Reaction GIFs are no longer cool? A.I. has already taken over; Snapchat AR Glasses are here

You are reading Greg’s weekly email about creative, digital, social, and cultural signals worth noting, and sometimes a dumb viral video worth sharing with your friends. Today’s email was written to Greg’s 7-hour “Get to Work” playlist on random. Follow @gregswan on TwitterInstagram, and LinkedIn.


I have bad news, friends. Apparently, reaction GIFs are no longer cool (or maybe were never cool), and I truly love reaction GIFs. It’s going to be hard to quit them..

I asked my 10-year-old, and she said this isn’t a thing. Reaction GIFs are neither cool nor lame. They are ambivalent. So maybe there’s hope for me and my social habits. Time will tell.


There’s a pretty common notion (joke? saying? trope?) about the robots taking over that is so realistic it’s not even a funny or unique Hollywood film plot anymore. Specifically, right this minute artificial intelligence (A.I.) is powering the stock market, traffic flows, manufacturing, shipping, healthcare, and the vacuum in my living room.  But there’s also a problem there, which is human error, bias, and our lack of understanding of the long-term implications to our short-term coding decisions.

In an interview published by The Guardian, Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman shared his expert take on the battle of man and machine quite succinctly, “Clearly AI is going to win [against human intelligence]. It’s not even close… How people are going to adjust to this is a fascinating problem.”

Kahneman’s new book is actually focused on human bias and the impact of noise that impacts our decisions, but I really appreciated his comments about humanity’s widespread inability to grasp the basic idea of exponential growth and understand the future of our decisions as it directly relates to A.I. (and the machines taking over before the masses truly understand what’s happening): “Exponential phenomena are almost impossible for us to grasp. We are very experienced in a more or less linear world. And if things are accelerating, they’re usually accelerating within reason. Exponential change [as with the spread of the virus] is really something else. We’re not equipped for it. It takes a long time to educate intuition.”

What do we do about it? 1) Insist on ethical A.I. 2) Educate ourselves and our kids. 3) Educate our parents. 4) Look to Hollywood for the worst-case scenarios and try to avoid them. 5) Try to learn from how human’s reacted to the exponential change of the pandemic — good, bad, and forever changed.

ICYMI: I had some news at work last week.

This week I also learned Substack has a Reader view similar to Google Reader, which is good because my newsletter subscriptions are growing out of control in my email inbox. With that said, if you have a favorite right now, leave a comment, and share a reco!

Here’s what else I’m tracking this week…

Microsoft Teams for the Whole Family: If you didn’t already spend enough time on MS Teams each day, now you can spend your nights and weekends using the team platform for friends and family connections (finally!). It features free 24-hour video calls for up to 300 people, so you can even use it for your summer family reunion. 

older man posting for photos wearing cool clothes
Source: @jaadiee

Boomer Digital Migration: According to a Pew Research Center 2021 study, those aged 50-64 use Facebook more than the age groups just above or below them. Baby Boomers feel that social media has had a positive effect on their lives, and—perhaps surprisingly—are influencing and gaming with a fervor approaching that of their younger counterparts. Our friends at JWT have further analysis (including my new favorite account, Grampstagram) here.

Snapchat = Shopping! AR Glasses, and Organic Content? This week’s Snapchat Partnership Summit brought big news including the introduction of Snap’s AR Glasses, the addition of Gifting to let Snapchat users pay creators, and the news that business profiles are moving out of beta for brands with Shopify accounts. Last summer, the beta prompted a lot of conversations about brands starting to post organic content on Snapchat, so we’ll be keeping a close eye on this.  

a woman holding her hand up and viewing it through her phone
Source: Google

Google I/O Recap: This week’s big announcements at the Google I/O keynote include: Google’s Project Starline, which features a magic mirror-style video call system that increases the sense of place and presence beyond a Zoom window. A camera that’s more inclusive of skin tone and natural hair styles. Google Photos making animated photos from stills and creating password-protected locked photo folders. New ways to change your password. Google Maps updates to Liveview AR and new use of A.I. to identify “situations that cause you to slam on the brakes, such as confusing lane changes or freeway exits.” Digital car keys so you can unlock your car with your phone. A new health tool that lets you use your phone’s camera to detect and diagnose skin conditions. And a lot more! Here’s a 16 min video recap worth watching.

