Category: Business & Technology

Is Online Dating Ruining Romance?

Photo and video by Anne Jorgenson

Story by Nahila Bonfiglio

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We live in an era of instant gratification. Delivery drones, online shopping and the ability to communicate across miles in moments have changed the way people live their lives. In 2018, there is an app for just about everything—even love.

Online dating is nothing new. The first dating service, Operation Match, was created in the 1960s by a group of Harvard students. It was reportedly used by a million daters worldwide throughout the decade, and used a simple paper questionnaire fed through the massive system to find matches. Even before Operation Match, lonely folks seeking companionship could put out personal ads or find a pen-pal to correspond with. People have always found ways to connect with one another, so what makes dating apps like Tinder or Grindr any different from what has come before?

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According to Mark Regnerus, a sociology professor at the University of Texas at Austin, the main thing that online dating apps have changed is the number and availability of options.

“It looks like what it does is it makes the search for somebody more efficient, but what it also does is kind of dehumanizes people in some ways,” Regnerus said. 

“What is a person? They are more than their looks, they are more than what they look like they are worth.”

His criticism is not unfounded. Tinder connects users by considering two essential factors—the rational and the emotional. The rational matches users based on age and geographical distance, and the emotional matches them based on appearance and requited interest. The basic setup of “swipe right if you like what you see” has led to wide criticism of Tinder’s focus on appearance.

“The fundamental underlying logic to it is probably not reformable, in some ways. I mean you really are reducing the person to a set of knowable traits and then making a judgement about whether you might fit with them or not,” Regnerus said.

Regnerus has been examining relationships for years now. His books, Premarital Sex in America: How Young Americans Meet, Mate and Think about Marrying and Cheap Sex and the Transformation of Men, Marriage and Monogamy examine the world of dating and how it has changed due to the influence of technology on “sex and sexuality”. In his research he has found that though many people meet using these technological shortcuts, it is still more common for young people to meet face to face. Bars, school and work still provide plenty of opportunities to meet potential partners.

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We aren’t the first to shine a spotlight on the rising importance of apps in interpersonal relationships. The way this industry has changed how people meet and communicate has been the focus of several studies. A 2015 book by Aziz Ansari titled Modern Romance dug through blogs, books and pages of data to draw conclusions about what dating looks like in the modern age. Ansari wanted to answer the same question: is the rise of online dating helping or hurting romance? 

There are many who claim that online dating is has led to a decline in monogamous relationships, but studies show that this is just not true. A 2017 New York Times report found that more people than ever are entering committed relationships thanks to Tinder and similar dating apps.

They spoke to Jessica Carbino, Tinder’s on-site sociologist, who said findings from a recent study indicate that Tinder users are more likely to be looking for a committed relationship than offline daters.

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A 2002 quote from Wired magazine claims that “Twenty years from now, the idea that someone looking for love won’t look for it online will be silly, akin to skipping the card catalogue to instead wander the stacks because the right books are found only by accident.” It has not yet been twenty years since this statement was made, however even in 2018 venturing online is one of the most common ways to meet people.

Ross Hudson, a 32-year-old Tinder user, says his Tinder experience was mostly a lot of wondering.

“Tinder is very much like, here is three sentences about yourself, and a couple of pictures, and people are obviously just trying to f***.” 

He says that though he enjoyed the simple appeal of Tinder’s interface, he much preferred using apps like OkCupid, which has a more in-depth set-up, but allows users to better understand the people they are matching with. Ultimately, Hudson found that online dating didn’t work for him. 

“The concept of meeting someone who isn’t interested in getting to know you makes that first date really awkward,” Hudson said. “I can understand the appeal, but for me it ended up awkward more often than not.”

There are plenty of people that agree with him, but a significant number find the opposite to be true too. Dr. Alison Marr, an assistant mathematics professor at Southwestern University, met her husband using Tinder’s simple interface. 

“A lot of these other dating apps, in my experience, there is like a large investment or an electronic courtship,” Marr said. “I don’t need all of this back and forth, let’s just get into a space and figure out if we like each other.”

 In the case of Marr and Michael Grisham, her husband of two years, Tinder was critical. If not for the geographical search radius, they likely never would have met.

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“I have never met anyone in person, I don’t know how people do that,” Marr said. “Where do people meet in person?”

Despite consistent disagreement, the world seems to be coming closer to accepting online dating as the new norm. Though a number of people still meet their partners through face-to-face interactions, the world is turning more and more toward apps as an avenue for romance. 

Many of the early misconceptions about online dating—that it would ruin in-person relationships, that it would sap the romance out of life or that it would bastardize romance—turned out to be false. The ways that people meet are constantly changing, and technology is a bigger player in this industry each year. Tinder and similar apps have shifted the way we think about romance, but they have in no way eliminated it. 

