This week, The New York Times declares that words are dead–in so many words. Perhaps Malcolm Gladwell awoke from a fever dream and gave the nod that we had finally reached that tipping point. Well, it would have to be a nod, right? You know, since words are dead and all. We will miss words–they were so helpful with so many things. Farhad Manjoo begins this special supplement that ran on 12 February 2018 with this cryptic message (the old fashioned text itself, by the way, begins with a young woman starting back at you from a video loop):
I’ll make this short: The thing you’re doing now, reading prose on a screen, is going out of fashion.
Yikes, such a message is running on borrowed time, is it not? You know, given that words will soon be obsolete! I guess it sort of sounds cool to make such a pronouncement, right? So, Marshall McLuhan or Malcolm Gladwell to declare it. But are words really dead? In a sense, that is what The New York Times is suggesting. Of course, there is more to this thesis. Is it possible to turn over a new leaf like Ebenezer Scrooge and make it right again? Well, no. The argument here is that this is not a matter of right or wrong–it simply is what it is:
THIS MULTIMEDIA INTERNET has been gaining on the text-based internet for years. But last year, the story accelerated sharply, and now audio and video are unstoppable. The most influential communicators online once worked on web pages and blogs. They’re now making podcasts, Netflix shows, propaganda memes, Instagram and YouTube channels, and apps like HQ Trivia.
Will this make you want to abandon your own blog writing? I hope not since I think you can sniff out the hype. Honestly, I think it just makes me want to keep doing what I’m doing all the more since I have specific reasons for working directly with the written word–which have to do with the fact written words are too precious to dismiss. That may sound a bit too erudite but, no, what I’m saying here is all very straightforward. Words, especially written words, are part of our DNA. Until we become something other than human, we will all gain essential mental nourishment from reading prose. If you were a cyborg, you may defer or maybe you would still agree with me.
But are words really dead?
And so The New York Times special media supplement is part hype and part of “all the news that’s fit to print.” We cannot hide under a rock, that’s for sure. I do have my very own YouTube Channel but, compared to my blog, it is not really an issue of one medium being more or less compelling than another. These are simply different formats. It’s totally apples and oranges to me. I enjoy using a variety of media. But I sure as hell am not going to feel less relevant or cool because, at the end of the day, I prefer the written word most of all. I suspect that you do too. And that’s okay.
“My Roommate, The Internet” is a very good title. If it were a play, I’d go to the theater to see it. If it were a game, I’d play it. For now, perhaps forever, it is a webomic and it does a fine job of it. A lot of us out there have created, or attempted comic strips. Some of us, like myself, did a comic strip in college. I peg this one as that sort of thing and done well. Back in the day, home-grown college comic strips were a big thing. I suppose they still are. Writer Andy Nordvall and artist Alexander Neish have climbed on the shoulders of many a comic about young people just hanging out. “My Roommate, The Internet” succeeds in having a distinctive irreverence and tapping into the zeitgeist.
Young people, in many respects, have not changed all that much in the last few decades. Attitudes have changed dramatically. Styles have changed dramatically. And so on. But a sad sack slacker from fifty years ago could pretty easily navigate the same couch and bag of potato chips as his brethren of today. Okay, the big difference would be…the internet! Nice segue back to our review. The premise of this webcomic is dealing with a roommate who is “as annoying as the internet.” That already sounds so goofy that I can’t help but want to check it out. It makes me think of a bad suggestion thrown out to an improv comedy troupe. But that’s okay. That’s totally okay.
It’s what Nordvall and Neish do with their oddball premise that matters, right? I’m thinking a nice mix of jokes and character-driven narrative. It’s a weekly comic. It’s just a question of developing both the jokes and characters. In general, that’s a tough slog so I’m not looking for a home run every single time. I’m looking for passion and consistency–and I see that. Do I see more? I think so. The gags have a good offbeat timing. Neish is having fun with facial expression. Both of these guys are having fun and that carries over to the reader. All in all, nice work.
In general, a comic strip, dealing with regular deadlines, is vulnerable to burn out. It happens to the best of them. Jokes repeat themselves. Material can feel like just filler. My recommendation to these guys is to play up the internet theme for all its worth. If, for example, you have a problem with trolls on Reddit, then bang that drum as loud as you can! If you become frustrated by social media etiquette, then let everyone know just how frustrated you are! So, if I have a gripe or criticism to express about this comic strip, it would just be a very general disdain for holding back and being relatively too nice. I think these two guys are on the right track. Just keep exercising those creative muscles and you’ll keep getting more and more awesome.
