocoon into the beautiful lesbian butterfly I am today. An important part of that development was realising – mostly via the Internet (or very occasionally through people I met in real life) – that there were people like me all over the world. Read more »

9807778273_afe6ec792d_z

Rebecca Shaw

Breaking the Celluloid Ceiling

We are still at a point where far less than half the movies we see have a clear female protagonist, even though women are half of the population. If women as an ENTITY are not properly represented, their stories not told, what chance then do women of colour have? Read more »

anne-dorval-and-antoine-olivier-pilon-in-xavier-dolans-mommy

Joanna Di Mattia

All About His Mother: Xavier Dolan’s fierce women

Xavier Dolan has created an exuberant body of cinema that privileges women (and others on the margins) as complex, chaotic beings. Dolan’s fierce mothers are cleaved from the pedestal that so much of cinema places them on, so that they may dig around in the dirt that is life. Read more »

every-day-2012-005_cmyk

Anwen Crawford

Being Boring: Passing time with the films of Michael Winterbottom

Early in 2013, a feature film slipped quietly into cinemas; a film that had been recorded in short intervals over a five-year period, and which featured four young real-life siblings cast as their own fictional equivalents. The film was Everyday, by English director Michael Winterbottom, and it … Read more »

flock_roof

Anwen Crawford

Don’t be Sheepish: Why Ewe Should See Shaun the Sheep Movie

Shaun the Sheep Movie is the latest feature-length production from Aardman Animations (the folk who brought us Chicken Run), and it is a delight. Borrow a young relative for cover if you must, but believe me, you are not too cool for a kid’s movie when it’s this much fun. Read more »

TheSlap_Show

Genevieve Wood

The Slap: What’s lost when a cricket bat becomes a baseball bat?

‘A cricket bat wouldn’t make sense in an American context’, says Tony Ayres, executive producer of the US adaptation of Christos Tsiolkas’ The Slap. He’s right, of course – it wouldn’t. But when, in US playwright Jon Robin Baitz’s version, the eponymous slap occurs as the result of a swinging baseball bat, something’s not quite right. Read more »

empire-tv-review-fox

Anwen Crawford

Rise of an Empire

Watching Empire, I wondered why there haven’t been more television shows about record labels, the music industry being the cesspit of venality that it is. Forget TV dramas about police departments and hospital wards – a show about a record label comes with all that conflict, plus outfits, plus songs. Read more »

video-undefined-22D54AFA00000578-784_636x358

Matilda Dixon-Smith

Insufferable assholes and grown up Girls

Yes, our girls are growing, learning, discovering. But all they’re really discovering is how toxic and unheroic they are, and how to use that to their advantage. They’re not going to grow out of their asshole tendencies, because they are actually assholes. Read more »

2011 Jesse Knish Photography

Katie Williams

Pilgrimage to San Francisco: Power and Privilege at the Game Developers Conference

Attendees talk about the annual pilgrimage to the Game Developer’s Conference with the same reverence as a child’s first trip to Disney World. It’s the Magic Kingdom for adult nerds. The weeks leading up to the conference are full of discussion about which parties to attend, and how best to make an impression on people who could be useful in furthering your game development career. Read more »

jakobson0052

Katie Williams

Storytelling vs. interactivity: What makes a highbrow game?

What makes a game ‘highbrow’? We don’t have solid criteria for deciding conclusively which games are masterpieces, and which are just dumb, explosive fun. Read more »

ss_f6a450fbf737eb04c58b973f72e8817bb2b50285.600x338

Katie Williams

Brain Candy: Are game jams diluting the potential of video games?

In a world where YouTube gameplay videos narrated by hollering amateurs hold as much clout – if not more – than professional game critics, I worry that developers may be swayed to choose an easier, unimaginative, and more vacuous path to success. Read more »

ForceM6609

Jane Howard

Witness and Connection at Melbourne’s Dance Massive

In a city where it feels not a day goes by without an arts festival, or three, happening, Melbourne’s Dance Massive is resolutely unique. Australia’s largest dance festival is by necessity heavily reliant on Melbourne-based companies and shows that will go on to tour independently of the festival. The festival is undeniably of, and for, the dance sector in Melbourne. Read more »

16475519129_bb489cf4ce_o

Jane Howard

Creative Space: The secret power of community theatres

Theatre is inextricably tied to space, and the best theatre spaces become more than buildings. They become communities of like-minded people: of artists and of audience members, intermingling their ideas and their lives. Read more »

Tessa Waters stars in Womanz

Jane Howard

Fringe Feminism: Women, comedy and performance art

Taken together, the work of these female comics and performers loudly proclaims that their ideas about gender, femininity, performance and comedy are not diametrically opposed. It is because of their performance backgrounds that their shows are hilarious, not in spite of them. Read more »