Relearning to Read in 2014


So many things change, so much remains the same. New media has presented so many new challenges in all aspects of our lives but perhaps where we are effected most is how we digest written text. It is a constantly changing environment and due to the speed of change a status quo has yet to be established. The way we read has changed at such a remarkable pace in the past decade that there is nothing to say that this process is complete. A full revolution has yet to be completed and within the fulcrum of this change the very way we live our lives is being effected.

I was reading a medium post on the demise of print news journalism and the gradual decline of newspapers as news medium of choice this morning. It was expressed throughout the post that while the future for journalism is drastic, this future is not in fact news of itself, and it has in fact been obvious for so many who cared to even think about it for a moment.

A simple enough survey among anyone will reveal that few if any at all have in fact held and read a newspaper in the past few days, let alone bought one. Then an equally simple survey along the lines of ‘but have your read the news today?’ will reveal that the majority of the same people have in fact read some news articles, and are quite familiar with the main news headlines.

I certainly fall into this category. I don’t buy a newspaper, and I might at most pick up today’s newspaper if I’m in my parent’s house. I get an email every morning from the Irish Times, The Guardian, and the New York Times, all of which I usually open and browse the headlines (the NYT less so as a reaction to what was some pretty atrocious efforts of covering the murder of children in Gaza). I may click a link, but more often than not I don’t. Later on the bus to work I’ll scan through twitter for other news, and here I’ll click some links – some from these papers, and some links from other magazines or papers.

Note that I’m still calling them papers. You can see a lot of people on the same bus as me reading from the same sort of papers. And by papers I mean the medium they source the information from, not the publisher. There is very little paper on modern buses in 2014 as even our tickets are plastic.

We have I suppose come to a point where we are seeing the end of something which for so long was commonplace. This isn’t the first time that this has happened. Of course news media has now expanded into a 24 hour information dispensing factory composed of written text, images, and video encompassing reportage, opinion, and even advertisements selected for you based on the the material you are reading at the time. It is more sophisticated than ever before, but the form that brought it to the end is slowly dying.

If it is saved it will be interesting to see how this happens. It would have to be a fairly awesome machine that can outstrip the smartphone for its ability to bolster the necessity for 24 hour media immersion. We will always say that we don’t need something better, but someone is currently having ideas how to make this better. I can’t imagine what it will be, nor can I imagine when I will actually buy this device myself.

The reliance on smart devices in the media comes up against recent research which purports  that reading on a screen is less immersible than reading on paper. Where this information will do most damage will be in the ebook market, as well as offering much sought after vindication for supporters of books, who have long lauded the joy of touch on the rough paper of the individual page as an important reason for continuing their love affair with books, and shunning modernity in the shape of ebooks.

It is especially significant as this research will hopefully encourage a return to ye olde textbook for school kids, with the removal or reduction of ipads from the classroom. It’s not that I’m against technology in the classroom, in fact I endorse it fully, however replacing digital devices for actual books deserves a few complaints from me.

I’ll complain first about the necessity of only sourcing ipads when any other tablet should be sufficient, and indeed more cost effective. The connection of ipads and education will leave a lasting effect and I think that if we are encouraging kids to use technology in the classroom we should encourage them to be more discerning customers who know how to make informed decisions. I like ipads, in fact I love mine, but I certainly would never encourage someone to buy one over another product. Too each their own I say. Encouraging them in classrooms irks me. If we are to encourage any particular tech it should be, in my opinion, open source. But I shall digress for now.

Another thing I think is important about books in classrooms is that I think they encourage a little more responsibility. Other than dropping and smashing the screen of your device, you can kind of get away with anything. With books you kind of have to make sure not to tear them, spill things on them, and if you’re like me if you’re going to draw pictures and chew the corners you have the true physical and emotional response when your mother finds the state of them when she tries to sell them on second hand the year after you done with them.

Of course what’s most important about books is that you have a four dimensional experience with them. You have to touch the pages, you have to write notes in them (only lightly and in pencil of course), they smell, and you are as much engaged in the content as you are with the environment you are in at that time. You remember more because you experience more through your senses. Screens and devices attempt to replicate this, but they come a cheap second in the long run.

So what does this mean for news media? Well probably not a lot I’d wager. We still want news now, and no other medium other than smart technology and the internet can provide this. Yet. And when this medium arrives, it will be quicker and it will be more invasive in the way that we carry it around with us everywhere, whether it is social media or not.

