Sunday, December 16, 2007

Coming to terms with YouTube as a construction site.

I'm one of those people who came of age when the "home movie" look was due to the fact they were made at home, with few editing skills or tools. Also, out of privacy concerns, I confess I have been hesitant to put my contact information out there to a potential virtual community. I definitely need some friends who can show me around. Even though I'm very interested in YouTube and the Internet, I'm still pretty naive about the level of background construction that goes into material that appears there. I'm easily surprised.

Here is a video I found over the Christmas break on YouTube when I searched using the keywords "old" "people" and "technology", and that led me straight to the above 2 1/2 minute comedy video, entitled "Old People vs Technology". It gets the message across about the frustration that many people feel in the face of having to adapt to technological change. The bored young man dressed as a computer, coldly holding the older man at a distance, is a witty representation of access issues.

I wondered "Who initiated this video?", and fantasized that perhaps that young man onscreen is the grandchild of one of those frustrated seniors. The production values: editing, titles, a musical track and good lighting, led me to visualize that the people making the video are perhaps film students -- maybe this was a project for class. The spirit of playful empathy appealed to me. YouTube is supposed to be as much about the makers of the videos as it is about the videos themselves, so I decided to send the makers an email, to bond a bit and to explore what I see as common thematic ground. I wanted to ask how they came to choose that topic, and to ask if those elders who are so eloquently flailing around are in one of their families.

This cozy reading of the video was reframed when I used the contact information to go to a website. Turns out that it was created by a professional sketch comedy troupe in California, consisting of three young men who met while doing improv at university. Justin Michael (the young man in the cardboard box) actually is a film student, although his "comedic short videos" are already getting exposure. The camera work is by Dave Crabtree, a graduate who is now a professional. His bio says he is "a digital media preditor (yes, producer / editor) at FOX Reality. Yes, he works in reality TV."

The amateur look of the video is actually carefully constructed. Does that make "Old People vs Technology" a rip-off which ridicules seniors? No, I don't think so. All filmmaking is an effort to create an illusion. Much of the work on YouTube which looks shallow, awkward, low-tech and cheesy simply does not achieve illusion. The sense of being on the receiving end of a "gotcha" arises upon discovering a successful illusion -- a carefully constructed work being presented as a spontaneous one. Looking for these practical jokes has become a sophisticated game, and part of the sense of discovery that draws people into spending evenings poking around.

The makers "Old People vs Technology" are not out to dupe the viewer. They transparently give us a straight trail via the contact link back to their website Tremendousaur.

Contrast this approach with the 2006 YouTube hoax, Lonely Girl 15 (also known as LG15). Ostensibly, this was a series of off-the-cuff Vlogs (diary-style video blogs) made with a webcam by Bree, a sixteen-year old girl in her bedroom. A real, cheap, webcam was used, but the rest of the context was faked.

From the outset, a group of filmmakers and other professionals set out to mimic the vlogger look, and to deliberately hide their tracks. This "making of" photo, published in the New York Times after LG15 was "outed" by sleuthing fans, shows the crew working with the actors. Near the end, the site gained in popularity as the story line was superseded by a "search for Bree" which had the character of an online mystery game. The number of visits to the site skyrocketed as fans searched for elements in discord with the claim that this was a solo amateur project by a teenager. Finally a sting by some fans revealed that emails from "Bree" were originating in a Hollywood talent agency (which later signed up the "Creators" after they "came out" on the Jay Leno TV talk show). LG15 was instantly rebranded, and the story is proudly told on "LGpedia", a website that still plays with Internet cliches.

The Tremendousaurs also give us a behind-the-scenes look at the making of "Old People vs Technology" in the video "Old People Poses" which shows the auditions. So I guess those aren't Justin's grandparents. I'll ask him anyway, when I email them to let them know about this posting. Increasingly I'm getting it now that the construction of informality and a cheesy look is just part of swimming in the YouTube current -- part of the playfulness and art.

