Poagao's Journal

Absolutely Not Your Monkey

Mar 27 2015

BRAVE NEW SOCIAL MEDIA

Is Facebook old-fashioned? Duh! Of course it is, because now all the cool kids are parents, and having your parents checking up on you on Facebook is, like, the uncoolist thing EVAR.

Ok, sorry, that’s the chocolate-filled coffee I just drank talking. It speaks in a sticky-sweet voice and I can’t stop listening.

But seriously, Facebook has actually never been cool, though it can be a useful tool at times. Recently I was turned on to Vine by the work of Thomas Sanders, who makes (mostly) funny six-second videos with an amazing amount of creativity. I’d heard of Vine before, but at that point I just scoffed in the fashion of an elderly white gentleman sipping tea in a puffy armchair while grumbling about “the masses.” Now, years later, I can see the error of my presumption, because Vines can be pretty damn neat. The work of Sanders was a gateway to many other users of the service, and I am now a fan, basically because I like the idea of making a video almost instantly after I come up with the idea to make a video. I suspect this might be a consequence of having spent ten years making a single feature film; I want these things DONE. NOW. And they are. I still suck at making Vines of my own, but it doesn’t matter; I’ll never be one of the A-list there, which is fine because I don’t need that kind of pressure (he said nonchalantly while secretly entertaining fantasies of attending huge Vine Meetups in NYC and LA and hanging out with Egyptian DJs who raise rabbits and wear their hats backwards).

Another social media service I was turned on to via Vine is Snapchat (For some reason I keep typing Snapshat, which I assume is a completely different service). I’d also heard of Snapchat before, which I’d also dismissed in a similarly raised-pinkie fashion, but again, I think there’s something to it. The photos/chats/videos disappear after a certain number of viewings/amount of time. What’s the good of that? You ask. To me, it’s an attempt to regain the feeling of real-world interaction, a backlash against endlessly permanent interactions whose nature is changed because considerations of their permanence. With Snapchat, whatever you say is over and unrecorded (but possibly screenshot, alas) once it’s out you pretty little mouth. People feel less inhibited, say more of whatever nonsense they really think, and it’s over and out; you’re free to move on afterwards because there are fewer consequences. In my case, there are literally no consequences because exactly zero people have ever seen anything I’ve posted on Snapchat. I assume this is because you really need to become well-known on another service like Instagram (which I have reluctantly rejoined, though I’m not terribly active) or Vine before you can entice people over to Snapchat to revel in your fabulous everyday life, real-time, instead of talking with the person sitting next to them on the subway. The nice thing about this is that I can spout any damn nonsense that comes into my fatuous head, something I do anyway, but now I can record myself doing it! There’s no possible use for it that I can imagine.

And now, of course, we have Periscope, launched today by Twitter, which lets everyone broadcast everything all the time. AKA Chaos, mass hysteria, pet co-habitation, etc.

Cool.

Anyway, these things come and go, as those of us who have reached our 40s more or less intact can attest, and I’m sure something new and more interesting will replace the New Things. It keeps things fresh, or at least a welcome distraction from…uh…China’s political hegemony? Tupperware? Eerily anthropomorphic depictions of Elmer the Bull? Voles in general? I can’t remember.

posted by Poagao at 11:54 am  
Apr 24 2009

Two-term blogger

I’m a few days late on this, but as of April 22nd, I’ve been writing in this thing for eight years. Thanks for all of you who supported my bid for a second term in office with your cries of “Four More Years!” last time around.

That said, I’m afraid I’ve become somewhat of a lame-duck blogger (or even more so, anyway). In fact, I’m beginning to think that most bloggers are (even more these days) lame duck bloggers, thanks to the plethora of instant microblogging social linking sites that have sprung up recently, added to the increasingly portable nature of Internet access these days. Who, after all, has time for lengthy descriptions of someone’s breakfast when they can get a play-by-play on the details and thoughts of some stranger throughout the day?