 

Community members respond to possible relocation of HOPE Outdoor Gallery

Story by Amanda Pinney & Edited by Bryan Rolli

Photos By Tess Cagle

Video Filmed and Edited by Kailey Thompson

 

Splashes of neon paint explode off the concrete walls nestled into the grassy hill on 11th and Baylor Street, home to Austin’s iconic graffiti park, the HOPE Outdoor Gallery. Each layer of spray paint reveals a colorful mess of chunky bubble letters, intricate murals and hastily scribbled phrases. The artwork changes constantly, as the space welcomes myriads of locals and tourists who need only a spray can and a bit of inspiration to leave their mark on the city.


The HOPE Outdoor Gallery was developed in 2010 as a short-term art installation linked to the HOPE Campaign and created with the intention to channel and promote positive messages in the community. Property developers planned to turn the gallery’s concrete walls — remnants of an abandoned construction project from the 1980s — into condos once the installation ran its course.

View the rest of the story here.

Why Businesses Fail on The Drag

By Faith Ann Ruszkowski, Samantha Grasso and Ellen Gonzalez

Video by Faith Ann Ruszkowski and Samantha Grasso

Why Businesses on “The Drag” Fail: An Investigation

Story by Faith Ann Ruszkowski

When Noodles & Company closed its location on the corner of Guadalupe and 24th Streets last fall, its departure was abrupt. On Nov. 4 the restaurant was serving pasta, and by Nov. 5 its doors were locked and a note hung on the window thanking customers for their patronage.

Estephanie Gomez, a journalism senior at the University of Texas at Austin, was working for Noodles & Company when it closed. She was shocked when the restaurant went out of business.

“I literally got a text at 10 p.m. the night before that said, ‘Hey, yeah, don’t come to work tomorrow but come and pick up your severance package at 8 a.m.,” Gomez said. “I didn’t catch on—oh, Noodles is doing badly—because we were pretty busy everyday at the same times. I never knew, until the night before.”

While the swiftness of Noodles & Company’s exit might have been shocking, another business deciding to leave the strip of Guadalupe Street, known as “the Drag,” is a relatively a common occurrence.

After Noodles & Company closed in November, The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, which was located next door, called it quits. Pita Pit, also located on Guadalupe, closed its doors this spring. Earlier in 2015, Manju’s, Mellow Mushroom, and Jack in the Box, all located on Guadalupe, closed up shop.

Out of the 53 establishments currently on the Drag, 13 have been there for five years or less, according to data gathered from in-person interviews and business’ websites. Additionally six storefronts along the stretch of Guadalupe from 21st to 27th Streets are vacant.

Students like Ilda Arroyo have become accustomed to the high turnover of businesses on the Drag. Arroyo, who graduated from UT in December with a degree in Human Development and Family Sciences, said she noticed the constant change during her five years as a student.

“I remember as a freshman it consisted mostly of food places, but the food places have changed to businesses like the expanding Urban Outfitters, a real estate office, and a small convenience store,” Arroyo said.

So although the high turnover has become commonplace, it raises the question: why are so many businesses unable to succeed on the Drag?

Why Businesses Leave the Drag

This semester, Melissa’s Custom Gifts vacated its location on the Drag next to the long-standing Goodall Wooten dormitory and moved shop to the corner of 24th Street and Rio Grande. The store’s owner, Ken Jones, said that he made the decision to move for many reasons, one of which was that he wanted to discontinue ATX Books, which he also owned and operated from that location.

“One of the biggest things was I had been planning to end the bookstore for a very long time,” Jones said. “I didn’t need as much space, although they didn’t want me to leave because it is really hard to keep tenants on the drag period. But, it was a little bit too much space, a little bit more than what I wanted for what I was doing here, and, of course, the rent on the Drag—anywhere in this area—is very high per square foot.”

However, during his 5 years on the Drag, Ken Jones did concoct some theories about why so many businesses were failing based on personal experience and observation. For many rent is an issue like it was for him, but one of his main observations is that students do not support local businesses.

“The kids do not connect with the businesses that are there, they just don’t,” Jones said. “I ask kids and none of them know a business owner’s name. They don’t have any allegiance of any kind to anything on there. And guess what? Those businesses go out of business…They do not support the businesses that support them. Bottom line. Why doesn’t it work? It’s the students fault.”

He has also observed that business do not understand the UT campus environment.

“They come in with great intentions thinking we’ve got this concentrated amount of 39,000 [undergraduate] students we’re going to make a killing,” Jones said. “They do not do their research.”

