Could Google's New Social Network Actually Improve Our Social Lives?

Google's Facebook competitor seems less about crafting an online persona and more about building on real-life relationships.

As of today, Google has officially challenged Facebook to a duel. Google+ is the company's new social network that operates suspiciously like Facebook, with a major difference: It emphasizes small groups and privacy. After a little research, I predict it might be the very first social network to actually improve our social lives.

My first thought when I heard about Google+ was that there was no friggin' way I was joining yet another social network. I'm already part of Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, LinkedIn, Goodreads, and the practically defunct MySpace. (My Friendster profile still technically exists, too.) My life is already oversaturated with online identities as it is.

I also felt defensive of my old friend, Facebook. Along with Twitter, some of the best articles I read are because someone posts them to their Facebook wall. When I post on my own profile, that goes out to more than 1,000 people. Both are effective ways to organize parties, protests, or entire revolutions. And isn't the idea of "small groups" elite and exclusive? Isn't that why Facebook opened up their membership to the entire world?

But when I thought about it more, Facebook and Twitter haven't actually made my social life better. They enhance my career, but not my personal relationships. Sure, the sites let me know about so-and-so's band or fundraiser, but if they are my "real friends," I know anyway. They make me lazier, too—I've definitely written a "happy birthday" or two on people's walls when I didn't feel like calling. The more friends or followers you get, the less you can connect with other people and be yourself and the more you're performing for an audience. For some, these sites become popularity contests of who has the most friends or the most RTs or comments. For the media, Twitter is often an echo chamber that can quickly descend into navel-gazing. Both are rife with oversharing. We've started to take for granted these dynamics of social networking. But does it have to be this way, or could a site actually build on friendships and interests you already have?

That's what Google+ promises, at least. It isn't open to the public yet, so I took a handy tour of the site here. It features something called "circles," which are small groups of friends based on how you know them. You can put friends "from Saturday night in one circle, your parents in another, and your boss in a circle by himself." As a lifelong floater, this certainly seems promising. There's also face-to-face group chat, sort of like if Skype and Campfire had a baby. And there's group text like GroupMe or like Blackberry Messenger, except you don't all have to have the same kind of phone. It seems less "Love me! Love me!" and more "People I love: Let's chill."

Granted, other sites have tried to tout their exclusivity. Path started a social network last year that prohibits you from having more than 50 friends, although that still squeezes your whole social world into one awkward group. Google is already the gateway to the internet, which makes it more likely to lure users away from Facebook than a random startup. But actually, I see Google+ as serving a completely different function. Facebook and Twitter can mobilize, organize, and disseminate information. It can and will continue to help journalists, politicians, and activists do their work. But sometimes you just want to hang with your friends, and when that can't happen in real life, something like Google+ could be the next best thing.

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Sin City is doing something good for its less fortunate citizens as well as those who've broken the law this month. The city of Las Vegas, Nevada will drop any parking ticket fines for those who make a donation to a local food bank.

A parking ticket can cost up to $100 in Las Vegas but the whole thing can be forgiven by bringing in non-perishable food items of equal or greater value to the Parking Services Offices at 500 S. Main Street through December 16.

The program is designed to help the less fortunate during the holidays.

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For more than 20 years. Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) has served the citizens of Maine in the U.S. Senate. For most of that time, she has enjoyed a hard-fought reputation as a moderate Republican who methodically builds bridges and consensus in an era of political polarization. To millions of political observers, she exemplified the best of post-partisan leadership, finding a "third way" through the static of ideological tribalism.

However, all of that has changed since the election of Donald Trump in 2016. Voters in Maine, particularly those who lean left, have run out of patience with Collins and her seeming refusal to stand up to Trump. That frustration peaked with the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.

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via / Flickr and Dimitri Rodriguez / Flickr

Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign looks to be getting a huge big shot in the arm after it's faced some difficulties over the past few weeks.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a leading voice in the Democratic parties progressive, Democratic Socialist wing, is expected to endorse Sanders' campaign at the "Bernie's Back" rally in Queens, New York this Saturday.

Fellow member of "the Squad," Ilhan Omar, endorsed him on Wednesday.

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Photo by HAL9001 on Unsplash

The U.K. is trying to reach its goal of net-zero emissions by 2050, but aviation may become the biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.K. by that same year. A new study commissioned by the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) and conducted at the Imperial College London says that in order for the U.K. to reach its target, aviation can only see a 25% increase, and they've got a very specific recommendation on how to fix it: Curb frequent flyer programs.

Currently, air travel accounts for 2% of global greenhouse gas emissions, however that number is projected to increase for several reasons. There's a growing demand for air travel, yet it's harder to decarbonize aviation. Electric cars are becoming more common. Electric planes, not so much. If things keep on going the way they are, flights in the U.K. should increase by 50%.

Nearly every airline in the world has a frequent flyer program. The programs offer perks, including free flights, if customers get a certain amount of points. According to the study, 70% of all flights from the U.K. are taken by 15% of the population, with many people taking additional (and arguably unnecessary) flights to "maintain their privileged traveler status."

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