Print however will not die, it will merely evolve. Can you recall the last time you read a 2000 word article on the bus or train in the morning? In fact I’m sure most readers are like me; a quick scroll to the bottom, check the length, then a scroll to the top and then decide somewhere in between as you scan a paragraph or two whether or not you’ll be bothered reading it. Do you do the same when it’s on paper?

Gone will be the short snappy articles often found in print. In will be a higher quality product, with longer and more in dept analysis focusing on long form journalism, quality photography and images, and a variety of news and analysis which stops us and takes us to another location, thought pattern, and allows us more than a simple report of events.You can already find these parts buried deep inside the features sections of most newspapers, but if there were more of them? Magazines have been doing this all the time, but perhaps we need even of this. It may not have to be daily, but it does need to be present.

As the ticker tape of news flickers by with crisis and disaster and scandal tumbling us into non-existence, this is the kind of material which lures us back. It forces us to stop, sit down, and to take a moment to actually read as we ignore the barrage of information tinkling in our pockets negotiating for our attention.

Perhaps now that we know that we cannot digest digital information as cohesively as we can words on print in time we will witness a rebirth of the printed word. The challenge I believe will be how will we change our lifestyles to adapt to this change, not how will the medium adapt to us.

It’s a nice thought.

 

Rando Man


The photo below does not inspire much, I imagine. It is in many respects quite depressing. A dry and slightly burnt piece of toast, a cold strip of streaky bacon, and the end of a rather watery looking class of orange juice, all wrapped around a white circular border. It is, other than the leftovers from my breakfast, a pitifully ordinary scene worth no moment of fame in any media. It is not artistic, so don’t go thinking it is. The loose crumb is only a loose crumb, the juice was as I left it, as was the toast and bacon. Just to the right was a eggy plate and a mug with a thin brown layer of leftover coffee. The photo was entirely random. So why bother?

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Regulars to this blog are probably familiar with my use of instagram and flickr, and even on this blog itself my photographs can take up a large amount of many posts, although not all. I use an iphone 4, which by today’s standards is quite a simple piece of phone tech, but it does have a camera on it, which I have with me always and which is very easy to operate and relatively decent quality pics. I also use a Sony DSC-H9 and a Nikon D5100 of course, but my phone is undoubtedly my main camera.

As well as being addicted to taking pictures, I’m also quite interested in new apps and phone related tech, including of course new phones which I cannot afford, or indeed apps that I don’t want to pay for because I’m cheap. It’s quite a dynamic area of the tech market now, and unless an app is successful you can see many being replaced by something similar within a short period of time. For example, I’ve lost count of the amount of different apps I’ve downloaded to help arrange my time, for want of a better description, and I have deleted all of them, prefering to use my regular phone calendar and Evernote. The thing is if you visit the Apple App Store you will always find some new fangled app lauded as app of the week or something which promises to be the next best thing in productive time saving organisational technology.

I’m ranting. I should stop before I lose control.

The point I’ve been getting to is there are always loads of apps which always seem to have some greater purpose, some means for making your life better, or for making your smart technology experience smarter and more wholesome. This takes all apps, from photograph taking, games, organisers, and social networks, to spirit levels and voice recorders, into consideration. But with this little camera app which took the photograph above, there seems to be absolutely no real significant purpose whatsoever. And that’s why it’s worth talking about.

Now don’t take this the wrong way. I’m not selling out, not that I was every sold in or anything. The app is free, or comes at no cost to you, Mr or Mrs/Ms Downloader. I, like every other single person on this planet, am a consumer, and I, like every other consumer on the planet, like to flaunt my consumed goods. So please allow me this moment.

I want to look at what the app actually does, and how what it does fits in with how I often look at how the world exists with so many people in it. I think it does something kind of special, something which we don’t look at enough in the realms of technology and even in terms of human existence. I’m getting pretty deep here, so let me take a couple of steps back and explain what the hell is going on.

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The name of the app is Rando, and it’s a camera app. It functions by simply taking a photograph of something within a white circular border, such as some of the images in the examples above. There is no title, there is no ability to like or share, there is no way to edit, stylise, or even upload a particular photograph. All you know is that there was a photograph taken and more often than not, you can find out where it was taken. It is then sent to the great cloud in the sky where it is randomly sent (although I’m sure there’s some algorithm at play) to another user somewhere in the world. In return you recieve another users photograph. There is no way you can tell who sent or received the photograph. You may or may not find where this user is. It’s as complicated as that.

