Author: lgwalker92

Big brother YouTube

I honestly do not get riled up or overly invested when others hackle over issues such as corporate espionage, people’s privacy being invaded, or that public media forums are used as means for controlling my perception. My response: Duh.

I get it, privacy is important and we need to protect our rights and blah blah blah. I like my privacy too, I don’t know a single person who personally wants all of their personal information to be available. On the flip side, people generally don’t seem too preoccupied with the idea that they are purposefully and tactfully being influenced by other invested parties. We can’t stand the idea that someone knows stuff about us that we didn’t want to reveal, but for some reason we can stomach the idea that someone is continually trying to shove ideas into our brain through the channels we typically retreat to for peace and relaxation. As I said before, I’m actually not too affected by either situation – I recognize that both are realities, but I don’t see how me getting upset about either will change anything. I choose to live with the knowledge of both and keep my stress levels to a minimum.

YouTube was a platform that initially promised peace and relaxation. With time, it has even become a place of legitimate creativity and content generation. But whenever a medium becomes popular, regardless of its monetary standing, outside sources will write the checks to slip their messages inside that medium. Is YouTube politically charged and fueled by people with an agenda: Yup, definitely. Does that mean I’m going to stop looking up interesting/funny videos: Nope. The responsibility, I would propose, falls to the audience of any given medium to be aware of the fact that both individuals and corporations will always use public mediums to try and influence the masses. We just need to go into those mediums with that in mind and not simply accept/respond to every politically fueled video/article we see.

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Cold Hard Data

I enjoyed each of the three articles and the viewpoints they provided, but the one I felt the strongest impact and connection with was Sarah Slobin’s article – largely because I have thought the same things in the past when evaluating visual representations of data.

The fact is, often, the abstract numbers and charts used in data collection and research relate back to real-life situations: People are behind the numbers. I personally have been guilty in the past of just looking at a simplified chart, perhaps depicting something as gruesome as the death count of some catastrophe, and remaining unaffected by what the information was actually saying.

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So, I can heartily feel with what Slobin is saying. Sometimes, even though it might be uncomfortable and difficult to do, the best option is to simply show audiences the people behind the numbers and let that visual generate its own impact.

 

The Decline of Text

I found Mendelsohn’s claims concerning text and its relevancy to be very bold, to put it lightly. The two mains points of interest that I focused on between her and Handley’s piece was: 1) The speed at which video conveys information compared to text, and 2) the amount of information that is possible to convey in each respective arena. I’m just going to ignore the monster under the bed about Facebook’s activities and how it may or may not cook the books (literally and figuratively) in favor of video feeds on their platform.

Mendelsohn states that videos are faster in their delivery of information. In many ways, I would actually agree with that assessment. Visuals are by far the most catching and stimuli we encounter and interact with on a daily basis; videos are visuals on crack – they move and have audio assistance to boot. With text, the rate of information being transferred is directly related to the user’s reading speed. Some are faster than others, certainly, but practically no one would argue against the fact that someone can watch a short video and retain all of the necessary information more easily than spend that same amount of time trying to read the exact same information on a few pages of material. Or is it? The problem really lies, I would suggest, in the quality or the amount of information that is being transferred in these instances.

Videos are fantastic, but can a video truly let me know how a person is feeling or thinking in a moment without losing that necessary sense of realism? It’s true that a person could just announce everything their feeling and thinking in a scene, but that would largely be distracting and ineffective. Actors, along with common everyday folk who take videos and post them to social media sites, are more often than not forced to rely on their demeanor/expressions to portray what they are feeling/thinking. But will I as a viewer always be able to understand everything the creator of that video intended? With text, the matter is very much simplified. As a writer, I could, in detail, describe every thought and emotion a character could possibly be feeling, and in the timeframe of the story it could all take place in an instant.

The point I’m trying to make with this small example is this: Videos in many ways can deliver information more quickly, but text will always be able to deliver more thorough and fuller information than a video can. Both have their strengths and weaknesses, but to claim that video is superior and that the natural outcome is text’s disappearance is, in my opinion, three hearty scoops of bogus.
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Hybrid Media Today

I found this round of Manovich to be much more forgiving than the previous time (though the typos sprinkled throughout the text did catch me by surprise; most likely a result of file conversion, I would assume). His premise in identifying and demonstrating how “metamedia” today is a gigantic combination of various techniques and styles was a very easy one to follow and understand.