Photo of linoleum floor pattern
Source: Reddit

The Most Popular Flooring Product on the Internet This Week: Armstrong Flooring model 5352 is the single most popular linoleum pattern installed in midcentury America. There’s a 100% chance you’ve been in a house with this design if you lived between 1930 and 2000. Maybe you even played with toys using the pattern as a kid. 5352 was designed by Hazel Dell-Brown, who also is credited with introducing the first color advertisements. And this week #ZillowSocial was buzzing about the nostalgia of the design and its reintroduction that is capitalizing on the mid-century modern craze.  

Google Workspace (aka G Suite) is Getting a Massive Overhaul: After years of stagnation, look for some big changes coming to Google Workspace intended to help the search giant better compete with Microsoft Office. You’ll be able to start a Meet video chat directly within Docs or share your Doc directly into a Meet call with a button in the doc. There will be assisted writing to help you sound your smartest. Emoji reactions in Docs in addition to traditional comments. A new timeline view in Google Sheets for improved project management, and a new “pageless” view in Google Docs that does away with the assumption that your document is meant for an 8.5 x 11 piece of paper. More here.

Reads of the Week: 1) The Next Steps For The Quantified Self Are Context and Coaching; 2) How ‘Shrek’ Achieved a Strange, Perverted Online Afterlife; 3) The Gentle Guy Internet is Real and The Best of the Gentle Guy Internet; 4) Why Roblox is fast becoming one of the most important media businesses of the future; 5) Rich people are heading to space and they’re changing what it means to be an astronaut; 6) A Divided Nation Flocks to Partisan Brands

Quick Hits:

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Social Pulse, Week of 11-23

Every week I keep tabs on what’s trending, new technology and consumer habits that impact the social web. These are summed up in a round-up called Social Pulse. Sign up to get this in your inbox every Friday here.

It’s Whamageddon Season! Whamageddon is a game played during the Christmas season in which players try to go from December 1 to Christmas Day without hearing “Last Christmas” by Wham! If you hear the song between those days, you are out of the game and have to post “#Whamageddon” on social media to indicate that you lost. The game starts next Tuesday, and by knowing about this game, you are now playing whether you planned to or not. Good luck!

Flash is Forever: In the late 1990s, Flash software unlocked a massive amount of creativity in the world wide web – including art, animations, and games. As we near the end of 2020, support for Flash is ending across all browsers. But there’s great news this week, with the news the Internet Archive has started curating and archiving classic Flash experiences using an emulator that will work in any browser – with 800 and counting uploaded so far. Some of my favorite picks: Peanut Butter Jelly Time, Badger, Teen Girl Squad, Rock Paper Siz, and some classic advergames (now archived forever) from Fritos and McD’s.

Winning the Anti-Fake News Game: If you play an online game where you spread fake news, are you more able to spot it in the real world? Harmony Square is a free game designed by psychologists to help teach the basics of misinformation, why it’s created, what it looks like and how it spreads. In the game, it’s your job to sow discord and chaos by amping up emotional headlines, spreading falsehoods, and weaponize emotional language. Players in the study were less likely to rate misinformation as “reliable” than they had prior to playing, and showed “reduced willingness to share fake news with others.” 

Snapchat Spotlight Competes with TikTok and Reels: This week Snapchat launched scrollable Snapchat Spotlight, the disappearing social network’s new algorithmic feed to swipe through video content. At first review, it’s pretty good. In fact, it’s significantly more scrollable and intuitive than Reels. TikTok is still king, but this is a good flex for eyeballs and attention on Snap’s part. Find it in your app by clicking the PLAY button in the bottom right corner of the app.

Amazon’s Glasses are Now Available: Starting this week, Amazon’s Echo Frames smart glasses are now available for public purchase, marking one of the first mainstream “hearables” device available at-scale. With a price point of $250, Echo Frames are equipped with embedded speakers, microphones, and Bluetooth access to your phone’s Alexa, Siri, and Google Assistant. Here’s my full review of the first generation Echo Frames.