Jennifer Hillhouse, the owner of Jenn’s copies which has two locations on the Drag and has been in business since 1982, also said that many stores open on Guadalupe without realizing how dependent their business will be on the students’ schedules. She has had 12 different neighbors since she opened her second location on the Drag near Dean Keeton.

“This is a nine-month business cycle,” Hillhouse said. “It dies in December, a horrible death, and if you have to sell at least 500 hamburgers a day to make your rent that is not going to happen in December and in June and July and halfway through August… It’s a whole town for nine month out of the year and it is a ghost town for the other three and businesses get blindsided by that.”

Matyear pointed to Terra Burger, a now closed business, as a classic example of a business that was not able to anticipate the campus cycle.

“They ran out of buns on Parents’ Day,” said Hillhouse.

What Successful Businesses on the Drag have in Common

Jenn’s Copies is one of the few businesses on Guadalupe that has achieved decades of success. The Co-Op is the longest running business on the Drag, with 99 years of service. The Wooten Barber Shop has been in business for 52 years. These are all businesses that provide services students are always in need of: prints for projects, books and haircuts.

“People have to get their haircut. It’s a destination shop,” Jones said, of his former neighbor.

Don Stafford has been working at the Wooten Barber Shop on the Drag for 23 years aggregating loyal customers all the while. He characterizes the establishment as plain, but reliable and comfortable.

“They come here because they need haircuts, but they also come here because they feel comfortable in the shop,” said Stafford. “It’s not a place where we serve wine and cheese, but come in and tell us how bad your day was or how good your day was.”

The barber shop is remarkably small, but manages to fit three stations into a space the size of the average public restroom. Jenn’s Copies also operates on a small number of square footage. Hillhouse believes modest decorations, reliable service and limited space are key to remaining in business when rent is so high and the business cycle is inconsistent throughout the year.

“When they [the shop next to Jenn’s Copies] turned into a restaurant their finish-out cost $250,000, comparison mine cost $20,000,” Hillhouse said. “I went to TOPS, which is Texas Office Products & Supplies, everything is secondhand…I only had one fancy piece of equipment and it was leased. I did not have a color copier and my husband literally painted my name on a shingle, on a piece of ply board and we hung it outside.”

Graphic by Ellen Gonzalez

“The Drag” through the Years

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Screenshots from maps.google.com

 

Tiny Homes For A Tiny Budget

By: Vanessa Pulido, Alex Wilts, Michael Baez, and Jessica Stovall

Lisa Villanyi, 46, may need to go out for Thanksgiving dinner next year. The small dining space in the 399 square-foot home she’s thinking about buying may not be enough room to cook a full feast – and fit her entire family.

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Villanyi is soon to be part of the one percent of homebuyers that have chosen to purchase a house of less than 1,000 square feet. As apartment rent costs rise and consumers become more environmentally conscious, the tiny house movement has grown in certain U.S. cities, including Austin.

 

“I think everyone still wants a piece of the American dream, and small houses are sustainable and affordable,” said Shay Reynolds, owner of Buy A Small House in Austin.

 

On Nov. 19, the Austin City Council even voted to ease the rules restricting the construction of backyard cottages, or additional add-on properties to larger homes, which often serve as housing for aging relatives.

 

“When someone comes in and they’ve decided they want to buy a small house, they choose between 15 to 18 different floor plans,” Reynolds said. He said customers are then able to also select the type of flooring and roof, as well as paint colors.

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“Once it’s finished being built, we deliver it, lock it, level it, tie it down and hook it up to the utilities and it’s a fully functional house,” Reynolds said.

 

Reynolds said people tend to either purchase or lease land, or find an RV park to place their new $45,000 tiny home. He also said the 399 square-foot houses are not subject to sales or property taxes.

 

Villanyi, who currently resides in Denver, Colorado, said she is currently struggling to find property in Austin to put her house, as the area has recently become flooded with new housing and construction developments. She said she currently pays $1,000 per month for a one-bedroom apartment.

 

“You’re constantly paying rent every month and never getting ahead,” Villanyi said. “I figured if I could pay for this in cash, then I’d have it for my own.”

 

Reynolds said “business is booming,” but it is difficult to determine the actual impact the tiny house movement is having on Austin since other forms of housing remain popular.

 

Residential Strategies Inc., a Dallas-based market research company, reported in January 2015 the new home inventory – including model homes, homes under construction and finished vacant homes – was 7,279 at the end of 2014. This was a 46-unit increase from 2013. Several new apartment complexes are also under construction to keep up with the housing demand of the city’s booming population.

