Best Apps For Hipsters

As a mom of teen girls, why should I care about the apps hipsters are using on their mobile phones? I guess I care because knowing what’s current gives me context while talking with my own kids.

So I started thinking about which apps are popular in contemporary culture and turned my notes into this list. From music and photography to money and transportation, let’s check out what’s deemed necessary by today’s modern youth.

Photography

Instagram, VSCO and Google Photos are three apps making an impact on how photos are taken, altered, shared and managed. I use Instagram and have enjoyed posting creative scenes since I opened the account. Using Instagram helps me notice unique moments I can archive in the handy grid view of a microblog.

VSCO seems to take mobile photography to a whole new level. It feels like a virtual photo gallery for the world’s creatives, and offers a wide number of editing tools that my daughter appreciated when I introduced the app to her.

Google Photos backs up all of the photos on your phone upon downloading and opening the app. Features like albums, collages, animations and movies are easily accessible and in some cases automated. As a person who likes to determine the exact file structure of my data, I’m not sure how comfortable I feel with all of the automation just yet. But automation seems to be the way things are done nowadays, so I plan to give it a shot.

Music

I’ve heard references to SoundCloud and Hype Machine as apps for listening to music. SoundCloud is a free app to discover and share favorite tunes, and Hype Machine scans the blogsphere to fuel music listings. Both apps are social, enabling likes, favorites and connections. With only a limited amount of time spent on each app, I’ve already diversified my music interests and look forward to hearing more.

Social Media

Snapchat’s popularity continues to grow, and has surpassed Instagram as the most popular messaging app per a survey released in early 2016. Why is Snapchat so appealing? This video explains how its in-the-moment platform creates authenticity among users, and the absence of follower metrics actually decreases anxiety. After so many years of Facebook-like obsession, maybe Snapchat feels refreshing?

Mobile Payments

With apps like Venmo, physical cash wallets may become extinct! Payment apps let people split the bill with a simple swipe or tap. Sign up, add your bank account, pay and collect with friends.

The questions surrounding these seamless transactions involve security and privacy, and it sounds like the FTC may be investigating Venmo as we speak. But I doubt a single investigation will fend off the rapid adoption of digital payments. Too much convenience has been realized by leaving cash at home. Here is a summary of more apps for mobile payments, plus their pros and cons.

Transportation

Need a lift? Touch a button and your ride awaits. The driver knows exactly where to find you based on the geolocated phone in your hand. Apps make this process so easy that using a human voice to call a cab feels like ancient history. Uber and Lyft are the tools of choice, and even employ drivers with free time to be the ride-givers. These companies have not only transformed how to get from point A to point B, they also uncovered crowdsourced economic options for suppliers. What a world!

I need to watch out before doing more research on hipsters or else I’ll feel like a college student again. The coolest apps seem to be the ones that help social situations flow smoothly. Let’s go out! (Uber). Let’s connect! (Snapchat). Let’s listen to cool stuff! (SoundCloud). Let’s post a great moment! (Instagram). Let’s engage with each other. Maybe interacting with a smartphone isn’t so anti-social after all.

Lorraine Akemann | Cofounder and Editor | Moms With Apps

Photo Credit Flickr [Nuno Ribeiro]

Environmental Education Comes To Life On Steam

At the annual AppFest event in San Francisco, I met a CEO and game developer who is applying game based learning to environmental education in a game called Tyto Ecology. Although I’m mostly involved in the world of mobile apps, I was curious about this title because in addition to her iPad app, she also launched Tyto Ecology on Steam, which is a PC gaming environment.

What is Steam?

Steam is a digital distribution platform for PC games, which also offers multiplayer and social networking features for its community. It can be accessed at http://store.steampowered.com, and requires a software installation for Steam software and for any purchased games.

According to an article on GeekSquad, 70% of PC gaming since 2012 has been Steam powered. Instead of using a game console or CD/DVD, I’m starting to think of Steam as a gamer’s cloud, or a gaming environment that enables downloads, gaming and account management from a central online marketplace.

Steam
Tyto Ecology on Steam PC Gaming Platform

How do you play Tyto Ecology?

Tyto Ecology is about building and managing your own ecosystem. As the player, you can choose between desert, rainforest, and grassland habitats. These habitats, or biomes, have certain species like predators, prey, pollinators and decomposers which construct the game dynamics. Can you keep the mix in balance? Will the environment you create die or thrive? The process of constructing a sustainable environment represents how the game supports active problem solving.