Slowed + Reverbed: TikTok is once again surfacing new music trends we’ll see expand outside the platform in the coming year. This time it’s “slowed and reverb,” a complement to the lo-fi hip-hop subgenre that’s been spreading through YouTube, Soundcloud and now TikTok. Key quote: “Slowed and reverb is essentially remixes of pre-existing songs from various genres (but primarily rap) that solely uses screwing, or slowing down, and avoids chopping — overlapping the same song milliseconds a part from each other and cutting up certain sections so that they repeat — topping everything off with a layer of reverb that emphasizes the slow haze of it all.” Listen: childish gambino – redbone (slowed + reverb)

Business Reads of the Week: Why post-pandemic Ubers and Netflixes will be nothing like their predecessors; Why DTC brands plan to use texting for Black Friday and Cyber Monday this year; Signs that your apathy is really pandemic burnout; Quiet people in meetings are incredible

Quick Hits:


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Social Pulse, Week of 8-17

Every week I keep tabs on what’s trending, new technology and consumer habits that impact the social web. These are summed up in a round-up called Social Pulse. Sign up to get this in your inbox every Friday here.

SocNet Updates: Snapchat added in-app voter registration. Instagram added QR code support and is replacing “You’re All Caught Up” at the end of your newsfeed with “Suggested Posts.” Facebook Portal will add capability for Zoom, BlueJeans, GoToMeeting and Webex in September. Twitter launched a Transparency Center and shared insights about the return of sports. Facebook is updating user control of advertising preferences again, launched an Educator Hub, which is designed to help students, parents and teachers, and now lets musicians charge $$ for live events. TikTok is still looking for a buyer, and now Oracle has joined Twitter and Microsoft in those discussions. Snapchat is again experimenting with letting users share content outside of the app.

Digital Blackface: Wired has a piece about censorship and appropriation faced by Black creators on social media networks like TikTok, and how white creators grow followers and engagement by co-opting Black culture, slang, and fashion. Key quote: “TikTok is a video-first platform, and on it, creators embody Blackness with an auteur-driven virtuosity—taking on Black rhythms, gestures, affect, slang. The most effective videos come down to one factor: how well a creator grabs hold of our attention. That is to say, how deftly they make what we watch theirs. Blackness is a proven attention getter. Its adoption is racism, custom-fit.”

I Skipped College and Got Google Certified: This week Google announced Google Career Certificates, a selection of professional courses that teach foundational skills that are highly in-demand (Data Analyst, UX Designer, Project Manager), only take 6 months to complete, and cost $300 or less.Google claims the programs “equip participants with the essential skills they need to get a job,” with “no degree or prior experience required to take the courses.”

Patent Watch: Although patents don’t guarantee an invention will become mainstream, they are certainly an indicator of where big companies and inventors are exploring in the future. This week’s patent watch includes: an Apple security camera and virtual keyboards (a laptop with a GIANT trackpad!), Facebook VR gloves with haptic (touch) feedback, and coordinated content across second screen experiences (your phone and TV sharing content at the same time!) from Microsoft. See the full list here.

Literally Living Life Online: The NYT has published this piece about how digital three-dimensional environments are where much of life is taking place during the pandemic. Key quote: “During the lockdowns, gaming platforms have been thriving as venues for all manner of events. Savvy teachers are holding online classes where their students are already spending their time: on game-focused sites like Twitch and Discord. People have held beach weddings inside Animal Crossing and concerts inside Fortnite. Students at the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Chicago and other universities built 3-D replicas of their school settings inside Minecraft, and some held graduation celebrations there.”

Or…Let’s Just Move Off-Grid and Leave This All Behind: Mental Floss has this long-read about a Russian family who did what many of us have longed to do in 2020 — move into Siberian wilderness and leave behind modern culture for more than 40 years. But the outcome wasn’t great. And who knew SALT would be the most important thing they would miss? Read it here.

Viral Video of the Week: This YouTuber built a device that shoots masks right onto people’s faces!

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