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But Villanyi has other things to think about, especially if she will be able to host her family that lives in Colorado for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

 

“I haven’t even thought about holidays,” Villanyi said. “It’s small, but it’s plenty big for me.”

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Women in STEM rely on support systems

From the Ground Up: A Startup Tale

Video Games: From Concept to Console

Video games have come a long way since the days of Atari’s PONG or Super Nintendo’s Duck Hunt. Today 59 percent of Americans play video games and the industry brings in more than $21 billion in revenue each year. However, long gone are the days of video games being played on game consoles that are tethered to an outlet.

Now video game consoles are portable laptop computers, totable tablets, handheld players and pocketable smartphones. There are video game development courses at the college level, an industry full of creative, driven developers and a consumer audience eager to play the latest games.

Game Development Infographic

Game development is a team effort and there are many different layers and people involved in bringing a game from concept to console. There are game designers, artists, programers, producers and developers. “Video games are a growing genre,” said Bailey Lund, a University of Texas video game design student. “For the fact that there’s an interactive element to it.”

A number of people are drawn to video games because of their interactive side. Not only are more interactive games fun to play, they are also more fun to make. To find out more about how video games are made and how you can make one yourself slide through this slideshow of helpful links.

Make Your Own Game

SXSW Interactive Goes Gaming

In late March, South by Southwest hosted SXSW Gaming, a three day gaming expo at the Palmer Events Center. The South by Southwest organization proudly says, “with the full force of SXSW Interactive behind it, SXSW Gaming heads the next era of gaming expositions.” There were Gaming Awards, the Gaming Expo, Special Events, Geek Stage Programing and Gaming Programing during SXSW Gaming.

The expo, which was free and open to the public, was at capacity with wide-eyed children and teens excitedly playing playing games and patiently, sometimes not so patiently, waiting to play next. The gamers aged 18 and up, which make up 71 percent of total gamers, were enjoying talking with developers and industry professionals in the dimly lit space. Bright screens, flashy graphics and imaginative sound effects filled the Palmer Events Center’s main hall with a vibrancy it rarely sees.

Across the way at the Long Center for Preforming Arts were a variety of talks, panels and interactive opportunities for gamers to participate in. One topic many panels mentioned by only one covered was the role of women in the gaming industry. In a 2014 survey conducted by the Entertainment Software Association, 48% of game players are female.

Age and Gender in Gaming

While game developers play a huge role in the industry as a whole, the people playing the games are the most important. Without the huge number of men and women of all ages being interested in video games the industry would not exist. Take a sneak peak inside the SXSW Gaming Expo and hear from some games who can’t get enough gaming in this video below.

Why Play Games

Women & Gaming: A Love Story

A growing number of women are playing games in addition to becoming game designers, artists and developers, but on the first day of SXSW Gaming a panel dedicated completely to women drew a meager crowd.

Women in Gaming: Navigating Successful Careers, was a panel of four industry professionals who tried to tackle some of the tough questions about women’s roles in the gaming industry and how to get ahead of some of the challenges young women in the industry will face.

“The positives outweigh the negatives but they’re still there,” said Alison Carrier, a designer for Electronic Arts’ Red Crow mobile game studio. “Sexual harassment is one of the biggest challenges to have to overcome.”

Women in Gaming

“I had to abandon manners,” added Carrier. “Interrupting was something I never did before gaming.” The women who are successful in the gaming industry have had to assert themselves in order to be heard because their work is judged even harder than their male peers’.

These women are working harder to fit into a heavily male dominated industry. Why? Because they love it and because gaming is in their blood. Video games are more than just a hobby for these women and for many women game developers and players. Gaming is a passion, a way of life and the ultimate creative expression.

Game Studios Around Austin

Written by Katelyn Orlowski
Photos and Video by Lazaro Hernandez
Graphic and Map by Lauren Lowe

Women Who Code provides outlet for women in tech

The House of the Rising Sun

Social animals: rewriting the underdog story in the age of social media

 

Tuna looks upon the line of fans waiting to get his “pawtograph” for the book titled Tuna Melts My Heart: The Underdog with the Overbite. Tuna fans flocked to BookPeople on Friday, March 6, 2015 for the book signing and opportunity to take photos with the Instafamous dog.

He saw hundreds of people waiting in line — the usual. Fans were squealing his name in adoration. Young and old would wait for two hours on a Friday night in Austin, Texas. For what? They had come from far and wide just for a signed copy of his book and a chance to take a quick picture with him. It was surreal — something you’d expect to be humbling, like playing Madison Square Garden. Yet, all he could think about was the squeaky toy one of his handlers was dangling high up above his face.