What bothers me a little bit about all of this, and I sound like an old fogey when I say it, is the growing feeling of obligation to pay attention to these things, these mundane matters that everyone (including myself, I must add, lest I be labeled a hypocrite in addition to everything else) is attaching so much value to these days in lieu of actual accomplishments. It was ok and kind of neat to have access to this information when it first became available, but I have to suppress a small shudder when I consider having to monitor this kind of thing all day, every day. At some point I missed, Facebook, Flickr and Twitter became necessary items, like TVs and radios before that. But unlike the old media, which could be passively observed, this time you have to participate and work at it. This was supposed to be a Good Thing, all the educators and socialogists said, this was supposed to be what TV and radio couldn’t give us because it was busy rotting our brains. For the office-bound employee with an Internet connection, it is a welcome distraction, of course, and that was indeed my inspiration for starting this account back in 2001, when I had such a position full-time. But these days I find it becoming a little irritating, all of these niggling little things to take care of online as well as in real life.

Or it could just be that it’s an incredibly nice day outside and I am inside here typing this dribble. Ah, well, screw it, I’m going outside, where I can Twitter that I am passing a 7-Eleven or something similarly inane.

posted by Poagao at 10:54 am  
Apr 12 2008

The Great Flickr Video Debate

Flickr has either generously introduced a wonderful new useful feature or shoved an unwelcome, distracting irritant down the throats of its paying users, depending on your point of view. Like it or not, however, videos are slowly making their way into the photo-sharing site so beloved by a huge number of people.

My first reaction to this development was one of dismay. I knew that Yahoo! was out to compete with Google’s Youtube by introducing the videos into the photo community that it bought a while back, and it didn’t seem like a good idea to throw another medium into the mix. And the whole “long photo” thing is just inane. I considered immediately deleting any contacts who put video into their streams, but then I wondered if I was overreacting. I am a filmmaker as well as a photographer, after all. Is video such a bad thing to include into the flickr experience?

I think it could be, but for reasons that are difficult to explain. Most of the negative reactions on flickr itself have been basic, simple and repetitive entreaties against the move, without much explanation involved. What really surprised me was the vitriol, ridicule and animosity with which these objections were met. “Quit yer whining,” “Just deal with it,” “snobs!” “crybabies,” “Knee-jerk reactionaries,” etc. Flickr staff were, of course, siding with the pro-video groups and removed and remonstrated the more radical anti-video elements, while allowing the pro-video insults and YouTube-level confrontations to continue for the most part. It was a far cry from the civilized, friendly debate that used to characterize flickr’s forums, as if the entire site had gone into “DeleteMe Group” mode.

No yo videos on FlickrAnother thing that bothers me is how Flickr has implemented video, simply dumping it in among the pictures. It’s like a library had DVDs interspersed randomly among the books on the shelves. The videos are represented by small squares the same size as the photo icons, but with a tiny “play” triangle” in the bottom corner. They show up in Contacts’ Photos, Explore and Searches. Only by going into the settings can you make it so that they don’t all play automatically when you go to the page. Instead of photos, we now all have “content,” “things” and “items,” and the top of my page reads “Photos & video from Poagao” despite the absence of video. Also, the videos all have sound, which changes the Flickr experience quite a bit by itself. Long pictures with sound, perhaps the blurb on the intro page should read.

“Stop whining; All you have to do is not play the videos,” is a comment repeated often in the related threads. I suppose it may still be possible to maintain a semblance of the original flickr experience if you weed out all of your contacts who have video, but they’ll still pop up elsewhere. But what’s the real difference? Ah, this is where it becomes very difficult to put into words. When I browse a page of photos, I am in a certain mindset. My eyes see the small photo and instantly take it in, and I know immediately whether I want to click on the larger version. It’s a frame of mind that allows me to instantly process what I’m seeing and lets me browse through many photographs to find that one that gives me shivers down my spine, that emotional “oomph” that some photos kick you with you first lay eyes on them.

If video clips are interspersed throughout the page, however, I have to work harder just to differentiate and weed out the videos. Why? It’s not that I don’t want to watch the videos. They may be very good. But the little thumbnail simply can’t represent it; I have no idea what they are. It’s just one small frame, and I will have to click on it, wait for it to load, and watch it most of the way through before I even know what it is. It’s a whole different media and requires a different frame of mind. An equivalent would be mixing up Chinese and English words. I know both languages, but going back and forth from one to another all the time is difficult for me because I tend to have a Chinese-language mindset and an English-language mindset. Video pulls me out of my photography mindset.

