Thursday, June 21, 2012

Interview with Storm Chaser Shorts Characters

I interviewed Chance Hamlin, the star character of  Storm Chaser and Storm Chaser Shorts by Mark R. Hunter. His mother Elsa and sister Beth couldn't resist adding in their own commentary, of course.

Storm Chaser is a romantic comedy packed full of adventure and a little mystery; Storm Chaser Shorts is a mixed genre short story anthology featuring the same characters. Both are set in rural, northeastern Indiana and published by Whiskey Creek Press.

Do you have any nicknames on the force?

Chance:  State troopers don’t have nicknames. I’m okay with “Trooper”, “Officer”, or “Sir”.
Elsa: When his father was alive, he would call Chance “my little trooper” –
Chance: Mom …
Elsa: That was before he actually became an officer, of course. I thought he’d be a great accountant … what a wonderfully safe job.
Beth: Chance would find a way to make it dangerous. He’d crunch numbers while on a bungee cord, or something.
Chance: Beth …
Beth: Oh! He’d only take business calls while hang gliding. “You’ll have to speak up, the wind is in my ears.”

Monday, June 18, 2012

Well, I've got a lot going on right now, but I'm trying to keep my eye on the end goal. Out of Mark and I's combined family, 3 people have been in the hospital and another 3 of us have some kind of infection, so it's been pretty crazy.

I've got six submissions in right now, so I'm waiting hopefully for any news on those while helping Mark do some editing and promotional work. He's a little behind from my surgery earlier this year, but we're starting to catch up.

Aaaaandd we have to work on the wedding stuff, since that's coming up. I've been to busy to even work on any of it at all!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Storm Chaser Shorts

Mark's newest book, Storm Chaser Shorts, is out. It's a mixed-genre anthology of short stories about the characters in his first novel, Storm Chaser.

I'm pretty proud of him. It's not really common for publishers to give 'newbie' authors a short story book, so it's a great opportunity for him. 

Storm Chaser Shorts is available on Kindle and from the publisher as PDF and HTML files (to use on your computer or a different e-reader brand).

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Textbook Conclusion

Chapter 16 of White Space is Not Your Enemy and Chapter 9 of Writing for the Web are the "wrap up" chapters. They give a nice little summary of what you've learned, answer some additional questions, and point you on your way to additional learning.

Their main point?

You have only uncovered the tip of the iceberg.

You are never really done learning in your chosen field.

These books are great for what they are, but they are not advanced knowledge, and you can't learn all there is to know about writing or designing for the web in a single book. It takes lots of practice, and lots of other books, and lots of time. And then lots more time relearning things when monumental technology, software, etc. is released. The only thing worse than knowing nothing is knowing enough to think you know it all, and royally messing up your projects.

With the huge amount of resources out there on the web, there's really no excuse for not knowing. If you can't learn by reading, learn by watching YouTube videos or downloading trial editions of software. See what others are doing, and see if you can mimic it to learn. See what others are doing badly, figure out why it's bad, and don't do it. Sign up for a newsletter, ezine, or magazine. Finally, there are plenty of creative communities out there - Livejournal communities and DeviantArt, among the hundreds - to help you hone your skills, see others' work, and get tips.

Multimedia for the Web

Chapter 13 of White Space is Not Your Enemy discusses multimedia. The thought of images, video, encoding, audio, interactive content, and animation can be daunting, but it doesn't have to be. There are (free) tutorials online for just about about any program you'd want to use to create these things, ranging from the simple to the advanced. If you're totally lost, you can also sign up for classes at your local library (usually very basic, but free) or college/university (IPFW offers a class called Digital Imaging; the section I took worked mostly with image creation and manipulation in Adobe Photoshop, with some basic animation). If you're a tactile learner, you can just plop down with your laptop, favorite drink, and favorite TV show/music and work until you figure it out.

