The Thing About the Death of Print…

From Daring Fireball, a bunch of magazines are about to launch a campaign intended to sway people away from the net and back to reading paper magazines, about as foolhardy a thing they can do at this point.  Getting back to my thoughts about reading on Sunday, I have to think that one of their slogans has a point:

“The Internet is fleeting. Magazines are immersive.”

The internet can be fleeting.  As we’ve all been trained to hop from link to link and pull information from a world of sources, depth can be hard to come by.  Its kind of funny to think that the magazine, a format considered fleeting itself in the old days, would be considered immersive.  But reading a magazine from beginning to end is something you just can’t replicate online.  What the print publishers fail to realize is…

A generation of people have grown up without that experience, they don’t understand it, and they don’t need it.

We read magazines because they were there for us to read.  Now there are other things to take up our time.  Everyone seems to forget that reading the way we do is not some natural human trait, but an adaptation to the way the written word is printed and disseminated.  As that has changed, so have our reading habits, and that change isn’t about to stop simply because some dinosaurs are fighting it.

The Sunday Paper

I’m still thinking about my playthrough of Mass Effect 2 and at some point I’d like to do an epic wrap-up about it.  The game was phenomenal.  In the meantime, something for today:

We subscribe to the Sunday paper.  We have since we moved in together and Dawn already had a subscription.  There is nothing like a quiet sunday morning of going through the paper with a cup of coffee and a nice breakfast; it can be the restive moment you need to get ready for the week.  That said, we rarely read the paper, or at least rarely read it on Sunday.  We have the little one to thank for that.

So in our considering of what all we can get rid of to save money, time and our carbon footprint, the paper has come up a number of times.  At one point we got the local paper every day but could not live with the amount of newsprint we were accumulating and recycling every week.  We have stopped a number of magazine subscriptions and are purging our collections of magazines we felt worth keeping.  If we need them, most of their content is online and most likely we’ll never need them.  But getting rid of the paper is different.  Because we’re NYT subscribers we not only have access to their full archive but also their Adobe AIR based NYT Reader app that is actually quite pretty.  Of course there’s also the ad-supported iPhone app as well, should we need it in a tiny mobile format.  But both of these are missing something, or perhaps they’re adding too much?

I think the problem of trying to read the paper online is that its just too hyper. Sitting at the table with a cup of coffee, I can slowly make my way through each article, reading what I want and skimming the rest.  Dawn and I can discuss what we’re reading or point out something to look for.   We can do all this with our laptops, but we’ll also be doing a million other things, and we’ll most definitely not go further than the headlines on many articles we will choose to read if we’re looking at the paper version.  I’m not saying I read the paper end-to-end, but in its paper format, and in my Sunday state of mind, I can tolerate the slow progress through the medium.  On my laptop, I guarantee you that within a few moments of almost any article, some flashing light or link to click or url to type or status update to send will pull me away from the paper and likely never bring me back.

The printer paper model is obsolete and wasteful, and I’ll be glad to see it go, but I also can’t say what’s replacing it is better.

Why Big Games Aren’t Blockbuster Entertainment

As I’ve been talking to friends and reading internet posts about Mass Effect 2, I’m constantly struck by how different everyone’s experience is.  This week’s Giant Bombcast points out that it is actually kind of hard to watch someone else play Mass Effect 2 because their Shepard isn’t your Shepard.  The shame about this experience is that it’s really something you can’t share with people as it happens.  Video games place you into a narrative in a way that other media don’t: To whatever small degree you are an active participant in the world of the game rather than a passive one.  I don’t know if it’s because videogames are so new or because gamers are isolated and insecure enough that they’re constantly trying to legitimize their hobby but we’re always trying to associate games with other media and the medium we choose is almost always film.

In one very important way though, aren’t video games more like books?

Like books, games are generally a solitary experience.*  You engage them on your own and if there is a social interaction regarding the media, it is after the fact, or in some kind of status reporting as readers/gamers progress.  You generally engage them over a considerable period of time, as opposed to the relatively small time investment of other audio/visual media.

Movies, music and television are all inherently social experiences.  We may not all experience them all together all the time, but their histories all share people coming together to witness a performance of some kind.  I may watch a two hour movie with Dawn, but it is pretty unlikely that she’ll sit through Mass Effect 2 with me.  Even though it is highly “cinematic”, the game keeps getting in the way!  Even a game like Uncharted 2, which was sold to people on the idea that it was indistinguishable from a movie, can be pretty hard to stick with if you’re not the person controlling Drake.  We just don’t crowd around the couch to watch someone play through a game.

At first I thought that this might be a “bad thing,” but ultimately it is just not an something that needs necessarily be shared during the “live” experience.  The social experience comes later, when we share our stories and experiences.  There aren’t book clubs for games, but in this age, there are certainly many forums for discussion.

