Age of abundance, #hashtag edition

People are appending anything up to 50 hashtags to their Instagram posts, carefully researching the most popular hashtags, or formulating individual strategies (here’s a travel blogger explaining hers).
Hashtags are a search tool, providing a way to make your content discoverable by people who don’t already know or follow you. In this way, they’re a means of getting attention – and therefore status – in the endless popularity contest that’s metric-driven social media. Excessive hashtag use may be a bid for Instacelebrity, and the ensuing Instacash – with reports of top style bloggers earning $1m per year, and an estimated $1 billion sponsored Instagram post economy - or a sheer addiction to the dopamine hit of the ‘like’ count ticking upward.
But as a matter of taste, it all looks… a little grasping.

Anyone well versed in social media understands hacks like these to gain distribution for their content. This piece, whose opening is cited above, is much more interesting for its analysis of hashtag use in conveying and reinforcing status.

Let’s start from the principle that hashtag usage is often a bid for attention – you want your content to be discoverable, for more people to see it (and hopefully like it). But visibly betraying a desire for attention is a sign of neediness – and neediness is low status (you are dependent on other people’s behaviour to define your self worth). Therefore:
Hypothesis: High status brands don’t use hashtags extensively
Evidence:  We find @ChanelOfficial using hashtags, but with two constraints:
· A maximum of three per post, often only one
· Almost entirely ‘owned’ hashtags based on their campaign names

Whole thing isn't that long, all worth a read.

I recall being a kid in school, struggling to learn, often painfully, about how my words and clothing and haircut and actions affected how people perceived me, what circles I could enter and which were closed off. A terrifying crucible.

What must it be like to grow up today, not only having to learn the real world signaling prices but also the values of strategies and cultural assets and selfie poses in the social media market? I've heard from many people that if they post something to social media and if it doesn't garner a certain volume of likes within some period of time, they pull it down immediately. Oh the horror of changing your Facebook profile photo and not getting enough likes within the first hour. Every one of these kids a William Masters or Virginia Johnson of social media, exploring the boundaries of what is or isn't acceptable to local and global tribes.

From my limited sample set of observation (yep, it's still a sample set of one), a lot of social media usage cuts along a generational line demarcated by whether you grew up in the age of scarcity or in the internet-driven age of abundance. I don't have data to back this up, but if someone out there does, please let me know.

Older people, who largely grew up in an age of scarcity, publish content to social media and interact or affirm such content carefully. A like from such a person is difficult to earn because they treat it as something that must be earned. The act of giving out such a like also conveys something about the giver, so it is a considered action.

Younger people seem to be more generous and prolific with content, likes, etc. They've grown up in an age where everything digitizable is available on demand, from TV shows and movies to music to photos to articles. Their likes are freely given, and plentiful, often used more as a read receipt than a standing ovation.

It makes sense if viewed from an abundance economic framework. Likes are an infinitely replenishable virtual good, and if it adds some happiness to the recipient, what's the harm? Perhaps everyone would be happier if we all liked and favorited more frequently, more generously. Social media need not be a zero sum game.

The other view, that of scarcity, is that we'd just be reinforcing coddled millennials who, in receiving affirmation for everything, receive it for nothing. Damn these sensitive unemployed self-promoting kids with their need for trigger warnings and their impulse to take offense at even the most harmless of jokes!

The piece quoted up top comes full circle by the end.

High status social media usage often demands that the labour of working at one’s social media persona be concealed. As with beauty, status is something one is supposed to attain effortlessly – and should the frantic paddling below the surface be revealed, that is vulgar, a faux pas.
This is why Kim Kardashian is so interesting – because she, almost uniquely, does not pretend she #wokeuplikethis, but instead makes the artifice of her social media persona not only evident but into a published art photography book, the brilliantly entitled ‘Selfish. In this way, Kardashian (and also Amalia Ulman,) make the ‘Oh me? I’m not self-promoting’ hashtaglessness of Chiara Ferragni et al. look like the studied pose it really is.
Hyperproliferating hashtag useage is thus interesting as one potential tactic to invert social media ‘good taste’.

What more suitable patron saint of the age of abundance than Kim Kardashian, who finds every opportunity to shove her ample, or shall we say abundant, derriere in the public's face through all possible social media channels.