Here are some tips I've found along the way:
  • Don't lose important text in images. If you put the text within the image file, the search engine can't see it. Make sure it's somewhere else on the page, too.
  • Pay attention to encoding. There is plenty of free software out there to help you, but it may take you a while to figure it out. Don't just assume the video will work since you uploaded it with a trusted service.
  • Don't add something shiny just for the sake of shininess. Your visitors will see right through it and think you're an idiot with something to prove. Cool and innovative things are great, but use them in moderation and always with a purpose.
  • Quality, quality, quality. If it's not great, don't put it up. A simple, mostly-text based website will rule out over one with bad graphics and poor videos.
  • Get friends. Network with others who have skills you can use, and want to use your skills. If you're a graphic designer and your friend is a musician, you can use each other's work to spice up your webpages. Then, attribute each other on the webpages - increasing both of your website's traffic and backlinks.
  • Get honest friends. While support from friends and family is great, you really need at least one person who will tell you when things suck and you need to re-do them.
  • Keep your audience in mind at all times. Some audience you will need to wow with extra special graphics. Some you will intimidate with them.
  • Social media sharing buttons are good interactive content - and good traffic bringers.

Saturday, March 24, 2012


Chapter 12 of White Space is Not Your Enemy covers storyboarding, as well as going over how to create different types of shots and other photo/video aspects in detail. If you've ever looked at extras or behind the scenes from movies, you've probably seen storyboards. You can also think of them as a comic/graphic novel version of your project (in condensed form, of course).

Storyboarding is the equivalent of an outline you'd do for an academic paper, report, short story, or novel. It gets all your main points and thoughts out in a logical, organized order. Storyboarding also includes visuals - at early stages, this can be quick sketches or notes, and at later stages this will be draft images or final copies if you have them. It should also include brief notes so you remember where you're going with the project, don't forget important details, and can clearly communicate your ideas with your client.

For a personal storyboard form doesn't really matter as long as you can utilize it as a production tool, much like a writer's outline. Everyone forms ideas and works differently. However, a professional storyboard that you will use with a group and show to a boss or client should be formatted appropriately - nothing huge, just ensure that all necessary information is there and looks professional, such as your name and the company name, the client name, the project/purpose, your/your company's logo and contact information etc.

Storyboards are especially helpful for those of us who think visually. Sometimes it's a lot easier to draw something out than to explain it. It's also often easier to communicate ideas with group members visually, so you know you're all on the same page.

Images and Infographics

Most people are highly visual in nature, probably due to our highly visible (and lazy) culture. While you need to make your written content top-notch, don't skimp out on the images. These can keep the reader an extra few seconds by being interesting, and maybe get them to read your content. They can also help explain, back up, or elaborate on your content.

Infographics are awesome tools for giving a big chunk of info in a small, visually-appealing section. They are made so that you can get the general gist at a glance, and understand a concept, process, or idea with minimal reading. You can check out some sweet inforgraphics here, here, and here.

White Space is Not Your Enemy has great information about images and infographics in chapters 10 and 11. I'll try not to restate them and instead share some additional information.

The biggest mistakes I see on the web regarding images are:

  • Theft of images
  • Throwing all the bells and whistles of whatever program used into the image
  • Using too low quality images, or too small of images (or blowing up a small image huge resulting in severe pixelation)
  • Promoting Instagram'd, Picnik'd, etc. images like they're awesome professional stuff
  • Images that have nothing to do with content
  • Including non-professional snapshot-type images just because they pertain to your text
Images are your eye-catchers. They are what the viewer will notice first on your website, so they need to be high quality, professional, and enhance your content. 

Friday, March 16, 2012

Wedding blog post

 Mark's blog post about the wedding:

Slightly Off the Mark: A Quick "I Do" ... and the Real Wedding

I'll make my own blog post about it, later, when my to-do list isn't a mile long. H is is probably wittier than mine would be, anyway - he does get paid for his columns, after all. For now... I'll be writing a term paper and working on the wedding registry (I don't know what's more draining: scholarly research or comparing appliances)!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Engaging Viewers in Corporate Web Content

Chapter 6 of Kilian's Writing for the Web talks about writing web content for corporate websites. While a bit dry, this chapter is useful because if you get hired to write web content, it's probably going to be for a business. Most businesses, especially small or single-persona ones (like an author/artist/crafter), will require less rigidity than corporate websites, but the principles are the same.

Kilian's main point is that you can't just throw ad copy at website viewers and expect them to get anything out of it, come back to the website, or care. People don't like to be harassed with ads online any more than they like it in person, and if the website only tries to sell the product, it's just a big ad. You need content that engages the reader, anticipates and answers questions, and gives material that the reader seeks or finds interesting - and to provide enough information for people to buy the product or use the company.