As the man behind the camera describes himself: "His days now lie in the hands of FOX, his nights with Eyestorm Productions, his bathroom breaks with OgMog, and his weekends with Tremendosaur. And when he sleeps, Dave dreams of the days when Jacob, Justin, and he used to regale hoards of cheery fans every Friday Night with Second Nature Improv. " Sure sounds to me like your basic, playful, arty nice guy ... somebody's grandson.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Historic computer commercials with John Cleese

These two Monty Python-esque ad were made in the early eighties for the emerging British market for home computers. One of the themes of this series of ads was to position Compaq against IBM, the market leader at that time. I find these interesting because they seem to express the initial ambivalence that was common when personal computers were introduced. It seems to me that it has become politically incorrect to express this sort of resistance today.

This shows John Cleese comparing the new "Compaq 2 Desktop" with a dead fish.

This one describes what were then leading-edge features. As well as being funny, it struck me as an interesting historical snapshot.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007


What's in that heavy-looking daypack? Lots of digital and electronic stuff that has accumulated over time, and which now seems indispensible. I stopped at a park bench one day and looked at what I felt I needed to feel "ready".Here is a one minute video.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Do "Help Lines" bog you down?

Here is a 2 1/2 minute video piece, made with my friend Marlene Franks. A video pioneer, she is now working hard at gaining skills to begin to use her computer and digital camera as production tools. We get together periodically in front of her computer for me to give her support in using her Movie Maker software.

The video is her description of one of those "tripping over the tools" incidents. Yesterday she confessed that she hadn't done much since our last meeting, because she had gotten sidetracked, stuck and frustrated in trying to do what she thought would be a quick and simple bit of computer housekeeping: doing her annual update to her virus protection subscription. She describes how she worked persistently with call centre employees at a live Help Line. Even though she finally got the job done, she emerged feeling like a failure. I noticed that, weeks later, she was still showing a drop in energy, confidence and enthusiasm for working at her computer.

The online article "Customer Call Centres: Who Gets Your Worst Service Vote?" (published on the CityNews site, June 14, 2007) indicates that Marlene is not alone, and that computer support is rated the worst. People who came of age before computers often tell me that they emerge from the maze of a computer support phone call feeling stupid and inadequate. What is the answer? It would certainly have been shortsighted for Marlene to bail out on her effort to get updated virus protection. If it was hard getting support about downloading, that is nothing compared to the kind of help she would have needed had she experienced time-consuming devastation of a computer meltdown.

People who are just getting their feet wet with new technology need to hear that most people using computers feel -- at least on occasion -- like they are in over their heads. And they, too, often feel like they aren't getting what they need when they wave at the lifeguard. One reason that computer courses for seniors are so useful is that they provide a safe space where stories become funny once they are swapped. As I've watched my much younger peers in my media classes, I've noticed that they ask each other questions, and have a high tolerance for what I call "thrashing around". Asking a friend or family member to sit down with you at your own computer is one solution (as long as they promise not to grab the keyboard). But also, from personal experience, I have found that Call Centre employees will define a term or describe the spot where that key should be, once I admit that I'm lost. When all else fails, get out of the pool and, like Marlene, go out for a walk. Being in deep water is not the same as drowning.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Digital Photography for Seniors - by Ed Dunnett

One of the interests I have developed, in the last three years, is to work with digital photography. In particular I am looking to produce different types of outputs particularly for people who are not inclined to use computers and high technology to gain access to photos. Seniors are often included in this group.

What this involves is taking digital photos of special events like weddings, important travel and graduations, doing them up into photomontages using image enhancing software and then selecting a number of output options for displaying these montages. This can include laminating the photomontages into placemats for the dinner table or preparing laminated posters for wall display. More recently I have tried preparing slideshows on dvds. These can be shown on television via a dvd player. To make things easier for the user I always choose the option of “no menu”. This means the dvd will play as soon as it is inserted in the dvd player and will continue until “the door is opened” again.
These seem to be working quite well. Although I still find that receiving a package of snaps by mail is still the most popular for my 90 year old father in law.
Ed Dunnett

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

It's only funny if it's true - Gmail April Fools Joke - by JoyfulCuriousity

On April 1st when I logged into my Gmail account, I was surprised to see that they were offering a "paper archive" option for email.

As with many pieces of information that pass across my eyes, I wondered briefly, "Who would use that?" and then I thought, "I'm sure they've done their market research."