This mindset is important to me; it’s the mode I use when I’m out taking pictures, seeing pictures and potential shots out in the ordinary world. It’s different from my film mindset, which I use when I’m directing a movie. In directing mode, I see motions, changes, progressive angles and many other things that are different from my photography mindset, which just sees composition and lighting, shadow and space. Before, Flickr was a place where I could envelope myself in this world, where I could safely stay in this mindset and appreciate the little surprises I came across within it. All of those wonderful photographs are still there, of course. I just can’t appreciate them from the point of view that I could before.

Now, to the vast majority of flickr users, the above is simply absurd, unintelligible at best and likely offensive to many, in that they feel that some lofty “mindspace” of mine shouldn’t get in between them and their ability to have videos of their children playing soccer next to their photos of their children playing soccer. This is probably the reason for the strange nature of the ongoing debate. Those of us who feel videos are taking something away are not only unable to express what it is we’re losing, even if we could, it’s an utterly alien concept to most of the people who use the site, one they’re not in the least interested in preserving, as they weren’t even aware of its existence in the first place.

As an experiment, I went to the streams of those who were pro-video and those who were anti-video, and while there were varying degrees of quality on both sides, it seemed that those most interested in video took pictures that could have been video stills, while the anti-video crowd seemed to take more all-encompassing works, photos that seemed better able to tell a story on their own.

When you come down to it, video is here to stay; Flickr is aiming to please most of its customers by adding it. For Yahoo! it’s actually a mildly encouraging sign after they raped and left for dead promising sites like Geocities and eGroups. What people say they want and what they really want, however, are often two different things. I wonder if anyone who clamored for video capabilities on Flickr will pause one day and think to themselves that, somehow, there’s something missing, something they just can’t put their finger on. Then again, probably not. It’s here to stay, and we might as well see what we can do with it.

posted by Poagao at 9:35 am  
Jun 02 2007

New worldviews

Two new tools for exploring the world have become available recently as Microsoft and Google fight to see who will become known as the one to go to when you want to have a look around the planet (Yahoo’s pitiful maps don’t seem to even cover anything outside of the US, so they’re not even in the running). Microsoft’s Virtual Earth, which seems like a copy of Google Earth, now includes 3D structures, so that you can see a city’s buildings from any angle A cafe in Dalllas shown in Windows Live Viewlike a poorly rendered Duke Nuke’m-era video game (full disclosure: I usually play first-person shooters in order to explore the interesting environments rather than for the actual shooting; I’m weird that way). Cities like San Francisco and Seattle are well covered. Even Dallas has quite a bit of 3D coverage, with ordinary buildings and houses presented very nicely. The lack of trees or anything besides the buildings makes every place appear very stark, however. Perhaps that will be improved upon, but it’s still very cool.

Even cooler than this, however, Google has added street-level views to its maps site, so that you can walk around some major cities and even zoom in on cats in windows if you like (some people don’t). This, I feel, is particularly wonderful as my idea of a good time in just about any city is just walking around with my camera. I could spend hours just “walking” around these virtual places looking at the stores and houses.

My hope is that these two services will somehow be combined, or that elements of one are implemented in the other, resulting in a photorealistic and navigable 3D environment that can be expanded outwards from the handful of cities presently included. I wonder, however, if people will be able to block certain sites for security or privacy reasons, resulting in a a big billboards with “404” printed on them scattered around.

I also wonder how these services will impact “documentary” photography, i.e., pictures that simply show a place but without any other photographic merit. Won’t all of that simply become redundant and go the way of realistic paintings upon the advent of photography? This is fine with me, of course, as I don’t usually take pictures of things just to show people places. But if you can call up any street scene in the world, with you in them should it ever go real-time, what would be the point of taking such pictures on your vacation? Maybe digital cameras will become less ubiquitous in such a society, used by a few photography enthusiasts simply for “art shots” or abstracts rather than to shoot Deloris next to the quaint Taco mart. As with other art forms, when everyone has the capacity to be “special”, the art form will be forced to change. Into what is anyone’s guess.