Here's pretty good example: The company site for Pierce, a fire apparatus company. They don't just have a list of trucks you can buy - they have behind-the-scenes webisodes about how the trucks are constructed, community information, social media integration, etc. The website is well organized and easily interacted with. I don't really like the surprise fire truck, but it's definitely interesting.

I've found, in my ridiculous amount of time spent browsing the web for no apparent reason, that the biggest mistake people make with corporate/business websites is assuming that all their viewers are morons. "I'll just make it so they can't see anything else until they watch the infomercial. Then they'll definitely want to buy our Widgets!" Or, they'll laugh and close the window after 10 seconds, and assume your company is a hack job desperate to make sales.

A good way to make corporate or business websites not fall flat is to make them interactive. You can easily integrate sharing with AddThis (which adds a button for just about everywhere you can share content), add comment forms so readers can share their opinions, allow reviews of products, feature users of your product, add a search bar so users can easily find what they're looking for, add contests or giveaways, etc. Many websites are integrating frequent user perks and rankings. For example, JINX, a gamer clothing company, lets users 'level up' by interacting on the website and earn 'gold' they can use for discounts on products.

Monday, March 5, 2012


Chapter 8 of White Space is Not Your Enemy deals with type. We've talked about different fonts quite a bit, but this chapter goes more in depth. It explains glyphs, the parts of a font, types and characteristics, and when to use which type of font. To go deeper, it even gets into kerning, leading, tracking, swash alternatives, ligatures, and typesetting. If you've ever been formatting some text for a project and realized it was almost but not quite right, those are things you need to learn to make the tweaks to your copy that will perfect it. You'd be surprised how much additional spacing between letters, a few alternates, and better leading can improve readability in layouts and papers.

Another good bit of advice is to avoid overly used fonts. Just as you don't want the same design or content as everyone else, you don't want the same font for your headers or logos that everyone else is using. (This doesn't imply to invisible fonts for copy, such as Arial.) For example, this font is everywhere. (No, really.)

If you're in need of some more good fonts, I suggest It has tons of fonts that can easily be sorted, searched and downloaded, and includes the licensing information. If you want to sell your work some day, pay attention to those licenses. Some font makers license their work only for private/personal use, some don't care what you use it for, some only want credit, and some want a payment if you use the font for a commercial purpose. It's usually pretty cheap... and if you're going to make your buck using their work, they deserve the $10 for the work they put in the obviously good font.

Saturday, February 25, 2012


Chapter 7 of White Space is Not Your Enemy deals with layouts for the web. It includes layout design concepts and examples to make your website not only look good, but also deliver content in the clearest, most impactful way. It also includes tips about type, and do's and don'ts for images (and multiple images).

The chapter briefly mentions stand-in text, which can be used when you need to make a layout but may not yet have the copy. I've used this Lorem Ipsum generator, which lets you specify how much text and what kind of formatting you need.

For the rule of thirds, don't forget that if you're using Photoshop you can bring up a handy thirds grid for your images. While that doesn't really help with the overall layout, making each piece effective on its own is important, too - 'off' photos or graphics an otherwise well-designed layout can ruin it.

Once you get the layout idea for your website drafted, keep in mind that not everyone will see it like you do. Different browsers and monitors render colors, borders, alignment, and all kinds of things differently. Plus, users can adjust the brightness, contrast, and screen resolution on their computers, which also makes a difference. While your layout can't look perfect everywhere, make sure it's acceptable for most. It should look good in different sizes, and your sidebar shouldn't go completely haywire in one browser. 

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Chapter 14 of Golombisky & Hagen's White Space is Not Your Enemy is absolutely full of great information for those who want to create a website the right way. It covers basic design elements for the web; points out problem areas that most people don't think about like color shift, font scaling, and fixed vs. fluid layouts on different monitor sizes; and discusses the purpose of websites and how to choose if a domain is right for your project versus a web log or social media profile.

For me, this information wasn't new. However, I think it would be a very useful tool for anyone starting a website. Most people, even those who use the Internet regularly, don't understand what really goes into creating your own website from scratch; the diagrams and paragraphs explaining the relationship between your computer, your domain name, and your live website spell things out well.