The most scarce play she's made is releasing an actual physical coffee table book that costs $9.97, at last count, on Amazon, and includes photos not released on Instagram before. I suspect these first several customer reviews are from the scarcity school of thought.

Neighborhood destiny

A new study by the Harvard economists Raj Chetty and Nathaniel Hendren, when read in combination with an important study they wrote with Lawrence Katz, makes the most compelling case to date that good neighborhoods nurture success. (The Upshot has just published a package of articles and interactives on the study.)
Let me be upfront about my own reading: These two new studies are the most powerful demonstration yet that neighborhoods — their schools, community, neighbors, local amenities, economic opportunities and social norms — are a critical factor shaping your children’s outcomes. It’s an intuitive idea, although the earlier evidence for it had been surprisingly thin. As Sean Reardon, a professor of education and sociology at Stanford, said of the study, “I think it will change some of the discussion around how where children grows up matters.”

That's Justin Wolfers on this paper (PDF) by Chetty and Hendren.

Those earlier analyses grouped children who moved to a neighborhood as toddlers with those who moved in their late teens. So comparing all of the children whose parents won the lottery with all of those whose parents lost showed small effects. Yet if what matters are years of exposure to a good neighborhood — a hypothesis strongly suggested by the second of these two studies — then the effects might be very different, as those who moved as toddlers enjoyed most of their childhood in better neighborhoods, while those who moved as teens received few such benefits yet still had to deal with the disruption of moving.
Armed with this hypothesis and also newer data on the longer-run outcomes of these children, Mr. Chetty, Mr. Hendren and Mr. Katz reanalyzed the outcomes of the same families. (Full disclosure: Lawrence Katz was my Ph.D. adviser.)
And the findings are remarkable. In particular, the previous results actually hide two quite distinct findings, one positive and one negative. The children who moved when they were young enjoyed much greater economic success than similarly aged children who had not won the lottery. And the children who moved when they were older experienced no gains or perhaps worse outcomes, probably the result of a disruptive move, paired with few benefits from spending only a short time in a better neighborhood.

As Tyler Cowen notes, the biggest problem with poverty tends to be “you usually end up living near other poor people.” Or, as Judith Rich Harris wrote in her groundbreaking book The Nurture Assumption, a children's peer group may have a great influence on that child's outcomes than their parents. I first learned all this from Boyz in the Hood.

How does this square with the popular theory that general intelligence is most important to one's future outcome? I hypothesize some interaction effects between the two, with the right neighborhood being an environment most conducive to wringing all the potential from genetically inherited general intelligence. Peer emulation or peer pressure exerting an activation effect.

Whatever the reason, it's clear how complex it is to break the cycle of poverty. So many nested problems, from education to urban planning to crime, all nearly impossible to isolate.

Bible Belt Big Data

“[O]ne of the strongest factors predicting divorce rates (per 1000 married couples) is the concentration of conservative or evangelical Protestants in that county,” the researchers explain. Religiously conservative states Alabama and Arkansas have the second and third highest divorce rates in the U.S., while religiously liberal New Jersey and Massachusetts have two of the lowest. Full graph below shows the regional correlation:

Describing their findings as a “puzzling paradox,” the researchers explained that the higher divorce rate among religious conservatives is tied to early marriage and early childbearing — factors already known to contribute to strained marriages and divorce. “Starting families earlier tends to stop young adults from pursuing more education and depresses their wages, putting more strain on marriages,” Glass stated.

Full piece here.


In America, religiosity and conservatism are generally associated with opposition to non-traditional sexual behavior, but prominent political scandals and recent research suggest a paradoxical private attraction to sexual content on the political and religious right. We examined associations between state-level religiosity/conservatism and anonymized interest in searching for sexual content online using Google Trends (which calculates within-state search volumes for search terms). Across two separate years, and controlling for demographic variables, we observed moderate-to-large positive associations between: (1) greater proportions of state-level religiosity and general web searching for sexual content and (2) greater proportions of state-level conservatism and image-specific searching for sex. These findings were interpreted in terms of the paradoxical hypothesis that a greater preponderance of right-leaning ideologies is associated with greater preoccupation with sexual content in private internet activity. Alternative explanations (e.g., that opposition to non-traditional sex in right-leaning states leads liberals to rely on private internet sexual activity) are discussed, as are limitations to inference posed by aggregate data more generally.

So by the transitive property...