It was only days later that I saw that Gmail posed the question "Have you seen our April Fools Joke?" The link directed users to the delicious marketing-pitch satire describing "Gmail Paper".

Talking with friends later, I discovered that many, many people print out messages in 14 point font for elderly relatives. They stuff the print outs in envelopes and send the messages through the post.

It's interesting to me that even though the printing of emails keeps the elderly relatives "in the loop", those relatives who cannot respond via email will have lost their voice in the conversation.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

iPod ownership indicates more than mere affluence - by JoyfulCuriousity

Nike shoes or Coach bags tell the world that you have money. iPods tell the world that you own technology.

When I gave my spouse an iPod for her birthday last December, we were amazed at the assumptions that had been made about our comfort with technology. The iPod video comes "plug and play" without an instruction manual; Apple assumes that the user already knows how to turn on and off the iPod and to navigate through the menus.

Beyond the knowledge of how to use an iPod, there is an impressive list of what you need to own in order to operate and customize the iPod.

To run an iPod you require a computer on which you have your own identity (either you're the only user or you have login) and you need a good internet connection. iTunes (which is used to download files and upload them on the iPod) is user-specific. If one owns a PC (not a Mac), before using an iPod for the first time, one has to download iTunes onto their computer from the Apple site. This means that one couldn't use the computer at the public library to maintain, or even initialize, their iPod.

The iPod is a lovely and addictive machine The designers created such an intuitive device that after the first little while of using it, the iPod seemingly disappears and the user is left with the joy of listening to music, learning from lectures, or watching home-made lego videos.

But I wonder who is left out from the iRevolution? I can imagine that beyond separating rich from poor, the iPod separates technologically-comfortable (and endowed) from not.

Note: in the sparse iPod literature that comes with the machine, there is no article before "iPod" - not "an" or "the" or even "your". Is this to make iPod friendly, like a pet or a previously-named Cabbage Patch doll? Or did Apple drop their articles to make their documents less wordy and more accessible to non-English speakers?

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Shutdown Day site -- the morning after

I'm disappointed at how the Shutdown Day site has devolved into much more static forms. The home page uses typography to show the often crude and macho claims that the day was spent on the computer and/or engaged in exotic sex. I had been very much taken with the energy of the "Shutdown Day" site in the runup to March 24. It was driven by the device of an artificially created deadline, and some interesting graphic representations of statistics about participation levels, which stimulated more participation. It was engagingly "sticky" to use a phrase from the book "Tipping Point". In comparison to that excitement, the commitment, even on the part of the people who put the site up there, seems to have evaporated once the day came and went. Now the site seems to be drifting like a satellite that has run out of fuel.

I was on the verge of deleting the link to the Shutdown Day site in the sidebar on the right, but then I realized that my reaction might be a generation thing, and that I need to take a look at what is triggering me both positively and negatively. The site took a younger, tech-savvy approach which in the end seems shallow to me. Deleting the link seems like going into denial. The site got 50,000 people engaged enough to go online and, not only comment, but also to participate. Does it matter that the interest was so short-lived? I need to come to terms with the short attention spans and ephemerality of work produced for the internet. Can I live with that as an artist? If I can't, can I take my own advice and "take what I want and leave the rest"?

I'm reflecting a lot about how I, as a socially engaged artist, can make a place for myself on the internet which will find its audience, and continue to hold it. My theme of balancing technology with life is very similar to the one being promoted by the Shutdown Day people. I am looking for ways of expressing my message in a way that engages an audience of peers? The lack of comments here shows that I could learn a lot about "stickiness" from Shutdown Day.

There is a "support Shutdown Day" area, suggesting that people who want to get involved could donate to "the National Laptop Foundation" which recycles computers to people who can't afford them, including seniors. When it showed up on the Friday night I thought it was a puzzling detour from the main event. Now I'm still intrigued at what seems to be an effort to go beyond a one-day event. I'll check it out and let you know.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Shutdown Day - March 24, 2007

The following introduction proposes a concept which may not seem so radical to COABC's: "It is obvious that people would find life extremely difficult without computers, maybe even impossible. If they disappeared for just one day, would we be able to cope? Be a part of one of the biggest global experiments ever to take place on the internet. The idea behind the experiment is to find out how many people can go without a computer for one whole day, and what will happen if we all participate! Shutdown your computer on this day and find out! Can you survive for 24 hours without your computer?"

In sending out my emails telling people about this site, I wrongly called it "Web Shutdown Day" instead of "Shutdown Day". Big difference. This site, responding to the growing fatigue felt by humans in constant interface with computers, does not intend to shut the whole web down -- even for a day. It looks for simple, small-scale, personal responses by individuals to their own computer use. Like "Buy Nothing Day", this is an opportunity to consciously reflect on our habits, reframing individual behaviour into a community-action context. The site suggests "Turn your computer off. Do something else for one day, then come back and report what happened."

I took the 24-hour pledge on Shutdown Day website along with over 51,000 other people who clicked "I can" (and 8,000 people who confessed "I can't".

The above cheerful and funny video "Alternate Uses for Your Laptop" shows that there is hope for all those sons who disappeared into the basement with their computers. Also intriguing are the written and video responses to the idea of turning the computers off. Maybe this is going to be the next cool thing to do!

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

When I'm Bored, by Alice

Here is Alice, who has, in my opinion, done a very creative job of making use of aspects of the internet. Could you describe some ways you use your computer?

I mostly use it for playing Solitaire. I use the email to send messages to family and friends. And sometimes I sit down and get lost in it, and try to find my way back.

What do you use to help you figure out how to use your computer?

When I first got a computer, I had a book with illustrations of how to do calendars and writing paper, which I used to make for everybody. Now my monitor went on the hummer, and I got a new one, and the book I used is obsolete. My daughter, Becky, says they don't have books like that anymore for new computers. I really miss that part.

How does playing Solitaire fit into the rest of your life?

I find it very relaxing. For one thing, sometimes I'm just bored, and the TV is lousy, and then I go play Solitaire for awhile. I get tired with that if I can't win. It depends on my moods. And I hope and pray that it will improve my memory! But I don't know about that, whether it does or not. But it won't make it worse anyway. We joke about "the Golden Years"!

Then of course the emails. I get lots of emails. Then I try to take care of that.

What kind of emails do you get?

All kinds. I have a lot of friends who send me emails. Lots of them are funny. Some are very touching. And some of them... I wish they'd kept them.

Are a lot your emails forwarded items likes poems?

Yeah. I don't mind the poems and stuff -- and the funny things.

Do you get personal emails from people that are just directed to you? Like letters?

Not really letters. My daughters send emails to keep me up to date and see how we are doing.

So they are short like telegrams used to be?

Yeah. And my son, I get short emails, but not very often. But no letters. He'll phone more often.

I notice that your picture which appears on the screen when the computer is not in use is a family photo. Tell me about that.

That's my granddaughter. She works in Campbell River at a water plant. When she first went up there she caught all these fish and sent a picture of herself to me. And somehow or other my daughter Becky made up that screensaver for me. I don't know how she did it.

To wind up, what would you say to other seniors about computers?

Well I like computers. They are just a filler. Sometimes you don't know what you want to do. Then you can play Solitaire and think about things. Sometimes you just want to be in a different world, and not have to think about cooking or something.

Monday, March 12, 2007

My White Rock Bench, by Fred

Dad, could you tell us how you got your bench?

Well, during my years in White Rock they were offering to let you have a bench of your own along the waterfront. And I was happy to buy my bench. The bench was made of BC cedar and obviously could stand the test of time. So I composed a plaque to go on my bench, thinking ahead to the day when I would be long gone to my great reward. So it was a good sized plaque, capable of being turned over and used as a memorial to me. As it's turned out, the plaque is not capable of taking seven names of my family, so they'll need a new plaque. In the meantime it is serving a useful purpose in that it is offering a wonderful viewpoint of the pier and its activities.

Last fall, you wrote me to ask me to visit the bench. Could you expand on what my "mission" was?

Your mission was to see if it was still there. I was aware of the fact that they had relocated it, but I was sure they did a good job, as it was a prime location for getting a constant flow of use.

I took along my digital camera so I could print out photos to mail and show you the bench, and also have a bit of fun with the project by stringing the images together into a short movie. It was a surprise gift - and a surprise to me how hard it was to find a way of showing you the movie! Finally we put it up on YouTube, and now you don't need any other equipment to play it. How did it go when I showed you the movie up on the internet?

Well I was surprised to find the bench had taken on a new dimension.

We are planning now to make another movie. Please tell us about that one

The latest development is that I am planning to have my cremation "dust" scattered in a small bird sanctuary on the outskirts of White Rock. While living in the area I had visited this bird sanctuary on numerous occasions, finding new flocks of migrating birds enjoying the rest period along the river. They had also built a tower viewpoint overlooking a bend in the river, and it appeared ideal for an all weather spot to scatter my ashes to the winds.

And in that same letter, you had also given me a second mission of finding that spot with the tower, and sent me a map with an "x" marking the spot. It felt like a treasure hunt! I was very glad that you are still around when I discovered a map in the picnic ground that showed not one but three towers! I didn't know if I had found the right one. But I could send you a printout of a photo of that map, so you could identify the right tower! And as it turns out, I was at the wrong one!
Is it useful to be able to see these images of the places that are important to you and to tell us about the meaning?

This is the time to do it, as I approach my 90th birthday. And I have been seriously studying all the aspects of my memorial wishes. First of all I would like our service of remembrance at my church here. However for the actual disposal of my ashes, I wish to have them distributed in the above location near White Rock. I have it on very good authority that it is legal to do this, providing you make sure that the ashes go into the WIND.

So is it useful to be able to plan with us, and work from pictures so that those of us who will be making your last wishes come true can be sure that we doing it right?

Yes. I am very surprised that there are now three towers to choose from! However my original choice is still valid.

And with your help via the photos and video, all seven of us can be feeling like we are sharing your vision of that event. And it is wonderful to be able to talk about this with you, and even have a few laughs. 

Subsequent notes about the video "Fred's Spot"

After Dad confirmed the right tower, I went back to the place and made a small one and a half minute video which I edited in iMovie with a soundtrack of a favorite song off a CD. I loaded it up to YouTube.  I felt that I was a success when both my sisters reported that they cried when they saw it. And my brother, who has accepted the role of "ash scatterer" is relieved.  

I found this an interesting experience with situating myself to the lines between "public" and "private" on YouTube. Initially kept it private and just sent links out to my immediate family. Later, with Dad's permission after his interview for this blog, I changed the permission to "public" so that I could insert it here. a lot of thought, I wrote a rather vague description on YouTube, so that viewers who are uninvolved in my family's story would only know that this is my Dad's favorite spot, but not why. However I am comfortable showing it here, in my blog, where viewers have a context. I would welcome comments and stories about choices made in this regard. 

Thursday, March 08, 2007

YouTube for COABC's

In my posting about Time's "Person of the Year" I got into a discussion about YouTube". Since then I've been checking it out, looking specifically for videos either made by COABC's (people who came of age before computers), or of interest to people of any age, who have an ambivalent relationship with new technology.

A real selling point of YouTube for me is that you don't need to have any special viewing software loaded on your own computer, to pay, or to be a member, to be able to view videos there. So I've started a new section on the right called "YouTube for COABC's". Please feel free to use the comments to suggest other ones you have enjoyed.

To see the video illustrated at the left, click on this link for "Introducing the Book"

Also, here is a link to "Geriatric 1927" which is the "channel" of an 80 year old man. His videos about his life have made him the seventh most subscribed on YouTube.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Library site helps Book Clubs

I'll confess that, for relaxation, one of my favorite activities is sitting down with a book. I am a member of a book club that saves money for its members by using the library. The person who will be the next host brings three choices from the library to the meeting for us to browse the real thing.
For my research I look at the suggestions in the Vancouver library's website section called "the Book Club". We only recommend books that have an adequate number of copies, and the catalogue entry gives me that status. When the group decides the next title, each of us logs on to the library catalogue to place a hold or to get a copy delivered to the most convenient branch. The catalogue will also tell you where there are copies sitting on the shelves, in case you left it till the last minute, and need to start reading fast to be ready for the meeting! The user has a choice of either being phoned by a very robotic sounding message, or recieving automated email communications from the library. I prefer the email, because there is another service included where you get a couple of days warning if a book is going to be overdue, with a link right there to my library account where I can renew it before I forget.

Here is a link to the Vancouver Public Library catalogue

Photo of the Central Branch with permission from the Vancouver Public Library website.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Marge Lam's offline relationship

Five reasons I love about being offline:
  1. In the evening -- instead of staring into a screen for hours on end looking at all the different clogs I could purchase from all over the world -- I can draw patterns, listen to "Between the Covers" on CBC while I'm doing stretches, and take extra-long hot baths.
  2. I get to talk to a person when ordering my Spud groceries, and ask things like "are Gone Crackers really worth $6.50 a box?" and my very friendly Spud employee says "Yes. The packaging's awful, but the crackers are fantastic." Now I'm addicted to Gone Crackers.
  3. I've noticed at least ten more bird species right outside my window.
  4. It's a good excuse when I miss deadlines.
  5. I feel better. My body feels better.
Five reasons I miss about being offline:
  1. I probably communicate 30% less than I did when I was online. But I think the quality of my life has improved.
  2. I show up at meetings and I don't have the agenda.
  3. Sometimes it's awkward when networking because people don't do phone anymore.
  4. I can't access information as quickly as I would like to.
  5. It makes me feel disabled.
Nancy invited me onto her blog. I met her through an internship programme with the Art Health and Seniors Project.

Thank you, Nancy, for being such a great transcriber. I can't use my arms to do a lot of things I used to do because of a repetitive strain injury from work. That's why I've been offline.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

"Happy Birthday" bounces off satellites

Conference calls don't need to be limited to business use when access to user-friendly technology is available free of charge. Last week, on my mother's 84th birthday, she sat in her wheelchair in Calgary while my sister Judi helped her chat with her extended family. Besides the calls being placed from all over Western Canada, one grandchild stood in a bathing suit at a phone booth on a beach in New Zealand, another phoned from a booth in Mexico, while my brother Steve in Africa phoned at 3:30 in the morning, his time. My role was to lead the group in singing "Happy Birthday". Despite my countdown and an "all together now", the song got mashed as each of us speeded up or slowed down, trying to compensate for the delays. Mom got the point, anyway.

We seven siblings use email to communicate with each other, but neither of our parents use computers. My sister Janet went to a website to set our family's conference call account after she used it in her organization, and found there were no catches or hidden costs. The only down-side is that cell phone people have to use a land line (hence all the phone booths). Even with fourteen people, the sound quality was good after we all figured out how to mute ourselves when we weren't talking. We were also able to have a free recording made, and each of us can phone up and listen until it gets overwritten by our next taped call. I've put a link to their website in the section on the right.

Last night I went over to the house of a friend in order to make a permanent copy of that recording using a tape recorder connected to the jack on her extension phone. The website offers a way of downloading the sound file to a computer, which will be my next challenge. In the meantime, I'm glad to know that I have a cassette tucked in a drawer of those relaxed voices and cacaphonous song.

With our parents so old, and in the light of their increasing health problems, the tone of the next recording could easily be very different. We plan to use conference calling regularly -- showing up together for our parents during difficult times, as well as for celebrations.

Here is the link to the site which offers free conference calls.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Time Magazine's "Person of the Year". Is that ME?

On Time Magazine’s cover for their “Person of the Year 2006", the computer screen is a mirror. The caption says “You. Yes, you. You control the Information Age. Welcome to your world.” My hunch is that many people looked into that piece of mylar on the magazine cover and did not see themselves reflected there. The story is “about community and collaboration on a scale never seen before” on "Web 2.0". Time asks “Seriously, who actually sits down after a long day at work and says ‘I’m going to turn on my computer and make a movie starring my pet Iguana?' ... Who has that time and that energy and that passion?" and answers: "You do." Who? Me?

Increasingly, I am finding that sort of time, energy and passion. But, for me, the "what" often gets frustratingly tangled up in the "how". My son has advised that I avoid the term "cyberspace", but my efforts to hoist my pieces up there take a degree of grinding which mystifies him. After my return to art school after the age of fifty, I switched my studies away from my comfort zone in visual art and into digital communications media such as the Internet. I am convinced that, like it or not, that is the leading edge in art. But I confess that my reaction is often "not". Many of us who came of age before computers have worried about losing our children to computer "twitch games". We also fear losing ourselves, if we were to start to play with computers. Often when we do experiment for fun, we find ourselves spending our precious time thrashing around, bogged down in technology and jargon. Who wants to blog tonight if we aren't having fun, when we know that tomorrow we have to face our overstuffed inbox at work?

I felt relief when I heard one of my teachers respond to a query about his absence on the school's online forum with "I've got a life". Comments such as that foster an atmosphere where both artists and non-artists can make choices about using computers for creative activity. The point is to pick the elements of the recreational computer world that actually reflect and nourish our own particular -- maybe sort of boring -- lives.

We may not be motivated enough to tolerate a steep learning curve in order to make a movie about our iguana, but if properly encouraged, we might spend an evening in the YouTube site, figuring out how to post a home video of our child playing on the beach. In the links section on the right you can see just such a clip, posted by my brother, Steve. I hadn't visited YouTube until I got that link, and when I checked it out, I was intrigued at its potential to be useful to people in my own demographic. The trouble with buying a digital video camera is that it is cumbersome to show the results to people who are not there sitting on our sofa. YouTube is free of charge to upload, no special software or registration is required to view, and a direct link to your video can easily be emailed to friends and family. Steve's clip "Korkobite Beach" has 55 views, while below it,"The Wedge" clocked 4,258. Who cares? There are 138,999 videos in that category, and room for everybody.

The fact that Steve playfully engages me, as part of his "community" by emailing me his YouTube link, makes me feel that maybe Time magazine did get it right. The main payoff for Steve and his son was playing together in the surf, and the main payoff for me is to feel connected to them. I am now using some of that life I have to play on my computer, and it is especially sweet if my son keeps me company. Sure, its better on a boogie board. But gazing into that monitor does not doom us to becoming lost in narcissism.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

TV Guide Magazine no longer on paper. Who cares?

In late October 2006, TV Guide announced that the Canadian edition of the print magazine would be discontinued. Readers of the magazine are now expected to fire it up on their computers, and view the free online version on the Internet. Reuters quotes Jamie Hubbard, editor of Canada's TV Guide: "The way the universe -- and let's be honest, a younger universe -- is getting their information -- has changed dramatically in the last five years, never mind 30 years ago."

The move was no doubt necessary for economic survival. Reuters points out that, after 50 years of publication, circulation had dropped in four years from 430,000 to 243,000.

But, as Michael Adams, curator at Toronto's MZTV Museum of Television, told Reuters: "Coffee tables will miss it. The generation that still picks up the TV Guide was the generation that grew up with rabbit-ear antennas".

Discussions in blogs echo this concern about marginalization of users. In "" C. Thomas commented "I'm very disappointed ... My mother doesn't even know how to use a computer. I on the other hand only use the one at work or library." And another person anonymously posted "My grandmother is confused to hell right now wondering how she is going to find out what is on TV this week. I didn't even know this was true until I went to 3 stores trying to get her a TV Guide ... Online is fine for this generation, but what about all the confused elderly without computers?" And Anne commented "...for many older and elderly people (who in fact make up approximately 20 percent of Canada's viewing public) this comes as a huge detriment to their TV viewing pleasure ... Kudos to your brainless ideas". For more commentary on this blog, click

Frankly, I never bought TV Guide, even years ago when I was still hooked up to broadcast TV. To me, that little magazine with some celebrity on the cover was just one more superficial bit of "here today, gone tomorrow" parked in the impulse buy zone at the checkouts. I went looking for one of them to scan and illustrate this posting, but I'm too late. Now it is an artifact in the Canadian Museum of Television. Nonetheless, it disturbs me that this tool, which facilitated the navigation of the increasingly complex choices viewers need to make to use their TV watching time, is now restricted to people comfortable with computers, and who have one close to their TV.

What do you think? Please let us know by clicking on the blue word "comments" on the lower right of this article. In my links section on the right, there is a section which gives you a link to the TV Guide online site, the Reuters article, and the blog quoted above.