The Space Men Occupy (on My Phone)

A short story about dating and time traveling through my phone to free up storage.

By Saira Khan

If you, like me, are not the type of person who deletes things from their phone then your phone is, like mine, somewhat of a shrine to people who once occupied space in your life. When you scroll through a year’s worth of break up messages you begin to notice a pattern—for a certain kind of Earth man, the more you make contact, the more they drift off into space, spiraling away in their spacesuit as soon as you reach out. 

T., Never met, May 2018

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J., Four months, April 2018

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A., Three months, March 2018

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J.A, Two dates, March 2018

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G., 2 months, August 2017

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B., 12 months, November 2017

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D., 2 months, October, 2017

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Q., 1 date, December, 2017

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Present day, new motto

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Unbound Is Changing the Way Women Buy Sex Toys, One Box at a Time

Most sex toy companies are owned and operated by men who could care less about what women want. This is where startups like Unbound come in.

By Saira Khan

Polly Rodriguez was 21 years old when, after undergoing treatment for Stage III colon cancer and being kicked into early menopause, she went to a sex shop to buy a vibrator. “It was a horrible experience,” she told me. The store she went to in St. Louis, Missouri was full of older men perusing pornographic magazines. There were bright sex toys displayed on shelves, with no information on how to use them or even why to use them. Polly found a void wherever she looked. “It’s one thing to be in New York City, but I was in St. Louis, and we just didn’t have any information for us out there,” she told me. The experience stayed with her.

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Polly Rodriguez (left) with the Unbound team at a Sex Expo in Brooklyn, NY

Now, nine years later, Polly is the co-founder and chief executive of Unbound, which she bills as “an online sex shop for rebellious women.” It’s a way for her to rescue other women from going through what she did: feeling embarrassed about wanting to learn about and explore her sexuality.

Unbound has a quarterly subscription box, in which people receive a number of sex toys and products. The company also offers themed boxes for different events in a person’s life: a Period Box, a Menopause Box, a Pregnancy Box, and there’s even a Rebound Box for people who are going through a breakup. The point of all of this is to give women the information they’re seeking about their sexuality and wellness, in a way that isn’t embarrassing for them.

 

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Cards, necklaces, and cuffs, oh my!

It’s only in recent years that sex toy companies have started considering women’s needs, and the reason for this is clear: most sex toy companies are owned and operated by men who could care less about what women want. This is where startups like Unbound come in: CEOs like Polly are working hard to fill this void that has existed for far too long. And while she’s seen success with Unbound, getting there hasn’t been easy.

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The Pregnancy Box (Image from Unbound)

The same problem that exists in sex-toy companies exists in venture capitalism: men. “There’s an image of what a startup CEO should look like, and it isn’t usually a woman,” Polly said. “You walk into those investor meetings feeling like you don’t belong. I had to learn quickly how to be resilient.” To add to this, listening to conversations about sex can be awkward and often people’s first instinct is to laugh. “I’ve been laughed out of rooms and it ends up creating this sense of imposter syndrome where you feel like you aren’t good enough,” Polly said. “But you are good enough and you should be there! It’s just easy to forget when you’re in that environment.”

I asked Polly if she could go back in time and give her 16-year-old self some advice, what would it be? “Don’t compare yourself to others. It’s fine if you go to a state school. What really matters is that you do well and work hard,” she said. Oh, also, “Go to the doctor early because you have cancer in the butt!”

 

 

May We Admire You: SugarTool

A chat with Kirthika Parmeswaran, the CEO of SugarTool, a neonatal health app.

May We Admire You is our column in which we shine a spotlight on someone we think is pretty kick-ass. Our goal is to honor the accomplishments of a person, company, or group we respect and to expose their awesomeness to the world.


Frida Oskarsdottir spoke to Kirthika Parmeswaran, CEO of SugarTool, an app in development focused on neonatal health that was recently a finalist in the Penn Center for Innovations AppItUp competition. Kirthika and her all-women team of physicians envision a future where new mothers are empowered with medical knowledge about their newborns, and as a result, their babies are healthier.

Frida: So tell me more about SugarTool.

Kirthika: SugarTool is an evidence-based, digital health app focused on the screening and treatment of low blood sugar conditions in newborn babies, called neonatal hypoglycemia. One in three babies in the United States is actually at risk for this condition, and it’s a growing risk. There are a few reasons; the baby could be pre-term or born to a mother who is diabetic or has gestational diabetes. A newborn brain is dependent largely on glucose, and at birth, the regulation of glucose is very sluggish. An adverse effect of this is that it can lead to seizures or even brain damage. Our goal is also to shine a light on all these issues.

Frida: Before founding this company, were you involved in the medical field?

Kirthika: Actually, my background is in telecommunications. I began my career in research and development and did a lot of work in emerging technologies, but I got intrigued by this notion of bringing new ideas to market. I got a degree in technology management, which got me more into the business side of tech.

