Sometimes Randal, you know just what to say with no words at all.
I got glasses a few weeks ago. Turns out that age has made me crazy near-sighted and it gets awfully hard to see Powerpoint slides when you’re in a massive lecture hall. So I found one of those generic eye examine places. You know, the kind where you get an exam and two pairs of glasses for like $50. Good deal for a college student on a truncated budget. Now I should mention the last time I had glasses was about 8 years ago, but had not worn them since. I’m pretty sure the optician of 2002 knew he could take advantage of my parents and gave me some marginally beneficial prescription. I saw no benefit so I stopped wearing the $150 titanium frames (I’m pretty sure I spent more time bending and twisting the impressive metal to explore its properties than wearing the glasses).
Suffice to say, it had been a long time since I thought about the fashion “dos and don’ts” of the eyewear world. So when looking for glasses, I figured I’d go for what is considered “stylish” by 2011 standards. I found a decent pair of thick-rimmed frames similar to the ones above, they looked pretty good, and I figured they’d complete the “geek-retro” look I was going for with my collection of ironic and/or Star Wars shirts (also a nice pair of wire frames as a back up pair). Sporting my new glasses, a fresh hair cut, and being able to see more than 50 feet in front of me, I was feeling pretty good and dare I say “different”? And what better way to show off my new look than with a fresh Facebook profile picture? Let my friends and family see the “new Gabe”.
That could have gone better. Only minutes went by before friends started commenting or texting me about the new appearance. Some were genuine compliments, but others were teases that I had gone “hipster”. Now, you have to understand that I hate the “hipster” sub-culture. Being from Atlanta, which is the hipster capital of the South, I have had enough of the phony, tattoo-sporting, Shins-listening, fedora-abusing culture to last several lifetimes. Being thrown into that group is not my modus operandi, to say the least. I am a self define geek. I’m a Star Wars loving, computer-building, video game-fragging social outcast and damn proud. These thick frame glasses were “geek” way before they were “hip”. These were the glasses of scientists, engineers, coders, and bloggers way before the organo-free trade coffee drinking, tight-jean clad 20-somethings took it from us.
That’s kind of the sad thing about the 21st century. People caught on pretty quick at the close of the 1990s that the geeks had won. With the rise of the Internet Start Up where any guy with a good idea and some coding experience could be the next Mark Zuckerberg, people began to emulate the nerd culture that was becoming a sign of success and interest. The hipsters took our glasses, but everyone has taken the geek into the mainstream. Video games are for the casual and hardcore player, Star Wars is a children’s show (a damn awesome show at that), computers gave way to magical tablets, and everyone and their mother can use a smart phone. It’s a wonderful world all riding in the successes of the Geek and the Nerd.
We made this world what it is today, I guess it makes sense the “cool” people would try to emulate us. But let’s lay down the law: these glasses were geek first and I will live and die as a geek.
I have tried for a long time to avoid ebooks, largely because I was relatively uninterested in the technology for a long time. With the exception of some relative popular e-book commentary, I haven’t had much interest in exploring the devices or software. The fact is that I’m simply not a big reader or particularly well-read. I’m a product of my generation, I’m sorry to say.
Still, one of the most notorious factors in college is the hidden cost of books. It’s a sort of running joke in college that you pay more for your books than your food (a poignant and ultimately depressing thought if you are on George Washington University’s frustrating meal plan). So imagine my surprise when I discovered that one of my costly books – a copy of the legendary Don Quixote – was actually in spanish instead of being a translated version of the novel. It was a frustrating revelation, since the tome was the exact ISBN book my professor had requested us to buy (an unfortunate mistake, I’m sure….) And thus I was left to find another copy of the classic comedic novel very quickly.
Print costs money, but online text can be free. And luckily for humanity, Don Quixote has long been in the general domain, making it an excellent choice for the Guttenberg Project, a group devoted to making classic and out of copyright books available to the public. I found a classic translation of the novel, and realize that Guttenberg is available on for iBooks, free. Now I must tell you I debated this for a long time, probably longer than I should have, but with good intention. I have tried very hard to avoid ebooks also because I have feared them. As I’ve said, I’m not well read. I’m so slow at reading it borders on autistic (I’m not illiterate, just slow), and though I have a strong vocabulary and prose, I blame most of that on extensive movie quoting and my acting experience. In light of the countless reports I read about how our minds act different when reading on a computer versus a book, I’ve always feared my already under-utilized literary capacity would make any attempt to read a book on an electronic device futile.