The tools and information for managing environments are aligned with academic science standards. Every species added to the game has a data profile, along with data tools and statistics to manage the biome’s health.

Why pay attention to Immersed Games?

Tyto Ecology is made by Immersed Games, and I think it’s interesting to see their vision beyond this standalone game. Their goal is to build out Tyto Online, a massively multiplayer online game where players complete quests. These players would be Tyto Academy Students who are recruited to help scientists build life on a new planet. 

In my opinion, the concept of Tyto Academy sounds incredibly appealing to explore sustainable life on earth! Although my kids are not avid PC gamers, Tyto Ecology is a point of entry I would consider to build our experience with connected online games.

Lorraine Akemann | Cofounder and Editor | Moms With Apps

Photo Credit Flickr [Adam Schweigert]

The Number One Rule For My Daughter’s iPhone

We gave our oldest daughter an iPhone for her 11th birthday. Now she is 13. For two years we have followed a consistent rule for the phone, and I believe this rule has helped our family adapt to technology in a balanced way.

The Rule Is Simple

The number one rule for my daughter’s iPhone is that every single night the phone is powered off and stored in the dining room drawer. Powering off a phone and storing it in a common area overnight does not sound revolutionary. The rule does not contain parental controls or overbearing stipulations. The rule is simple, and maybe that is part of its effectiveness.

The Rule Involves The Whole Family

The rule does not single out my daughter as the only one responsible for implementing the rule. Life gets busy and it’s easy to forget details like putting a phone in a drawer. Part of the evening for everyone (Mom, Dad, Daughter, Sister) is to make sure devices are powered off and in their place.

If one person forgets, another remembers, and asks out loud if the phone is put away. Asking out loud reminds and reinforces the importance of the rule. It becomes everyone’s responsibility to put technology to bed.

The Rule Is Consistent And Habitual

Because the rule occurs every night, the practice gains consistency over time and turns into a regular routine. This habit is woven into a rhythm of family life. For our family it now feels natural to power off and put away a phone.

Not all families experience this type of consistency. Some kids spend different nights of the week in different locations. In this case, it would be up to the caregivers to standardize the routine and expectations, regardless of whereabouts.

The Rule Was Stated Before The iPhone Became Available

I kicked off our daughter’s iPhone gift with a letter about appropriate usage that we both agreed upon. This agreement eliminated battles over personal devices from the beginning because expectations were understood upfront.

But letters and contracts may not be the most intuitive tool for families. For example, if you ask me right now, I can’t recall the specifics of our agreement except for the one rule about putting the phone in the drawer at night. Maybe for us, the most valuable part of the agreement was to form that rule. The act of stating ideas in advance can help promote good habits before bad ones get in the way.

The Rule Supports A Bedtime Routine

Bedtime routines are traditionally associated with raising young children. But as digital media plays an increasingly central role in daily life, bedtime routines can be helpful at any age. It can take a lot of willpower to create tech-free zones with devices in arm’s reach. The nightly ritual of powering off and creating physical separation provides a buffer to foster distraction-free sleep.

The Rule Employs Trust

Let’s say the phone is in the drawer at bedtime, but a mouse sneaks out to get the phone in the middle of the night. Does that make the rule a total dud? Sneaky mice are a possibility in any household. In our home, I’m a light sleeper, and I hear it when kids wake up. I would recommend choosing a drawer that is closer to the parents’ bedroom to increase the likelihood of hearing any mice!

While it’s technically possible that every night for the past two years my daughter has woken up to sneak a peek at the phone, it’s more likely that she has appreciated her sleep. I’m making a choice to trust her, and right now that feels like the right choice.

The Rule Helps The Morning Routine

In the era of instant gratification, have you noticed that powering up a phone takes awhile? I love this tendency about electronics because it makes powering off even more effective. The instantaneous rush of phone-checking can be deterred by the inconvenience of grabbing the phone and waiting for it to power up. All ready for school? OK, now grab your phone, or better yet, forget it completely until later in the afternoon.

The Rule Is Contagious

To have any credibility with my family I’m supposed to be modeling this rule myself. I have seen the rule in action with my daughter, and the healthy overall tone it’s setting for media use. On nights when I put my phone to bed early, I also sleep better and feel more balanced.

Our household rule may have been created for my daughter, but it benefits me as well. It’s pretty interesting to hear myself admit: “I want to be more like her.”

As a parent, I’m always learning. I am interested to hear about your household rules for media management. What works, what doesn’t? 