One last word, I only do some ranting because I care. I am holding you guys to a very high standard and I’m confident in your work. I’m told that Nordvall and Neish welcome followers. I think these guys are on the right track and you should follow them. You can find them, and follow them, at these fine locations: Instagram, Twitter, Patreon, Tumblr, and Facebook.
“To Marry Medusa” takes us further into the ideas explored in Theodore Sturgeon’s landmark novel from 1953, “More Than Human.” I reviewed that recently and you can read that here. Five years later, in 1958, “To Marry Medusa” finds us with one unconventional character, Dan Gurlick, instead of an ensemble of damaged misfits. The main idea is that we all have worth. Even Gurlick who, as his very name suggests, is quite an unsavory figure. This is a completely different and separate story from “More Than Human” but carries on that same humanist spirit.
Gurlick is as far down the heap as you can go: a illiterate homeless alcoholic with the thinnest grasp on reality. But, as Sturgeon would be happy to point out, he is still a member of the human race. Yes, …but. He’s human but he behaves more like an animal and pushes to the limits anyone’s tolerance for him.
And when an extraterrestrial being emerges, in pursuit of a human host, it is Gurlick who it stumbles upon and places the fate of humanity in his hands. As far as this entity, “the Medusa,” is concerned, Gurlick is as good as any other human to achieve its goals. Without a second thought, Medusa simply needs to plug into Gurlick and use him to plug into the rest of the humans and take over Earth. It really should be as simple as that, once a few details are carried out.
Medusa is a hive mind and has always been able to conquer other beings, once converted into hive minds. Why would humans be any different? The first mistake Medusa makes is attaching itself to Gurlick. In turn, Medusa finds humans to be a most unpredictable species. They are smarter than given credit for. They are more resilient than first believed to be. And they are more capable of fighting back than ever expected.
In a beautiful fable-like story, Sturgeon evokes human activity across the globe with vignettes of various characters. We see them at a bit of distance, never get too close to them other than to get a sense of their dreams and struggles. For a good part of the novel, we alternate between a profile from somewhere on Earth, whether it’s within an African tribe, or an Italian village, to the latest phase in the odd pairing between Medusa and Gurlick.
Sturgeon has such a seemingly effortless style. Every description and dialogue follows what appears a seamless path. Highly readable, Sturgeon’s work grapples with incredibly complex notions. He clearly loves his characters and it’s Gurlick who he loves the most. The guy can barely form a thought. He’s so limited and primitive as to be more suitable to another place and time other than a contemporary American city. When he’s out attempting to do Medusa’s bidding, he sounds insane, more so than usual. Medusa and Gurlick, no doubt, make for a delicious coupling of high an low.
We are given every indication that humanity will survive. However, it may not be as planned. For one thing, the hive mind perspective proves to be enlightening beyond measure. In fact, humans find that they can accomplish far more as a group than they ever could as individuals. Does that sound familiar? Well, sure, it’s us today on the Web, isn’t it? As Gurlick demonstrates, maybe we’ll always only be as strong as our weakest link. And Sturgeon never even once mentions a computer.
You can find “To Marry Medusa” over at Amazon right here.
Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, Net Neutrality, (HBO)
There they are, all your telecom friends: Time Warner Cable, Comcast, AT&T, Cox, and Verizon. If you leave it to them, they will get their internet fast lane, they will keep little start-up companies on a slow lane, and they will charge you if you want a faster internet connection from the slower one they have created for you. Care to comment?? Today is the last day for public comment as the FCC decides the next step toward the end of the internet as we know it. Leave your comment now at fcc.gov/comments.
If you don’t take a stand for net neutrality, corporations, like cable companies, are more than happy to sound off against it by creating fake people’s campaigns. Corporations are people too, right? Time is running out to make YOUR VOICE heard in the latest test to a free Internet.
Comics Grinder has submitted its entry in the Best Website/Blog category for this year’s THE GEEKIE AWARDS. Check it out right here.
We work best when we work together and support each other. That’s what The Geekie Awards are all about. I invite my readers to celebrate this move forward and feel free to join in support of Comics Grinder.