The decision to use After Effects as the central example for this phenomenon was an excellent one, seeing as how that program is still one of the most well-known to this day, which is a full decade after Manovich’s work. In many ways, After Effects fully demonstrates how media today tends to combine various art forms and procedures in one elegant format. Like its cousins, Photoshop and Illustrator, After Effects deals in still-images and text, but its applications extend well beyond that once you introduce motion and animation. What could have been a single frame of a racing car can now transform and become something more. Having the ability to insert graphical effects into a video format, while at the same time being able to adjust features like audio and lighting, is not only a familiar concept in media programs today, it’s an expectation.

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Rather than split the workload between multiple programs, many designers and editors elect to use programs like After Effects where they can accomplish multiple tasks in one location. This flexibility and inclusive mindset has completely transformed the way we both work and perceive media and its creations. Everything is so interconnected now; if one tried to completely isolate an element of media today, I would venture to say that would be against the norm.

Manovich on New Media

In this chapter, Manovich blasts through several decades’ worth of material, showcasing the advances in technology and its impact on media. As he highlights various moments throughout the past, from photographs’ transition into motion to the introduction to the very first computer, Manovich attempts to pinpoint the moment when media became “new”. The refining process is exhaustive…and exhausting. But, in the end, he does generate some interesting thoughts and questions.

Manovich’s underlying goal throughout his entire discussion on new media is to determine and make a distinction between two of its elements: Computing and media technologies. The latter of the two is simply the tech we use to display or transfer information to audiences. Computing relates to the actual creation process; when computers are used to take a concept and design/build it from the ground up.

Out of his million distinctions, Manovich highlights the use of coding or a coding language and how this relates to old vs. new media. In arguing against the idea that “new media” is simply analog media converted into a digital representation, Manovich claims that cinema had already accomplished this by capturing information in real-time.

The one item I’ll actually pull out and highlight myself is Manovich’s stance on new media being “interactive”, a point he begins to make around page 55. Once again, Manovich doesn’t approve of this term as it is still too broad a definition. He gives a brief example on a distinction of how an item can have either “open”/”closed” interaction. All visual objects are “interactive” in one sense: Take paintings for an example. This type of interaction is entirely different than when someone is physically interacting with a computer to get it to perform various tasks. Manovich’s closes his thoughts, after chasings a few rabbit trails, with the idea that new media attempts to take the interactive elements of technology (specifically VR tech) and “externalize and objectify the mind’s operations”. Essentially, we as users and creators take interactive platforms and, consciously or unconsciously, project ourselves into the digital/virtual world.

…He also says something to the effect that we’ll eventually revert back to our primitive ancestral ways due to total VR immersion. But that would never happen, right?

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Tufte & Visual Data

For the most part, I found Tufte’s observations and suggestions surrounding how to effectively use graphs to be an beneficial one. Most of the information seemed fairly common sense to me, but the examples he gave to support his ideas were still useful and conveyed his thoughts well. Many of his initial figures made me cringe: Adding validity to the claims he was making about how they were ineffective.

Throughout the first 11 pages of chapter 4, Tufte really drives home the point about how graphs, and their subsequent ink usage, should represent the data. Not only that, Tufte makes and additional point that ink should only present NEW data; in other words, every drop of a graphics ink should be devoted to presenting information that is both relevant and not redundant. Tufte throws in a cautionary “within reason” at the end of his spiel on ink usage, but it’s hard to shake off the feeling that Tufte would still reprimand me should I fail to devote all of my graphs’ visuals to presenting data in the way that he formally outlined.

Later on in chapter 4, Tufte draws comparisons to how an editor (of text) and a graphical designer essentially perform the same roles in different settings. In the end, both of these individuals must make similar decisions concerning the materials they receive: What stays, what goes, what can be changed, etc. At the end of that chapter, Tufte summarizes his thoughts by stating: “Above all else show the data. Maximize the data-ink ratio. Erase non-data-ink. Erase redundant data-ink. Revise and edit.”