Tuna, the Chihuahua-Dachshund mix, internet celebrity, and inspirational figure for the modern era has come a long way from his humble roots on the side of a Southern California road, where he was abandoned as a puppy — presumably, because of the trademark underbite and crumpled neck for which he is now famous.

“You know, I like to call him Sir,” said Tuna’s owner Courtney Dasher, to a packed house at BookPeople for a book signing to promote his new book, Tuna Melts My Heart: The Underdog with the Overbite.

Tuna’s inspirational underdog story starts in 2011, when Dasher adopted him and quickly began posting pictures of her pup’s peculiarly pronounced pearly whites to an Instagram account.

“[Tuna] reaches all demographics,” Dasher said. “I think people from all different walks of life are drawn to him so he speaks to different people’s hearts and situations by being quirky and unconventional.”

Now his website, TunaMeltsMyHeart, has more than 1.2 million Instagram followers. That’s right — this dog has more Instagram followers than you. That’s also more Instagram followers than actor John Stamos (553k), actress Amanda Seyfried (831k) and just slightly less than comedienne and star of The Mindy Project,  Mindy Kaling (1.4m). Somebody get this dog a Super Bowl commercial!

In 2012, Tuna's Instagram went viral, increasing from 8,500 followers to over 32,000 in less than 24 hours. Tuna now has over 1.2 million Instagram followers.

In 2012, Tuna’s Instagram went viral, increasing from 8,500 followers to over 32,000 in less than 24 hours. Tuna now has over 1.2 million Instagram followers.

If you think this is all just the work of a fame-hungry Chiweenie, however, you’d be wrong.  Tuna has not forgotten his roots and is using his celebrity to give back to his favorite cause, according to Dasher.

“We’re being used as a catalyst to change people’s days,” said Dasher. “I look at him as a vehicle to bring people a lot of joy, and on our tours, like anytime we do anything, we want to be able to support animal rescue groups.”

Donations that night went to local animal rescue group Austin Pets Alive!, which brought to BookPeople a puppy who, much like Tuna, was born with a congenital defect that could hurt his chances for adoption. Tuna was only too happy to pose for a picture with the puppy whose front paw will likely be removed due to lack of sufficient bone structure.

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Tuna poses for a photo with Austin Pets Alive puppy, Scooter who was born with a defect in his front paw and abandoned by previous owners before APA rescued him.

An APA! volunteer said Tuna’s celebrity helps raise the visibility of the nonprofit’s work in an important way.

“It’s one thing to hear Austin Pets Alive!, you can adopt an animal from them,” the volunteer said. “It’s a different thing to see the puppies and kittens and cats and dogs that we’re saving at an event like this.”

She also said social media is huge for promoting animal rescue — even in a city like Austin, with a thriving network of animal rescue groups and an army of volunteers touting its dog-friendly distinction as the largest no-kill city in the nation.

“Social media is how people find out about us: without social media all you’ve got is word of mouth, which isn’t going to get you very far,” she said. “Social media within your own organization is even big for us: it’s how we can plead for a new foster home.”

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Fans hold up their smart phones to snap photos while Courtney Dasher introduces Tuna before the book signing on Friday, March 6th, 2015.

Tuna’s Instagram has become a social media tool more powerful than Dasher ever expected.

“Social media is an outlet to connect with a community that is global, which is so fascinating to me,” Dasher said. “I don’t look at this as just an Instagram account. I have a lot of responsibility attached to me now and I want to make sure to use it to promote things that are encouraging and uplifting.”

Tuna may be the first Instagram pet to go on tour, but if he’s the first one you’ve heard of, you must not be one of Milla the cat’s 200k Instagram followers. The feline with comically small ears, whose owners ask for donations to fund treatment for her heart disease, is just one of an increasing number of Instagram pets with followings that dwarf those which rescue organizations can attract.  Compare the 8,400 followers of APA!’s Instagram to the 97k followers of Elfie and Gimli, two brother and sister cats born with dwarfism.

Tuna’s cartoonish appearance has helped catapult him to the top of the pack, but there is also a place on Instagram for more conventionally cute cats and canines. If you would like to share your own rescue pet’s story, but feel you don’t have time to cultivate a following,  you can submit a photo and story to Rescue Pets of Instagram. It has 71k followers.

While social media on Facebook and Twitter have played a significant role in grassroots movements for social change in recent years, University of Texas at Austin journalism professor Robert Quigley says there may be a reason Instagram is appealing for promoting animal rescue, in particular.

“Considering Instagram has more than 200 million users, it’s a great place to spread a message and get people involved,” Quigley said. “It’s the perfect place for an animal rescue message, because Instagram is a visual medium. Who can turn down Tuna?”