LIKE the Comics Grinder page at The Geekie Awards here.
LIKE my entry in the Comics/Graphic Novel category here.
The Geekie Awards celebrate excellence in various fields of geeky activity. It’s a way to shine a spotlight on some of the best pop culture out there. Here’s The Geekie Awards mission statement:
The Geekie Awards® is an award show by geeks for geeks™, aimed at putting the true geek culture in the spotlight as a collection of valid, respected, award- winning genres for storytelling and creation. In an industry filled with award shows for established celebrities, we honor talented, independent creators and give them the opportunity to receive recognition in front of a worldwide audience and leaders in their respective industries. We inspire creativity and hope and foster cross-market innovation. Our mission is to create a fun, action-packed, unforgettable broadcast event tailored to all of the things we geeks love: entertainment, gaming, products and art—delivered via the latest digital technologies.
Pretty awesome. You can enter yourself or just find out more by visiting our friends at The Geekie Awards right here.
Jonathan Woods TIME.com Senior Editor, Photo & Interactive
What will it take for TIME magazine, the landmark newsmagazine, to survive for another one hundred years and beyond? Well, no one can say that TIME is not synonymous with quality journalism because it certainly is. It has a long history that led it to that level. One of the factors, no doubt, was its vigorous, even legendary, competition with Newsweek magazine. But it’s a whole new game today. One thing is clear and that is that nothing is clear. TIME is in the midst of a revamp. Of all the Seattle Interactive Conference sessions this year, the session on TIME and its future provides the biggest glimpse into a brave new world we are all interacting with.
TIME.com‘s Photo and Interactive Senior Editor, Jonathan Woods, led a discussion about this brave new world. Instead of being overwhelmed by the shock of the new, TIME appears to be standing tall about its legacy and looking forward with confidence. Woods came across as a man very much in charge, even if he is entering uncharted waters. To help steer the mighty vessel, TIME is working with Big Human, known for its work with startups; and Blink, a web and mobile solution for finding and managing freelance media professionals worldwide. Media professionals upload their location data on the Blink mobile app to a website that media companies use to search for talent to work on their stories. Managing Director Steve Spurgat was there to speak for Big Human. He used to be CEO of the now defunct VYou, a social media platform once used by Oprah’s Book Club.
Founder/CEO Matt Craig was there to speak for Blink. Blink is online with many active users on the site. People who are interested in joining the beta site can sign up here. The Blink app is available on iTunes and Google Play. Craig worked on Page One of the Wall Street Journal for five years before founding Blink.
Steve Spurgat Big Human Managing Director
Big Human’s Steve Spurgat set the tone for the discussion by bringing up The New York Time’s “Snow Fall,” a feature story about avalanches that employs innovative use of photos and interactive. The title of the story became its nickname when referring to its storytelling features. Spurgat’s reference to Snow Fall was a way of hinting at what TIME might do differently. “A show of hands for those who have seen Snow Fall,” said Spurgat. A majority of hands went up. “Alright, now how many of you remember anything you saw?” said Spurgat with a decided sneer to test the attendees. There was some nervous laughter from the audience, probably unsure of how to respond. Instantly, just to balance things out, Blink’s Matt Craig offered: “But Snow Fall did scratch a certain itch.” So, where do you go from there?
Of course Snow Fall seems to be an easy target because of the controversy related to naysayers, particularly Medium.com’s attempt to undercut it. You can read a good recap on all the fuss here. Essentially, someone at a startup can deny that Snow Fall is much of a big deal since they believe they can offer something similar. And so a process of kicking the original around ensues. Someone at another relatively new site pokes at it and someone else comments on it and so on. Hey, give yourself some time and go read the original Snow Fall here. What you’re looking at is an excellent in-depth feature, something TIME really can’t quarrel with over quality. You are free to read, and skim over, whatever you want, just like you would any special feature that has ever been created.
Matt Craig Blink Founder/CEO
It’s not like TIME doesn’t have some very cool features of its own. There is “Timelapse,” in partnership with Google, Landsat, and Carnegie Mellon University, that presents a 30-year look at global climate change through satellite images. View it here. Woods also cited a feature with an infographic by Jeffrey Kluger and Chris Wilson mapping out the best places to live in the U.S. according to your mood. Read it here. Woods was asked a number of questions that kept coming back to whether or not there was a formula to follow to maximize readership and to this, over and over again, Woods was clear that there was no formula. “I want the right amount for a story,” was Woods’s steadfast response. To this, Spurgat could only agree with, “A story is as long as it needs to be.”
