How Comics Promote Delayed Gratification

Image Comics. Used for non-commercial purposes.

I just finished reading Volume 2 of Lazarus, the excellent Image Comics series from Greg Rucka, Michael Lark, and Santi Arcas. Let me be honest right up front; I am no serious comic book fan. I bought a few random issues of super hero stuff (mostly Batman) when I was kid in the early 90s, because that was what people were doing, before quickly losing interest. My recent interest in comics is mostly through The Walking Dead (which I don’t actually own), two issues of The Wicked and the Divine (which I didn’t actually like) and the Lazarus series. Not to mention that I am buying these things in “volumes” on Amazon, not actual comic books, which I know seriously hurts my street creed. I just don’t have a comic book store anywhere close to where I live, and I enjoy reading them this way for now. Essentially, reading and following comic series is a fresh, new experience for me at the age of 29.

What struck me today was the intense feeling that I needed to read the next installment of Lazarus immediately. Unfortunately for me, Volume 3 does not exist yet, and will not for at least another 3 months. 3 months?! Even if I was able to shop for the individual comics, there are only two new issues out now, with just one new issue every month. If we think about comic books as episodes, that would be like waiting a month between episodes of Game of Thrones. When I have to wait a week for a new episode of Boardwalk Empire, I absolutely lose my mind! How I am going to wait months for Lazarus?

Comics are a unique medium. Reading a good one resembles reading a novel, looking at a painting, and watching an episode of a TV show, but at the same time is nothing like any of those things. The visual sequences feel like watching a movie in slow motion, giving the reader an opportunity to really absorb and enjoy the art. The unraveling of the story, character development, and cultural relevance can rival some of our best literature.

Yet, comics are almost more unique in their distribution. I think it goes without saying (since you are reading this on the internet) that we live in a world of instant media access. When I want to read or watch something, I don’t have to wait for it. I don’t want to ever have to wait. And if I do have to wait more than 20 seconds for something, I am going to fill that time with a quick look at Twitter or Instagram. I love this world. But it frightens me to think of what it may be doing to our psyche. We may be too quick to lump comics in with this category of fast media since they are so popular and engrained in our culture through Hollywood movies. However, comics demand that you wait for them. Even if you are reading them electronically, you still wait the month for the next issue. And when they’re really great, you are brought right back into the story, the world that has been created by the artists. When we are forced to wait, different things happen in our brain.

Perhaps this delayed gratification for comic books is a good thing, a counter balance to the overwhelmingly rapid pace of information. I often cite reading a novel as an opportunity to slow down, but I will be adding the experience of waiting for comic book releases to that list. It is an important list, even though it is a short list. For now, I will embrace this long period of waiting for the next volume of Lazarus. Will it get any less painful? I don’t know, but I think that pain is good for my health.

What is your experience of following a comic series? Is there any value to this delayed gratification? Discuss in the comments.

The Circle by Dave Eggers – Book Review Part 2

3085456300_a417d157b2_z

Photo LicenseAttribution Some rights reserved by Andrew Currie

Yesterday I posted my impressions of the first half of Dave Eggers’ new novel The Circle. I initially intended to write a final post at the end of the book, but I am feeling inspired to write more today, because there are more things that Eggers got right that I left out of the first post.

I love the juxtaposition that the author sets up between nature (kayaking in the story) and modern technology. There is a parallel conflict at work between privacy and sharing. Whenever Mae gets into a kayak (which is rarely ever planned) she does not talk about it to anyone, she does not post about it, she does not take pictures – nothing. She never even considers documenting the experience or inviting someone along. Despite how great she feels as part of this community and the excitement she feels from sharing online, she stills desires some private moments, even if she does not realize it at this point. Eggers also conveniently locates the kayak drop between Mae’s parents house (her old life) and The Circle.

The story is becoming a cautionary tale of connectedness and powerful technology. We are starting to see what would happen if data tracking, online sharing, and digital transparency are followed out to the extreme. Instead of community, Eggers shows us surveillance, power, and control. There is an overall sense that this is not a desirable outcome, though we don’t yet know exactly why.

As much as I share online and enjoy using products from the biggest technology companies, I appreciate the way the novel is making me think a bit more critically about those dynamics.

Part 1 of this book review – initial impressions

The Circle – The New Novel by Dave Eggers

4412680795_6b0ff10f2c_o

Photo LicenseAttribution Some rights reserved by Johan Larsson

I am about halfway through Dave Eggers new novel The Circle, which follows a young female professional as she starts her career with the number one technology company in the world. The company is basically a mix between Google, Apple, and Facebook.

Dave Eggers is one of my favorite authors, and I was intrigued by the idea of him tackling the topic of technology and our relationship with social media. I have seen some backlash, saying the author got it all wrong, but I don’t think that is totally true.

It is difficult to judge a book – a story – until the ending, but I do have some impressions so far.

There is one thing he got wrong that has been bothering me, and that is the use of the term “cloud,” as in cloud storage. This metaphor has become popular to describe data storage outside of your local computer. I suppose the term may make it easier for some people to understand the concept of where is all that stuff. Yet many of us understand there is no cloud, per se. There are many, many intricate networks of many, many, many servers storing data that are access from devices around the world. The way characters in the story use the term (characters that should know better) describe things as being saved on the company’s cloud. That is linguistically, and technologically awkward, because they may be in the metaphorical cloud, but they are stored on the companies network of servers. Am I nitpicking here? I don’t know. I am an English teacher and a tech-nerd, so I guess this is the result of the combination.

I think many people are taking issue with his portrayal of a large tech company, but really it is all allegory. One thing he got very right, is our relationship to our gadgets and the way we engage through social media. The urgency of notifications, and the excitement of “likes” and “retweets” is well represented by the systems and employees within The Circle. At times, the company feels futuristic, and then there are many other times when you feel like you are looking into a mirror.