Chapter 5, in many ways, goes into further detail and builds off of Tufte’s previous thoughts concerning graphs and how they should present information. In this chapter, he zeros in and gives examples on the design aspect of graphs within specialized fields: His primary focus, however, is still on presenting clear/relevant data. He repeats this point so often and so intensely, that it makes one wonder if Tufte had a bad experience with a graph of his own, resulting in a traumatized designer with a paranoid interest in graphical data. But that is a inquiry we can pursue at another time. Overall, I still found Tufte’s focus to be beneficial, but I did begin to question where the boundaries of design and creativity lay and where could I overstep them.

Tufte spent so much time driving home the point of how the data must be pure and accurately represented, which is entirely right to do so, that it left me wandering if there would be any room left for creativity. A graph’s primary goal is to present data, yes, without a doubt, but is that the extent of what a good graph is capable of? Could a graph also be a form of beauty and creativity as well as a representation of a data collection? Take, for instance, the graphic below.

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It still shows a visual portrayal of the data, but it does it in such a way that is both eye-catching and fun. That was my primary critique against Tufte: The focus should of course be on the accuracy and effective portrayal of data, but that does not mean creativity has to be sacrificed in any way. I am in no way saying that was what Tufte was claiming or implying, nevertheless I did feel a small void in the matter of creativity and aesthetics and felt that it should have been represented in his chapters.

Cairo: Chapters 5-7

I really appreciated Cairo’s methodical approach to explaining the differences between vision, perception, and knowledge in chapter five. These principles are related, certainly, but one does not equate to the other. Pages 1-10 outline the scientific means by which we as a species perceive and process information. I was already aware of how limited our scope of vision was, but I suppose I had not fully considered how that might effect the way we “prioritize” the way we go about processing our world. Cairo’s suggestion to use the knowledge of how we prioritize to our advantage is a simple example of how a graphical artist might initially attract someone’s gaze. The last few pages, ending on page 15, focus heavily on how our brains fill in the gaps that our visions leave behind: Making us vulnerable to illusionary. However, this is not necessarily a bad thing. In one of his examples, Cairo presents an image of a lion hidden behind some tall grass. Our minds were able to easily identify the beast lying in the grass, because our brain was able to quickly fill the gaps that our vision had failed to provide us.

Chapter six delves further into the visual/mental process, explaining in-detail how it works and how best to monopolize on it. Cairo essentially describes how the human eye maps out images/text laid out on a page and what order it chooses to process that information. Principles such as foreground vs background, patterns, similarity, and connectedness all contribute to the way we categorize the information our visions provide us with.

The final chapter spends the majority of the time focusing purely on what occurs within the mind of a reader/observer. Here Cairo leads we the readers down the paths of different types of memory: Iconic, visual/working, and longterm. This distinction, coupled alongside the idea of abstraction, is one of the tools Cairo provides in making an effective guide for someone to read and follow.

One of the takeaways I made was in relation to how we physically view the world around us and how that dictates our perception. Being an honest nerd, I’ve always found the idea of superpowers enticing. Connecting that desire with the principle of human vision, I always thought that having above-average reflexes would be a lot of fun. Cats’ eyes and neural pathways, for instance, are even more responsive to movement than our own. They still see in color, and a several see even beyond the visible spectrum, but their primary attentiveness is given towards the motion of an object. This feature allows them to have to incredible reflexes…but I wonder how well they would fare if they were asked to read a novel? Ignoring the obvious fact that cats are incapable of reading, it would still be a difficult challenge for one to read a static image. Their brains simply are not programed to focus on any one thing for too long. The only exception to this would be when they are stalking prey, but even then they are still very much aware of all other objects in motion.

If we as humans had similar processing abilities as cats, I feel like we’d have a difficult time doing anything that required diligent focus and study. The words on a page would be so boring and stagnate to our eyes; our vision would constantly be darting around, looking for the nearest moving object. Reading might actually become an impossibility for us in the end. So, while I am still a little jealous and would not mind a boost in reaction time, I am very much content with having a brain that is capable of systematically focussing on individual images.

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Words, words, words, mouse, words, words, words, fly, words, words, human slave, words, words…