Why’d you like that celebrity photo on Instagram? Why’d you leave that restaurant review on Yelp? Why’d you text in lowercase, or turn on read receipts, or share your location? Ashley Carman and Kaitlyn Tiffany ask real people the hard, meta, and occasionally silly questions about the way technology influences our thinking, changes our behavior, and affects our social lives. Produced by The Verge and the Vox Media Podcast Network.
This week on Why’d You Push That Button, we’re getting into one of the real soap operas of modern life: Venmo’s public activity feed. Some people never look at it, some people scroll through it during their daily commute, inexplicably curious about what their friends are exchanging money for.
The payment app launched in 2009 and is now popular enough to work as a verb: “I’ll Venmo you,” meaning “I’ll hit you back right now and accompany the payment with some emoji or a dumb inside joke.” Yet, somehow, despite its popularity, and despite numerous trend pieces pointing out the potential for purchase history sleuthing, users still make their transactions public, allowing other users to mine them for drama. Why do we do this to ourselves, (if you even do it) and what secrets can we uncover? Will there ever come a day when a Venmo transaction description is as carefully considered as an Instagram caption? Will you ever hear the end of it, RE: that mysterious 2AM Uber charge? As you may have guessed, it’s about to get pretty messy!
First we talked to Olivia de Recat, a cartoonist who “decoded” some common Venmo charges in the New Yorker earlier this fall, and uses the app’s public feed to imagine what ex-love interests might be up to. It’s a crucial resource, she says, when an ex isn’t active on other social media — a winking emoji and a beer mug say a lot more than silence, even if they don’t say much. Then we called up Ashley’s college friend Michelle, who had a slightly less whimsical story about some deeply unpleasant information she managed to dig up via Venmo. You might want to cover your eyes, mouth, and ears while she is telling it. Finally, we took all of our anecdotes and questions to Venmo product lead Melanie Aliperti, to hear a little bit more about why a payments app has a social feed at all, whether this payment app is in fact a social media app, and how anecdotes about Venmo-enabled drama might affect design decisions in the future.
Listen to the full podcast and check out the transcription of Melanie’s interview on theverge.com