September 2022

Social Media and Snake Identification

Local snake identification groups on Facebook have been reducing the number of snakes being killed out of fear, Emily Willingham reports for Scientific American. The work of snake ID groups, such as Facebook’s Snake Identification group or Reddit’s r/whats­this­snake subreddit, has been covered before (see Sierra in 2017), and now that I no longer respond to snake ID requests myself, I point people to these very groups. The interesting twist here is that these are local groups, focusing on a specific region (e.g. north Texas). Not only is local expertise more relevant and reliable (r/whatsthissnake gets ID requests from every continent), but a local group might also help someone get on-site assistance (not every snake problem can be solved remotely).

Not Learning Cursive Means Not Being Able to Read It

“In the future, cursive will have to be taught to scholars the way Elizabethan secretary hand or paleography is today.” History professor and former Harvard president Drew Gilpin Faust bemoans the loss of cursive handwriting, not so much in terms of people no longer being able to write it, but in no longer being able to read it—which has implications for her (and my former) field and her students, in that a lot of historical sources are handwritten.

(My wife, a high school teacher, has been running into this problem: for the most part, not only do her students no longer use cursive, they have trouble reading her notes.)

‘Instagram Is Dead’

Om Malik on what Instagram has become: “What’s left is a constantly mutating product that copies features from ‘whomever is popular now’ service—Snapchat, TikTok, or whatever. It is all about marketing and selling substandard products and mediocre services by influencers with less depth than a sheet of paper. ¶ It has become QVC 2.0.” The online world is run by people who actually think that what we really want to do is watch marketing videos interrupted by commercials.