Most recently I became involved with the Penn Center for Innovation (PCI), which is part of the University of Pennsylvania. PCI’s goal is to incubate the technology. The way it works is that there are “founders,” who are subject matter experts. In our case, the founders are physicians working at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. PCI matches founders with folks with business and product development expertise, like me. So I came in as a CEO with the aim of taking it to market.

Frida: Where are you at now in the process of bringing SugarTool to the market?

Kirthika: This is a really early stage, actually! SugarTool was formed through PCI’s AppItUp competition earlier this year. Out of 300 entries, we were chosen along with five other applicants in the end. Right now, we’ve just begun doing pitches, looking at other sources of funding, and talking to people throughout the eco-system.

Frida: What do you think it takes to get chosen out of 300 competitors?

Kirthika: In this case it was the problem we’re tackling. It has to be something unique and something that brings true value. The reason I joined this company was firstly that I was a gestational diabetic mother during one of my pregnancies, and I had no clue what to do, because I wasn’t from the medical field. I want to be in the position that I can empower other moms and other people with this problem.

It’s unique in the technology field because we see a lot about driverless cars, artificial intelligence. If you see medicine, it’s focused on oncology. But often people aren’t focusing on something as fundamental as newborn care. It’s a niche problem with enough challenges that it’s made for an exciting and interesting topic to get into.

Frida: In terms of the logistics of using the app, is this something to be used by new mothers and clinicians, or just one or the other?

Kirthika: That’s a big part of our offering. First, we’ll have a risk assessment for babies for certain conditions, including neonatal hypoglycemia. Secondly, there will be a cognitive, or machine learning, aspect. To answer your question, the third aspect brings together the nurses and doctors at the hospital, the pediatrician, and the mother or caregiver. Malpractice suits have come from babies not being screened properly before discharge, then being rushed to the ER later. We want to bring an integrated view across these different people.

Frida: What would you say you spend your time doing in the role of CEO?

Kirthika: Definitely being a product evangelist. It has to come from passion, you have to be clear, and you have to be able to drive the product. I’m talking to so many different people all the time! Then there’s product management, looking at the market, positioning, how to build a profitable business. The founders and I don’t want to be limited to the United States, we want this to be global. There are countries where mothers cannot even reach hospitals, and as a mobile app, SugarTool could be a form of global outreach.

Frida: Is it quite unique to have a start-up team that’s all women?

Kirthika: That is one thing that we are very proud of! In this case, a lot of us are mothers and we have this inclination to do better for other mothers. I think there should be many more all-women teams and I’m sure there are a lot that we don’t even know about.

Solar and the City: A Day with Brooklyn SolarWorks

As the High-Strung ambassador for the Power chapter, Frida joined a group of New Yorkers for a rainy-day tour with Brooklyn SolarWorks, put on by New York Adventure Club.

By Frida Oskarsdottir 

 

As the High-Strung ambassador for the Power chapter, Frida joined a group of New Yorkers for a rainy-day tour with Brooklyn SolarWorks, put on by New York Adventure Club.

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Just last week, The New York Times reported that in 2016 the solar industry accounted for the largest job creation in the renewable energy sector with over 373,000 jobs. By comparison, the coal industry was responsible for only 160,000 new jobs over the same time period. While these figures are encouraging to renewable enthusiasts, a new White House administration means an uncertain policy future, giving some pause to even the most optimistic solar nerds.

In New York state, solar electricity generation has grown nearly 800% from 2011 to 2016, ranking it 10th in the country for installed capacity. Still, less than 1% of homes in New York are powered by solar. With aggressive goals to provide half of the state’s electricity through renewable sources by 2030, much more needs to happen. For many consumers there is still a disconnect between solar technology and their personal energy consumption. On a rainy Earth Day two weeks ago, I took a tour with New York Adventure Club — complete with Gowanus rooftop DJing and snacks from (where else?) Whole Foods — to learn more about one company’s mission to bring solar power to New York City. New York Adventure Club organizes all kinds of day trips around the city; the small group in attendance this day ranged from renewable energy aficionados to people who had been on tours with the company before and just thought it sounded fun. The tour consisted of small lectures and explanations given by co-founder of Brooklyn SolarWorks, T.R. Ludwig, as the group took in the company’s headquarters and workshop.

Along with his co-founders, Ludwig established Brooklyn Solarworks about two years ago. After over a decade in the industry and working for other solar installers, he says he saw room for growth which larger businesses were missing out on. “A lot of solar installers are focused on what we call a suburban pitched roof. Here in New York City our buildings don’t look like that. They tend to have flat roofs, and as a result, a lot of this market has been ignored by large solar companies. Some will dip their toes in but most wind up leaving. What I saw when I started out is that there is a great opportunity here to serve homeowners.” It also helps that there is an ongoing boom in solar power across the country, which Ludwig attributes to lower costs and new financing mechanisms that significantly reduce the out-of-pocket cost to the consumer.  

In order to solve the flat roof dilemma and bring the success of solar power from the suburbs to New York City, Brooklyn SolarWorks collaborated with design firm Situ Studio in order to create what Ludwig calls “the lynchpin” of their innovation: the solar canopy.

