Category Archives: Digital Media

Is the Internet making us Dumber? Is it making us Smarter? What will become of us in this Digital Age?

“Since the invention of Gutenberg’s printing press and with it movable type, those that have gone before us, afraid and suspicious of the potential of new forms of readily available media, have warned that the youth and future generations are at risk of becoming, for want of  better word, stupid.  And with the explosion of the realm, and possibilities of digital media, the attitudes of many today are no exception.  Yes, like the impact of the printed Bible, which saw the control of the masses by the Church, formerly the intellectual stronghold of Europe, falling as a result of the new-found accessibility to the written, or printed word, now too the public have the possibility of becoming ever-more empowered by the limitless information available to us, and therefore knowledge, at our fingertips.

While there is sufficient evidence to justify people’s suspicions of the internet, and its potential for our intellectual and moral demise, these feelings and concerns again are not new.  Like today, where the internet is awash with intellectual “junk-food”, such as “cat videos” and general mind-numbing silliness on  YouTube, many of the early printed works, which followed the first printed Bible, were viewed in much the same. In his article, “Does the Internet Make You Smarter”, suggests that during this period there was a ” flood of contemporary literature, most of it mediocre”, as well as “vulgar versions of the Bible and distracting secular writings”.

It is not just the nature of a great deal of the content found online which proves to be intellectually distracting.  One of the main reasons it is felt that the internet is to cause our imminent intellectual demise, is its ability to distract us, to break our concentration.  Nicholas Carr asked this question in his article “Is the Internet Making You Dumber?”.  He suggests that while the internet now allows us access to near unlimited information, it is affecting the manner in which we process and retain this information in a significant way.  In contrast to reading books, or at least a long sequence of interrupted pages ,which he claims, “helps us develop a rare kind of mental discipline”, the internet helps to undo this learned brain function of concentrated reading, with its multitude of distractions.  As the brain is naturally wired to being “aware of as much of what’s going on around us as possible”, reading, and concentration,  is in fact unnatural and learned behavior.   While it has been suggested that we are now reading more than ever before, it is the manner in which we are now reading which is significantly different.  We now read online articles,  or shorter, more condensed snippets of information, peppered with hyperlinks, leading us from page, to page resulting, often resulting to a string of half-read pieces, and in turn fragmented information.  These hyperlinks are not the full extent of these distractions, we are now inundated with its pop-up ads, email and Facebook notifications, not to mention the allure of the vast realms of intrigue available if opening a new tab, even for just a moment.  Nicholas Carr claims that this constantly breaking our concentration span is  forever altering our experiences, as our brains are increasingly “unable to forge the strong and expansive neural connections which give depth to our thinking”, which in turn affects among other things, our memories.  This, I feel, is the greatest shame.

In his article, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?”, Nicholas Carr alerts us to the fact that he, like many of his peers, is finding his ability to read and concentrate while reading increasingly more difficult.  Like Carr, I too, at the “tender age” of 31, am finding lengthly readings and articles increasingly difficult to read.  My mind keeps drifting.  I think about a multitude of things and get increasingly distracted by potential new emails, treasures on ebay and the like.   Like Carr, I too was concerned that my memory was slipping away from me, but was relieved to discover that my decreased ability for concentration can be blamed on my time spent on the internet.  I often wondered how I managed the vast amount of reading as university, but then I hadn’t forms any relationship with the internet to speak of at that stage.  At that time, I had a much better ability to retain information, but now, like many of those around me, a part of me, I am ashamed to say,  feels that I have Google for that.  How many times does it happen that you might have a querie, want the answer for something important, or obscure, and now have the answer to almost any question, the solution to almost any problem, at the typing of a phrase in a search bar.  Would I have been more likely to have remembered the answer in future, if I was to have gone to the trouble to have searched in a book, taken time to actively have been involved in looking in books to the to find such answers?  Quite possibly.  And all this is of course accelerated due to our increased accessibility to the internet via our mobile phones and smartphones.

