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.

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Violence and Video Games: What’s the Connection?

Excerpt from an excellent post. Definitely worth a read:

“Marathon 2 is typical of the violent games used in research.

There is a possible problem with this design. The researchers concluded that the violent nature of Marathon 2 was to blame for the increase in aggressive thoughts and mood, but it might have been that the complex nature of the controls were too much for new players to feel like they could do what they wanted in the game. This could then lead to frustration and a slightly hostile mood. In research parlance, this difference in the control complexity between the games is known as a “confound” because it offers an alternative explanation for the results.

This is exactly the thought that Andrew Przybylski (pronounced “Shuh-Bill-Skee”) and his colleagues (pronounced “colleagues”) had, and it lead them to an interesting study that was just published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.5 In that study, they wondered how much frustration over one’s inability to master game controls contributed to aggression, as opposed to the violent content of a game.”

Read the full post at Psychology of a Video Games Blog.

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.

Do Customer Service Centers Ever Cheat?

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Photo by lamont_cranston from Flickr.com with Creative Commons license

Is it possible for customer service call centers to manipulate the results of their after call surveys?
          I recently contacted my Internet service provider about changes on my bill. One year ago, I signed up with an amazing promotional offer, which is typical. After 6 months my rate went up to 39.99, which I expected was going to happen. So, I didn’t think anything of it when I never received any notification from the company that my rate was changing. Now, six months later, my rate went up again, this time by 9 dollars. I never received any notification of the change (and, later, customer service never accounted for the lack of communication). This time, I was very bothered by it. After processing my frustration and deciphering my recent billing statements, I called customer service.
          While waiting on hold, that beautifully unidentifiable, yet totally ubiquitous artificial voice came on to ask if I would like to participate in a survey. The company would call me back within a half hour to complete a short questionaire. A half hour seemed like an unusual amount of wait time, but I accepted. I almost always do. I think it is important to provide feedback to companies, especially when you are a paying customer. There is also an irrational part of me that believes they give priority to the survey takers. Volunteer and be bumped to the front of the line!
          “Hello?!” Oh, no, that was just the computer voice thanking me for my patience and reminding me that my call is important to her.
          Thinking back to my past experiences of volunteering for a survey, I have always received that call. But, all of those experiences had been positive. Did I get those calls because they knew I would be leaving some glowing feedback?
          Eventually, I got through to a chipper representative. After a less than satisfying conversation, I awaited my survey call. It never came. I understand that the following statement might sound like a conspiracy theory, but I wondered if there was a way for them to screen the calls and send more surveys to satisfied customers than dissatisfied ones. I know the technology exists: “your call may be monitored for quality assurance purchases.” Assuring quality for who? In what way? If this were happening, they would not steer all survey calls; that would be too obvious. Plus, according to fascinating research by Dan Ariely (Predictably Irrational), when given incentive, a large percentage of people do cheat, but only a little.
          What would be the motivation for making the surveys look better than they really were?
          Large corporations have local cells around the country, and the world. These satellite sales and service centers are accountable to their central offices. Would it be in their interest to shape the survey results? Like a sales office, would better numbers bring bonuses and other rewards? Would hiding negative customer experiences prevent punishment? If given the opportunity, and under some sort of pressure, I think that some service centers would engage in this type of practice. I know there are much more rational, less cynical explanations for my missed survey call, but I still cannot shake the feeling that I was somehow cheated.
          I wonder if anyone else has had similar thoughts or experiences. Do you know of any documented instances to back up this theory?