Posts filed under ‘Technology’
Once upon a time, in an age before TiVo and Netflix, colleagues would gather around the watercooler to chat about the previous night’s popular TV shows. The shared experience of critiquing the latest episodes was a social blessing–or for those unable to tune in, a recurring curse. Whether watched or discussed, TV shows were immoveable objects around which lives were expected to revolve. Over time, however, the opposite became true.
Today, the very questions we ask each other about televison have changed. As programs break free from their allotted timeslots and onto Hulu, iPhones and Xboxes, the question “did you watch _____?” has become “are you watching _____?” Fixed broadcast content is on its way out, with viewers instead watching shows whenever, wherever they want. Take AMC’s breakout hit Mad Men. Judging purely by its weekly viewership, one wouldn’t necessarily deem the show a tremendous success. And yet in the past six months it seems as if the Don Draper and his misogynist creatives are on the tip of everyone’s tongue. Did your friends watch last night’s episode of Mad Men? Not necessarily. But are they watching Mad Men? Damn right they are! Only now, it’s on their own terms, their own schedule, their own pace and their own devices.
As a result, weekly watercooler conversations have all but evaporated. Barring the Superbowl, the Oscars and certain major political events, today’s audience no longer experiences TV en masse. Unbound to a prescribed way of watching, viewers have turned online to discuss shows, where they can sort and sift through specifically what’s relevant to them. But god forbid they catch up to real-time! Fan websites, for instance, must now post “spoiler alerts” when discussing up-to-date episodes in order to prevent their readers from learning untimely plot points.
Our clever culture will no doubt adjust to these time-shifting technologies, but not without a heavy dose of nostalgic protest. “I remember when my friends used to watch the same shows, at the same time, and talk about them afterwards,” they’ll say. With any hope, the same technologies behind our liberation from broadcast TV will rekindle the faded joys of tuning in together.
This coming Tuesday, millions of Americans will come together to watch our nation swear in its first ever African-American President. Evidently, the spirit of unity is spreading beyond the crowds. Several interesting media partnerships have emerged to make the inauguration available to those eager to watch, but unable to attend.
The most newsworthy of the lot is MSNBC’s deal with Starbucks to simulcast the event in 650 coffeeshops in three cities. But the list goes on, with particular attention paid to making the ceremony available online. Fox News is expanding their existing partnership with Internet TV provider Hulu to provide free live coverage from noon to 2PM. Hulu’s competitor Joost, on the other hand, will stream CBS’s broadcast of the event. Other networks have opted to team up with popular social networking sites. User-produced CurrentTV will air viewers’ reactions in realtime via micro-blogging site Twitter. Elsewhere, powerhouses have united; CNN.com has integrated its site such that Facebook users can watch the Senator turn President along with their friends. Well, sort of.
While most people rushed home on election night to watch “regular” TV, the workday timing of this heavily anticipated inauguration seems to have led the big networks to rush online. I’m hopeful that the creative partnerships spurred by this historic day will encourage television networks to further embrace this type of cross-platform, deformated content. But on Tuesday, that’s not all I’ll be hopeful about!
2008 was an unforgettable year for us at People Are Amazing. Aside from Kat getting married, and me getting typhus, we launched this very blog and (despite our best efforts), it is still up and running! Since then, we’ve been privileged to interview a number of amazing people from Kalliopi Kohas, owner of Greek pine sap purveyor Mastiha to Tony Dusko, 5th grade teacher by day, whimsical web animator by night. A personal highpoint was hearing the wise words of 90 year-old Dave Crawford on growing up during the Great Depression and how best to navigate a crumbling economy.
But the recession didn’t keep us from visiting some intriguing places. John took a trip to Brooklyn’s own Fine and Raw for a taste of artisanal, dairy/sugar/preservative-free chocolate. He brought back some perishable, refrigerated samples and we made sure they never reached room temperature! Kat found herself in the Mid-West wandering the aisles of Cincinatti’s own supermarket/amusement park Jungle Jim’s. Food, it seems, is a minor obsession at P.A.A.. Kat’s post about local panini-makers S’Wich found its way onto foodie blog Eater in May. I wrote about an awful new bottled tap water I came across at a bodega; in turn, that company curiously linked to our post, “Tap’NY Must Think You’re Stupid,” in their press section.
Surprisingly, our most popular post ended up being about a miscolored canine. In early May, I was experimenting with ways to boost traffic and I noticed that the search term “green puppy” was “volcanic” in popularity on Google Trends. Apparently, a Labrador with a pea-colored coat had been born in New Orleans and really people wanted to see the pictures. I posted the two images available at the time, unaware that moments later the popular site Buzzfeed would link to our post. Within a matter of minutes, we had thousands of viewers visiting our humble little blog. Thus, the “Green Puppy Effect” was born.