And yet, I did it. On the one hand I was running out of options, but on the other I felt it was time to face my fears. And so I downloaded the iBook of Don Quixote on to my iPhone at 2AM this morning.
I made the right decision.
I felt something click when reading the novel on my phone. Perhaps it was that very fact: I was reading a book on my phone. Chapters, bookmarks, turning pages, highlighting, making notes, all from my phone. Much of this just speaks to the powerful design of Apple’s iBooks application, but the fact was I felt this wonderful sense of convergence. It was old meeting new as one of history’s greatest novels was being presented to me in a whole new way. I didn’t need a lamp (which my roommate I’m sure was thankful for), there was no adjusting my reading position beyond deciding between landscape or portrait, and it was all in the palm of my hand. Not only that, but I was reading. Really reading the book and loving it (Don Quixote is a wonderfully hilarious book). There was no subconscious block to my absorbing the text. If anything, my brain being accustomed to reading online made the experience easier for me.
At the gym this afternoon, I was still reading while on the exercise bike, something I have never done because of the inconvenience of a bulky book. It finally happened folks: I saw the light of ebooks, their clear advantage of portability, interactivity, and versatility became very real to me today. It’s only fitting I make this revelation on the eve of the iPad 2’s announcement, a device I have the clear intention of buying and now want only more so. Who knows? Maybe the iPad will enhance my reading skills. Perhaps it can really change my generation for the better and make us want to read again.
One can only hope. I’m a believer.
I’ve never seen the original Tron. Disney’s futuristic 1982 computer adventure movie was by all account a flop back in the day. A lot of people didn’t get the notion of being sucked into a computer. It was hard to comprehend the idea programs and complex computer systems at a time when very few people had or understood computers. Adding another layer of representing a computer as a city and people simply abstracted it one step farther for the audience. Plus, the CG was flaky (and considered a gimmick), the acting was poor, and the dialog and story was cheesy. By all accounts, Tron isn’t a very good movie. It’s a cult favorite for geeks, but it’s just not that good.
So why on earth make a sequel? Wired Magazine’s cover article this month is a huge spread on the movie Tron: Legacy. They do a better job of talking about the creation of the sequel than I. In a nutshell though, it was time to fulfill what Tron should have been. Today, everyone has a computer and the notion of the computer as a living being, with programs as individuals living in a “city”, while still abstract, is far easier to wrap our heads around. Not only that, but today we have the internet and cyberspace, a real virtual world where we all exist as avatars of ourselves in some way or another. MMORPGs like World of Warcraft and Second Life, along with movies like The Matrix all make the world of Tron seem a whole lot more plausible.
But what captures this movie for me is the subject matter: the notion of living programs and envisioning computers as other worlds. Jeff Bridge’s Kevin Flynn speaks in the movie of another world existing in the computer, and he preaches a la Steve Jobs to a baiting audience about a future to behold that will rock the world to its very core: science, culture, religion, medicine, everything will be affected. He’s talking about the internet, right? No actually. He’s still talking about very 1980s era stuff. Living in a singular computer? Running 80s hardware no less? This movie takes place in 2010, so why do I feel thrown back to the 80s (a decade I have the distinct pleasure of never having to personally experience)? The problem(?) with the movie for me is that perhaps it stays too close to its roots as a conception of 1982. While the movie could have expanded into the frontier of cyberspace, it instead remains decidedly local. It’s been 28 years since the original Tron, why didn’t the director take advantage of the nearly 30 years of progress in the computing world? Continue Reading
Facebook, as the world’s most powerful social networking platform, has incredible power in our world for social change. We have seen the site become the launchpad for many an attempt at social change. “Causes” streamlined those efforts through a specialized app where you could filter money and recruit others to cause in an official matter. After the app craze subsided in 2009, groups returned to the limelight as the new face of solidarity with today’s new causes. All the way, a select few have tried to make Facebook a place of social change and awareness.
And they’ve almost all failed.
Now viral protest is the name of the game, as people show their solidarity with the week’s charity by changing their status or profile picture. Welcome to the new world of passive-aggressive social protest. Apparently, all you need to do now is change your status, and you’ve done your duty.
