Saturday, July 22, 2006

Another (Rather Nice) Obsession Made Possible by Technology

So this week I've been enjoying a proto-Waldenian retreat at a pond. Okay, so it was a lake. And it wasn't just me, but also my 9 nearest relations. At, not a small cabin with bare furnishings, but a 4-bedroom cottage with most of the trimmings. No phone, it's true, but a full kitchen complete with microwave, a TV with 20 or 30 channels. No DVD player, but then we brought one with us, along with an iPod with speakers (not a video one, but lots of music and podcasts) and 3 laptops we could have watched movies on (though mostly my brothers played Civilization 4 on opposite sides of the room and chatted about it).

So that's all to explain that the retreat was only proto-Waldenian. But that's okay. It was nice, but I must say that I'm rather glad to be back to email and Internet again. Thoreau I'm not, and that's okay.

But that's not what I wanted to blog about. What I wanted to talk about was my viewing of the first season of House last week. And, since I never blogged about it a couple of months ago, I thought I'd also mention my super-West Wing first-five-season marathon of a couple months ago, in which I gulped down five seasons' worth of my favorite show in a little over 10 days (it was before my spring/summer classes started).

The thing I noticed most during both of my DVD TV-show marathons (something almost everyone I know, even those who don't watch much TV on TV, seems to be doing lately) was the impressive sustained storytelling in these shows. When you watch the shows week by week, you're excited to find out what's happening next, but you don't notice to nearly the same degree how much ongoing character development and big-picture plot development is going on slowly over the course of a season and even from season to season. It's pretty amazing, really, and quite creatively stimulating for me as a novel-length storyteller.

Of course, the sustained storytelling, when you have an opportunity to see it all at once like that, makes it like one long movie. Which means it's sort of hard to stop watching. Soon you find yourself staying up till 4 a.m., watching some over breakfast, etc. It's easy to get obsessive when it's a show you really like (I know I'm not alone in this). It's also amazingly easy to finish a season in less time than you would have thought possible.

The nice thing, of course, is that because you can pause at any time, you can stop at any time to go do other stuff. Which makes me wonder what Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 character Faber would think about this way of viewing TV shows. After all, one of the things he liked about books (as opposed to the TV "parlors" with ongoing programming) was that you could "play God to them" by shutting them to think about them, digest them, and develop opinions about them. DVD TV shows seem to be about halfway in-between: on one hand, they're pretty visual and compelling so they're hard to turn off, but on the other hand, the pausability (and natural breakup into episodes) is a beautiful thing. The latter does give you time to think about what you're viewing.

Of course, TV has had these capabilities for at least 25 years, since VCRs came out, but the DVD TV show trend (and the iTunes selling-shows extension) moves the ability to watch whole seasons from organized TV viewers like my dad into the mainstream, where anyone can not just buy, but also go to the library and borrow whole seasons of shows.

And the fact that so many people are doing it fascinates and amazes me. I don't know if it's a completely good or bad thing or not, but it's certainly an interesting trend, and there are at least a few genuinely good shows worth watching this way. And let no one say that today's generations have no attention spans or senses of dedication and commitment. :)

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Transportation Technology=Communications Technology?

So in my 26 hours spent bonding with my car earlier this week, I had a crazy thought: could transportation technology, at least at times, be considered communications technology? Sure, it's not always what you think of when you think of communicating with other people, but there are lots of family and friends I wouldn't be communicating with face-to-face if I didn't have such devices as cars to facilitate that face-to-face communication. The same goes for business travelers who fly all over the place to network and have meetings with people--in those cases, airplanes almost become a kind of communications technology for them.

Of course, when I was a kid going on family vacations, I always thought the car gave me a little too much access to communicating with my family for a bit too long of a time in a bit too cramped of a space, and transportation technology also facilitates seeing and experiencing things as well as people, but all the same, I find it an interesting thought. Granted, I have been spending a lot of time in my car lately (something on which I'm glad to blame the long sentences and Victorian-style italics in this post)...

P.S. (7/13/06) It occurs to me that the North American Laura-Ingalls-Wilder-type pioneers--with their covered wagons and long arduous travels--would certainly have seen cars and airplanes as wonderful communications technology devices.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Cartoon about how Legitimacy Is Affected by Technology

Cat and Girl Versus Legitimacy: Hilarious Cartoon about the debate about whether technological and societal advances have helped or hurt legitimacy of people's voices. Having just taken a class in textual scholarship (the history and the future of the book, etc.) where very similar topics were debated in very similar language, I find it hilarious as well as providing good stuff to think about. Thanks to Rilla for linking to it (and for blogging about my "Epiphany about Blogs" post).

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

The Grapes of Wrath Today?

Grapes of Wrath and Communications Technology: Amy Gahran, one of the bloggers I've been watching the longest for quotes on web writing style and implications, has an interesting take on whether Steinbeck's novel The Grapes of Wrath could take place in today's media conditions.

Monday, July 03, 2006

My Epiphany about Blogs

It occurred to me, in a blinding flash, the other day. Okay, so maybe there wasn't actually a flash, but I had a thought, which for an M.A. student in her last week of classes (working furiously to get to the "All But Thesis" state) is a pretty amazing thing.

My thought was that blogs are not so much like online journals (to which they are so often compared) as they are like the kind of "open letters" sent in the eighteenth century (around Alexander Pope's day). Back then, when you sent a letter to someone else in the literate society, you knew there was a possibility that it could get published at some point or other, which meant that although it was a private expression, it was also open to public comment.

This description of the eighteenth-century trend is more than slightly oversimplifying the matter, but the point is that the openness and community orientation of blogs makes them different than just online journals. And the eighteenth century practice of printing letters--which were often followed with printed agreements and disagreements--is the closest thing I can think of to what a blog does in our society today.

Of course, there probably are blogs that authors treat like online journals. That is, I could see that blog authors could get easily lulled into thinking that a blog is a completely private journal or a letter to only a few friends (fine if you can avoid names, etc.--which means, again, recognizing the public dimension--but I believe recent errors along that sort of line have gotten some people into trouble with potential employers, etc.).

One fascinating experiment with the "online journal" concept is the guy who's throwing the nineteenth-century author Henry David Thoreau's journal entries up on the Web as blog entries. Then again, the fact that much of the material in Thoreau's journal was re-worked and then re-used in his lectures and in works such as Walden and The Maine Woods seems to show that Thoreau's journal wasn't necessarily a purely "private" journal either--he, too, seems to have had a public audience in mind for some of the material down the road. (I'm sure I'll be able to report much more precisely and authoritatively on this matter once I get further into my thesis research.)

The point is that public/private, even when it comes to personal journals and letters, has been a bit squishy longer than blogs have been around. The method--and some of its implications--may be new, but the concepts behind it aren't.