In any case, these technological leaps are making the world more accessible to anyone with a computer, and if the new surface computer interfaces are anything to go by, sooner or later we’ll be able to be anywhere at any time. At that point, I’ll probably just want to get away from it all and won’t be able to.

So relish every time you get lost. It could be your last.

posted by Poagao at 12:29 am  
May 29 2007

On the Internet, everyone knows you’re a dog

I was late to a lunch date today. As I rode the subway into town, I thought about how this day would go if it were a couple of years down the road, and technology had kept up its current rate of development. My guess is my friends would look my position up on their GPS phones, see that I was still in Bitan, in my apartment, at noon. They’d see me leave, walk down the street, and then turn back to my apartment. My Twitter 2.0 service would flash “forgot my damn umbrella” and a real-time weather bureau layer would confirm that it was now pissing rain in my neighborhood. They’d watch me cross the bridge, just miss one train and wait for another, and then see me go one stop too far. T2.0 message: I’m tired of getting off at Taipei Main Station all the time. Then the little dot labeled “Poagao” on their screens, should they check it during their already-proceeding meal, would wander through some alleys in the vague direction of the restaurant, and (I’d like to think) they would make space for me at the table just before I walked in the door.

The rain in Bitan was incredible, I should add. I could see the heavy rain approaching and leaving, the white froth advancing in a line across the bridge at a good clip. My feet and legs were soaked, and it was a good test of my semi-waterproof shoes (verdict: kinda). To the north, the city was bathed in sunlight. The rain missed it completely.

But what I’m curious about is this: If everyone has access to our whereabouts, paths, even our hitherto-private musings typed into a wide-distribution services, will it make us more allowing for human nature? Before, we’d just come up with an excuse: “Traffic was bad” or “There was a sale on gold bullion” or “I was attacked by monkeys” or something that may or may not have happened. When it gets to the point where everyone can see what’s happening, and we all witness the chicanery that we all do and don’t tell anyone, will such shenanigans cease to be the social faux-pas that they currently are? Or will everyone just know, and not even bother mentioning them?

I guess we’re about to find out.

posted by Poagao at 2:57 am  
May 29 2007

On the Internet, everyone knows you’re a dog

I was late to a lunch date today. As I rode the subway into town, I thought about how this day would go if it were a couple of years down the road, and technology had kept up its current rate of development. My guess is my friends would look my position up on their GPS phones, see that I was still in Bitan, in my apartment, at noon. They’d see me leave, walk down the street, and then turn back to my apartment. My Twitter 2.0 service would flash “forgot my damn umbrella” and a real-time weather bureau layer would confirm that it was now pissing rain in my neighborhood. They’d watch me cross the bridge, just miss one train and wait for another, and then see me go one stop too far. T2.0 message: I’m tired of getting off at Taipei Main Station all the time. Then the little dot labeled “Poagao” on their screens, should they check it during their already-proceeding meal, would wander through some alleys in the vague direction of the restaurant, and (I’d like to think) they would make space for me at the table just before I walked in the door.

The rain in Bitan was incredible, I should add. I could see the heavy rain approaching and leaving, the white froth advancing in a line across the bridge at a good clip. My feet and legs were soaked, and it was a good test of my semi-waterproof shoes (verdict: kinda). To the north, the city was bathed in sunlight. The rain missed it completely.

But what I’m curious about is this: If everyone has access to our whereabouts, paths, even our hitherto-private musings typed into a wide-distribution services, will it make us more allowing for human nature? Before, we’d just come up with an excuse: “Traffic was bad” or “There was a sale on gold bullion” or “I was attacked by monkeys” or something that may or may not have happened. When it gets to the point where everyone can see what’s happening, and we all witness the chicanery that we all do and don’t tell anyone, will such shenanigans cease to be the social faux-pas that they currently are? Or will everyone just know, and not even bother mentioning them?

I guess we’re about to find out.

posted by Poagao at 2:57 am  
Mar 15 2007

online/offline

The more time I accumulate navigating the online world, the more I find bits of that mindset popping up in The Real World. I’ll be reading a book and want to find a certain section and automatically think, “I’ll just do a search” before realizing that there is no search. I’ll see an unfamiliar Chinese character on a sign and some part of me will try to mouseover it to see what it means. I’ll be looking at a building or a car and thinking it would look better in a different color or shape and mentally prepare to adjust the hue or morph it. The other day I noticed that one of my favorite posters, Thomas McKnight’s “Riviera Coast” was covered with scratches due to multiple moves over the last few years, and I thought to myself, “No problem, I’ll just use the clone tool and it’ll be as good as new.”