But back to Clay Shirkey, who feels that the possibilities for social and intellectual improvement on a global scale are within reach, due to our new-found relationship with the internet.  Like the evolution of new literate forms, among them academic, or scientific journals, which emerged as a result of the printing press, and were to increase the “intellectual range and output of society”, the internet itself has such possibilities.  During this period science was felt to be a collaborative effort, with discoveries and developments being built upon the work of others, and with it the notion of peer review, due to the fairly accessible means of the printed text.  Never before have we been able to forge and maintain connections with others, to transfer information, as we are able to now.  Shirkey also suggests that, the amount of time that the internet’s capabilities have saved us on a global level, should allow us the luxury of time to spend to be creative in an online sense.  It is this which Shirkey describes as “cognitative surplus”, which, to society’s great shame, is spent on one largely passive activity, namely watching television.  We are passively consuming rather than actively creating.  He suggests that we look at the idea of Wikipedia, which illustrates the possibilities of what makes collaborative creation so exciting.

But while we have the potential to use our cognitive surplus to great value, the reality is that many people globally are actively creating at a ferocious pace, but with little means in place to moderate the quality of these “creations” our standards are increasingly at risk.  In the realm of the Web 2.0, where user-generated content is key, and the role of the photographer, the journalist, filmmaker, food critic the list goes on and on, is available to everybody with internet access, people are generally empowered by the fact that they too can express themselves creatively, and have access to an audience, which before had been only the luxury of “the professional”.  But is this mass creation of largely average at best, better than passively consuming?  Shirkey says “yes”.  From my own perspective, I have to agree.  I do enjoy the idea of having a blog, where I can write and share my thoughts and things of interest.  Like those who create the endless sea of videos of dancing babies, or piano playing cats, I too have a platform to express myself, which I feel is a positive.  And there still is a hefty amount of high-brow literature and the like available to those to whom that is of interest.  Does that mean that the standards of the generations to follow will be lowered?  Possibly, but might that not be the responsibility of educators and parents to monitor and compensate for, as need be.

So, does the internet make us smarter, or more stupid?  Surely it could be seen to do both?  Is it not perhaps a shift from one type of brain function to another?  With technology developing at an increasingly rapid pace, and as a result the way in which we live our lives and digest content, from popular music to Twitterature, speeding up as well, perhaps our need for deep thought and the retention of information is something that in the future will be less important?  As the Sergy Brin and Larry Page have been known to have said that their goal for Google is to create the ultimate search engine, which is “something that is as smart as people – or smarter”.  Perhaps Google will become our “external memory, which will allow us time for other activities?  Personally, I can see how the internet and digital media has affected my attention span, and do feel that it is a problem which needs to be addressed.  At the same time I feel that my near instant ability to clear confusion or to find solution to a problem, with a quick Google search has become indispensable to me.  I have always considered myself a digital pessimist, having a hankering for the old, more traditional forms of media, but especially over the last few months doing this course, my increased ability to make use of the endless creative possibilities, as well as the access to information, of this new media has in many ways been inspiring to me.  Perhaps  it is our personal responsibility to be aware of the negative implications and to keep an eye on future generations and their relationships with technology, to instruct them and remind them of former cultural greats so that standards are maintained, while still be open to the new and exciting content now being created online?  Are we becoming more stupid, or are we just now more easily and publicly revealing our inherent stupidity, which is why, almost all of us love to watch cat videos.

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Twitterature

Twitterature

What is Twitterature?

“Classic Literature in twenty tweets or less that recreates classic literature in a micro-novel format. ” 

I loved the sound of Twitterature when I first heard of it.  To sum up great works of literature in 20 tweets or less, what a fantastic idea.  Not only is it a great way to re-visit the classics, to get a modern spin on it, or to have a good laugh at the witty way in which these works are presented, but also to introduce a younger audience to literature, by giving a quick synopsis hints in colloquial and more accessible language in a modern, digital way.