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A solar canopy on the roof of Brooklyn SolarWorks’ Gowanus workshop. The company can use credits generated here to offset electricity costs at their headquarters down the street.

To accommodate the unique requirements for solar in the city, the canopy’s design serves a functional purpose. As we stood beneath the enormous canopy installed on the roof of Brooklyn SolarWorks’ workshop, Ludwig explains “there are a number of onerous fire codes that require very large swaths of the roof to be left open in case the fire department needs access. The canopy allows you to raise the system 9 feet above the roof, which is the height given by the FDNY determined by a 6-foot-tall fireman swinging an axe. With that threshold we developed our technology to get up 9 feet but also to be withstand high winds. There’s nothing else like it and there’s nobody out there doing what we’re doing.”

In addition to function, the company hopes the canopy’s distinct look will act as a sort of built-in marketing campaign. “We want people to get excited to have these on their roof. We think that it’ll have a good viral effect on people – talking to their neighbors, getting referrals. There’s really good data out there that suggests that that’s true; the more solar you see on a street, the faster it gets built.” While Brooklyn SolarWorks primary business is still traditional solar installation, Ludwig hopes the canopy, which the company has the proprietary rights to, will follow closely behind.

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A street view of the workshop, from which bystanders can see the canopy.

So how much does it cost? According to Ludwig, it’s cheaper than you might think. Typically in New York City, your Con Edison utility bill arrives in the mail and you pay it, no questions asked. Switching to solar asks the customer to make an upfront investment for long-term savings. Ludwig explains, “You’re basically prepaying for electricity for 25 years at a drastically reduced rate. If you think about your ConEd bill now, take 25 percent of that and put it out over 25 years.” If paying just a quarter of your bill sounds appealing, you can thank the many federal, state, and city incentives aimed at making solar as attractive as possible to the consumer. Ludwig states the biggest boon was the 2015 extension of the Investment Tax Credit, which alone pays the customer back 30 percent of the installation cost through a tax break. Despite President Trump’s coal-fueled promises, Ludwig doesn’t worry about the credit being cut short. “At this point as it will already sunset in a few years, so it doesn’t make sense for them to touch it and get bad press.”

Of course, in order to buy the canopy, you have to first buy the house. For renters in New York City, the options for solar power are more limited, but they do exist. Ludwig mentions “community solar,” which allows individual consumers who may not own their homes to buy solar credits from different providers (it’s a technical process including something called net-metering, Google it because if I try to explain it to you my hair might catch on fire). “It’s an evolving model,” Ludwig says, “you couldn’t do this even a year ago.”

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On the roof of Brooklyn SolarWorks’ headquarters and office – a portable canopy also serves as cover from the rain.

The day ended with refreshments and music on another roof, this time atop the office headquarters a few blocks from the workshop. As some of us lamented the chilly weather, Ludwig mentioned that interestingly solar panels thrive on cooler sunny days and run much less efficiently in excessive heat. The rain pattered as a DJ spun music from solar-run turntables, and in spite of the clouds I felt keenly aware of the powerful sun behind them.

How People Are Using Gifs to Get Off

On swapping sex gifs as party favors in participatory online porn culture.

By Monica Torres

 

Welcome to the new frontier of anonymized intimacy. Older generations had anonymous AOL chatrooms and Yahoo! Group Mailing lists to explore kinks; younger generations are using gifs, or looping animated images. With the rise of gifs being used on social networks, fans on Tumblr are engaging in a participatory porn culture, swapping erotic gifs with each other in a 21st century gif(t) exchange. The pleasurable goal on- and off-screen is to arouse but rather than the proof of a physical cum shot, online fans see release with an endorsing reblog tagged: #hot or #Icametothis. Media theorists call these fans who mediate their own desires “prosumers”: people who inhabit the “simultaneous role of being a producer of what one consumes.”

These porn gifs are usually ripped from porn sites, so they are de-contextualized from their original meaning. But for porn gif makers, that’s the whole point. They are less concerned with plot and more concerned with zeroing in on fucking. Compressing scenes of desire into the seconds that were most personally affecting allows these “prosumers” to re-center frames of desire towards moments that aroused them, not whatever an ass-man director wanted from a film.

“Passing facial expressions of pleasure get magnified. Penetration is obsessed and lingered over. Orgasms last forever. Surprise is repeated. In a sex gif, it’s always the first time.”

The porn scholars behind “Giffing a fuck: Non-narrative pleasures in participatory porn cultures and female fandom” argue that gifs are uniquely suited for this affective engagement: “microporn facilitates a tighter focus on those gestures or movements most sexually affecting. This affective experience is furthered by the loop aesthetic of GIFs in which a single privileged moment is replayed repeatedly (and perhaps obsessively).” Passing facial expressions of pleasure get magnified. Penetration is obsessed and lingered over. Orgasms last forever. Surprise is repeated. In a sex gif, it’s always the first time.

These sex gif loops create feedback loops. There’s no better example of fandom-facilitated engagement than orgasmictipsforgirls, a Tumblr for “horny girls everywhere” that has over 154,000 followers. The blog orgasmictipsforgirls is run by Holly, a self-described “twenty-something not-entirely-straight girl who loves to gossip about sex stuff.” It’s my favorite sex blog on Tumblr, because it represents my favorite part of fandoms: community.