The two greatest foes of this remarkably pathetic form of “awareness” are the “I like it _____” status wave that was supposedly meant to raise awareness about breast cancer, and the newest phenomenon: changing your profile picture to a cartoon character in order to raise awareness for child abuse. I’m not a fan of either of these movements for several reasons: they are random, they are ineffective, and they are easily subverted.
See, changing your profile to a cartoon character doesn’t actually do anything! It has nothing to do with child abuse prevention except that someone said it did! So if I change my profile to a cartoon, am I automatically supporting child abuse prevention? What if I’m just feeling nostalgic for some Dragon Ball Z or something? If there was a logo for an organization that actively helped abused children (you know, something like CAPS which my mother worked for), maybe that would be something to support. But as it stands, there is nothing “real” about it.
The breast cancer awareness effort is possibly more infuriating for its secrecy. Fun fact: both men and women are affected by breast cancer. So why was this a secret movement for women only? Also, being shrouded in mystery made the entire “I like it ____” effort easily mocked, not supported. As a male friend of mine posted that day (paraphrasing): “I like talking about serious issues like breast cancer out in the open”. These social “movements” if you can even call it that, lack any real dedication or provide any significant awareness. There is no solidarity or activated awareness because the efforts are scattershot. They lack cohesion, unity, or a clear message (if any). Hell, there are accusations that the “Cartoon Character” plot was actually constructed by pedophiles trying to lure children with friendly looking profiles! Whether it’s true or not, this shows the volatile nature of these viral movements: they have no leadership or clear origin. There’s no central organization or head to focus support or provide information. It’s all arbitrary, randomized, “Cause-of-the-Week” mob mentality.
If you have a cause you feel strongly about, actively help it. Join an organization, give money, volunteer. Maybe you can get an organization to present a true, specific and consequential awareness campaign on Facebook. Because until we have some unified effort with clear and visible goals, Facebook will never be the platform for social change that people so desperately want it to be.
Often times I like to open my soapbox to a new perspective. A few months ago I had a friend talk about the pretty phenomenal announcements at Nintendo’s E3 conference. Seems about time to let another contributor have a shot. I am pleased to have Rob Galbreath, former editor-in-chief at TheWiire.com, an independent video game website that grew to strong popularity before its slow decline. Galbreath has held several jobs in journalism throughout the decade and it is a pleasure to have a veteran to contribute to this website.
Ask anyone, I’ve been an advocate for Facebook’s social networking longer than most. I was in one of the original six universities (St. Bonaventure) beta testing Facebook before it reached mainstream culture and made our world smaller than it ever was before, even smaller than cell phones. I remember only being able to log in with our sbu.edu accounts, and the exclusive club became a worldwide phenomenon.
But after five years of being on Facebook, I’m beginning to worry about the impact on our psychological behavior. Click Friend Request for an acquaintance, delete people after time of inactivity, listen to ever-argumentative Facebook link shares and communications about others. Even tag someone else’s location so people know where you are, even if you’re not the one doing it.
I’m not paranoid, but I am concerned. I find that my radical ideals are not on par with most people’s thoughts. At many times, I delete thoughts and threads. Not because I don’t have a rebuttal, I always seem to have a rebuttal, but I’m concerned that these rebuttals are not friendly behavior. They’re arguments you make at political rallies, not among your own friends. Continue Reading
One of the tenets of Web 2.0 was that it would be run by the user. The internet would be composed of user-generated content and media. Youtube would allow amateur film makers and artists to become viable parts of the media, Facebook would be a free zone for the exchange of ideas and networking of long separated friends, the blogs would be a forum for new ideas to arise without being part of mainstream media. In many ways, indeed most ways, Web 2.0 has accomplished that. Facebook, Youtube, and the blogosphere have enriched and empowered all of our lives and voices. The problem is that corporations and Ad moguls have realized this, and they are taking back what we have worked so hard to make ours. We’re losing the web back to its corporate masters.
The first example that comes to mind is Facebook’s advertisements. To be fair, Facebook launched with the full intention of opening the platform to advertisers, but for a few years it existed in a pretty sterile environment. But now the advertisements have taken over a large majority of your homepage. More and more corporate influence is coming into Facebook and I continue to see less and less of my friends. In the beginning of 2010, Facebook made a big overhaul to your profiles. Remember your favorite movies, tv shows, books, and activities? Well with this overhaul they became linked to a reservoir of pages built by companies. For example, my love of Chuck (the NBC TV series) became a love of “The Official CHUCK Page” because that’s what Facebook thought I liked. What does that mean? It means I am now subscribed to that page, so I get updates about Chuck on my news feed. But I don’t WANT updates from some NBC intern assigned to post quotes from last week’s episode. It’s obnoxious and only separates me from my real reason to be on Facebook: to see what my friends are doing.
