Media Musings & Meditations

Observations and discussion about technology, culture and spirituality. As new technology developments and trends envelope the Internet and our "wired" culture we all need time to reflect and process the implications on our society, our relationships and our spiritual practices.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

My Soundtrack

Some of my earliest memories are associated with music. I can remember riding in the car with my mom singing to the radio. Usually WABC, NY and the song was usually a Beatles song. In our house growing up Sunday afternoons Dad would put records on the HiFi, usually Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, or Show Tunes (my mom's favorites) and maybe an occasional classical album. Some I liked, some not so much.

Later on when I started earning money doing chores at home I bought an AM/FM Radio & Cassette Player (Sears brand, I think). And I would sit in my room listening to the classic rock station out of Albany or the off-beat college station at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. I would wait to hear my favorite songs and turn it up. But no station had just the right mix. Eventually, I went off to college at Ohio University where I got to DJ on my dorm station and came close to finding just the right mix for me at the time, combining rock, heavy metal, punk and new wave music. Of course I've taped my own combinations of songs and listened to a lot of radio but unlike Goldilocks from the fairy tale I never seemed to find one source that was “just right”. Even now, with Internet radio stations, computer “jukebox” programs, and a multitude of satellite radios stations, I haven't found the source that suits me best.

All this brings me back to an idea I had years ago, probably after reading some Science Fiction books or watching Star Trek. I began to imagine how great it would be if we had a soundtrack to our life like a movie. Of course, sometimes there would be silence and the rest of the time there would be just the right music to fit our mood and the situation. Sometimes in my daydream there might be some kind of button panel somewhere so we could adjust the mood or skip a song. As I watch technology advance, my crazy fantasy inches closer. I can easily see people in the future having some kind of credit card or Flash drive-sized device that they take with them everywhere and plug into the home stereo or computer or car audio which will play just the songs they like, when they like them. Perhaps one day there will even be a biological interface to enable our music device to read our emotions and mood. However, until then, I'm waiting and composing the score for my life soundtrack.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Reality TV Religion

What makes reality TV more “real” than standard Hollywood-produced shows? One element is religion. For decades, Hollywood has followed that old adage about not discussing religion and politics that in polite company. So the majority of TV shows (and movies for that matter) don’t show or talk about religion to any degree. On those rare occasions when there is a religious character, as media critic Michael Medved has pointed out, he or she is usually portrayed as a psycho, a prude or a hypocrite. So despite polls reported in national magazines that show a majority of Americans believe in God, the Hollywood media pretends that hardly anyone does.

I’m not for a moment saying that reality TV shows are religious or even all that wholesome. But what I am saying is that when we see real people reacting to situations and circumstances one of the factors that helps them cope and overcome is their religious faith. For those people who have a religious faith, that belief affects their behavior and decisions (just like it does for most Americans).

Let me just run down some of the examples of religion in reality TV: on last year’s Survivor one of the tribes had a morning “devotional/prayer” time together as a group, on various seasons of Big Brother we’ve seen house guests reading the Bible, praying or talking about their faith, various couples on the Amazing Race have discussed their faith and prayed about their circumstances. This year’s Apprentice has two Jewish people who observed the Jewish holidays during the show. Kayser on last year’s Big Brother practiced his Moslem faith. And this year’s American Idol featured Mandisa who, referencing Jesus, publicly forgave Simon for criticizing her weight.

As we watch these religiously oriented people in reality shows encounter the same challenges and situations that the non-religious people do, we see that their faith affects their thinking and decision-making. Generally the religious people want to be fair and kind, they don’t like being deceptive, they try not to dwell on the negative and they are usually optimistic about the future, they are more ready to forgive and encourage and even losing does not seem to defeat them. Reality TV doesn’t teach us that religious people always win, but it does deliver a message that people who take religion seriously tend to be good people, are nice to be around, are more likely to help and encourage you and they remind us that winning isn’t everything. Evidently, this is a message Hollywood does not want delivered. But that is one of the reasons I find many reality TV shows interesting, fresh and REAL.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Mind over Body