Lorraine Akemann | Cofounder and Editor | Moms With Apps

Photo Credit Flickr [Adam Fagen]

A Mom’s Best App For Reading The News

Too Much Information 💻

As information in the digital age continues to proliferate, keeping track of the news can be a challenge. Which topics are common knowledge? Everything from pop culture to world events are discussed in small talk, and sometimes small talk is necessary to fuel a lunch conversation, work conversation, or visit with friends.

TV News is Gruesome! 📺

As a mother, I often find myself caught up in managing school events or family activities, without much time for digesting the world’s news. On days when I’m motivated to turn on the news, I quickly turn it off due to the gruesome nature of killings and kidnappings covered by local newscasters. Mainstream news coverage is rarely appropriate for youngsters charging around the household.

The Skimm is Appropriate! 😀

Last year a close friend recommended an email newsletter called The Skimm. It’s a free subscription delivered to inboxes everyday. At first I was skeptical because the headlines seemed cheeky and unrelated to the news content. After learning how to best skim The Skimm, I quickly bypassed the headlines in favor of succinctly presented content. Within minutes of reading The Skimm, I was aware of global events, national conversations, and cultural milestones.

The Skimm is also an App! 📱

The Skimm is now available in app format and features a calendar called Skimm Ahead. In addition to providing news recaps, the app jumps forward to give a heads-up about what’s noteworthy in the future. I specifically like to know when a major sporting event is about to happen so I can share this with my daughters who love sports. In addition, it’s nice to know when something fun like the Met Gala is about to take place. This gives me a reason to connect with my oldest daughter over celebrity fashions.

skimm news

The Skimm Works Well for Moms of Teens 🙋

This testimonial may come off sounding trite, but I assure you that every conversation starter I can have with a young teen is a bonus. As peer groups continue to influence each other, being in the know is helpful to moms who want to keep fun conversations flowing with their kids.

Skimm Ahead is available via a subscription service for $2.99 per month, with the first month free. I am not affiliated in any way with The Skimm – I’m just a happy customer. I am also happy because they use emoji to kick off every calendar event. Love that! ❤️

Lorraine Akemann | Moms With Apps

Photo credit [Flickr: Jon S]

Screenagers Movie Review

Screenagers Movie About Teens Behind Screens

Screenagers

I recently saw the movie Screenagers – Growing Up In The Digital Age. This documentary analyzes the behavior of teens behind screens, specifically addressing addiction, attention span, and the appeal of social networks. As a parent, I found value in the movie’s ability to show how extreme situations can sometimes happen in regular families. By shining a spotlight on screentime addiction, viewers gain a frame of reference for evaluating their own habits.

Three Real Life Situations That Catch Your Attention

There are three storylines in Screenagers that caught my attention most. One was about a college freshman who avoided academic pressure by constantly playing video games, eventually dropping out of college. Another was about young teenagers who are obsessed with posting selfies and generating likes, to the point where they discuss fake likes. Then there was a grandmother whose efforts to intervene in her grandson’s gaming resulted in angst and friction for both of them.

These extremes all generated from well intentioned families who got caught in out of control situations. By sharing these stories, other parents have context to gauge where their own families fall in the range of extremities.

Benefits of After School Activities

I also noticed when the movie talked about after school activities as a counterbalance to screen time. As a parent I think it’s a constant effort to get the right balance between downtime and scheduled activities. Hearing about the benefits of scheduled activities was somewhat refreshing after noticing so much backlash over the years about over scheduled kids. 

Find a Screening Near You

To view a trailer or find a screening of Screenagers, visit the ScreenagersMovie.com website. Whether you have teenagers or just toddlers, understanding the pros and cons of digital media and its progression in our daily lives can be increasingly helpful to parents.

Lorraine Akemann | Cofounder and Editor | Moms With Apps

Photo Credit Flickr [Garry Knight]

Unicode 9.0 and New Emoji Candidates

I discovered Unicode.org after doing some research on emoji history, and became fascinated with the resources listed on their website. Unicode.org is the online home of the Unicode Consortium, the group who maintains universal standards for computer encoding. Their work ensures computers around the world process and interpret text in a standard way. 💻

Why is the Unicode Consortium becoming so popular?