Most of the information in the design sections seems trivial at best, common sense at worst - but it's not. People make horribly ugly, completely unnavigable, badly organized, utterly pointless websites all the frakking time. Since our generation has grown up with the Internet, we think we know best and we're not going to pay someone to do it for us or buy a book to self-teach. Couple that with the fact that most of the time when we see a boring or badly designed website, we just back out of it instead of leaving feedback, and you can see why it's so easy for crummy sites to exist.

This isn't just a web problem. This weekend, I went to a pizza place, and perused the rest of the menu while waiting for my order. They had multiple errors, badly written sentences, and a poorly designed logo. I just shook my head and sighed - how are writers and graphic designers ever supposed to get jobs, if people don't feel the quality of things like menus is important enough to pay for? The pizza was absolutely fantastic, but badly done print materials - or websites - can leave people with little faith about your company.

Since fonts are a big part of this chapter, check out this link. It contains helpful information on typography and design in the form of infographics - and as much as I love words, I definitely appreciate the not-wordy-get-to-the-point-plus-!pictures! awesomeness of infographics. (Web Authoring students: Notice how some of the principles we learned in class are included, like how the eye travels across a page.)

Monday, February 13, 2012

Editing Webtext

Editing webtext is like editing poetry. Space is essential, so every word has to hold its own and be the best choice.

Kilian makes some fair points and has some nice lists in chapter five of Writing for the Web. I'll share some pointers of my own.

To edit your text, move it into a new word processing document. Swap the font out and mess with the layout. Then let it sit. Don't look at or think about it for a while, and it'll be fresh and new when you come back to it (and see all your mistakes!). Kilian suggests printing it out, double spacing, increasing the font size, and changing the font. However, I don't see a reason to have to retype all those changes and waste paper. Then again, I grew up using computers so I'm more comfortable editing on screens.

A large section of the chapter lists abbreviations and terms for web writing. My advice: if you have to look it up, don't use it. If English is your second language, check out resources online or get a hard copy text to refer to. This is a nice start and easy skim list, but I'm not really sure how useful it is in the long run. Depending on your major and the purpose of your website, most of the stuff on this list you'll never run into - and you could easily do a websearch for it if you did.

Kilian also gives some advice that can be boiled down to the following: don't be an offensive jerk, don't ramble on with unnecessary junk, watch out for confusion from dialect/terminology if you have a global audience, and hyphenate to avoid confusion if you must.

Just don't sacrifice your style for the sake of appealing to a larger audience. Most websites get little traffic. Find your niche and write what your fans want. If you get famous, then you can think about appealing to huge audiences... but realistically, you probably won't get so much traffic that you have to worry about it. Just be an accessible, not-outrageously-offensive version of yourself.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Website Draft & Wix Workarounds

It's pretty bare bones right now, but I've got the skeleton for it. I started with a blank template instead of one of the Wix ones and added on from there. Also, most of the pictures there not the ones that will be in the final cut, I just needed enough to make sure the flash widgets worked!

On another note, you can change your email and username on Wix by going to the My Account page and then clicking on Settings. I didn't find this out until after I'd already created everything, of course. I'll probably change stuff around later; if I do, I'll edit this post to have the correct URL.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Creative Brief: Website for Web Authoring Course

Wedding Website (for Mark & Emily)

Objective & Purpose
  • To allow guests to RSPV without having to pay for postage
  • To host photos and other stuff for guests that can't make it
  • To have one place with all the stuff on it for less confusion, especially for non-tech-savvy guests
  • Wedding guests
  • Guests who can't make it to wedding
  • Bride & Groom/ Wedding party
Idea Dump 
  • Engagement pictures
  • Wedding Date, time, place
  • RSVP form
  • Contact form / guestbook
  • Links to registries
  • Links to photo albums (pro. & where guests can add photos)
  • Links for guests coming from out of town: accommodations, area attractions, etc.
  • Resources for wedding party if needed
  • Map/directions to & from venue, etc.
  • Link to bride's & groom's websites/online portfolios
  • Simplistic theme and navigation for ease of use
  • Photos of bride/groom
  • Match wedding colors if possible
  • High contrast for easy reading by older guests
  • Elements from wedding style if possible

Chapter Four: Just Because It's The Internet Doesn't Mean You Can Slack Off

Killian's fourth Chapter in Writing for the Web is the chapter in which he finally gets to the actual writing bits. He doesn't say much, unless you count the weird rant about only using Anglo-Saxon words right after he talks about how good it is that English has absorbed so many words from other languages, along with some standard writing advice you'll find in any composition or writing book. He also mentions not using lengthy compound sentences since, you know, the Internet has made us all massively dumber and we can't handle the big words, anymore.