So even though your Activisions and EA’s would like you to believe that Mondern Warfare 2 is as big a media event as Avatar, and it may be in terms of money, but as a cultural experience, it simply does not add up.  As long as games are designed with a single person in front of a single device (or in the case of MW2 many single individuals connected to one another over the internet- a potentially interesting discussion in itself), they will not have the same mindshare as other mass media.

The funny thing is that even though I don’t really enjoy the Wii experience, Nintendo is one of the few game makers that has really worked to engage the entire family and groups of people in play through the Wii, and this is absolutely by design.  Whether or not the Wii will be recalled as a fad or a shared cultural experience remains to be seen, but they are bringing the medium to people in ways that either didn’t exist or that’s long forgotten.

*Yes, people play multiplayer games online.  Yes people play games like Rock Band and Wii together.  But these experiences are not the “hardcore” and they aren’t the big budget, cinematic blockbusters that game studios keep pitching and that keep most of the game publishers in business.

Reading this discussion by my friend Jamie, regarding Jaron Lanier’s “You are not a gadget,” I was reminded of a discussion I had with folks back in my podcasting days regarding building networks of trusted information out the white noise of infinite media.  I haven’t read Lanier’s book, but from the post it appears to be another voice of old media dissent arguing for the life and lamenting the loss of the media gatekeeper.

You can read Jamie’s post to see in what ways the loss of the gatekeeper is allowing the introduction of new ways of organizing culture and even how we think, but it reminded me of a few ideas that have just sort of been jumbling around for a while:

  • The dissemination of media as a broadcast is only in its infancy in the scope of human culture.
  • The dissemination of media through peer-to-peer social networking allows a conversation and investigation of ideas that crosses social and political boundaries in entirely new ways.  I don’t know about you, but simply because of the demographics of my Facebook friends list (friends, coworkers and family!) the idea of a political monoculture in my daily reading is preposterous.
  • Everyone will have access to infinite information, but we will find among our peers trustworthy filters whose work will be functionally no worse than that of traditional media.
  • Old media has largely been a failure. Growing up, my local paper rarely served the interests of my community beyond a few select readers.  My local TV station provided little worthwhile coverage of news beyond “if it bleeds it leads” and extreme weather coverage.

Finally, a huge problem in all of this is some kind of schism between people who grew up with traditional media and those of us who have been connected for most of our lives.  I can’t recall a time when I found the news media particularly trustworthy.  Poorly sourced reporting and outright lies have been the culture of professional reporting for as long as I recall.  For people of a certain age, that distrust may not exist.  Look no further than the emails I know your parents and relatives send you!  If you are a parent, consider the source of the email you’re sending!  Many of us have been exposed to email forwards, the most incessant and annoying version of spam there is, since we began using the internet, but some people of a certain age don’t seem to pick up on the fact that they are all terrible lies! No matter how many times we point them to snopes.com, ask them not to send any more email forwards, they simply do not get the message.

Why?  People of a certain age were raised in a media environment where the consumption of news was unquestioned and the newsmakers were the paternal providers of trusted information, justified or not.  Those of us raised connected have learned to demand a more broad spectrum of information, from which we can assemble a version of the truth that is closer to our understanding of reality.  We don’t need the old media, and while we may be missing out on the aesthetic pleasures of reading a paper we are building a network of trusted news providers out of the people around us.

A Man of A Certain Age

Ray Romanos of A Certain Age (How we consume news)

A Man of A Certain AgeReading this discussion by my friend Jamie, regarding Jaron Lanier’s “You are not a gadget,” I was reminded of a discussion I had with folks back in my podcasting days regarding building networks of trusted information out the white noise of infinite media.  I haven’t read Lanier’s book, but from the post it appears to be another voice of old media dissent arguing for the life and lamenting the loss of the media gatekeeper.

You can read Jamie’s post to see in what ways the loss of the gatekeeper is allowing the introduction of new ways of organizing culture and even how we think, but it reminded me of a few ideas that have just sort of been jumbling around for a while:

  • The dissemination of media as a broadcast is only in its infancy in the scope of human culture.
  • The dissemination of media through peer-to-peer social networking allows a conversation and investigation of ideas that crosses social and political boundaries in entirely new ways.  I don’t know about you, but simply because of the demographics of my Facebook friends list (friends, coworkers and family!) the idea of a political monoculture in my daily reading is preposterous.
  • Everyone will have access to infinite information, but we will find among our peers trustworthy filters whose work will be functionally no worse than that of traditional media.
  • Old media has largely been a failure. Growing up, my local paper rarely served the interests of my community beyond a few select readers.  My local TV station provided little worthwhile coverage of news beyond “if it bleeds it leads” and extreme weather coverage.