The Unicode Consortium is reaching celebrity status because image-based emoji characters (which are part of Unicode) are highly popular forms of text communication. They are used in text messages, emails, and throughout social media. In fact, the Oxford English Dictionary named an emoji as “Word of the Year” in 2015. 😂

Whether or not you’re an emoji fan, their use and prevalence are indisputable. Personally, I think emoji are fun and creative. They spark bright conversations over text messaging with images to humanize the tone. 💡

Which emoji candidates are coming next?

I was curious about the list of emoji candidates on the Unicode website. So many cultural implications exist on this very page. For example, gender equality issues are represented with the addition of a prince, dancing man, and Mother Christmas (to match the existing princess, dancing woman 💃, and Santa Claus). Endangered species are portrayed with the inclusion of animals like the gorilla and rhino. Even healthy eating gets a boost with a superfood (avocado!) being added to the list.

emoji candidatesWhat a fascinating and potentially stressful job it would be to decide the next emoji. Did you know that anyone can make a proposal for a new emoji? The submission process is explained in detail on the Unicode website ==> http://www.unicode.org/emoji/selection.html

Which emoji is used the most?

Curious about which characters are used the most? Unicode.org links to a site called emojitracker.com, which displays the world’s most tweeted emoji characters in real-time. Looks like the crying happy face is still holding first place.

Stay tuned. From what the Unicode Consortium says, final decisions on candidates for Unicode 9.0 will be made in June 2016. At that point we shall see if Mrs. Claus makes the cut. 🎅

Lorraine Akemann | Cofounder and Editor | Moms With Apps

Photo credit [Flickr: Marc Di Luzio]

Artful Photography From Young Teens On Instagram

At this stage of family life I’m able to observe young teens as they start to join Instagram. My initial concerns about bullying or addiction have been appeased by their thoughtfully considered creative expression through photography. I realize that managing technology in the home is going to be a constant effort, but I’m also grateful that our first foray into social media has been a positive one.

To illustrate my point, I received permission to share these images from a special young teen in my Instagram network. As we become surrounded by messages about technology overriding our lives, I hope this post can provide some confidence that when used responsibly, digital tools can help us explore the world in innovative ways, bridging perspectives across generations.  

photography photography photography photography photography

These photographs show me someone who notices a range of life’s details from tiny to grand. As a kid, I don’t think I ever noticed the view my father always talked about. But with tools in hand, young teens now have an opportunity to participate and play in that view. And therefore the view can become much more fun – for everyone.

Lorraine Akemann | Cofounder and Editor | Moms With Apps

Photo Credit [Flickr | Axel Naud]

Using the iPhone as a Wi-Fi Hotspot

There are times when I need to access the internet from my computer while traveling, and public Wi-Fi is either not available or a known security risk. I was in this situation last year in an airport, and recalled how some friends had previously used the iPhone for tethering. Tethering is a term for using a smartphone to connect a computer to the internet. I figured this process must have gotten easier and more automated in the past few years, and Googled “iPhone for wifi hotspot” to figure it out.

Sure enough, my iPhone 6 (using AT&T as the carrier) had an option in Settings to use the phone as a Personal Hotspot. I was able to open Settings, click Personal Hotspot, and connect my computer to Wi-Fi with a password.

Settings > Select Personal Hotspot

Select personal hotspot

Turn hotspot on > retrieve Wi-Fi password

Wi-Fi password

Once you have a password, go to the Wi-Fi icon on your computer and search for your iPhone’s network. If your iPhone doesn’t show up as an available network, consider restarting the computer. Select your iPhone’s network, enter the password, and now you’re connected!

Curious about extra charges, I called AT&T to inquire about usage rates for the hotspot. As long as I stay within my contract’s data limit, the service representative assured me there would be no extra charge. Having used the service several times in the past year, she was correct that I did not incur extra charges. However, it’s possible the arrangement is different for every carrier.

Did you know about this feature on your smartphone? I’d like to hear how it works for you, too.

Lorraine Akemann | Cofounder and Editor | Moms With Apps

Photo Credit Flickr [Yahoo]

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hotspot

Understanding Post Notifications On Instagram

Today was interesting. There was some buzz on the internet about Instagram’s post notification feature. Then, my family asked whether they should “turn post notifications on” so their followers would continue to see Instagram posts. If you are an Instagram user, does the image below look familiar?

Instagram post notificationsI was curious what really happens once Post notifications are turned on. It sounded similar to when Facebook changed their Pages algorithm, and all of the pages had to remind followers to subscribe in order to show up in news feeds.

Would turning on Post notifications merely guarantee an account to show up in a news feed, or would it proactively send a Push alert to a device every time a user posts?

