Masculinity, AIM, Ads, and Cops

Here’s what was important this week…

I treated myself to ice cream last night (from the freezer, not a lonely ice cream shop date with myself) and it was delicious. While I gained weight from starting an office job after college, I still have the privilege of avoiding most body policing placed on women.

However, men suffer their own share of body policing. In Hollywood, this manifests itself as an obsession with fit bodies, and fitness. Mens Journal examines the issue, speaking mostly to trainers and talking about the pressure for actors to get “fit” in order to land coveted roles. It’s so important to the industry that:

“There are dozens of hormone-replacement clinics in and around Hollywood, and their business is booming. But there are significant risks: Hormone therapy accelerates all cell growth, whether healthy or malignant, and can encourage existing cancers, especially prostate cancers, to metastasize at terrifying rates. Testosterone supplements can lower sperm counts. For many, the risk is worth it.”

Fitness is just one aspect of a narrow set of masculinity standards imposed on men. For many men, high school is one of the more painful places that these standards are enforced. Well-documented in this great book by sociologist C.J. Pascoe, an essay in The Walrus gets to the heart of many of the standards. A new sex ed program in some Canadian schools works on teaching these high school boys not only aspects about sex that are often glossed over in traditional sex ed courses, it also focuses on relationships, gender identity and expression, and explores these things in a safe space. Importantly,

“Teaching young men to trust, communicate, negotiate, and empathize does not undermine or threaten their manliness. It expands their humanity. It reclaims men’s possibilities.”

Something else that helps men reclaim their possibilities is by supporting women, becoming advocates for them in the workplace, being feminists… Shanley, a writer on diversity in tech, wrote an essay about what men can do to help women if they are in a position of power (in her case, speaking directly to white men in tech). It’s a bit profanity-laden and not completely generalizable, but makes some great points.

Speaking of technology, do you remember when AIM was the greatest thing ever?? Because I do. While Gchat removes away messages and busy statuses, and our phones make us available at all hours of the day, the days of AIM recall the nostalgia of an away message that advertised “look at me, I have a life that is more important than the computer” rather than the daily photos of your vacation that you upload to Facebook.

AIM is 20 years old this year, which could explain why there are three essays about it this week. Mashable profiles the rise and progressive abandonment of AIM, from the AOL perspective. N+1 has an essay from an MSN engineer that worked on the rival service, MSN Messenger Service, that discusses some of the more basic things around programming in the nineties, as well as how he attempted to compete with AOL and integrate the services.

Both essays discuss a gradual bloating and bureaucracy-laden company culture that led to the downfall of the services, and as many large companies are overtaken as AOL and Microsoft have been by this culture, it will be interesting to see what happens next. While Facebook and Google have expanded (and seem to continue to do so), other companies are shedding services and employees along with earnings. Larger monopolistic entities like Microsoft may be able to break apart or work on a shift from inside the company toward a more innovative and iterative culture, but I’d expect that many which can’t, like AOL? or Yahoo? or large institutions like government or higher education, will stagnate instead.

With net neutrality potentially dead, there is good news for net neutrality activists, while advertising, higher costs, and throttled internet performance could be the future of the Internet.

Apparently, it can get worse than it currently is. If you want to play with some data around Internet speed + cost across the world, the folks who run http://speedtest.net (the best place to test your connection, in my opinion) also make available the data returned from those (probably) millions of consumer tests. If net neutrality is dead, then the Internet will join the rest of America as a “meritocracy”.

The latest trick of advertisers is perhaps something you’ve expected or already noticed — native advertising. The sponsored posts in Instagram, Tumblr, and Pinterest, the Facebook News Feed posts recommending that you like a page, or the stories by Dell that insert themselves casually at the end of my Feedly RSS feed from time to time. While I’m somewhat okay with native advertising, as it can be high quality content from brands I care about, the more it infiltrates the web, the harder it could be to determine whether content is intended to sell a product or promote a service, or whether it is legitimate content from a website. Of course, throwing the word “legitimate” in there begs the question of whether website content can be assumed to be unbiased from brands and advertising influences already, but that is where conflict of interest disclosures come to play in journalism, at least. As native advertising matures, it becomes clear that for advertisers, “It’s no longer just your clicks they want, it’s your time and attention. Welcome to the Attention Web.”

If you watch this generic brand video, you’ll never have to watch another advertising video again because they’re all just like this one. (If you install AdBlockPlus, you really might never have to watch another advertising video…)(*not sponsored by AdBlockPlus).

Another tactic that brands are trying to engage consumers is social media outreach. Of course, depending on your brand, you may or may not want to invite consumers to the conversation. If you’re the NYPD, you probably don’t want to request that people tweet photos of themselves with members of the force, or you might end up with #myNYPD trending for all the wrong reasons. Of course, #myNYPD was not a total failure, as it got people talking about the role of the NYPD in their lives. As an essay in Brooklyn Magazine discusses, “the myth of a friendlier NYPD is only true for parts of New York residents. Maybe that will change, but it will require the NYPD to take a long, hard look at the photos posted on Twitter and acknowledge that those images are just as much a part of their identity as any others.”

As a reward for making it to the end of this post, here is a DJ mix from Kristian Nairn, who is a great DJ and also happens to be the actor that plays Hodor on Game of Thrones.

Of course, if you’d rather listen to something shorter, here is a remix of Panama Wedding’s song All of the People, done by RAC.

Thank you so much for reading, and have a great weekend!