I look forward to the second half of the book, after which I will share my final thoughts. Anyone else read the book? What are your thoughts?

10 Instagram Accounts to Follow

Photo by chriswalts CC license

In the past few months I have become a more active Instagram user, finally seeing the value in the service. It is very different and separate from my DSLR photography, which is still a slower, often more thoughtful and technical process. Instagram is more like snapping Polaroids to capture interesting, casual moments, and instantly sharing them. You know how people take photos with their phone or point and shoot camera and immediately walk up to you wanting to show you the picture? Instagram allows us to post those moments instantly and tap into that urge to share, all while feeling really cool. I stayed away from the service thinking that all it was were pictures of drinks, pets, fashion, food, and selfies. Don’t get me wrong – there is a lot of that going on (even some of my own). But there is a lot of beautiful things going on in hidden corners and not so hidden corners of the Instagram world. And despite the spontaneous nature of instaphotography, there are photographers practicing thoughtful composition and clever concepts. I like to try to follow people who only post photos from there phone, part of the fun is viewing and creating images that look like they were taken with professional equipment, using only your phone and mobile post processing.

Here is my list of favorite accounts to follow:

@uncornered_market is my absolute favorite Instagram account. This couple have been on the road, traveling the world, for years. They post stunning photos of the places they visit, as they visit them. A source for daily inspiration.

@bkindler is a pilot in Europe who posts pretty landscape photos from his plane that will open your mind to a bird’s eye view of the world.

@samhorine is a NYC photographer who posts awesome iPhone pictures capturing the pulse of the city.

@japhetweeks and @sollsken share crisp images from life in Egypt. They do not post frequently, but when they do, you will be glad you are following.

@vagfrag shares awesome iPhone street photography from Greece.

@swopes posts some really fun, hip, colorful images from Chicago.

@payphones is a really fun concept. This account posts hip, colorful pictures of payphones around the world.

@dguttenfelder is a photojournalist for the AP in Asia who posts photos from his iPhone showing the texture of life in North Korea and other countries.

@nasagoddard posts awesome photos from the NASA archives. You do not have to be a space geek to appreciate the science and won display in this account.

Why is Pinterest Powered by Women?

Photo By KEXINO from Flickr with CC license http://kexino.com/ 

When it comes to statistics about women users of the social network Pinterest I have seen numbers ranging from 50-97%. But the most recent numbers are interesting because they have some context. According to comScore (via PC World), “68 percent of Pinterest users are women, and that these women drive 85 percent of the traffic on the site.” For one thing, women are the power users of this network, driving its success and popularity. These numbers may also shed some light on why more women are using the site. The numbers suggest that men are not necessarily deterred by the site, but something about the network encourages more female participation or less male participation.

Regardless of why this is happening, the phenomenon of Pinterest is of interest to marketers. With most free services online we pay in some way. According to Forbes, marketers have a clear view of people’s interest on the site. Brands have also been finding ways to use the service to promote and engage with consumers – in many cases, women.

There has also been much talk about Pinterest as a resource for teachers. In my own experience, it seems that this applies mostly to elementary school teachers who are looking for project ideas for their students or clever DIY ideas for things around their classroom. This may go without saying, but elementary school teachers are predominantly women. As a high school teacher, I have a very active professional network online through blogs, nings, and Twitter. I have yet to add Pinterest to my network of resources, but I know there are some high school and middle school teachers who have.

Technically, anything can be pinned to a board on Pinterest. It is not as if only wedding dresses, crafts, and recipes can be pinned (these are some of the more popular categories). For example, there is “The Board of Man,” which contains pins that are particularly masculine (via NPR). (Side note: just for the record, as a male, I am also very interested in cooking and DIY projects, but maybe that’s just me). Leaving the anomalies aside, could it be that since women populated Pinterest first, that more things of interest to women began to dominate the site, which in turn prevented more men from joining? As Pinterest’s popularity was exploding 6-8 months ago, media reports of Pinterest as the woman’s social network were widespread. Was this another deterrent for new male users who did not want to associate with this girly site? While Pinterest might be known for its ease of repinning items within the network, its rise in popularity has brought with it the “pin” button on most websites and mobile reader apps. This makes it just as easy to pin a new article as it is to tweet about it. This means that men (or women) joining the site are not limited to what has already been pinned.

Could there be a more psychological explanation?

Even without science, and just from our daily life experience, we understand that the brains of men and women operate differently. It doesn’t matter which is better. In fact, it would be reductive to claim one gender psychologically superior, because they are both complex in different ways. Could something about the layout and functionality of Pinterest be more attractive to the female brain? I do not have an answer to this, but we can look at this infographic (via Huffington Post) for the beginnings of some clues. This analysis considered all things social, but I consider Pinterest a social bookmarking service, so I will compare it to another service in that category. According to the graphic, Pinterest has the largest proportion of female users. Let’s compare it to del.icio.us, another popular social bookmarker, which has the scale tipped the other way, with 64 percent male users. Clearly social bookmarking is loved by both genders. So, why the different proportions?

The thing that really sets Pinterest apart, is its clean, visual interface. It begs the question, is there something about the visual layout that not only attracts women, but allows them to really benefit from the site. Is there something about the text based world of del.icio.us, diigo, and others that allow men to thrive in their world of social bookmarking? Or is all of this hype for nothing? Is it just a coincidence, the way the cards fell with Pinterest? Is there something real here, or are we just creating a narrative to sell papers and drive traffic to our blogs and news sites?

I will continue to use diigo for bookmarking, and I don’t have plans to join Pinterest anytime soon. I’m just not sure why.