Finally, a huge problem in all of this is some kind of schism between people who grew up with traditional media and those of us who have been connected for most of our lives.  I can’t recall a time when I found the news media particularly trustworthy.  Poorly sourced reporting and outright lies have been the culture of professional reporting for as long as I recall.  For people of a certain age, that distrust may not exist.  Look no further than the emails I know your parents and relatives send you!  If you are a parent, consider the source of the email you’re sending!  Many of us have been exposed to email forwards, the most incessant and annoying version of spam there is, since we began using the internet, but some people of a certain age don’t seem to pick up on the fact that they are all terrible lies! No matter how many times we point them to snopes.com, ask them not to send any more email forwards, they simply do not get the message.

Why?  People of a certain age were raised in a media environment where the consumption of news was unquestioned and the newsmakers were the paternal providers of trusted information, justified or not.  Those of us raised connected have learned to demand a more broad spectrum of information, from which we can assemble a version of the truth that is closer to our understanding of reality.  We don’t need the old media, and while we may be missing out on the aesthetic pleasures of reading a paper we are building a network of trusted news providers out of the people around us.

On the Media

Before we had Max, I had a hard time keeping up with my weekly reading, I’ll admit that a lot of it comes down to me spending too much time reading RSS feeds; now that he’s around its become even harder.  Sitting in front of me I have 3 weeks worth of weekly magazines, the Sunday paper, book review and magazine and the new issue of Gamepro and then there’s the books.  Oh the books.

Books, at this point, are an afterthought.  With so much media in my life and the amount of time I spend at the gym or running, I just have a really hard time keeping up with reading.  Its almost like if an activity I’m pursuing can’t be accompanied by some other activity, I can’t spend my time with it.  I can listen to music, but even then it can’t be something new or something with vocals.  The most reading I get done these days is audiobooks while I’m running or exercising.

So what is the solution?  At this point I feel like there is very little I can drop out of my life.  The past week I’ve had a little extra downtime due to the bad weather- bussing to work instead of biking.  The 45 minute, 4 mile commute, insane though it is, is almost a relief but then I miss the fun of riding my bike to and from work.  Lots of tradeoffs these days, but you gotta keep on moving.

Overreacting Echosphere

So some time yesterday someone in the blogger/twitter-sphere picked up on an interview with James Cameron where he claims the Sigourney Weaver character in Avatar smokes because its “a negative comment about people in our real world living too much in their avatars, meaning online and in video games.”

Note:  He did not say, “a negative comment on video games and online culture.”  He did not say, “Video games derive us of the ability to enjoy life.”  The resulting eruption on gaming blogs would lead you to think that he did just that, and maybe killed Shigeru Miyamoto in the process as well.  The man lives and breathes digital tech.  He talked for an hour at a games conference about the game for his movie- a game that nobody even cares about.  He BUILDS SUBMARINES! This guy is no luddite.

This whole mini-controversey is a really telling example of:

  • How gaming culture is so incredibly sensitive about itself that it can not handle even the most slight criticism.
  • How quick paid-by-the-post bloggers are to seek controversy magnet headlines and write stories about them without thinking for even a second about what they’re writing.

Surely many gamers out there know someone who played a little too much WOW.  Girlfriends who left because of too much COD4?  PEOPLE WHO SPEND $300000 on VIRTUAL REAL ESTATE!?

In no way was Cameron indicting all gamers or even gaming culture, but simply showing that there are those who let go of their meatspace lives a little too much in favor of their online persona.  Is it so wrong to even consider the possibility?  The whole thing was so insignificant that no one even noticed until Cameron pointed it out in an article about smoking in movies.

The funniest thing about the entire episode is that in all of the above articles the commenters are more level headed than the authors.  How often does that happen?

Update (spoilerific):
AND ANOTHER THING: If then the movie contains a metaphor for living out experience online, what does it say that its crippled main character chooses to completely abandon his human self and that it is depicted as a triumph?

See you on the next level…

ze frank

The show is staying right there in my podcast list, waiting for whatever comes next. Truth be told we may well have seen the last of it. Ze is so far ahead of the game when it comes to understanding this medium that even when he resorted to cheap jokes and potty humor it was still a joy to watch. I have no problem proclaiming myself a Sportsracer. Hell, I’ve even joined the ORG.

Surprisingly, there wasn’t a lot of press regarding the end of the Show, but this LA Times Article notes that Ze “made enough to pay the rent and then some”. Now granting that his rent is in Brooklyn, which ain’t exactly cheap, this is fine and its how new medians should approach making money on the web. Part of the problem of hiring Hollywood representation and working within that system is that its built on the mass market- salaries and revenues depend on consumption by millions of people. Alternately, you can build a community, share in that community and prove to them that what you do is worth their money. Cut out the money machine because it isn’t built for narrow media.