Holly doesn’t want to call her blog’s goals #sexspo (sex inspiration), but she does see links between fitness blogs and her sex Tumblr. Both promote narratives of self-improvement for readers. One is just doing it through explicit step-by-step gifs on how to give blow jobs: “It’s like when you read about someone who went from not fit at all to running a marathon and you’re like ‘I could totally do that! I COULD TOTALLY DO THAT!’” she wrote in an email to me. “But with the advantage that training for a marathon is hugely exhausting whereas being a bit more sexually confident can be enjoyable all along! (Oh, and that reading about other people’s marathon training doesn’t make you fit, but reading other people’s sex stories can get you off.)”

Holly has created highly-detailed guides on how to help women masturbate filled with supplemental gifs that act as useful, nonjudgmental visual aids. If I had known about all these ways I could hump myself to completion when I was a sexually frustrated teenager, I would’ve had my sexual awakening a lot sooner. And many other fans have been in that same boat based on the frequency readers ask Holly, “what’s an orgasm?”

Holly believes gifs can titillate women in ways that porn videos can’t: “[I]deas often fail at being good or believable or non-skeevy the whole way through (especially for women!) but most anything can be sexy for 2.2 seconds.”

Appreciative fans send Holly audio recordings of themselves masturbating, nude selfies, their sex stories, and the gifs and videos that got them off. Holly curates them all into Tumblr packages to be reblogged. She says opening up her blog to submissions made it possible for everyone to “have the opportunity to be a ‘sex blogger’ for a Warhol-sized fifteen minutes.” Her blog is considered so helpful that a sex therapist once directed a patient towards her site because, according to Holly, the therapist said, “there are pictures that will show you EXACTLY what to do.”

Orgasmictipsforgirls is an example of how the power of porn fandom comes not only from the loops of sex themselves, but also from the loops of feedback created between “prosumers.” It’s this intense, intimate community that fandom is actively fostering through curated loops of desire exchanged between Tumblrs. Citing academic Karen Hellekson’s previous work on fan economies, “Giffing a fuck” says that fandom gifs rely on “giving, receiving and reciprocating” works that reinforce bonds between users: “the gift of artwork or text is repetitively exchanged for the gift of reaction, which is itself exchanged, with the goal of creating and maintaining social solidarity.” Seeing hundreds of notes and reblogs to your gifs isolating that one ass slap is a confirmation that you weren’t the only person to find this hot.

“Reading about other people’s marathon training doesn’t make you fit, but reading other people’s sex stories can get you off.”

But Holly recognizes the limits to using porn gifs is their source material: “The huge weakness is that it’s still made out of ‘Porn From The Porn Industry’ so visually the blog is way, WAY whiter, skinnier, hairless etc. than I’d ever choose it to be.” The all-inclusive, celebratory messages of “Anyone Can Fuck!” and “’People Don’t Give A Shit What You Look Like, Trust Me” that Holly wants to give followers clashes with the limiting spectrum of bodies she’s curating from. It’s a reminder that even when gifs are purposefully taken out of contexts, they are still subject to them through the kinds of bodies the images use.

Gifs create ephemeral moments of pleasure that impact people far beyond their second-long loops. Scrolling through these explicit dashboards, I will sometimes pause between gifs of explicit body-slapping fucking, arrested by a woman’s captured, open expression of lust. On photography, literary theorist Roland Barthes called these arresting moments the “element which rises from the scene, shoots out of it like an arrow, and pierces [you].” What pierced this one gif curator and compelled them to make this gif is now, in turn, piercing me. ‘Do I look like that?’ I’ll wonder. It’s still rare enough for me to see women’s pleasure on screens that gifs like these do feel like gifts. In porn, I’d have to rewind. In sex, there’s no replay button. But here I can linger freely.

New Phone, Who Dis?

A woman’s journey, told through cell phones.

 By Frida Oskarsdottir

The child of an engineer and a computer programmer, I was the first one of my friends to get my very own personal computer: a blue iMaclike from the commercialscementing my friendship with at least three girls who were way more popular than I was. While my parents likely hoped I’d use the computer as an encyclopedia and to print out my schoolwork, for me it was another way to keep in constant conversation with any humanor botI could find. Before AOL Instant Messenger existed the Internet was basically the Wild West; my friends and I would log into chat rooms and delight in the ability to have banal conversations online, with what we assumed were toothsome boys our age and not, as it is more statistically likely, 45-year-old basement dwellers.

When I wasn’t skirting predators on the World Wide Web, I was chatting on my lime-green cordless phone on my own private line. If it sounds like I was spoiled, it’s because I was. In 1998, having a private line was basically the gold standard of pre-teendom. I didn’t think life could get any better than being able to call people from the comfort of my bedroom. And then, in 2001, at the age of 14, I got my first cell phone and the world opened up even more.