If you’ve been a frequent reader of the site, you may remember my love fest with Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. It remains one of the most fun and wholly enjoyable movies that I have seen in the past few years, and I highly recommend it to anyone of my generation. In the last week, I found myself with $15 in iTunes money burning hole in my virtual pocket. There was little in the way of music I wanted (of course before the Beatles arrived in the iTunes store), so I spent that on the newly released digital copy of Scott Pilgrim. I was laughed at my by friends though. They figured I had wasted my money by 1) buying a digital movie when I could rip it from a DVD for free and 2) getting the iTunes version. But I have my reasons.
The most important one is that Scott Pilgrim vs. The World did not do as well at the box office as I think it deserved. In fact, it didn’t even cover its production cost. That is a terrible shame because the movie deserved to be successful. It drove the medium of movies and games and comic books to new heights all at the same time. Buying the movie is important then because I want to support the movie financially. Sure, I could have gotten a free version from a rip, but I am willing to pay for this movie. Let this be a lesson to all pirates out there, just because we can things for free doesn’t mean we should. Support the makers of content you enjoy, they are giving you a good and a service.
As for buying it on iTunes, here’s the deal: the Apple infrastructure works for me. “Blasphemy!” some may say, but in the end here’s how it breaks down. I get a good quality movie with extras at a competitive price that will work on 90% of the devices I use to watch movies: iPod, iPhone, my laptop, even my Windows netbook. People often get too occupied with the principle of DRM and free content when in reality, what they just want is to be able to enjoy the content.
Rent Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. If you like it, buying it. Don’t rip it. It deserves better than us stealing it.
Today I saw a rare gem of a begotten era: a Motorola RAZR. It was only out of the corner of my eye that I saw the device, held up to the ear of some collegiate fellow as our paths crossed. At first, I didn’t think anything of it. But something about the sight seemed to keep my attention far longer than it should have. Now I think I realize why that image of the RAZR stays in my mind. It is, in many ways, an extinct species. Back in the glorious days of 2006, the RAZR was pretty synonymous with my generation. It was basically the phone to get – symbolizing style, wealth, and cutting edge features. You could text pictures! You could get on WAP internet! Motorola made a killing with the RAZR in its four year tenure from 2004 to 2008, but like all good things, the RAZR came to an end.
Ever since the launch of the iPhone, smartphones have been for consumers. No longer are these powerful devices locked into the corporate world, they are now meant to enrich the life of regular people. And with the advent of Android and cheaper Blackberries, smartphones are now accessible even on a budget for most consumers. These two factors have pushed flip phones (like the RAZR) into the dust. In the grand scheme of things, it’s just the progression of technology at work. But it is sort of sad to see these once highly coveted items now be treated like the most pathetic of devices.
Going into an AT&T store with a friend a few weeks ago, I became very aware of the slow demise of the flip phone. Besides from a few “GoPhones” and one or two essentially free phones on contract, you can’t get a phone in that form factor anymore! These days, you have really three choices: a decent feature phone with a full QWERTY keyboard for texting, low-end smartphones like BlackBerry’s and cheap Androids, or flagship smartphones like the iPhone or Galaxy S. The fact is that smartphones are penetrating down into the lowest end sector. Back in 2005 when I got my first cellphone, it was a remarkably basic Nokia. I could call, text, get on AT&T’s (then Cingular) MediaNet (a GPRS service to download super basic ringtones and games) and that was about it. By comparison, today’s basic phones would have been considered very high-end for those times. Full keyboards, email, great cameras, decent web browsing, and 3G speed are all basically givens for today’s consumer. Again, kind of a “duh” moment since it has been 5 years since my first cellphone, but it’s still interesting to see how much things have changed.
Smartphones are pushing further and further into our lives. In the next few years, it will be hard to find a feature phone at all that is not using an advanced mobile OS or equipped with an app store. Feature phones, like flip phones before them, will become relics of the past. Do your self a favor: hold on to the old phones, remember where we’ve come from and how far we’ve progressed.
