Column zeros and ones: mama, life had just begun

What happens when "young people" only stare at "their smartphones"? Quite a lot of creative and intelligent stuff.

Andy Warhol would have liked this Screenshot: Instagram/@thesamephotoofbanana

On Twitter the other day, someone posted the lyrics to Queen’s "Bohemian Rhapsody." Yeah, okay, some will now say: that one fits in seven tweets. I can do that, too.

True. But Hadie Mart resp. @CostcoRiceBag has spread the 377 words of the song’s lyrics over 377 consecutive individual tweets in three and a half months. Read from top to bottom, their first words make up the complete song lyrics, otherwise they look like normal tweets from the life of a 21-year-old student from Minnesota. She has also casually included words like Beelzebub, Mia or Figaro.

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It’s a freaking work of art! So this is what comes out when young people "stare into their smartphones all the time" (the verb to stare must always be used in this context, the GzaBnK, the Society for the Disparaging Assessment of New Cultural Techniques, has determined this): an intelligent play with language, a creative exploitation of new communication techniques. What a cultural decline compared to the TV and landline age.

Twitter is so oldschool with its writing-centric approach that even I (37 years old) can still keep up with it. A tweet has no time dimension, and the spatial parameters of the text arrangement are also manageable. You can play with line breaks, with intertextual references (like Hadie Mart) or with the 280 character limit. But ultimately, it remains a simple string of characters.

With video-based social media, on the other hand, i.e. Snapchat, YouTube, Instagram Stories – precisely the channels with younger users – I capitulate. There are loops, slow-motion, filters, you can cut your videos and insert text anywhere in the picture: so many possibilities! I can’t get it to work and I feel very old, a bit like a forest man. I admire everyone who can do this well.

Because yes, I am seriously convinced that the constant contact with an ever more challenging media production, with all its hypertextuality, with the rapidly changing linguistic and visual codes does not dumb down "the youth", but rather brings them forward intellectually. It may well be that this affects my ability to concentrate, but there’s always something.

And that’s why I’m embracing what US teenagers are currently doing on Instagram, even though, no: because it’s the exact opposite of moving images. Accounts like @thesamephotoofabanana or @daily_baby_penguin post exactly the same photo every day. Some for months and some with tens of thousands of followers. What changes is the caption. There they tell little things from their lives, publish facts about the pictured object, ask their followers questions – the comments make the post, not the photo.

Okay, they could just tweet that. But that’s not where their friends are. Besides, why should they? It’s the Internet, people! Make it count

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