“Television: chewing gum for the eyes.” ~Frank Lloyd Wright

February 25th, 2008

A lot of people have already posted on McLuhan and television, so I’m not sure what else of substance I’ve got to add, but I did look him up on the internet and found this passage that I found particularly interesting:

In Understanding Media, McLuhan proposes a more controvesial frame for judging media: “hot” and “cool.” These categorizations are puzzling and contemporary technology renders them practically obsolete. In simplest terms, “hot” is exclusive and “cool” is inclusive. Hot media are highly defined; there is little information to be filled in by the user. Radio is a hot medium; it requires minimal participation. Cool media, by contrast, are low definition and thus highly participatory because the user must “fill in the blanks.” Television is the ultimate “cool” medium because it is highly participatory. This categorization is extremely problematic to those who consider television viewing a passive activity.

I think this is an interesting classification system, and I wonder if it’s really true. Is television more participatory than radio? I, of course, immediately want to say no, because so much of radio is (with the exception of satellite/XM stations, I guess) a very local media. Most stations only broadcast to a specific area, as well as holding trivia contests and other call-in features. Many stations play requests and even let people “design a playlist.” In this way, radio is either directly a participatory media or is pretending to be one, the way that Google and other giant websites pretend to be personal and friendly. (Is this why DJs have to use their “radio voices”–aka, talk like they’re constantly smiling?)

Other people have posted about television and its potential as a more harmful than helpful media. It could be more helpful, perhaps, if there were “quality control” that only let beneficial programming through, but how would one define “beneficial?” Would it help if television were more participatory? Would that increase television’s beneficialness? Stop taking away from human interaction? How much does television truly take away from our interaction with each other?

re: elemons’s post

February 20th, 2008

When I read elemons’s post on Dream Machines, the discussion of Chuck Palahniuk’s Rant reminded me of the novel Remake by Connie Willis. In it, movies are essentially made only by splicing together things stolen from already-made films–For instance, you might make a movie in which Marilyn Monroe and Humphrey Bogart team up against Peter Sellers, all of it taking place on the Death Star and in Anatevka. Or something. (I just made that one up, but that was the general idea.) It then occurred to me that if the film industry were to become like that, how much is it original? How much is film still art?

What about–for instance–vids/fanvids/whatever else they’re called? (Here’s an example of one, made for the British show Life on Mars. I think there’s an ad first, but this is just the first example of a vid I could find. Or, wait! Here’s one for the Pixar film The Incredibles. I kid you not.) At any rate, according to Urban Dictionary–clearly the reliable source–a fanvid is: A music video made by the fan of a television show or movie, using a song and video clips from the show/movie.


And I was sort of thinking of this activity and wondering how it fit into creativity, film, and new media. I’ve known a couple of people who made these and figure that it’s an art form–so to speak–that never would have emerged if we didn’t have computers. And now I’m wondering what other creative types of things we do now that never would have happened without the opportunities new media can provide.

And there’s my half-sensical musing for the evening.

Reading for 2/19/08

February 18th, 2008

While all of the possibilities this reading discussed for using computers creatively were very interesting (if almost all perhaps already in practice to a greater extent than Kay and Goldberg imagined), the sentence that really stuck in my mind was: “One of the goals of the Dynabook’s design is not to be worse than paper in any important way.” (p. 395)

At first, I kind of though, Well, duh. Obviously you want your computer to be an improvement on paper. But then I realized that even if it’s better than paper in many ways, there must be places in which a good old-fashioned notebook/sketchbook/roll of butcher paper might still have the distinct advantage. They’re more portable, perhaps. Easier to doodle in the margins of. Less costly. Easier to dispose of. Able to be folded into airplanes. But is there anything that we can really do with paper that we can’t to some extent also do on computers by now? Anything we can really produce?

Art comes to mind immediately, perhaps because I spent this afternoon grappling with acrylic paints for an assignment in an art course I’m in. While it’s true that you can’t have tubes of paint and paintbrushes on a computer, there are still all sorts of forms of digital art. But are those digital forms lacking in something that traditional media can supply? Or is traditional media more limited?

Reading for 2/12/08

February 11th, 2008

The first sentence of the introduction–the one telling us that this “is the most important book in the history of new media”–certainly does build up expectations. And by the first few paragraph of the excerpt itself, I think Nelson sold me on the idea that maybe the claim from the introduction wasn’t just a gross overstatement. If “Any nitwit can understand computers,” then that means maybe I can too–finally.

Despite the fact that this was written in 1973, I think a lot of it still applies today, in the sense that there is something of a chasm between people who know how to use computers and see them for their opportunities, and those that are afraid and daunted by the very idea. And on the “Dream Machines” side, he tells us–essentially–that we should “think outside the box” and dream, and that we shouldn’t listen to people who tell us otherwise. Somewhat inspiringly, he writes: “Most people’s minds are turned off most of the time. We know virtually nothing of human abilities except as they have been pickled and boxed in schools; we need to ignore all that and start fresh.” It is then the idea of what he calls “fantics” that interests me and seems perhaps to be a good deal of what new media is concerned with–getting ideas and emotions across. (And, in a sidenote: I’ve also wondered about Mickey Mouse’s ears. The drawing on page 321 merely confirms my childhood belief that his ears are constantly spinning to look at me.) Throughout his writing, Nelson has ideas that are interesting (if occasionally a bit dated) and they open up the idea of new possibilities and playing with new media to do new things that haven’t been tried before.

I tried to look up some more about Nelson, but the internet seems to be depressingly devoid of good information. (I can find places that list the things he’s written, but very little about the man himself. I also found a thrilling irrelevant black-and-white photo of some man named Johannes Nelson in a three-piece suit.)

Reading for 2/7/08

February 6th, 2008

From this writing, I can see that Engelbart and English are discussing, essentially, the basic requirements of an “augmentation system” that they hope will successfully make it possible for everyone to reach “the point where we can do all of our work on line.” (234) From there, they outline what I can more or less describe as the physical attributes of such a system, which is interesting but not overly informative to me, who is more concerned with the why. (Perhaps this partly is due to the fact that I am notoriously bad at wrapping my head around more logical/scientific/analytical cataloging. The figures on page 238 alone sent me into confusion.) When they talk about the design of such systems, and how they must essentially be a logical dialogue with the user, I become more interested in the creation of such a “language,” so to speak. How does one determine what is intuitive and logical? Does one then ever have to sacrifice sophistication for accessibility in these “augmentation systems?” (Perhaps not, if one actually subscribes to the belief that these things aren’t for “just anyone.”)

I forget for a moment that I know next to nothing about how a computer is constructed and wonder how much of this is strictly necessary. How much is superfluous? What exactly defines an “augmentation system” and how much can you remove from one before it ceases to augment?

In a more or less completely unrelated train of thought, I was thinking earlier today about the person who said they were interested in doing a project on advertising in new media, and wondered if, in much less cyberculture, much more primitively billboard-y way, Burma-Shave signs could have been a precursor. (Then again, this may be just another case of my love of Burma-Shave rhymes causing me to want to connect them to things in incredibly tenuous ways.)

    Dessine-moi un mouton!
    Quand on veut un mouton, c'est la preuve qu'on existe.