Thankfully this kind of thinking doesn’t extend to wanting to jump off buildings because you can fly in video games or anything like that. It mainly concerns a desire to have the same level of access to information IRL that I do online. You get used to being able to look anything up instantly, having your entire world indexed, searchable and adjustable. Now, 3.5G mobile devices with Wi-fi and GPS are starting to provide more information to us when we’re out and about, but not to the degree we’re used to online, not yet. Virtual environments are still laughably oversimplified and clumsy, but at the rate hardware and software are improving it’s really only a matter of time before they will resemble the actual world that we live in to such a degree that they’ll seem just as vivid.

I don’t believe, however, that such virtual worlds will draw people into them. I think that what people really want is to go the other way, and rather than taking themselves into some virtual word, instead bring all of the benefits of a virtual environment to everyday life via an interface for the world that we already inhabit, a personal browser that gives us accessibility to information about the real world to the degree that we are privy to online. Searchable literature. Objects, even buildings, that can change color. Or perhaps glasses that can scan and search what we see, or even change the world to look differently to each person (they could call the product “Rose”). If Twitter is anything to go by, I can imagine people doing nothing all day but looking out of other people’s eyes. Of course, if everyone does that, there won’t be anyone left actually doing anything for anyone else to watch.

I suppose that the downside to living in a society where we can make everything Just So would be that people might become so unaccustomed to seeing and dealing with things that they didn’t like, that we would lose any shred of adaptability that we have left, leaving us completely vulnerable to the slightest unexpected change in our environment. Some argue that we’ve already reached that point with iPods and the Internet. As we retreat from “traditional reality,” our ability to deal with it will naturally atrophy, but this has been going on since history began; who among us wouldn’t have trouble adapting to life a hundred years ago? In any case, the trend of acquiring greater access to information isn’t going to stop, so we’re going to have to deal with it somehow. And, somehow, I think we will.

And of course, there’s always the brain-plug thingy, just in case.

posted by Poagao at 4:57 pm  
Dec 31 2006

And now…a meme

Prince Roy had the gall to pick me to continue this “Five things you don’t know about me” ridiculousness. I pointed out that I’ve already done a hundred of these things, but alas, his appetite for this kind of thing seems to be insatiable. Although I have plenty of potentially disturbing secrets left, I’ve been racking my brains to think of any that won’t completely alienate one or both of my readers and/or cause them to notify relevant authorities. Here are the ones I came up with:

1. I lied in a rather baldfaced fashion to a certain ROC vice premier’s face during an interview

2. My sexual fetishes make furries look like the old couple in American Gothic

3. I successfully masqueraded as a cadet at the Virginia Military Institute

4. I’ve posted a collection of nude photos of myself on the Internet

5. The fingernails on my left hand are soft, while the fingernails on my right hand are very hard.

I’m not going to tag anyone else on this meme; let it fade away on its own.

posted by Poagao at 6:47 am  
Dec 31 2006

And now…a meme

Prince Roy had the gall to pick me to continue this “Five things you don’t know about me” ridiculousness. I pointed out that I’ve already done a hundred of these things, but alas, his appetite for this kind of thing seems to be insatiable. Although I have plenty of potentially disturbing secrets left, I’ve been racking my brains to think of any that won’t completely alienate one or both of my readers and/or cause them to notify relevant authorities. Here are the ones I came up with:

1. I lied in a rather baldfaced fashion to a certain ROC vice premier’s face during an interview

2. My sexual fetishes make furries look like the old couple in American Gothic

3. I successfully masqueraded as a cadet at the Virginia Military Institute

4. I’ve posted a collection of nude photos of myself on the Internet

5. The fingernails on my left hand are soft, while the fingernails on my right hand are very hard.

I’m not going to tag anyone else on this meme; let it fade away on its own.

posted by Poagao at 6:47 am