In the sixteen years that have followed, mobile technology has expanded in ways few people could have imagined. Our smartphones have replaced countless devices and appliances and razed entire industries. They answer our questions in seconds and guide us when we’re lost, geographically or existentially. Seventy-seven percent  of Americans now own smartphones, up from 66% last year, and 35% in 2011. Their rapid evolution continues to change the ways we think about connection and convenience, and also makes it easy to forget how recently we walked through life without the immediacy these devices afford us. 

I wanted to see where looking back through the flip phones and sliders of my past would take me. Each of the clunky, outdated behemoths below was a notch in my timeline, radical in its own way.

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Model: V-Tech 9111 // The Non-Cell Phone

Year: 1998

While not technically a mobile phone, it was attached to my body via the back pocket of my hip huggers, and I carried it into every room of the house as well as outdoors into our yard, testing the limits of its connectivity.

One time the mom of a boy I liked called my parents and told them we had to keep our phone conversations to a minimum of two hours a day so that he could do his homework. My unfettered access to call time also enabled me to attempt to steal not one, but two of my friends’ boyfriends by calling them under the guise of discussing their “relationships.” Woof.

siemensModel: Siemens C45 // The First

Year: 2001

My friends teased me mercilessly about this phone because Siemens sounds like semen and we were 14. When you turned the phone on, the screen glowed orange and a smiley face would pop up to greet you. It was a frowny face when you turned it off. Because you had to charge it basically 23 hours a day and the only outlet in my room was on the other side from my bed, I remember getting out of bed to see if anyone had sent me an “SMS” at random hours of the night (they hadn’t).

nokia-3310Model: Nokia 3310 // The Classic

Year: 2003

Who didn’t have this sturdy Nokia phone? Rumor has it this baby is set to re-release in 2017, to the delight of Snake enthusiasts everywhere. I’m pretty sure I owe the C I got in Chemistry my sophomore year of high school to this piece of plastic, but I also got a very high score in Snake. So..

I also recall having to push my nails into the buttons to dial after a few months, the physicality of the structure so obviously the sum of its parts.

Model: Nokia 3200 with interchangeable covers // Feat of Visual Engineering

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Year: 2005

I tried desperately to find a picture of the actual interchangeable cover I had for this upgraded version of the basic Nokia phone but I couldn’t, probably because it was an unauthorized cover I bought at a boardwalk stand in Ocean City. I’ve got one word for you though: FLAMES. Fun fact: constantly changing the cover on this phone led to debris accumulation; it basically became a dirt factory that I held up to my face all day.

The biggest differenceoutside of the unbelievable aestheticwas that this phone came with its very own camera. As a seasoned photographer after a year of high school photography that I spent outside smoking cigarettes, I was ready to explore this new medium. The pictures I took included, but were not limited to, my feet, my hands, and an eyeball. That’s it. Because 3 pictures was all the storage it could handle.

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Model: Motorola Razr // This phone came in pink

Year: 2007

I know you were waiting for this one. This phone was a game-changer. I was thrilled when I finally got this sleek design but also knew that my excitement had to be partially ironic in order to continue being as cool as I thought I was. I perfected the one hand flip and relished clicking it shut. I was Paris Hilton.

Incidentally, 2007 was the first year that Americans sent and received more text messages than phone calls each month. Perhaps that’s why this is the phone I remember sending them from for the first time, which begs the question, what the hell was I using all those other phones for?

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Model: Verizon Pantech Jest // I was eligible for an upgrade

Year: 2009

I genuinely thought this was the coolest phone ever, until it arrived and I realized how crappy it was. Nevertheless, since this was when I got my first “real” job out of college; I’d slip this little pebble into my stiff Target-bought khakis with grit and determination. While the home screen boasted “Email” access and something called a “Social Beat,” you needed a stable internet connection and 20-25 minutes just to log on to www.google.com and type in “beer store.”

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Model: Verizon LG ENV //Groundhog Computer

Year: 2010

The folks who designed this phone clearly thought they were onto something, envisioning a groundhog-sized person cracking it open to type at his groundhog-sized desk. Oh look, a shift key! In my memory this weighed 8 pounds.

Model: iPhone 4//The Futurescreen-shot-2017-02-22-at-9-03-27-pm

Year: 2012

And here we are. When I finally made the transition to the iPhone I felt like I’d been launched into outer space. My first grainy Instagram photos are all in Kelvin, i.e. orange and terrible, and this was when my private selfie habit really reared its ugly head. I accidentally smashed the screen on this after having it for approximately one month, wanted to commit harakiri, and have since protected my phone with industrial strength covers and screen protectors like it’s going out of style. So here’s where it ends, because I refuse to include the subsequent iPhones I’ve owned because they are all essentially the same.

Invaders in My Stream: On Being Cyberstalked

The summer I turned 25, I gained a firsthand education into personal and anonymous cyberstalking after being featured in a Breitbart article.

By Monica Torres

The Professional Troll

The summer I turned 25, I was featured in a Breitbart article co-written by the site’s then-editor Milo Yiannopolous. The article itself was laughably bad journalism. I was not contacted for quotes, my college articles were taken out of context, and basic facts about me were wrong (which was not an isolated incident; The Daily Caller later called me “Monica Flores”).