Sure, you can make a whole page of short sentences and little words, but this isn't Twitter. Tell me something or I'm leaving. Elaborate a little. Short sentences can be cool, but a whole page of little snippets and fragments gets old fast.

And for crying out loud, stop slacking off just because it's the Internet! Capitalize your words. Form sentences. Use punctuation. Have a thought or viewpoint of your own instead of just regurgitating something you read or arguing every point against it just for the sake of being argumentative.

My advice: grab a copy of The Elements of Style by Strunk & White if you need a quick, helpful writing guide, or dig out whatever comp book you had to buy as a freshman. This chapter is okay, but there are such better guides out there.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Advocacy and Marketing on the Web

Kilians' eighth chapter in Writing for the Web has lots of detailed examples and how-tos about appealing to your audience along with what not to do. Most of this you'd learn in a college public speaking or persuasive writing course.

In general, to write persuasively for the web you should do these things:
  • Be truthful, open, and considerate. Have your facts straight.
  • Don't insult your reader accidentally by making them feel stupid - or on purpose by throwing around insults and generally being a jerk.
  • Use legitimate appeals. Study up on rhetoric and make the kinds of appeals you want to make. Check your text to see if it's saying what you want in subtext.
  • Use the register and semantics you want, considering your audience. This falls in with rhetoric appeal.
  • Don't push too hard. 
Also keep in mind that your audience is wide, outspoken, and full of trolls. If you're going to be unethical, you're probably going to get lots of nasty-grams from the people who see what you're doing. You can see this in action all over the web; a good example is Regretsy, a site that most commonly points out utter garbage that makes its way onto Etsy, but also makes sure to blow the whistle on copyright infringers and 'crafters' flipping cheap non-handmade items from big box stores or wholesalers.

Web Content Organization and Fonts

Most of Kilian's third chapter in Writing for the Web is overly-worded common sense. There are, however, a few important points and at least one thing I disagree with him about.

Having each page of your website be able to stand alone is important, especially if you have a variety of content. Google will send your reader only to the page about whatsits and the majority of them will be totally unable to navigate their way back to your homepage. It also helps people who did come in through the homepage, but have forgotten some important thing about you and don't want to back up. Finally, it helps you with one of the most important things about writing for the web and writing in all forms: continuity. People need cues, and stuff needs to look familiar.

I know some people think pointing this out is a joke - now that blogging software makes the layout for you and prompts you to put in your About Me and your Navigation and your Links. When frames were the big thing, people got stuck in them or missed the navigation or missed the content pages. When Iframes were the big thing, people would get your individual web pages without the navigation sections.  Sure, it's no big deal for me to go to the top of my address bar and take out the individual page file name and hit enter, but people new to the Internet aren't going to get that - and you shouldn't expect them to. People don't have to stay on your page, and if you make it difficult, they just won't.

On page 44, Kilian says, "You should be generating your webtext in whatever font and size are comfortable for you."

No. No, you shouldn't. You should do some research first, and see what looks good, and see what people hate. Sure, it sounds like common sense. But do you know how many horrible web pages with bright blue Comic Sans there are out there? Old English? Papyrus? Kristin? Your font for the body of your webtext should be a simple, easy-to-read font that does not detract from the message in your text. Try invisible fonts like Verdana, Arial, Times, Tahoma, Georgia, Helvetica - anything that isn't overly embellished. Check out this humorous article from Cracked (note: some language, and I don't agree with everything said here) and this more serious font article; if you got IPFW's English Department newsletter last semester, there's also an article about fonts there (by yours truly).