Examples:

Hamlet

Gonna try to talk some sense into Mom because boyfriend totally killed Dad. I sense this is the moment of truth, the moment of candour and –

WTF IS POLONIUS DOING BEHIND THE CURTAIN?

Great Expectations

@piMp The walk was a bad idea. I met a prisoner who demanded bread and a file. He looks like a pederast. And a murderer. Amber alert? 

Alice in Wonderland

@AliceInTheSkyWithDiamonds Is it OK to drink from a mysterious bottle that’s been opened? What if there are Ruffies in it?

Retro Advertising Posters With a Difference.

Retro Advertising Posters With a Difference.

After my retro poster design presentation yesterday I felt that this would be a very fitting Digital Media post.  When I came across these while doing research yesterday I felt that I had to post them.  Would Facebook have appealed to me more if I had first seen an ad like this?  Sad as it amy sound, the answer is probably “Yes”.  I know that they may seem a little twee, but I liked them nonetheless.

 

 

 

 

 

 

4OD.

Last week I discovered the 4OD app, which I downloaded onto my beloved iPhone.  And last week I fell in love with this video on demand service from Channel 4, offering a variety of recent programmes from Channel 4, E4 and More 4, as well as past programmes from their extensive archives.  Why is this player more superior than the RTE player, the Sky player or the BBC iPlayer you  might ask?  Its fantastic documentary section, of course.  Channel 4 is renowned for the high quality of its documentary film content, and so often I would have seen these fantastic films advertised, but for some reason would not be at home to enjoy them, and no I do not have sky +, so they would be lost to me forever.  Or so I thought.

As is fairly obvious from this blog, I am a bit of a “documentary junkie”, and will soon have exhausted the GCD library’s supply.  Just my luck I thought when I uncovered the wealth of documentaries that I can now access from my phone anywhere that has wifi.  With all the discussions we’ve had about digital media technology and the way in which it is affecting the way that we live, here I have found another.  Yes, I have been known to watch the odd film on my laptop on the sofa or in bed, and have watched the occasional YouTube video on my phone too, but mostly if I was to watch a full length documentary film, it would involve popping a DVD into the player, watching it on the telly, me on the sofa and in some ways it would be an event, something that I had planned to do.   This, I fear, is about to change, especially during these cold winter months.

Like FFFound, the 4OD player can be a very dangerous thing, which I discovered during the early days of our relationship.  While it has not been a tool which helpings to distract from my studies, such as browsing eBay for art deco/bauhaus/mid-century modern artifacts, or checking my mail, or Twitter account, it has however struck in a potentially even more damaging way… Last week I learned the hard way, that having the 4OD player on my iPhone is dangerous in that it is a very easy way to spend your last waking moments of the day, lying snugly in your bed, earphones in.  “Just the first ten minutes” of a programme, is a nice idea, but very difficult to enforce when you’re absorbed in what you’re watching.  The hours of sleep needed for the following day, becoming less and less important.  There are some fairly short docs on this site, but many full-feature length films too.  So, beware!  If you’re like me and love a good documentary stay away… At least until the holidays.

 

You Have to Love Twitter.

You Have to Love Twitter.

You might be wondering what Twitter might have to do with this very obscure photograph.  Well, let me explain.  When I was university at home in lovely Cape Town I worked part-time in a cocktail bar at the top of Table Mountain.  Every weekend I would take the cable-car up to the top and each time would marvel at the beauty of the views of the beaches and the city below.  Sunsets, as I’m sure you could imagine, were incredible but the most spectacular scene for me would be on a rainy and grey and overcast day, when no-one would dream of taking a trip to the top, the mountain itself invisible, hidden by mist.  On days like this the staff would still make the trip up, just in case the mist might clear.  In the cable-car, we would climb through the clouds.  Sometimes the mist so thick that one couldn’t see those standing opposite you.  But then, and I always think of the scene in “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory”, (the original film with Gene Wilder, of course) where the elevator bursts through the glass ceiling of the factory – the cable-car would pop through the top of the clouds.   And the sky would be bright blue, and us above the clouds, they would look like a sea of soft cotton-wool, so thick that there was no trace of the city below, just the peaks of the mountains sticking out.