So says social media addicted world, what’s in it for me? Nothing whatsoever. And that’s what is so great about it.

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It’s no secret that the internet has been inundated with egotism since social media took off. And the greater its influence grows the more we see the egos expand, myself included. One word which is constantly bandied about with social media which is generally not used in the correct context is the word ‘share’. We see it all the time, and particular websites use this term to insinuate that they are providing a fantastic opportunity for you to provide your loved ones and friends with snippets of your life. Of course, this is the idealistic perspective, because anyone who uses social media knows that it is rarely used as a place for sharing, more as a means of displaying.

What this particular app does is different. It is not in any way social, it is more voyeuristic, but not in the sense that you actually know what you are looking at. It sends a picture of nothing, really, other than something which is happening or exists in another place which you cannot see. There’s no liking or sharing of this photo, there’s no applause or means of advertising, there is simply a picture within a white round border. It’s simple but it is effective in its own little way.

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This little app has a fair amount going for it in terms of how we interpret the world. Take exactly where you are sitting or standing at this very moment. Look around you, and while you’re looking make sure to closely examine some fairly rudimentary objects in your proximity. I’m writing at my desk in work so obviously I’ve my computer with a printer just to the side left of it, and too the right I’ve a phone and pen holder, a jar with a dried flower, some paper clips, a stress ball (never used), some throat sweets, photographs, and other nondescript objects which on their own are unnoticable and insignificant. But they are there, sitting, minding their own businness and waiting to be interacted with, much like everything else in the world.

How we choose to interact with much of the world is our own decision. It is unfortunate that humans have chosen that our interaction is mostly on the phyisical and destructive level, rather than a visual one, where we just accept and appreciate each individual element. With Rando though we are seeing tiny scraps of originality, perspectives of this huge planet shared indiscriminately for the purpose of … well I’d like to say enlightenment but I’ve a feeling it’s a lot simpler than that.

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If you think of it in the way that it is simply just informing you or whoever views the photograph that this part of the world exists, and that someone is here, doing something similar to you. We get that impression that the world is not that small, and that we are all less unique. Despite how much we like to think about it people everywhere share the same gripes and concerns, and they see the same things, granted they may be in different shapes.

To conclude, if you could imagine yourself flying on a transcontinental flight as I have done many times, flying over the massive Eurasian continent, and somewhere over Kazakhstan or the Ural Mountains, you look at the flightshow and all you see is a green expanse of country with a few rivets here and there to imply terrain. You stretch your head into the window as much as possible to try and glance down at the land below. There is nothing you can see but you know without a doubt that something is happening there, and someone is there living away and not trying to fly with you. If you thought for a minute what they are doing you would not find a recognisable image, or anything remotely familiar.

I don’t think that this phone app really bridges any gaps here, as it’s completely random, but it does allow you the simple moment, like flying 20,000 metres above or even just driving by fast in a car, where we can catch a closeup of another part of the world. For a minute, we are given the opportunity to consider it. That is all. And then let the world continue to rotate again, until you take another picture that is.

You can download Rando here if you want.

This blog post is not intended as a review and I don’t get any money or kudos from the company who made the app. It was just something that struck me as being worth talking about.

P.S. It seems there’s an incredible amount of Korean pictures coming through. What’s up with that?

I Own My Phone


Haaark!

I own my phone. Congratulate me. Thank you.

For two years I paid my phone bill like a diligent citizen. Included on this was a monthly instalment that paid for the actual device. I couldn’t remember how much it was because when I bought it the salesman spoke very quickly, circled pieces of writing, and showed me a lot of pieces of paper, and all the time I just wanted him to give me the blasted thing so that I could go and touch it constantly. But today I checked my bill and low and behold the bill was a whopping 50,000 won less than normal. Of course this is splendid news for my pocket as I can now divert this sizeable sum to some other bill I struggle to pay every month.

Of course it’s my phone is only a glorified paperweight that I could arguably say I don’t need. In fact I’m very sure I don’t need it. But I do have it. So there. Anyway. It’s all mine now.

One thing though which has made my *ahem* life more interesting/better/exciting/or however you choose to describe it, has been the camera on my phone. For all the other things (with the exception of the twitter for those long lonely toilet breaks) there is nothing I value my phone more for. Anyone who follows me on the internet elsewhere (instagramtwittertumblr (which is basically my instagram feed), flickr) will know that I’m a little obsessive about photographs – but I’m lazy about it.