To test, I recruited my family to open Instagram and enable some notifications. For example, open Instagram ⇒ go to Home ⇒ click an account ⇒ tap the 3-dot “…” icon in upper right ⇒  select “Turn On Post Notifications”.

Instagram post notifications

Upon selecting “Turn On Post Notifications”,  this message popped up on my device:

Instagram post notifications

This was a bit confusing to me. It sounds like for Post notifications to work, Push notifications must be enabled at the device level. Do I really want to recieve a text-like alert to my phone every time someone posts to Instagram?

And if I request that my followers “turn on notifications”, am I proactively alerting them every time I upload a photo to my Instagram account?

The situation deserved more testing. It was interesting that I had to delete and reinstall Instagram to enable Push notifications in my iPhone’s Settings (Instagram was not showing up in Settings > Notifications at first). It made me wonder if this was some ploy to get the masses to install Push notifications with the latest version of Instagram. Anyhow, now if I want to turn off the experiment, I could do so with a simple toggle in my iPhone’s Settings.

When I reinstalled the app, it was obvious that Instagram really really really wanted me to turn everything to ON.

Instagram post notifications

We proceeded to post to Instagram. Sure enough, our posts generated alerts right to the Home screen of each iPhone. 

So yes, Instagram’s Post notifications can behave like Push notifications, and may push all the way through to your device, regardless of whether the app is open or not. The end result of what you experience may depend on how Notification alerts are configured in your Settings. 

Notification Settings

My husband, who is not an avid Instagram user, appreciates the Post notification option. He is only following our family, and would like to know when one of us posts. So he will enable Post notifications for each of our accounts, and leave Push notifications ON for Instagram.

On the contrary, I open the app enough to see the activity for myself. To undo the test, I went to my iPhone’s Settings ⇒ Notifications ⇒ Instagram and turned off “Allow Notifications”. I’m hoping this keeps things quiet, for now.

Lorraine Akemann | Cofounder and Editor | Moms With Apps

Photo Credit Flicker [MoB 68]

Parenting Books For Managing Tech In The Home

The non-fiction reading bug bit me. Over the past month I’ve been curious about the latest parenting books for managing technology in the home. What can I learn from leading educators, psychologists and other parents about best practices for healthy media use? Am I in alignment with their thinking as I set media rules for our family? The publications did not disappoint, and my notes in the margins showed I always have something to learn. Here are the key takeaways I gained about media use from these authors:

Do kids still care about what their parents think?

 

parenting books - The collapse of parenting

The Collapse of Parenting by Leonard Sax, MD, PhD: Author Leonard Sax drives home the point that as peers gain more communication channels with other peers, peer validation becomes more important to kids than parental validation. In other words, kids care more about what other kids think than what parents think. This cultural shift may lead to a culture of disrespect, and it’s more important than ever to keep family members connected and relevant to each other. Having regular days of doing chores together, spending time together, and thinking of each other before ourselves can keep the “me” generation in check and encourage long lasting family ties.

What if families learned alongside one another?

parenting books - Guiding kids in a digital worldNaked Parenting: Guiding Kids in a Digital World by Leah DeCesare: Author Leah DeCesare’s balanced and realistic perspective was a pleasure to read. She followed an outline of hot topics such as family communication, online privacy, digital citizenship and media planning. I appreciate that she holds humanity in the highest regard with her statement about undivided parental attention: “Giving kids our full attention sends a powerful message to them that we care.” She also advocates for digital literacy among all family members, encouraging us to learn alongside each other. Vigilance, honesty and respect should provide effective tools for navigating a modern world.

Increase our understanding by learning the facts

parenting books - media moms and digital dads

Media Moms & Digital Dads by Yalda T. Uhls, PhD – Author Yalda Uhls integrates social science research into key segments of the book to balance current perspectives with data. The result is helpful for giving our assumptions about media use more context, and potentially an alternative point of view. The chapters on social media are especially helpful as my girls continue through middle school. I learned about FOMO (fear of missing out) which can be amplified for teens over today’s social media networks. She also covers the rise of selfies and how they are becoming normalized in today’s culture. I will keep this in mind as the kids head out into the new media landscapes, and keep a close eye on their self esteem.

I’m glad all three of these books are in my library, and thank the authors for taking time to create educational materials for parents in a rapidly changing world.

Lorraine Akemann | Cofounder and Editor | Moms With Apps

Photo Credit Flickr [Sam Greenhalgh]

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Books for Tech in Home