Again, what has this got to do with Twitter?   Well, so often when I am asked about Cape Town, and I tell people about our mountain, this image springs to mind.  I have looked and searched for a picture to illustrate my description, and so often wished that I had the foresight to take one myself.  But then one day when looking at Twitter on my phone a fellow Capetonian appeared,  and this was his profile picture.  So, thanks to Twitter I now have a more concrete reminder of this scene than my memory.  I would never imagined where I would eventually find it.  Hooray for Twitter.

 

One Day in September – Kevin Macdonald.

One Day in September – Kevin Macdonald.

I have been saving writing about this documentary until I felt that the time was right.  This film by Kevin Macdonald is by far my all time favourite documentary, and without a doubt, one of my top 5 favourite films.  “One Day in September” is centered on the 1972 Munich Summer Olympic Games, otherwise infamously known as the Munich Massacre, as eight Palestinian terrorists/freedom fighters broke into the Israeli olympic team’s residence, and murdered some, while taking others hostage.  This Summer Olympics was, of course to be a hugely sensitive time for the Israeli team, with the games being held in Germany, (not 30 years after the end of the war), and so they were already the focus of much media attention.  The 1972 Olympic Games was being termed The “Games of Peace and Joy,”  as it was to symbolise a moving on from crimes of the past.   And the world was watching the events unfold live on television screens across the globe, as the spirit of peace and brotherhood and the celebration athletic ability and friendly competition was eroded in front of their eyes.

This film really breaks my heart every time I watch it, and I’ve seen it many times.  It is so beautifully crafted from its thrilling opening sequence made up of archive sports footage cut to music, to the use of interviews of the family members left behind, peppered with home movies.  The bulk of the action is made up of the live television footage of the events where we see the masked Palestinians negotiate the freedom of their hostages in return for the release of more than 200 jailed Arab guerillas from an Israeli prison.  And the clock was ticking.  And the world kept watching.  And the audience’s suspense keeps mounting.  Again, I have seen this film so many times, but I am always kept on the edge of my seat, literally.  And each time I hope that this time the outcome will be different, even though I know that to think that is ridiculous.  And Michael Douglas’s beautiful narration is truly moving as he guides us through the film, seamlessly linking the variety of different visual and auditory elements which make up this incredible film.  Whatever your views of the Arab/Israeli conflict, one cannot help but feel for the athletes and their families and the suffering that they must have gone through, so publicly, during this time.

The reason that I have chosen to write about this film now, is that I have taken my first big leap into the world of the documentary film-maker, having shot the first section of footage for my own film yesterday.  I can understand why some have said that it overly-biased, and that it does not sufficiently explain the political situation at the time, which I take on board each time I watch it.  There is definite truth in these claims, but in terms of its use of the various filmic elements to tell a convincing story, this Oscar-winning film really is in my opinion the best that I have seen, and the standard of which I can only aspire to reach.  It is largely what made me see the beauty of the editing process, how one can play with rhythm and pace, visuals and music and use archive material, fusing it with modern footage.  Every time I see it I learn something new.  Please watch it.

“Letters are the clothes that words wear.” Erik Spiekermann.

Erik Spiekermann.

I found this while snooping on the internet and felt that I had to share it.  Remember our friend Erik from Helvetica, the self-confessed typomaniac?  It seems that he’s been sharing his views on the subject of typography for quite some time.  I think that this is not only informative, but also a hoot due to its now retro feel.

And then someone thought that they would jazz that video up a bit…

“Letters are the clothes that words wear.” Erik Spiekermann.