To celebrate my now 100% of my phone and my love of photographs, allow me to share with you a collection of some photographs which I’ve taken over the past two years with this simple (looking) device. Photographs span across six countries (Korea, Ireland, England, Japan, Thailand, and Malaysia) – I’ll do my best not to include too many sunsets!

(Hat tip to Craig Branch for getting me thinking about this post!)

 

(for some reason all my photographs won’t upload…maybe too many…but you get the idea!)

The Art of Waiting


Imagine for a moment that a long time ago there was a secret art, or perhaps it was common practice, where people waited without fuss and hindrance. Do you have that picture in your head now? Good. Allow me to begin.

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I just came back from a quick trip to the shop where I bought a can of Sprite and a packet of crisps (or what we shall call crisps for arguments sake). I went to one shop first and then moved on to another shop as it didn’t sell Sprite and I’m not hungover so Korean Cider wasn’t on the cards.

As I stood at the crossroads, myself and the person next to me tried to cross on a red light a number of times, only to be cut off by approaching traffic. I eventually darted over. After leaving the first shop I walked towards another shop, and along the way I checked my phone twice for reasons which will be only described as ‘updates’. After finding some Sprite and a suitable packet of crisps I left and made my way back to my apartment.

Standing by the lift door was a fellow dweller who had entered the building at the same time as I. He pushed the call button for the lift, checked himself in the mirror, then in an almost panicked movement jumped to check his phone, which like me, was some race of smartphone. The screen lit and his thumb lingered over the screen kind of twitching in an anticipatory way I am familiar with, because I know that nervous kind of ‘what will I do now’ expectancy from whenever I do the same thing several times a day.

As I watched I could feel my own thumb stroking my own phone in my pocket, a bit like Gollum in the Lord of the Rings would with the his precious. I stopped for a minute and looked around for something else to do, or something else to occupy myself with for the two or three minute wait as the lift dropped someone off up high and then came down to collect us.

As you can imagine, there was not a lot to do. I looked at some flyers for some restaurants, I looked at the wall and some bicycles cluttered by the door. I rubbed my fingers up against the mottled edge of a pillar to feel if it was smooth or not – it was not – and all because I was struggling with waiting a few minutes for a lift to come down.

What came into my head, and this was merely fifteen minutes ago, was had we lost the ability to wait patiently for something to happen? Are we bored so easily that we cannot stand still and expect what is actually going to happen, and why do we have this sudden urge to fill what is only a tiny piece of essentially empty time with a trivial activity? I could ask more questions here about this same idea but I won’t. This is enough.

Even thinking about this, you almost wonder what did people do before they had technology to fill up so much of their time? I recall that the subject of smartphones came up in a writing class I was teaching, and someone suggested that people must have been bored before smartphones turned up. I got this impression of people sitting around a fireside in Victorian times all leaning on their chins, exhaling deeply, drumming their fingers and wishing someone would hurry up and develop 3G technology. The world can hardly be that boring that we need to entertain ourselves for every moment we are conscious.

I think we’re selling ourselves a little short by expecting the world to excite itself up a little so that we can pay more attention to it. Perhaps it’s time that we stopped setting such high standards of simple pieces of machinery when there are much more exhilirating experiences to be had which do not involve live up-to-the-minute stats and social-media fed responses, among other benefits.

Much of this would require people, and especially this person writing, to slow down and wait for things to happen, because they will and life will probably be just as self fulfilled finding out information tomorrow as it will be today.

Letter From Korea, August 2012


Suwon
August 24, 2012

Dear Ireland

I’ve been kicking myself a little lately because even with so much free time on my hands, I don’t seem to be getting the same amount of work done that I would like to be getting done. In a recent post I ranted about having too many distractions and found it difficult to scratch things off my list. Things have gotten a little better – I think – and maybe it was the rant that allowed me to get much off my chest. Still productivity, or lack of, bothers me still.

I get a lot of free time with my job. I won’t say how much but I will say that I am granted the luxury of less than normal holiday time, as well as limited contact hours in the classroom. So when I don’t get what I want done as quickly and easily as I should it bothers me. Preparing for the arrival of +1 is obviously taking up more of my time now, and a lot of this revolves around caring for Herself and keeping her company during the day, but I still have ample time.