Yesterday I expressed my regret that I could not really blog about the Rally to Restore Sanity. It is something I do feel strongly about, but at the same time I feel that a post like that would be too overtly political or at least lead into a political discussion. One of the tenets I established this blog under was a strict charter to be apolitical. As my father says, I like to discuss issues, not politics. However, there is an angle from the rally that I think is worth discussing. While the Rally was 3 hours of by-and-large comedic effect and drenched in wit and sarcasm, there was a sincere moment towards the end in which Jon Stewart made some very thought provoking remarks. There is an aspect to these remarks which I think can fall under my mission statement.
I must applaud Stewart for explicitly saying how his rally was not meant to be an attack on those who feel strongly in opposition to his beliefs. He was not calling for the destruction of the Tea Party or running Rick Sanchez or Juan Williams on the proverbial rail. One of my favorite parts of Stewart’s speech was where he actually decried those who would call Williams or Sanchez bigots as it “is an insult, not only to those people, but to the racists themselves who have put in the exhausting effort it takes to hate,…” I really applaud the temperance of Stewart for saying that, especially since Sanchez made some personal attacks on Stewart. My point is that I found Stewart to be acting and speaking with the most sincerity and civility as I have seen in years. He wholly embodied a level of decency that is sorely lacking from public figures today. He was not arrogant, he did not presume to know the reasons for people to come, he simply expressed his wish for people to believe in his level of decency and respect. I think this is a remarkably crucial point to stress: Jon Stewart called for a level of civility that has all but disappeared from our American life. Much like my “Call for Internet Civility” post which reached far fewer, Stewart has asked for a return to logical, reasonable debate and discussion throughout our political and social system. He whole-heartedly understands the woes of the Tea Party and their real concerns, but only complains that everyone has their problems, their fears, and their desires for the political course of our country. Most of us just have more important things to do and we don’t waste time hating those who think differently than us. I want to shift gears now, but I think it is very important to stress this admiration I have for Stewart’s speech and how much I respect his message in those closing remarks.
The real purpose, at least for Jon Stewart, was to take the fight to the media. In the end, Stewart (and even Colbert in his satirical manner) were assaulting the mainstream news organizations and their role in creating the division of our country. Stewart blames the constant fear mongering and the radicalization of cable news with boisterous and polarizing personalities such as Glenn Beck and Keith Olbermann. The divisions that seem to be tearing our country apart are figments of the media’s imagination. An imagination fueled by polls, pundits bickering, and the war cries of distant radicals who strive for attention. I am inclined to agree with Stewart. For the first time, Stewart has articulated a frustration I have with mainstream news media and indeed with our political system. In short, news has lost touch with its mission: to report. And now in a vain attempt to hold our interests, most news hours are devoted to unnecessary and menial analysis, despicable fear mongering over some new discovery by an obscure scientist, or the rabid shoutings of an ideologue who is paid to say sensationalist BS.
As Stewart said “The press is our immune system. If it overreacts to everything we eventually get sicker.” It is this overreaction and lowest common denominator journalism that has completely turned me off to once trusted news sources like CNN, a channel that I now loathe to watch.
But I think Stewart could have taken it farther. Perhaps it was outside his message, but I don’t believe this de-evolution of journalism is limited to your TV. The Internet too has a share of the burden, indeed the Blogosphere in which I carry digital residency must be to blame. We now live in the world of opinions. Where people don’t want the facts, they want to find those who agree with them and disregard the rest as nut jobs and evil-doers. The flood of personal blogs, political opinion blogs, and opinion-column blogs integrated into mainstream news sites has forever altered our consumption and assessment of news. We now search for what we want to believe in, and screw the rest. The Internet was supposed to be a vehicle for open-minded education, but now we can live in a very selective, walled version of that Internet if we choose. And many (like myself) do.
Is there a solution to the dire state of journalism? I cannot even begin to fathom it. But Jon Stewart has unlocked the door. He has awoken us (or at least myself) to the fundamental schism of our country: the media. In the real world, most are simply out to do right by them and maybe help another guy out along the way. We make compromises at all times just to get by through the good and the bad. But when we turn on our TV or log on to the internet, we have made the choice to flood our minds with the thoughts of others. We weed out those we hate, and only accept those we wish to respect. And this much change. Again, I don’t know how. But I think Stewart has done a lot of good to make me hold up the magnifying glass to my own vehicle of journalism: the blogosphere, and ask the really hard questions about if what I or what my colleagues across the internet really do is right by our society.