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

From The Uses of Grammar by Rodby and Winterowd:
It may surprise you to know that glamour and grammar are closely related, and that glamour was once associated with magic. In the early eighteenth century, Scottish speakers of English altered grammar to create glamour, which meant enchantment or spell. The word "spell" itself relates both to correctness in language and to the magic of language. In one sense "spell" has to do with the forms of words: the longest river in the United States is spelled M-I-S-S·I-S-S-I-P-P-I. But "spell" also describes words used to invoke magical powers.

"Chunks", Vampires, & Forest for the Trees

Reading material on the web, especially in today's rapid-speed society, can be categorized into two types: "chunking" and "scrolling", according to Writing for the Web, Chapter 2. Neither is better than the other; they serve different purposes.

Small chunks of around 100 words let the reader quickly digest the material and choose whether to continue navigating the website or move on. Large sections of text that readers have to scroll through are cumbersome, but the only way to display a full linear text like a writing sample or important document.

While I understand what Kilian is getting at, I only partially agree. Most of the websites I visit have large bouts of text, and most of my blog posts (and the blogs I follow and enjoy) are longer than 100-200 words. While most people browsing are of the "hit and run" category, there is still a whole section of cerebral people using the web who enjoy actually reading things and finding content of merit.

Kilian also talked about two other very important things for new web content writers to understand: subtext and the "vampire video" effect. You wouldn't go to a dentist with bad teeth anymore than you'd hire a freelance writer who obviously didn't bother to spell check his website. It's the same thing I always used to get in trouble for when I was younger: It's not what you said that was wrong, it was how you said it.

The "vampire video" effect stems back to when TV was a fairly new medium, and advertisers sunk all their funds into slick graphics that distracted people so much they missed the product. This was rampant on the web in the 90's, when every page you went to had crazy fonts, frames, animated gifs of Odie and smiley faces, custom cursors, welcome pop-ups, and 20 other things they didn't need but thought were cool. The website class I took in middle school used the Bells & Whistles site frequently for resources; they've evolved from a clipart and web graphics site to now having scripts and actual web development tools. When Internet speeds increased, people started adding videos, songs, and flash to their websites. Newcomers to websites often overload them with so much extra flashy stuff that you can't see the content for all the eye candy.

When developing a website, profile, or blog, a little goes a long way. Pick your best graphics and let them shine. Have a second set of eyes help you prune down your text for clarity and conciseness. Don't overwhelm your reader with too much stuff on the screen at once (break it into separate pages, for example), and avoid putting too-loud graphics or other distractions next to important content. Large blocks of text are okay, as long as you identify them and remember your audience - long blocks of text about the Jersey Shore will get you nowhere.


I accidentally wiped all the comments off my blog; I thought I was just deleting the notifications.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

I couldn't start a blog without talking about my only pet, Lucius, a royal (ball) python. While most ball pythons are a palate of browns, Lucius is a lemon/pastel "morph" - black, brown, and yellow. Right now he weighs about half a pound, and he'll eventually grow to be 3-5 feet long.

My fiance is allergic to pet dander, so Luci is perfect for us. Plus he doesn't make much noise, have to be walked, or make messes in the house. He has quite a bit of personality for a snake, but spends most of his time squigglin' around on his little tree or staring intently at his red light bulb.

Royal pythons are more commonly called ball pythons because of their behavior. When threatened, they curl up and fold in on themselves, forming a ball shape. They need high heat and humidity to regulate their body temperature and skin shed cycles. In the wild ball pythons live in termite mounds; though they're a 'tertiary' snake, they can climb quite well, and Lucius loves to climb things. He can also swim pretty fast; I'm not sure if all ball pythons are good swimmers.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Why Twitter is Killin' Your Muse (And Your GPA)

Nicholas Carr's The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains, Chapter 7 suggests that the Internet is rewiring our brains at an alarming speed - and that while this rewiring is good for multitasking, it's quite bad for learning.

Carr lists tens of formal studies to back up his claims. Basically, the onslaught of stimulation that the Internet provides - hyperlinks, flashy graphics, sounds, chunks of text, instant messages, emails - divides our attention. We can only hold so much in our short-term memory, so when we try to focus on all these things at once we don't get the full picture. Thinking about 15 things at once shallowly instead of thinking about one thing deeply is re-wiring our synapses for that purpose. So, even if you can pull yourself away from Twitter and turn off your phone for a hour, when you sit down to read that academic article for your 400-level class your brain is still skittering around not wanting to focus deeply.