Yiannopolous, who left Breitbart on Tuesday after an interview of him defending pedophilia surfaced online, was once kindly described as a conservative provocateur by mainstream outlets like the Associated Press. He identifies as a “virtuous troll” who is doing “God’s work,” using the protection of free speech to condemn transgender identity as a “psychiatric disorder,” declare his birthday World Patriarchy Day, author “Birth Control Makes Women Unattractive and Crazy”, create the Yiannopolous Privilege Grant, a scholarship to help white men gain “equal footing” with minorities, and to rally his army of followers to harass and humiliate countless people online.

Even now, months later, I find myself using qualifying statements like “not so bad” to minimize the experience because the worst has not yet happened to me. Less than a week after Yiannopolous wrote about my liberal biases, he led a Twitter harassment campaign against comedian Leslie Jones, inciting his followers to barrage her with racist, demeaning, and threatening tweets until Jones quit the platform, saying she was “in a personal hell.” Yiannopolous’ harassment of Jones got him banned on Twitter, but it also cemented his status with the alt-right movement, earned him speaking invitations at college campuses, and led to a reported $250,000 book deal (which was finally cancelled this week, not because 100+ authors had condemned Simon & Schuster for supporting Yiannopolous, not because of his racist, misogynistic, and xenophobic beliefs, but only after the video of him condoning pedophilia had surfaced).

In the aftermath of the article, before I set my Twitter to private, someone with an unknown account reached out to me, saying he wished to rape me. Everything before this had felt like an inconvenient distraction from my time and energy. But in that moment, I felt fear, then a hot flush of shame for letting a tweet scare me.

My employer told me the tweets weren’t a credible threat, but I documented them anyway, putting that tweet along with all the article’s comments that wished me harm, in a folder on my computer entitled EVIDENCE. I was told to remove my email address from my website and LinkedIn, and told to take any mention of clients I worked with off of my social accounts. ‘A way to avoid stalkers or an abdication of my employer’s responsibility to protect me?’ I thought mutinously, as I nodded and did what I was told. I changed every password and added two-step authentication and security questions to my bank accounts, Gmail, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, LinkedIn, Instagram and Tumblr. Friends and colleagues told me over and over that what happened wasn’t my fault, but I still felt like these protections for my safety were punishing me for existing online. As a digital journalist who relies on these social networks for job prospects, making my accounts private hurts my career.

“Don’t worry, we’re keeping an eye on the deep web for any credible threats against you,” I was told. Worried by the lack of structured advice I was receiving from employed security experts, I reached out to my friend Patrick Hogan who had lived through the worst. He gave me step-by-step advice.

Exhibit A.
Document everything. Screenshot tweets, archive e-mails, record phone calls. Anything you receive relating to this needs to become a permanent record. Be sure to note any relevant details like the time you received something or the incoming phone number for a call.

Any time you can report something, do it. I know this isn’t always the most effective, but even if Twitter says no rules are being broken and won’t do anything, that’s ammunition for you.

Escalate this to your employer. I don’t know the contracting situation over there, but you are being harassed because of your job. Your employer has both an interest and a responsibility.

If at any point you feel like your safety is threatened, go to the police. Even just getting it on the record that you filed a report can be helpful.

So I did that.

In “Why Women Aren’t Welcome on the Internet,” Amanda Hess writes what I consider the best and most comprehensive analysis of why the online abuse of women goes unchecked. In her story, Hess recounts how an anonymous user with the handle HeadlessFemalePig set up a Twitter account with the explicit purpose of threatening to rape her and cut off her head. HeadlessFemalePig said he had done 12 years for manslaughter and he knew Hess and him lived in the same state. He promised Hess he would find her, rape her and kill her. When she went to the police, authorities didn’t know what Twitter was. For Hess, the threats she faced as a journalist who wrote about women were viscerally real, but authorities dismissed the internet as a “fantasyland” where threats weren’t real.

In these cases, when the police declines to investigate the abuse, the burden is placed on the victim to determine what kind of threat is immediate and weigh what you can endure.

Hess’ article was written three years ago, and the outlook for women facing abuse on the internet is still bleak. A 2016 Australian study found that 76% of women under 30 face online harassment, which includes “unwanted contact, trolling, and cyberbullying to sexual harassment and threats of rape and death.” The researchers said that online abuse of women was at risk of becoming “an established norm in our digital society.” There isn’t enough research being done on online harassment against women, but in February, Amnesty International began soliciting stories of this nature. 

When women face violent online threats, they are often told to ignore and endure the threats, lest you “feed the trolls.” But, short of deleting your online presence or putting yourself on a social media lockdown, you cannot opt out from the abuse. When tech platforms ignore violent threats and police decline to file reports on them, the message to women rings loud and clear: you are on your own.



