Neilsen help homogenize our entertainment, news and educational programming by tabulating audience reactions. They track demographics of who is watching, whether channels change during commercials, whether the program is viewed in one sitting, paused, deleted from a DVR. And the more we multitask with browsing devices while we give selective attention to television, the more information can be gathered. And networks use that data to cancel or renew, make spin-offs, how to distribute DVDs or streaming reruns, or to do more PR. Now, they’re getting into the election game. Who watched debates, when did their attention lag? What are the pertinent issues to viewers, then? Not what priorities will ultimately enrich the world dialogue and commerce?
See the face of MySpace Tom this year? Remember the password to your LiveJournal account? Chances are, if you’ve been an internet user for a decade, you’ve subscribed to, cancelled, signed-up for and deleted several web identities. Your deft dismissal of online services is not surprising, considering that every technological device, toy and condiment undergoes a product life cycle. Trendmappers now race to identify the lifecycle of web-based businesses. So why don’t we behave as though our online life is fleeting?
When Apple discontinued it’s own MobileMe service, which I had subscribed to in 2003 when it was called dot Mac, I lost a lot of data, my business websites and blogs lost linked images and multimedia files, and I scratched my head in disbelief. How could they just throw out my backups of university homework like they were old ribbons and trophies my mom tossed out from my childhood? For once, a company had outgrown me before I could jump ship on them.
Years prior, I was enraged when YouTube deleted my profile and tens of videos without notice due to a perceived copyright violation. So I utilized DailyMotion and Vimeo, Veoh. Not long after, Google Video exported all of my uploads to YouTube again, so all the time lost typing descriptions was sort-of regained. But to what benefit? Now all of the sketch comedy films we proudly shot with tape-driven video cameras and edited in iMovie are an embarrassment to the friends who donned wigs to appear in them.
For well over a decade, I shuffled personal emails I wished to archive for later perusal between my first email account, email@example.com to my second, firstname.lastname@example.org. One day Microsoft cleaned out my closet for me and I was miffed. “Where’re my old love letters and incriminating gobbledygook?” I grumbled. Nowhere. A big cyber-eraser ate them, and today it’s OK.
When I word process or do graphic design, I save more frequently because I fear crashes. When I install new hardware, I back up photos, music and project files. I possess hundreds of data CDs and DVDs which archive years of my activity spent on computers, and I loan them sparingly because once I did so when I had no duplicate, and it was left in the sun to be forever corrupted. I’ve paid out the nose for data recovery and failed final projects and portfolio reviews due to hard drive crashes. But I still use technology and get mad when it doesn’t agree on what we should hold dear. Soon I’ll push on iCloud and mirror on redundant servers, but
I get some unusual press from Portland newspapers about my art show, though it’s odd to call it my art; I was more curator. Though Beulahland have been very supportive of the weekly all-request mobile music video museum Eye Candy Sundae and their staff were quick to pass on the positive feedback from customers, they simply weren’t prepared to handle queries about purchases or to facilitate the hanging or disassembly of the show.
Not my word, they’re Willamette Week’s:
Photos Stolen Over 6 Years Working at a One-Hour Photo Lab.
Danny Norton stole thousands of pictures from lazy, unsuspecting 1-hour photo customers throughout the mid-nineties. Ten years later he’s hung the best of them in a dank bar and created the most bizarre and fascinating example of found-art on display in Portland. BEULAHLAND, 118 NE 28th Ave. 503-235-2794. Closes Sunday May 31.
Positives: he develops a running theme through his novels and essays, one of community, belonging and extended family. In Cat’s Cradle, it was the karass of bokononism, a notion that kindred spirits with a common destiny or vision must be assembled and maintained. In Slapstick, the last President of the United States assigned government-issued middle names. Everyone with the same middle name becomes sort-of related, creating an extended community of man.
One real bummer for me is that his books’ style of delivery changed dramatically from the dense, ponderous columns of Player Piano to the heavily-illustrated, anecdotal Man Without a Country. I really enjoy his middling years and consider his later works a light read. The sheer heaviness conveyed by the earlier books’ design scares me off.
Two years ago I was floundering as an online marketer for my sketch comedy group Extra Medium. Every time I posted our library of short films to a site, a new, more hip alternative arose.
I posted to Vimeo, Veoh, Dailymotion, Break, Funnyordie, MySpace, Google Video, Prelinger Archives and even made a little money from Revver‘s click-through ad system which awarded content providers per redirect.
Then YouTube rose from the muck the apparent victor, was bought by Google and cracked down on copyright violations. I had posted a digital video short which featured a snippet of a popular artist’s song and YouTube deleted my account. The hours of tagging, uploading and writing descriptions were void. Instead of blocking one video or asking me to verify my right or to remove the video myself, YouTube lost my 40 videos with thousands of hits. And I haven’t been back since.
I was trying desperately to compete with Portland’s self-proclaimed “best” sketch comedy ensemble The 3rd Floor. They host the region’s best sketch comedy festival, have the best performance space, a long legacy, the most accomplished cast of trained, working actors, great press and great buzz. But not much online video. Web searches for sketch video were much more likely to bring up Olde English, Lonely Island or locals Cinema Queso. I thought I could flood cyberspace with one of the most sought-after commodities, funny video, and come out on top somehow. It turned out to be an awful marketing strategy. It essentially left a paper trail of dirty jokes and pixelated web-dross to my personal online identity. How am I going to explain that to a potential employer? If I’d spent just as much time blogging that Extra Medium were the best sketch comedy collective in Portland, I could have spun that into some real press and buzz. No wonder The 3rd Floor stole my girlfriend.