Obviously, you never quite know where a year will take you. This time last year, People Are Amazing didn’t even exist. But between blogging about diabetic rappers and Colorado grease thieves, we were thrilled to ride the ups and downs of 2008. Luckily for us, amazing things are always on the horizon and 2009 is sure to provide hearty fodder for the blog. Happy New Year and thanks for reading!
On a conference call with reporters Wednesday, the Beatles’ Apple Corps Ltd, MTV Games, and Rock Band manufacturer Harmonix announced an exclusive Beatles video game to be released in the winter of next year. This comes as a welcome surprise for the many critics who feel that those licensing the Fab Four’s music have been painstakingly slow in adapting to digital culture. Though the band did brave new territory with Cirque du Soleil’s LOVE, for their own odd reasons, they have still yet to release their coveted catalog for purchase on iTunes.
On the shoulders of Harmonix and Guitar Hero makers Activision, video game manufacturers are now aggressively partnering with the music industry. According to The Economist, aging rockers Aerosmith have made more money in licensing income from Guitar Hero than from sales of any of their albums. But I have a hunch that these lucrative partnerships are indicative of something bigger.
In the past month, we’ve witnessed a presidential candidate advertising in Xbox 360 games and Brian Eno release an ambient musical instrument for the iPhone. We’ve watched Internet TV provider Hulu celebrate their first anniversary and Netflix and TiVo partner to stream on-demand rentals. Obviously, we are living in an era of rapid technological transition, but these innovations seem more enduring than past experiments. Virtual reality goggles anyone? While the Internet provides us with entertainment everywhere, it also raises our expectations of more traditional forms. Analog “one-purpose” mediums like TV, radio and even video games are learning that to survive you must not only partner with the competition but merge mediums. It seems on this long and winding road, there’s only one lane and it’s moving fast. — Johnny
Ever inclined to hide its most interesting articles in random sections, the NYT ran a fascinating article last week about how book publishers, authors and new-media-types are looking to drive youth interest in books by expanding the concept of a ‘book’ to include video games and interactive elements. According to the article:
“You can’t just make a book anymore,” said Mr. Haarsma, a former advertising consultant. Pairing a video game with a novel for young readers, he added, “brings the book into their world, as opposed to going the other way around.”
Mr. Haarsma is not the only one using video games to spark an interest in books. Increasingly, authors, teachers, librarians and publishers are embracing this fast-paced, image-laden world in the hope that the games will draw children to reading.
Spurred by arguments that video games also may teach a kind of digital literacy that is becoming as important as proficiency in print, libraries are hosting gaming tournaments, while schools are exploring how to incorporate video games in the classroom. In New York, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation is supporting efforts to create a proposed public school that will use principles of game design like instant feedback and graphic imagery to promote learning.
Publishers, meanwhile, are rushing to get in on the action. Scholastic, the American publisher of the Harry Potter series, recently released “The Maze of Bones,” the first installment in a 10-book mystery series that is tied to a Web-based game.
What follows is a good synopsis of the ongoing educational debate: video games promote learning vs. video games damage learning. Not surprisingly, no consensus is reached, but a number of interesting voices offer their take on the ways in which reading is evolving.
There is, however, a significant distinction that that article touches on but doesn’t fully explore. The book publishing industry, in its struggle to stay relevant amongst digital competitors, is confusing a new desire for interactivity for a shift in what people want from reading. (more…)
While I may be a fiend for my daily campaign fix, we rarely touch upon politics here at People Are Amazing. But political journalist Adam Nagourney’s take on the “media fog” enveloping the election in yesterday’s Times raised certain apolitical implications worth discussing here. Concerning the Obama campaign’s repeated attempts to recapture the public’s attention following a week of headline-grabbing, less-than-honest shots from his opponent, Nagourney writes:
“That episode reflects what has emerged as one of the most frustrating challenges that Mr. McCain and Mr. Obama are facing going into the final weeks of this campaign: the ways in which the proliferation of communications channels, the fracturing of mass media and the relentless political competition to own each news cycle are combining to reorder the way voters follow campaigns and decide how to vote. It has reached a point where senior campaign aides say they are no longer sure what works, as they stumble through what has become a daily campaign fog, struggling to figure out what voters are paying attention to and, not incidentally, what they are even believing.”