The Personal Toll

That same summer I turned 25, in the midst of my public reckoning, I also faced a private one. I broke up with a man after two months of casual dating, and more than five months later, he is still carrying a one-sided text conversation with me(himself). The texts vary in length, mostly coming after the lonely hour of midnight, but all of them have a possessive familiarity that makes me deeply uncomfortable. As Maureen O’Connor explains in “All My Exes Live in Texts,”exes can jump into your pants whenever they want by sending text messages that land in your pocket.” I feel low-key dread whenever I see his name light up my phone. Immediately after I ended things, I let him air his grievances over the phone and in person, hoping it would give him closure. He has persisted. You’re advised not to contact an ex after a breakup because each time the person doesn’t respond, it will feel like the breakup all over again, a sage Redditor explained. This has not been a deterrent for a man willing to disregard all etiquette if it means he can pursue the fantasy of a relationship.

Exhibit B.
You wasted the last /
sorry for letting my emotions take over /
I miss you like hell /
fired two weeks ago /
at the end of the day we are POC. We need to stick together /
hi. /
Yes, I’m drunk on New Year’s eve but /
I really wish /
like hell /
Hey. Can we please talk? /
Okay let’s not then.

His last text was three weeks ago. At what point does an unwanted, repeated contact become stalking? It varies state to state. Colorado defines a stalker as someone who believes “the victim either returns these feelings of affection or will do so if the stalker is persistent enough.” I’d have to prove that my stalker had “strong, unshakeable and irrational emotional feelings” for me. In Vermont, I need to prove “credible threat.” New York penal law, which defines stalking as “the unwanted pursuit of another person,” says at the very least for a misdemeanor charge, I need to prove: “would a reasonable person have been made fearful, based on history, context, etc.?”

I feel unsettled but not yet unsafe. Right now, I put him in between men who come on too strong and men I can legally call stalkers. Both put me on edge, but the latter is the eventuality I am preparing for. I don’t think he’s sent me his last text. I read Christine Stulik’s account of receiving a harassing email by her stalker every single day, sometimes multiple times a day. After Stulik took an acting class with her stalker, he began to send her banal and flirtatious emails. When she turned him down, he persisted. It was when he showed up to where she worked that Stulik finally took action and sought a temporary restraining order. Like all men who disregard boundaries, he treated her No as Try Harder. In one of his emails to her, he said that he would make her the star of his new play if she dropped the charges. When police finally confronted Stulik’s stalker more than a year after his harassment first started, his reasoning was, “She just never told me ‘No.’”

Exhibit C.
Hearing this made my blood boil. Of course I never explicitly said “No” to him: I never said anything to him. I didn’t reply to a single email, even when I wanted to write down every obscenity I was screaming into the computer screen. I wanted to reply with hurtful, debasing language that made him feel as small as his words made me feel. I wanted to write intelligent, biting attacks that made him realize the futility and stupidity of his endeavor. I wanted to confront him to his face as he sulked around the lobby of my work. I wanted to tell him STOP and NO and FUCK OFF—but I couldn’t allow myself to. Because he had the power, and I couldn’t give him any more of it. In fact, the advice I was given by the domestic violence liaison during one of my many visits to the courthouse was to not reply to anything, because any sign from me would only give him reason to continue contact. He was not to be encouraged.

When you lack structured protections from the state and from online platforms, you must make do with your own. Hess lugs around a physical copy of her expired protection order against her harasser each time she travels to do business in his state. When the order expired, he reached out to her, through comments on her articles, emails and occasional tweets“a little reminder,” Hess writes, “that his ‘game’ is back on.” In what is easily the most chilling account on stalking I’ve read, Helen DeWitt describes how a stalker’s “game” became her worst-case scenario. After DeWitt’s stalker was released five months early into the same town where DeWitt lives, she sleeps with a baseball bat. Her stalker had gotten a plea bargain because DeWitt, who had documented every unwanted interaction, had failed to convince as a damsel in distress in her deposition. The prosecutor said DeWitt’s deposition showed an “absence of fear.” Her stalker had broken into her home with a gun.

Here’s what I tell people I don’t know when they ask what happened to me this summer: I am very lucky. Just fine. Could’ve been worse. No worries. (Would a prosecutor say I’m showing an “absence of fear”?)

I am just one more woman on the internet who has to make contingency plans. I think twice before giving men I meet on the internet my number or my address. Even now, I sometimes wonder if I am blowing this whole thing out of proportion, if his texts were benign, if his tweets were just trolling. But I trust my instincts, and with my EVIDENCE laid bare, I feel exposed. ‘Prepare yourself,’ the part of me that doesn’t have to maintain public pretense urges me. At least one of the unwanted men I have encountered online knows where I live.

When I walk home alone at night, I look behind me and I carry mace.

Exploring Self(ie) Doubt

A lone whiner dives into a sea of selfie-enthusiasts to explore the world of solo photos.

By Gabrielle Sierra

I don’t take photos of myself. This isn’t a principled stance, unlike my stance against using emojis. (I’m a writer in an ever-disappearing industry, let me use my words while I can, damn it.) I don’t selfie because I just don’t get it.