Something else that plays into this is our pleasure cycles. We get little moments of happy from checking our Facebook and seeing something cool, or looking at pictures of cats with bad grammar, or refreshing our email inbox and finding something new. Humans crave more, new, different. We'll click over to a social media site 30x an hour even if we know the odds are there's nothing good there, just for the chance there might be. Then we wonder why we can't sit still in a 65-minute lecture.

Even deeper research shows that this 'browsing' type of taking in content is changing the way we view other media. We skim course materials. We don't think deeply enough about what we're reading. We learn things superficially, just gleaning enough knowledge to skirt by.

This lack of depth in thinking causes a host of things - some good, some bad. We're better at multi-tasking now, and even though it's bad for us it's good for staying abreast in the fast-paced business world. Our spatial-awareness and reaction times are better - but we could get that playing video games. The downsides: anxiety and loss of creativity, comprehension, and original ideas.

That's right. All those tweets, texts, and Reddit browsing are whittling away your grade point average and your novel. Studies show that with the shallowness of thinking multi-tasking employs, users are more likely to accept the information put in front of them instead of thinking critically about it, and have a harder time analyzing it and drawing opinions of their own or thinking creatively.

Do I buy into this? You'd better believe I do. I've seen way too many people who are completely addicted to checking their phones for texts or tweets... and I watch the same students who text and browse the Internet during class whine to the teacher that they're failing and they don't understand why. I bounced around doing 3-4 other things while writing this post - how many times did you check another tab, glance at your phone or TV, etc. while reading this lengthy post (assuming you even read the whole thing)?

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Web vs. Print & TV

The web has many advantages (and plenty of disadvantages) over older media like print and television, but mostly it’s simply different than the others. The Internet is new media, and it’s made to work in a completely different way than old media. 

First of all, it’s me oriented. I’m the reader, I do what I want! If I’m reading a book, I progress the way the author wrote it. If I’m reading an online article, I can pause at the flashy graphics, decide to skip to the next section, click links to other related (or unrelated) pages, and be horribly impatient and leave if I don’t get what I want in five seconds. I can turn off my graphics, I can block your ads, I can change my screen resolution to teeny-tiny so I don’t see half your stuff, I can change my default font to Ye Olde English and read your blog wearing a top hat and monocle. Once someone has produced and sold a TV show or a book or a movie, that’s it – they’ve got their money and whether or not you like the content doesn’t matter so much. But with the Internet, producers of content have to constantly and continuously please their readers … or we’re out of here, and they lose ad revenue and viewers.

When you watch television, go to the movies, or read a book or magazine, you’re a one-way audience. Stephen King doesn’t see you wince when he horribly murders a character; Johnny Depp doesn’t hear the squees and sighs of fangirls at the theatre. There is no immediate feedback and no two-way communication.

When you surf the internet, however, you’re engaging in new media. If you’re on a blog like this one, you can comment and tell the author how you feel… and that author can in turn respond to your thoughts, or delete your comment and block your IP address. Feedback is instantaneous (unless screening has been applied) and can be seen by whomever views the page. In the age of social media, everything is shared, commented upon, or liked/recommended.

With the social media boom comes a convergence of instant feedback with older media types. For example, when you watch your favorite TV show (say, FRINGE) on, you can now instantly share that video and your comments (“I love Walternate!”) to Facebook. That doesn’t mean J.J. Abrams or John Noble will ever see them, but they’re out there. The Internet also keeps fanbases alive and can bring back shows from the dead: Buffy the Vampire Slayer got an eighth season years later via the world of comics due to its still-present fanbase; talks of a Firefly reboot are in the works for the same reason. In the print media field, authors can offer immediate chapter snippets and free samples to their readers, as well as get feedback and reviews. If the creators of old media content – authors, actors, directors, producers, etc. – choose to get a social media account, they can get direct feedback from viewers. 

We take this instant feedback for granted now, but we’ve forgotten how little time it’s been. Less than 10 years ago, you’d have to go to Hollywood or be very, very lucky to catch a glimpse of a popular actor or hope to shout some adoration at them. Now, many in the limelight constantly post photos and chronicles of day-to-day life and behind-the-scenes info, and I can tweet Nathan Fillian about my love for him until he blocks me.