Still, as the days pass things get done, gradually. Herself gets bigger and bigger and, bit by bit, I finish things I’ve being saying I should be doing.

One of those things that I haven’t had close to the top of this list is writing another blog post. I’ve kind of gone off the boil. I don’t really feel inclined to talk about anything going on in Korea so much – I think other people do a better job – and I also don’t feel that pushed towards talking about just day to day things that I usually go on about. I have a list of posts for this blog that I will eventually get around to, but for now I really am not inclined.

I know that I go through different things with varying levels of enthusiasm, and I know if I look back through my posts I’ll see months where I have written less, and months where I’ve churned out three or four posts every week. Now I’m not sure what to think as I do, I suppose, have some reasons for toning down the content.

Recently I bought an iPad to use, mostly, as an e-reader and browser. The reason is that I find a lot of content when I’m on twitter that I want to read but because I mostly use twitter on my phone and computer, I find it hard to read much of it. The phone’s screen is very small and my eyes hurt, and my computer is big clunky old thing that isn’t very mobile and the battery lasts about as long as it takes to boil the kettle, maybe less. So I figured the iPad would be a sound purchase.

Still, I keep looking over at my previously mentioned old dinosaur of a Fujitsu (about five years old, maybe more), sitting lonely in the corner of the room. This is my old warhorse when it comes to the written word,  and to really feel like I’m getting work done, I have to turn this on.

I’m not the only one who feels this way. I came across this blog post on a website called the Blog of the Impossible. In the article, the writer describes an odd but enlighening encounter with the inventor of the computer, Russell Kirch. Frankly, it reads as a bizarre situation, and the author is clearly and justifiably humbled by the interaction. The reason I’m talking about this is not because Russel Kirch is obviously an amazing scientist and inventor who has achieved much more than me, but because what he said about computers and creativity:

“I’ve been against Macintosh company lately. They’re trying to get everyone to use iPads and when people use iPads they end up just using technology to consume things instead of making things. With a computer you can make things. You can code, you can make things and create things that have never before existed and do things that have never been done before.”

“That’s the problem with a lot of people”, he continued, “they don’t try to do stuff that’s never been done before, so they never do anything, but if they try to do it, they find out there’s lots of things they can do that have never been done before.”

It’s an interesting notion. All around us are the tools to make the world a better place for ourselves, but we can be easily distracted by other entities which confuse us, making us wonder about what is the right pathway to be taking. Creation is such a simple concept and without it the world wouldn’t exist in it’s current state. In fact, I’d be willing to argue that without human innovation, humans would be still hanging from trees.

Making or creating new things can be as simple as changing your breakfast to the way you walk to work, or even just walking against the traffic going down the stairs in the subway – upset the norm. The blogosphere and twittersphere in Korea is a fine example of people going out of their way to upset the norm and to make changes to their life. In Korea, opportunities don’t happen for you and you have to step outside of your shell if you ever want move upwards. I suppose the same could be said of everywhere in the world.

Carried on from this idea is the second kind of reason that I’m feeling less inclined to write posts here of late. I’m beginning to think that I should be looking for markets for a lot of my essays here. I don’t see why not. I think they’re good enough, but many are probably too long for many people to read – I know when I look at a post on a website I automatically check how long it is before I started reading it. Certain people look for certain types of writing to read, and some people don’t want to read long articles, and some people do.

What does this blog have to do with that though? First of all, please excuse the comparison but I recall reading that it was a shame that T. S. Elliot spent so much time writing academic criticism and not writing poetry as this kind of swallowed up his creativity for years. I get the feeling more and more of late that I shouldn’t spend two or three hours writing a blog post, but  I should spend that time writing something else, be that an article for a magazine that will pay, or an essay, or some poems that have not gone past the stage of scribbled in my Moleskine notebook.

In Korea there’s not that many options other than blogging if you want to write and publish regularly, and while that’s a fairly narrow minded perspective to take, it is the truth if you ask me. There are only three newspapers, a handful of magazines in English, and then there’s a number of websites of varying quality and content. Fortunately, the internet is a magnificent gateway to so many more sources for anything you are involved in, and especially writing.

It may sound like an odd concept, but a computer can actually be a gateway to a more productive and creative life. This holds true in Korea for certain. Although, much like any piece of technology, so much depends on what you actually do with it!