I am well-aware that I stand in the minority on this subject; a lone whiner against a sea of selfie-enthusiasts. The word itself has become so ingrained in our lives that it was added to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Celebrities and social media influencers make enormous amounts of money just by taking photos of themselves while wearing a product or selling a lifestyle. Even images from the recent election cycle regularly showed crowds facing away from candidates in order to take a selfie. According to a 2014 Pew research study, 55 percent of millennials take selfies and post them on social media, and a 2015 survey by Now Sourcing and Frames Direct calculated that millennials spend more than an hour every week on selfies.

As someone who feels awkward posing for photos in general, the desire to take a close-up snap of my face, and then ask people to judge it, seems strange as hell. I will never understand the impulse to take a selfie in a dirty bathroom mirror unless you just saw a ghost and want to document it. I will never relate to the motivation behind snapping a photo of yourself in a car unless the interior of said car is crawling with ants and you want to prove you are cool under pressure. I will never jump on board with the urge to pout or frown or “smize” for Instagram followers, because I just really don’t get how people can be confident enough to assume we all care about their faces. Subsequently, I have always assumed that people who are driven to take and share photos of themselves must be on some sort of alternate spectrum that runs from extremely confident to straight-up narcissistic.

“As someone who feels awkward posing for photos in general, the desire to take a close-up snap of my face, and then ask people to judge it, seems strange as hell.”

However, as I started speaking with people and doing research for this piece, I began to realize that verbalizing the motivation behind taking or sharing a photo of oneself is complex, to say the least. Most answers and statistics seem to show a struggle between overt self-confidence and inner self-doubt, a social media generation problem if there ever was one.

For example, a study published in Psychology Today did in fact suggest that narcissists, especially psychopathic men, are more likely to share selfies. However, the results of the study also showed that men who view their bodies as objects are more likely to edit them in shared images. This act of editing is a sign of self-objectification that is associated with low self-esteem, not high.

The combination of outward certainty and inward uncertainty is something I kept running into, even with those around me. My queries were met with defensive answers almost every time. Easy selfie questions lobbed at friends and colleagues resulted in several heated debates. Some people began rationalizing their photo activities, saying they only took “funny”or “ugly” selfies. At brunch, an argument broke out and photographs were feverishly scrolled through, presented as proof that this particular selfie was more reasonable than that one. In more than one instance feelings were hurt by casual remarks. 

“This act of editing is a sign of self-objectification that is associated with low self-esteem, not high.”

A 2015 paper authored by Brazil’s UFMG and Korea’s KAIST researchers explained that a number of theories exist when it comes to selfies. One is that sharing a selfie with the world is a means of “self-exploration,” a way to “re-see” yourself. “With the ability to control the aesthetics of a picture, selfies are a perfect tool for showing the world one’s subjective self-image,” the paper states. In an interesting twist, the research goes on to indicate that when presented with an edited selfie and an un-edited one, people tend to identify the more attractive image of themselves as the original picture.

“The amount of selfies you take isn’t something that you really think about. It is sort of like a sickness, it is something you can’t control,” said Ronald Ferret, a colleague I convinced to discuss his tendency to take and share a lot of selfies. “My friends recently made fun of me for taking so many, and I was like ‘no I don’t!’ but then I checked and I was like god damn it, yes, they are right. I realized I had stopped taking pictures of what surrounds me and was taking more of just me in the place. I deleted a bunch of shirtless ones. But my friends were right, and I still do it a lot.”

This selfie-doubt is intriguing, since the act itself still feels so inherently tied to confidence. Many authors seem to agree and have encouraged selfie-taking as a form of affirmation. A quick search around the interweb pulls up a number of articles hailing selfie-taking as a way to build up self-assurance, including the “I Took A Selfie Everyday for A Year and Now I Am Confident” piece and the “Take a Selfie to Feel Better About Yourself” portion of a self-help piece. There are even studies that indicate taking a selfie can lead to more positive feelings.

But a new report, published in Frontiers in Psychology, seems to suggest that while people enjoy taking confidence-building selfies, no one cares about seeing them. Researchers surveyed 238 people and found that while 77 percent of them reported regularly taking selfies, 82 percent reported that they would rather look at other types of photos. This seemed to be yet another instance where the motivation to take, possibly edit, and then share a selfie was less about looking at these types of photos and more about achieving something personal.

Regardless of the many motivations and emotions behind posting and sharing an image of yourself, it is clear the fad isn’t going anywhere. Google statistics estimate that about 93 million selfies were taken per day in 2014 on Android devices alone, a number that no doubt has gone up over the past few years. And as younger generations grow up testing the limits of what we share online, selfies are bound to become more socially acceptable, so much so that my selfie-aversion may soon be archaic.

Either way, I doubt my opinion will change. I took a test selfie while writing this and couldn’t fathom ever posting it. I will always be the person who would rather take a photo of a beach with a friend walking in the frame than a photo of a beach blocked by my big head. And maybe in the long run selfie-takers will fare better, as the process is clearly an attempt to work through something deeper than just “look at me!”

For now at least I will attempt to scroll through selfies with a more open eye, although I can’t guarantee I’ll ever cave to giving my “like” approval.