Surely, campaign managers aren’t the only ones stumbling around. Far from isolated to politics, this disorienting fog of misinformation confounds us all, blanketing every piece of news spread via the major media, the Internet, our mobile devices, and even the kitchen table. (more…)
A long time ago, in the 90s, some savvy entrepreneurs figured out that big companies like Coca-Cola and Nike wanted desperately to know what was cool with the kids in order to stay one step ahead of a culture increasingly at odds with mainstream marketing. Thus the trendspotting revolution launched to prominence companies like Look Look, the Zandl Group, Trendcentral, and many others all dedicated to acting as middlemen between street culture and the marketing departments of corporate America.
In the interest of parity, most trend consultancies invited the youth and cultural niches they ‘represented’ to speak on their own behalves, addressing the movements of culture in their own words. For example, Look Look’s eponymous magazine promised aspiring young photographers and artists an opportunity to publish their work— ostensibly for their peers—which could then be repackaged as a value-added consulting offering for Look Look’s clients. Or the Intelligence Group’s Trend School showcased young early-adopters speaking on panels about their hyper-connected lives. In essence, trendspotters offered a clever bargain; a platform for youth expression in exchange for youth’s bloodhound sense for the next big thing.
But fast forward a decade and a funny thing has happened: in offering such a bargain, trendspotters have largely made themselves obsolete. (more…)
It’s well-documented that we are in an age of unsurpassed information and data. Luckily, technology has not only created the swirling mess, it has also made sense of it, resulting in everything from Google Earth to Newsmap. Dynamic duo Jonathan Harris and Sep Kamvar have emerged as thought leaders in the field, and making a splash with their “We Feel Fine” project (pictured above left), which aggregates and maps how the blogosphere is “feeling” at any one time.
Given the rising importance of “pattern-finding,” I was initially surprised when my friend Paul Ratliff shared with me the concept of “Random Delight.” His theory is that there is a counter trend to pattern-finding — technology is also helping to push completely arbitrary bits of information that we seem to enjoy on a playful and instinctive level. Great examples are: the Beacon project, that projects real-time websearch terms on the wall; Urban Spoon’s iPhone restaurant finder application, which has a “slot machine” function (pictured above right) that selects a restaurant based on how hard you shake your phone.
The more I thought about it, the more it makes perfect sense. Pattern-finding helps to feed our desire for logic and order, while randomness feeds the side that delights in human ingenuity, deviations, and providence. We turn to technology to do exactly what we want… can we now trust technology to do exactly what we least expect? –Kat
(A fan’s homemade music video for Girl Talk’s “Still Here” including samples of Procol Harum, Kanye West and Ace of Base)
Two years ago, an obscure laptop DJ from Pittsburgh mashed together a collage of popular music samples into something brilliantly distinctive and fresh. Under the name Girl Talk, Greg Gillis produced the hyperactive hip-hop dance masterpiece Night Ripper, an album that has remained on my playlist and my mind ever since. Earlier this summer Girl Talk released his follow-up album Feed the Animals as a Radiohead-style “pay-what-you-like” download on the internet. Last week, he popped up on my radar yet again, this time in the form of a fan’s YouTube remixes. In each instance, I was reminded of why his music perfectly reflects this moment in time and felt compelled to share my thoughts.
Girl Talk arrived on a wave of critical acclaim and controversy, with even the most favorable reviews noting that Night Ripper (his third album, yet first commercial success) was “begging for court drama.” It seems GT had crafted an entire album using, almost exclusively, other people’s music. Of the mind-blowing 167 samples used most were under copyright, including popular singles by everyone from Ludacris and Hall & Oates to Elton John and 2Live Crew. Signed to Illegal Art (the aptly named label that specializes in artists with copyright infringement issues), it was hardly as if GT was unaware of the potential legal dangers of his sampling. Instead, relying on the “Fair Use” law, this biomedical engineer-by-day toured relentlessly with a sweaty, shirtless set even more frenetic than his music. And us kids loved it.
I’m excited about the new iPhone. But not because I’ll be able to surf the web at the speed of light– because my fiance is giving me his “old” one while he upgrades.
Interestingly, over the past 5 days, I have met an astonishing number of women who are also eagerly awaiting their significant others’ iPhones, including a 65 year-old lady next to me at a bar. (Techie-feminists, don’t get upset. It’s not that I don’t value or can’t afford to get a new iPhone, I just don’t think I need it. And that is the difference between me and my bethrothed).
It raises some intriguing questions. I wonder if the prescient Apple team has thought about the “Significant-Other-Hand-Me-Down” experience. Will second-hand users have the same reverence for the phone without having undergone the same product initiation? Does it mark a new type of relationship with phones where they are valuable enough not to just throw out or recycle?
My friend John said to me, “You’re just cheap.” Maybe so, but I can’t wait to get my hands on my new phone. And I bet John’s (apparently cheap) girlfriend can’t wait either. –Kat