I have been thinking about an exciting, dynamic topic - modesty. Okay, so maybe it's not an exciting topic in our society, but maybe it should be. I think the idea of modestly has been lost to our culture. Just think about it. We have young girls trying to dress like their idols in movies and videos baring as much skin as possible. We have pop music and movie performers dressed in little more than their underwear (Madonna-ware). We have celebrity models that do wear underwear in public and on TV (Victoria's Secret, is no longer a secret) and we've even had TV game shows where people would remove their clothes in a front of a crowd on a dare (Dog Eat Dog). You hear dumb comments like, “if you've got it flaunt it.” You see a national obsession with toning up muscles in your stomach that no one in the past even saw. We've lost our modesty.

I would venture to guess that many in younger generations don't even know the concept. “What's the hang up?” “Why are you so up-tight about seeing people's bodies?” What a shift in our culture. Since when did we start talking like the European art community rather than a country built on Judeo-Christian morals, values and justice. I'm not suggesting a return to the 1800's where every inch of your body had to be covered. But I think somewhere along the line, as media people were pushing the envelope and crossing the boundaries we forgot to say, “that's enough!”

And I fear it has signaled a psychological or sociological change in the way our culture views personhood. Is my value as a person determined by my appearance or physical attributes, received via genetics or surgery? And what of my privacy and control over myself, am I so willing to relinquish the reigns and throw my personal and private things out on display where they can be judged and ridiculed if I don't measure up? The only things not on stage are my inner feelings, and society is willing to tell whether those matter if I'll let them.

I think modesty is about regaining control over who you are and what you value. It's about balancing your identity between body and mind, physical and intellect. It's about making your own decisions about what you will share of yourself and with whom. Regardless of culture, we can choose to reclaim control over ourselves and keep the concept of modesty alive by communicating it to others.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Does Flash have a bright future?

Flash has been the buzzword in web design and development circles for the last three or four years. Just try finding a web design job that doesn't ask for Flash skills these days. It doesn't matter whether the company ever actually uses Flash on any of its projects. There is just a prevailing wisdom that says a good designer ought to know how to do Flash. Just as prevailing wisdom assumes a good fashion designer can't dress conventionally, aka reality TV's Project Runway.

Flash certainly has its moments to shine when it comes to easy-to-create animation and interactions. But too often Flash gets channeled into pointless Flash intros or slideshows reminiscent of PowerPoint. It makes me queasy to think how many hours have gone into some of the gems you see on the web.

So what is the future of Flash? Let me add some anecdotal evidence. I've talked to two alumni of my Interactive Media degree program here at Harding in the last six months. One former student reported that Flash is a high demand skill in his job. He stressed that the most important aspect of Flash these days is the ActionScript code that runs behind the visual design interface. This seems to echo the call of many articles.

The other former student I spoke with told me that his web design company doesn't do Flash at all. Clients come and say, “don't you do Flash?” and his boss says, “No, and this is why we don't, and because we don't we can save you X amount of dollars in development costs” and quickly the clients forget the buzzword. So how can a web design company turn its back on the magic of Flash? The answer is the magic of Web 2.0. Using the latest technologies one can incorporate scripting, produce special effects and rapidly refresh page items producing some Flashy tricks. Web 2.0 is becoming the new buzzword.

That brings us back to our question about the future of Flash. My prediction is that Flash will transform, split really, into two smaller varieties. Using Flash as a complete web site authoring tool will fall out of popularity. The two remaining vestiges of Flash will be smaller specialized uses. One variety will Flash as a media tool used by designers to create interactive or animated web objects (just as Photoshop is seen as the photo editing tool). Smaller Flash-produced widgets will be nestled into standards-based pages. The other carryover of Flash will be the Flash technology used by big corporations and e-Commerce. It will be ActionsScripting incorporated into larger database-driven web sites that will enable server pages to create their own graphics as well as page templates and content shells.

Only time will confirm or dispel these predictions. And who knows, this time next year I may be pronouncing the eulogy for Web 2.0.