Getting back to basics on compelling content, Woods pointed with pride to the newly launched Red Border Films at Time.com. This new documentary series debuted on August 15, 2013 with “One Dream,” to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. View it here. The first profile is of Bobby Henline, an injured Iraqi war veteran who is now a stand-up comedian, directed by Peter Van Agtmael. It will debut on Veteran’s Day, November 11, 2013.
Here are a couple of other interesting observations, considering that Big Human and Blink have TIME’s ear. Blink’s Craig referenced Vice.com as a leader in original web content. The VICE audience expects great video, photography and stories. At this point in the conversation the discussion had turned to long form vs. short form media and the issues surrounding user generated content. Craig believes UGC is useful in some instances but great brands will always need to produce high quality original content. VICE is a great example of a media outlet that does it well. Craig stated that he gets his news from a wide variety of sources with the most alternative source being Vice.com. And Big Human’s Spurgat wasn’t too keen on Medium.com’s tracking of how long it takes a reader to complete reading a post. “It’s documented that people don’t always read things to the very end,” said Spurgat. “News is very fragmented today,” he added. We do, however, come back to the fact that web content is free of the restrictions of print. Web content is free to be as long as it needs to be.
Snow Fall is both derided and admired in the same breathe but it is not the problem. As much as we want instant gratification, we appreciate a feature that provides thoughtful analysis and greater detail. Have we seen the last of Snow Fall? No, instead we’ll find our way out of a free fall. Journalists will continue to pursue a good story. Stories will continue to be told, short ones and long ones. And one thing is certain: we will continue to see more competitive, and excellent, journalism ahead, no matter what the medium.
Seattle Interactive Conference, or SIC, is in town October 28, 29, and 30. My first impressions are that this is a very cool place to be for whatever your creative bent. Case in point, a presentation I just enjoyed put together by Jack Conte of Patreon.com. I include a quick sketch I did during the session. Conte has a great way with people. He makes you feel like he’s a friend with a really cool idea to share with you. And, well, that’s basically what he turned out to be. He is the founder of a new crowfunding platform for creators who release digital content and that could be just about anything, music, video, and even comics.
Patreon is unique. You can think of Kickstarter to get a frame of reference but then quickly move on from that. With Patreon, your patrons pay what they want to receive your content one piece at a time. If you are a musician, well, then it’s one song at a time. And so on. What’s really cool about this model is that creators and patrons find the right fit in a whole new way and everyone wins in the end. How do musicians and other digital content providers earn money today? Check out Patreon.com.
Be sure to check out the Seattle Interactive Conference. Visit them here.
Gloria Swanson photograph by Edward Steichen, 1924
“Where have all the heroes gone?” asked Sherman. He asked this plainly and earnestly, without even a hint of irony. He looked to be about 16-years-old and not remarkable at first glance, just a kid. He wore a cardigan sweater, had messy hair, a well-worn t-shirt, jeans, and Converse high tops. Maybe a geek but not a proud geek.
THROUGH THE WORMHOLE WITH MORGAN FREEMAN has proven to be a hit. And now it’s back. Taking a sneak peek at the Season Four opener, “When Does Life Begin?” we find a thought-provoking collection of stories from various vantage points. The question even includes a discussion on artificial intelligence and “the global brain” that has emerged since the internet. The series is, pardon the pun, “brought to life,” by masterful narration from Morgan Freeman, a variety of colorful backdrops, engaging interviews, graphics, and animation.
Evolutionary Cyberneticist Francis Heylighen
The highlight of the season opener, for many, will likely be an interview with evolutionary cyberneticist Francis Heylighen. Heylighen is studying how people fire off information to one another through the internet in similar fashion to how neurons fire back and forth in the brain.
Evolutionary Cybernetics: The Global Brain
Imagine, he points out, if only Galileo could have communicated with his colleagues as we do today, science would have developed far more quickly. The internet, he concludes, is developing into a collective brain. The study of evolutionary cybernetics dates back to the 1940s. It is a relatively young discipline and a complex one. Thanks to Science Channel, we viewers get a very engaging introduction to it.
Press release and full season description follows: