Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Facing Up to the Future


Are blogs and websites dying? There was a time when a website or a blog stood for the height of instant gratification as well as self congratulatory satisfaction. A paper might take a day to cover a story but a website or blog could do it instantly. Still, it was just a different means of publishing. Film, book and music sites and blogs still went to the trouble, and still do, of writing entire reviews, articles and essays upon which the reader could kindly, or harshly, comment and converse. It was a different way to get the information out there but the information was still presented in essay length format.

Now there's Facebook and Twitter and the actual published content itself is changing. No more essays, just a few sentences, a link to a video, a picture. Twitter limits its users to 140 characters. Others will follow until surely a service will come along that allows only posts of single character emoticons. In the face of this heavily abridged competition how much longer can the the blogs and websites survive? My guess would be as long as Facebook and Twitter do. You see, to turn the phrase around a bit, I come not to bury Facebook but to praise it.

I am by most standards a technology hold-out. I love new technology and am fascinated by anything new that comes along and promises change but I always wait to join in. I still remember the lessons of my childhood as I watched friends and neighbors spend hundreds of 1970s dollars on Texas Instruments calculators that three years later cost only twelve bucks. Or VCRs in 1981 for 900 dollars that by 1984 cost around two hundred. Or computers. Okay, computers I couldn't wait on. I worked on them in the eighties in classrooms and at work and in 1992 finally decided I had to have one. I still remember the cost too. For a 420 megabyte hard drive (tip-top of the line in 1992 I'll have you know) with 4 megabytes of ram and a 386 processor I laid down $2400 dollars. Yep, two thousand four hundred dollars for something that my daughter's DSI could out-maneuver in two thirds of a nanosecond.

Yes the lessons of cost depreciation have stayed with me even as the new internet technologies increasingly come free of charge. It's not the price obviously that holds me back but the idea that the first folks in have to deal with the bugs, the screw-ups and the mindless "I have to be first with everything" blather hounds. And so it goes with Facebook. I held back, waited. Waited to make sure the kinks were worked out by everyone else and to make sure it wasn't just a flash in the pan I was going to devote time and energy to only to have abandon it all and start over somewhere else. When I was satisfied that Facebook was "settled in" so to speak, I joined. And I'm glad I did.

My visits and pageviews here at Cinema Styles haven't changed. If anything they continue to slowly increase. Same with The Invisible Edge although while I am at home with my daughter for one more week while she is not in camp it will continue to receive only one update a week. And my photo blog Unexplained Cinema, which I just recently redesigned for visual consistency, has really taken off and has even been featured on photo websites I am proud to say. So my blogs are doing just fine. Of course, there is a difference. The difference is that the conversations that go on in the comment section have shifted to a more suitable forum, Facebook, leaving the comment section for actual comments and conversation about the post itself. But that's not the biggest difference. The biggest difference is the freedom of having two different forums to post in depending on the subject.

There was a part of me that felt odd basing an entire post around a thought like, "I think this scene is brilliant" or "Wasn't this film underrated?". Facebook affords me that opportunity and the same opportunity for every other film blogger. Just yesterday Kim Morgan posted the dueling banjos scene from Deliverance and a terrific discussion followed centered around the film and several of its scenes. I myself put up a scene from Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid about a week ago and also enjoyed the conversation that followed. Facebook has also allowed me a place to post pictures that I don't necessarily want to devote an entire post to on Cinema Styles.

Aside from that there are elements of Facebook that amuse me to no end. One is the way comments are archived. Once a comment section exceeds four or five in number, Facebook publishes the comment the posting party made and the last one or two with a "view all comments" option in the middle. This has led to a favorite Facebook game of mine, the "What in the hell happened between comments 1 and 17?" game. You know, first someone posts a status update of "Greg thinks Chaplin's best work was CITY LIGHTS." Then the first comment says, "A true masterpiece but I think I prefer GOLD RUSH." Then there's the "view all comments" option. Then below that is comment 18 which says, "Exactly! That's why I will never eat an infected cow's heart again!" You don't know what happened between comment 1 and comment 18 and you almost don't want to spoil it by clicking on "view all comments."

Things I could do without on Facebook are the endless multitudes of mindless applications that apply to nothing useful at all, for me at least. But as a forum for quick thoughts on film and discussion of ideas I love it. I really do. Things have changed quite a bit since I started blogging back in early 2007 and I assume they will continue to change, to evolve, to endlessly move forward. I look forward to it. And I look forward to continuing the conversation on film in a forum that gives blogging a whole new face.

54 comments:

Flickhead said...

I still can't figure out how to access my Facebook page.

First I log on. It asks my email address and password.

I type them in; I get in.

Then I click one of my links to go to a different space on my Facebook, and it again asks for email address and password.

I type them in; I DON'T get in. It says the password isn't correct.

I'm not sure what I'm missing on Facebook.

Perhaps my pc's at fault. I just clicked your link to Kim Morgan's Deliverance discussion, yet I was led to her video essay for In a Lonely Place.

Ryan Kelly said...

And, of course, you look forward to being late to the party. Again!

But seriously, great take on the way technology changes the ways we communicate. I guess being young I've taken advantage of the social networking possibilities of FaceBook for different reasons. It's an easy way of keeping in touch with friends from High School, College, and it's great for event plannings. Besides, I had a FaceBook long before I ever had a blog.

But, like you, I love them both for different reasons. Just different ways of keeping in touch. Glad you joined the fray!

Flickhead said...

I just re-read your piece. I think it's time I deleted my blog, scrapped my Comcast account and tossed this stupid machine out into the trash.

I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Greg said...

Flickhead, you successfully responded to my friend request so you must be doing something right. Anyway, I didn't link to Morgan's Facebook thingy, but to her blog so that's why you got what you did.

FOR PETE'S SAKE THOUGH, DON'T DELETE YOUR BLOG! What did I write that was so bad?

Greg said...

Ryan, I still don't use Facebook to keep in touch and may never use it that way. To me it's best as an extension to essay length blogging. And I am glad I joined because for one thing, I get to keep up with many more bloggers than I ever did before because it's easier to peruse.

Rick Olson said...

I still remember the cost too. For a 420 megabyte hard drive (tip-top of the line in 1992 I'll have you know) with 4 megabytes of ram and a 386 processor I laid down $2400 dollars

My first computer was a Radio Shack TRS-80 (Trash-80) model III with no floppy drive. It had 16K of RAM and a cassette tape deck for removable storage. In 1982 we bought a floppy drive (160 K) and two years later, my wife produced my PhD dissertation on the thing. I didn't get a hard drive until 1985 or so, and then it was one of the original 10 MB IBM XT things that sounded like a lawn mower when it ran. And I walked uphill to school in the snow, too!

I still haven't gotten into the swing of using Facebook to its greatest advantage, though. Gotta work on that ...

Greg said...

Rick, holy crap! Sounds like your first computer was only one generation removed from ENIAC! Seriously, 1982? Damn, I was still using a typewriter in 82 and remember being flabbergasted when Time magazine, that paragon of journalistic integrity, made the computer the "Thing of the Year." I used computers at college and work in the eighties but it was until 1992 when software started being produced for them at a steady rate that I ever considered buying one.

Rick Olson said...

Greg, my dissertation was in the mathematical modeling of biological systems, and I used a computer for that. Sometimes a mainframe and sometimes an IBM "micro" (that was huge) that had the BASIC computer language built in. So I was an early adopter by inclination and vocation.

Back in High School, when I was a senior in the fall of 1970, we learned the BASIC programming language on a teletype machine connected to a mainframe computer by one of those modems that was a suction cup into which we placed the telephone receiver.

I'm old.

Krauthammer said...

I'm a luddite, I'm posting this on a traditional wood burning computer right now.

I only really use Facebook in order to keep in touch with people rather than long conversations or Facebook games. Maybe I'm missing out (on the former rather than the later, obviously).

Flickhead said...

Toss this shit!

Bring back print media!

Reinstate salaried writers!

And for God's sake bring back The Soho Weekly News!

Greg said...

Rick, I learned BASIC and FORTRAN in high school. I never used FORTRAN once and only used BASIC a couple of times. I bet you could sell that computer now for some money to a collector.

Greg said...

Krauthammer, I used to have a wood-burning computer but the coal powered ones are much more efficient. For me, right now, Facebook is an extension of blogging which is why I never accept challenges or all that weird stuff that I don't even care to investigate (you know, like when someone sends you a cartoon - I don't even know what that means). That doesn't stop everyone from sending it to me, I just ignore it.

Greg said...

They still have print media Ray but it's going fast. They just need to start paying the best writers online which they might do one day... if they're desperate.

Ray, what was the song you used to have playing on your comcast site? It's an orchestral piece. I really liked it.

Craig said...

Read a wonderful quote about Facebook recently, forget who said it, but it goes: "Facebook is like a lobster trap that uses your friends as bait."

Flickhead said...

The instrumental piece is still on Flickhead.com (a website -- so no one goes there anymore); it's John Barry music from A View to a Kill.

Greg said...

Craig, that does describe Crackbook quite well. It sucks you in.

Greg said...

Ray, that explains why I liked it so much, I love John Barry's compositions. And I must have the wrong address because the site doesn't come up for me anymore. Maybe I have an old link I'm using.

Ryan Kelly said...

Ryan, I still don't use Facebook to keep in touch and may never use it that way.

Yeah, 'cause you need friends first.

Marilyn said...

I may be in need of a job soon. Very serious threat of my org moving to D.C, and I don't want to go with them.

Flickhead said...

Greg, it's

www.Flickhead.com

Greg said...

Ryan, you're mean and I hate you.

Greg said...

Ray, that's definitely not what I was using. My link is home.comcast something or other. Thanks.

Greg said...

Marilyn, it's too bad they can't have you edit from Chicago. I mean, couldn't you write and edit for them without physically being in DC?

Marilyn said...

I'm trying to play that angle, but they might decide they don't need content from a magazine, electronic or otherwise. I'm pretty jaundiced about how my work product is valued, and I'm totally in dislike with the guy who's pulling the strings to make it happen. It's probably a good time to move on regardless of what they decide, but I have responsibilities.

Greg said...

I do know that feeling. For several months I knew that June was going to be the big decision month and the dread slowly built up until, as you know, the inevitable. Now it's a relief except that soon enough a whole new dread and panic will set in if I don't get something comparable in salary.

Marilyn said...

Greg - It's all so stupid, really. We're in the financial shithole, so what does someone want? An expensive consolidation of offices (one rent=good, losing half the staff and needing to hire new people for at least some of the positions=bad). A good idea in another year, perhaps, but not when we're facing a multimillion-dollar deficit. It's a selfish move designed to put someone in the arms of power. Making PTA a national player in policy instead of focusing on helping our poorly informed members and prospective members learn how to deal with issues at home. I'm so disgusted!!

Greg said...

Making PTA a national player in policy instead of focusing on helping our poorly informed members and prospective members learn how to deal with issues at home.

That sounds so corporate doesn't it? Keep the veneer of looking out for the little guy when all the while keep going for a bigger piece of the pie. Which is quite frankly great for the bottom line if you're Target but the PTA should be about something else.

Ryan Kelly said...

Ryan, you're mean and I hate you.

But...but... I love you. I just wanted to be your friend! You know I use the mean-ness to mask my sensitivity.

I... I... I need some air!

*Runs out of the room sobbing*

Greg said...

Crybaby.

Ryan Kelly said...

Zero Charisma!

Greg said...

I loved him in The Producers.

Tom Sutpen said...

My biggest problem with this line of argument is its baseline sense of surrender, and the idea that the so-called future we're consigning ourselves to is emerging organically, and not something we're creating for ourselves simply by accepting it beforehand (for instance, I'm continually astonished when I hear people talking about Twitter's 140-character maximum as something its users have to accommodate, and not as defining proof of its total inadequacy as a communication tool).

I was thinking about this last night after I read something David Sterrit wrote: one of those anguished, Twilight-of-the-Gods reflections on the dismal state of serious film criticism in the Hour of the Blogosphere. Without getting into the merit of his argument (except to say that no one pays people to write 'serious' film criticism because nobody reads it; and nobody reads it because it is, in the main, unreadable), I was struck by how he approached his case as if it were a mere formality; as if the matter had already been decided and no more could be done; as if it were now just a matter of waiting for the train of history to reach its inevitable terminus.

I don't get that mindset; never have, never will.

Greg said...

I would feel more a sense of surrender if articles and essays, whether in print or electronic form, were being replaced by comments and tweets. While Twitter is lost on me at the present time I do see the advantage of Facebook as a glorified chatroom which keeps the blogs freed up to deal with longer essays and articles.

As for pieces of woe concerning the lack of serious criticism
did no magazine or periodical understand this transition was underway for years? Did they believe and do they continue to believe that a change in transmission of information meant different information? Yes, I do believe when I read many of these pieces that they somehow believe a logical argument can be made that if you change the form of transmission, from print to electronic, the article itself changes. Of course, it doesnt. There are many film websites with in depth, detailed criticism. Senses of Cinema comes to mind.

It's simply a different medium. The message hasn't changed but unfortunately for many a fine writer, the business model has. Still, the writing is there. I wouldn't call it surrender so much as unnecessary panic. The format may now be increasingly electronic but the ideas, thoughts and detailed arguments of film critics from you to Ray Young to Girish Shambu are still there.

Pierre Fournier said...

Exactly! That's why I will never eat an infected cow's heart again!

Flickhead said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Flickhead said...

"I was thinking about this last night after I read something David Sterrit wrote: one of those anguished, Twilight-of-the-Gods reflections on the dismal state of serious film criticism in the Hour of the Blogosphere."

Tom, please, please write a book. About anything. I love to read your work.

Flickhead said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Flickhead said...

"I do see the advantage of Facebook as a glorified chatroom which keeps the blogs freed up to deal with longer essays and articles."

Greg, one problem for me is the subdivision. Why not have one site for all? I wasn't able to achieve that format on my dot com site, but it can be managed on the blog.

I've also had an aversion to chatrooms since first encountering them ten or twelve years ago. Too many slings and arrows. (There's a lot of unchanneled anger brewing out there, a plethora of paranoiacs.) Which may be why I've yet to even visit a Twitter page.

These quick, rapid-fire comment sections aren't very healthy, either, and surely foster the lack of reading comprehension poxing nearly everyone from the scholar to neanderthal boobs like myself.

I once left a comment on Siren's blog concerning my belief that scripted dialog in most 1930s and 40s Hollywood movies isn't as believable as what can be written today. My point of reference was Clint Eastwood's Changeling. A noted author and university professor -- the proverbial egghead, if you will -- jumped right down my throat demanding to know why I thought Changeling was a better film than... at which point he rattled off a ready list of Hollywood classics.

That wasn't my argument at all; he completely misunderstood my point.

Reading comprehension: kaput.

I deleted my comment there. No telling if the ired prof would hunt me down at my lair and toss eggs at my door.

Tom Sutpen said...

Greg:

I would feel more a sense of surrender if articles and essays, whether in print or electronic form, were being replaced by comments and tweets. While Twitter is lost on me at the present time

*****
You'n me both. I'm damned if I can figure a use for it that would be at all useful to me. I can't think of a one. I've seen people on Twitter who, for whatever reason, feel compelled to share with us everything they're doing during their waking hours; and only rarely is it interesting. Perhaps it's my natural modesty (born out of a desire to conceal a big ol' streak of arrant narcissism in the heart of me), but I doubt if I could bring myself to do that.

As for pieces of woe concerning the lack of serious criticism
did no magazine or periodical understand this transition was underway for years? Did they believe and do they continue to believe that a change in transmission of information meant different information? Yes, I do believe when I read many of these pieces that they somehow believe a logical argument can be made that if you change the form of transmission, from print to electronic, the article itself changes. Of course, it doesnt. There are many film websites with in depth, detailed criticism. Senses of Cinema comes to mind.


*****
Jesus. I dearly wish you hadn't mentioned . . . that publication; but in principle you're correct. My argument was with Sterrit's assumption that all prior FilmCrit forms/formats are instantly no longer as viable as they once were, solely because something New has come down the pike. In a way it was like reading the cri-de-coeur of some reflexive Fashion zombie, railing against this season's Todd Oldham collection because it's going to be absolutely impossible to wear to the Hamptons this year.

Headmaster of Flick:

I . . . scarcely know what to say ('Thanks' is, of course, a given). I've had ideas for volumes of my immortal prose; but given the limitations both from without and within, I don't know if I could get away with them were I to even try.

Greg said...

Pierre, I hope you've learned your lesson.

Greg said...

Greg, one problem for me is the subdivision. Why not have one site for all? I wasn't able to achieve that format on my dot com site, but it can be managed on the blog.

I agree but it simply doesn't happen anymore and I can't coerce my friends and readers to return to the good old days for the sake of internet harmony. This blog used to be a chatroom if you recall. It still can receive a great many comments but for its first couple of years it was 100 plus comments a post as we all just... talked. About anything. Usually the topic of the post was abandoned by the 30th comment or so. With Facebook the off-topic conversation moved to that location and the comments here and at most of the blogs once again concerned themselves with the topic at hand, which I don't necessarily see as a bad thing.

Your Siren example and my experiences there are other pieces of evidence I would use that it's not necessarily a bad thing. I used to comment at the Siren's site more often but quickly found my comments consumed in a category five chatterstorm of asides and bon mots delivered by her esteemed readership. Don't misunderstand, I find her readers extremely well-versed in the classics it's just that they began to take over the conversation after only a few comments. A simple anecdote of the week would rake in 357 comments of conversation between Vanwall, Karen and David (I like them all by the way, just using them as an example). If Facebook can clean up our comment sections, believe me, I welcome it.

As for reading comprehension, some are better than others. I have had e-mail correspondences with a few people online about reading comprehension offenders and have found myself, often to no avail, trying to protect myself against them. I find my writing is very guarded now as a result. I can write something along the lines of "... don't get me wrong, I liked this movie very much, I just felt it could have provided a stronger finish" and immediately get a response that says, "I don't know why you didn't like it, I thought it was great." Then I have to point out the "liked this movie very much" line and still struggle to make it clear to the person at odds with me.

Greg said...

Jesus. I dearly wish you hadn't mentioned . . . that publication; but in principle you're correct.

I apologize. Thank you for calling me "Jesus." "Your Lordship" would also have sufficed.

My argument was with Sterrit's assumption that all prior FilmCrit forms/formats are instantly no longer as viable as they once were, solely because something New has come down the pike.

As to his assumption and your argument I am squarely in your corner. I have not read his piece but I do not believe prior forms/formats are immediately without merit simply due to a new format's availability.

Finally, Flickhead never throws praise like that my way. I ain't not know why.

Marilyn said...

I agree that I wouldn't choose Sense of Cinema as the best example in the sense that it doesn't seem as though they edit the magazine very well - not copyedit, but edit the choice of content. I'm frequently scratching my head at some of the amateurish stuff they accept and publish. In that sense, I think the longer print magazine cycle acts as a bit of quality control. There's something about the "instant" nature of the internet (though, of course, it's not really instant in preparation, only in delivery) that seems to mitigate against a consistently high level of quality. Not that it isn't achieved by some sites, but there is a sense that you don't have one chance to get it right as you do with print.

As for writing to avoid conflict, I don't do that on my blog, only in comment sections where the banter can get out of control. I believe in stating what I feel and think clearly and letting the chips fall where they may. I've gotten someone rather hot under the collar on my site right now, but I'd rather have the discussion than not.

Twitter doesn't seem very useful to me. I don't use a cellphone, of course, so that kind of lets me out. But even as a link tool, which I have used it for from the website, it hasn't yielded results. It's mainly there, I think, to let the world know (constantly) that you exist. It can be more efficient, I suppose, than commenting on all the blogs to get a name recognition going, but it's not for intelligent discourse. Every tool has its purpose, and to lament that this one or that is putting another one out of business may be premature (though the prepress workforce has been officially declared obsolete).

Greg said...

There's something about the "instant" nature of the internet (though, of course, it's not really instant in preparation, only in delivery) that seems to mitigate against a consistently high level of quality. Not that it isn't achieved by some sites, but there is a sense that you don't have one chance to get it right as you do with print.

That perfectly captures it I think. As I said earlier, I don't think the medium changes the message (or is the message necessarily with apologies to Mr. McLuhan) but print does provide and demand more care, more attention. After all, once it's printed, it's final. You may recall it or publish a correction but the original is there for the ages.

Marilyn, you excel at stating how you feel without coming off as adversarial. In my offline life I can be very confrontational to the point where my wife and kids get anxious if someone starts to disagree with me at a gathering or dinner. I'm not a jerk (well I don't think I am) but I don't hold back in part because I know that through eye-contact and tone of voice I can make my points more efficiently and with much less confusion. Online I don't have those advantages so I try to put out the fire before it starts by clearly telegraphing my feelings on something from every possible vantage point. And as I said, that still fails most of the time.

Flickhead said...

Finally, Flickhead never throws praise like that my way. I ain't not know why.

Maybe it has something to do with those banners I never use...?

(Greg's voice in the distance, raised over a shaking fist: "I'll get you Flickhead! I swear I will!")

Greg said...

I'm putting Angelina on all my future sidebar banners. That'll learn ya.

Flickhead said...

It's about time. I thought you'd never get the hint.

Tom Sutpen said...

Marilyn:

Apart from one brief episode four years ago, I don't pretend to have any first-hand intelligence on . . . that publication's editorial process (but for the fact that, like every similar venue online, their definition of serious film criticism would seem to be anything that I haven't written) . . . but it is not unknown for film journals to factor in matters of class and/or status when evaluating what content to publish. In fact, I could name at least one such jourinal (now thankfully defunct) whose sole criteria for publishing anything was whether or not the author of the prospective piece was a Somebody in the cinephile firmament or not ("Are you affiliated with anybody?" was their first question to would-be contributors). In editorial terms this is equivalent to the One Drop rule instituted after Reconstruction to determine a legal standard of so-called racial purity, thus enabling Jim Crow laws to operate with maximum efficiency.

In moral terms it's the same thing.

Now I'm not saying that . . . publication applies any similar standard as openly, or that they even do it knowingly. My point is that when one judges a writer's work on anything other than its literary merit (or lack thereof), then one will inevitably end up with something that's at best no better than it should be. If you ask for less (even indirectly; just by not asking for more) then you're going to get less.

As for the relatively instantaneous nature of internet publishing inviting content less polished than reg'lar publishing, I think that's probably true, but it seems eminently correctable to me. Writers and editors are (or at least should be) co-conspirators with one objective in mind: getting the best work humanly possible out to otherwise unsuspecting readers. Such an approach to this enterprise is always possible, whether the forum is online or off.

Greg:

Flickhead never throws praise like that my way. I ain't not know why.

*****
Uhhhh. Is the possibility that he might have been . . . something other than serious . . . an admissible one?

I mean, to anyone else but moi

Oh, and lay off the 'Jesus' thing. All it does is make me self-conscious; inhibiting my jazzy, conversational style (like a smooth ridin' Stutz Bearcat, that is).

Greg said...

I must read that . . . publication. I confess I do not and perhaps that is why my example raised goose bumps. I had no idea that . . . publication was so problematic. I do enjoy writing "that . . . publication" though. It's very soothing somehow.

And I was something other than serious but Flickhead was nothing more than. He loves your jazzy conversational style, as do I. If I ever start a website hub for critical analysis you shall be on the contact list. Just let me know if you're affiliated with anybody first.

Flickhead said...

Greg, I just maneuvered my way around your FaceBook page. Am I missing something? There seem to be a handful of sentence-long comments about, well, stuff. Not much else. Some pix.

Where's the beef? Can you send a link that would take me to the heart of the Facebook page you wrote about in your post? That one sounds like it's full of cool stuff.

Greg said...

Flickhead, the beef? I have up a couple of links, some pics and that's it. And that's exactly what I mentioned in this piece. I said that, and I quote, " I myself put up a scene from Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid about a week ago and also enjoyed the conversation that followed. Facebook has also allowed me a place to post pictures that I don't necessarily want to devote an entire post to on Cinema Styles.'

To repeat: "pictures that I don't necessarily want to devote an entire post to on Cinema Styles.'

In other words, it's a place for the lighter stuff and comments I don't want to put up here.

Now what was that we were saying about reading comprehension?

Flickhead said...

Huh? Did you say something?

Flickhead said...

...my bad...

Greg said...

Actually, I possess partial ownership of that bad myself. What I completely failed to mention in the piece is that, like so many other bloggers, I also use facebook as simply an advertisement for my blog, linking to new posts there when they go up here. Most of the banter is just a way to keep in touch with fellow bloggers. So I'll take 50% of that bad myself.