Too much information means all the while people are collecting more feeds, news, updates and e-letters, the more they ignore, scan and bounce. But legitimate sources of information get qualified hits. Their real estate get the right eyeballs. I liken my video proliferation campaign to flyering telephone poles. It’s throwing fistfulls of pea gravel, hoping you hit something significant. In the meantime, you’ve made a gritty mess and annoyed unintentional targets. What always drove traffic to our sketch show was word-of-mouth, friends-of-friends and being recommended as pick-of-the-week in local weeklies.
I got a comment on my post about the future of publishing from my classmate Brian that when someone asked Jeff Baker, the book editor of The Oregonian what was the best book he’d read in the last ten years, he said HBO’s “The Wire.”
So I did a little bit of research on the show. Created by David Simon, a former Baltimore Sun journalist on the police beat and author of Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets and The Corner: A Year in the Life of an Inner-City Neighborhood with Ed Burns, a Baltimore policeman-turned-teacher.
The University of Georgia Peabody Board awarded “The Wire,” calling it “one of the most intense and complex narratives television viewers have seen.” Then I was listening to NPR and heard the tail end of an interview with George Pelecanos, an author of crime fiction, who was nominated for the Writers Guild of America Award award for Best Dramatic Series for his work on “The Wire.” Apparently, he is just one of many writers, directors and producers responsible for the flavor of the show. He’d just released The Turnaround, but Terry Gross was hammering him about writing for television and how President Bill Clinton had been seen exiting Air Force One with a copy of one of his books under his arm, and now Barack Obama is a big “Wire” fan and kind-of mad at him for killing off his favorite character.
Pelecanos had some interesting things to say about the shortcuts allowed in television writing. If a character gets up out of his chair, walks to the door and out to the street, you don’t have to write that part. You just write [EXTERIOR, DAY]. It was a sort-of metaconversation on writing. I’m a sucker for that stuff.
Many important events occur off-camera and there is no artificial exposition in the form of voice-over or flashbacks. Thus, the viewer needs to follow every conversation closely in order to understand who’s who and what’s going on. Each season consists of 10-13 full-hour episodes, which form a single narrative. Simon chose this structure with an eye towards long story arcs that draw a viewer in and then result in a more satisfying payoff. Simon uses the metaphor of a visual novel in several interviews, describing each episode as a chapter, and has also commented that this allows a fuller exploration of the show’s themes in time not spent on plot development.
So just how thought-provoking, political and gripping could this television serial be? It’s kind-of hard to stop watching and write. In fact, there’s scarcely a moment over the last two weeks that I haven’t at least been listening to the stories unfold while I’m writing papers and blogs, researching and designing for classes. It’s like a page-turner novel you can’t put down, but which can be absorbed somewhat passively. I say somewhat because the rewards are absent if some degree of concentration isn’t exercised to follow and anticipate the story.
This reminds me of an obscure David Byrne track, In the Future.
“In the future everyone but the wealthy will be very happy.
In the future everyone but the wealthy will be very filthy.
In the future everyone but the wealthy will be very healthy.
In the future TV will be so good that the printed word will function as an art form only.”
The more we’ve taken the tactile, ink on paper format away from the book, the more people cry, “foul!” But that’s been sort-of like the oceans receding, leaving amphibians to plod about on their newly-adapted appendages as their gills became vestigial. “Ribbit! I like water better!” So? Get used to it. Land is here to stay.
We were first introduced to the wonders of writing through great storytelling. Our parents read aloud, sang and free-styled weird derivative works from poorly-remembered Grimm’s tales. And it didn’t get any better than that until our own inner voices gave life to the squiggles on wood pulp and characters beautiful and monstrous became the joint invention of authors and our mind’s eye. Then we were exposed to theater, film and television. Much more of the work was done for us, and surprised us.
Again, my favorite author Daniel Pinkwater had something to say about this in either Fishwhistle or Hoboken Days, Chicago Nights, audiobook collections of his numerous NPR All Things Considered essays. He tells the story which became the basis for his young adult novel The Snarkout Boys and the Avocado of Death, one about an all-night movie theater with a balcony that played double-features and customers could drop a title in the suggestion box, then see their request on the big screen a few weeks later. One night, Pinkwater sits in on a Laurel & Hardy film. Street people and weirdos, educated-types and beatniks fill the place, laugh in unison until they cry, hug one another and leave before the second feature. Why? Because the first had been too perfect. Pinkwater describes the physical comedy as predictable, but when the hits and falls happened, they still astonished because they were pulled-off so brilliantly.
Thankfully, most adventurous readers have such poignant “aha!” moments with books. The expectations are high, but from time to time a writer delivers a surprise in such a spectacular fashion, it’s jaw-dropping. It’s perfection. I’ve felt that all at once from a good book, sometimes it creeps up and, closing the cover on the last page, notice the perfection.
To compete, books will have to deliver a cultural experience commensurate with the commercial outlay. Writers will have to knock it out of the park with more impressive manuscripts. I think print journalism will shrink, as predicted. If advertisers can’t get consumers to ingest their messages on their home computer screens, we’ll see screens in every public transit depot, airline terminal and eye-level piece of high-traffic real estate. Publishers will produce fewer bestsellers, just as record labels redefined what constitutes platinum and motion picture studios pared back their blockbusters. Periodicals and paperbacks will ebb and flow until the market yields the magic number.