Sunday, July 24, 2016

Visualizing a Book Correctly

It is a great project for a camper to wean themselves from an internet addiction. It is so strange the way you miss it most for the first day or two. When you finally debauch yourself by backsliding into Sin, you expect some huge rush of pleasure. Surprisingly you end up curling your lip and saying, "They're still talking about the same old crap. Why am I wasting my time?"

Why indeed? The benefits of cutting the daily cord are huge for a camper. They can choose so many more locations. The feeling of (soft) adventure comes back.

But 'fleeing vice is the beginning of virtue,' as the old Roman writer/poet, Horace, said. A camper has a lot of time on their hands. If you remove the internet, you have to add something else. Like what?

Books, let's say. I've never really been a good reader. I'm not referring to speed and comprehension. There has always been a problem with my... attitude. Actually it may have been lethargic visualization.

Let's take a brief digression before getting back to this issue.  This summer I have done a great job staying cool at high altitude. Several times I have camped next to the GDMBR, the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route. Once I was leaving camp and saw a tent and two bikes in a high pasture. I asked if they needed water. They didn't, but they invited me for tea. It was a father/daughter team from England. I accidentally bumped into them two more times on the GDMBR. We had a brief visit each time.

The daughter had a doughty attitude to her first bicycle tour: "We never look at the next section of the trail maps until we finish the current one!"

Why wouldn't that trick work with books? The sheer weight of the literary lumber is so off-putting. That is the psychological trick that the internet exploits: it screams, "Don't read that long-winded, mouldy ol' book. Read my headlines, my brief article, my sensational photos or video! The book and author are long dead, but my drivel happened 3.5 microseconds ago!" 

But why think about the book's 600 pages? Why not just think about the 10 page chapter? So thank you, Georgiana from England, for making me concentrate on this need.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

The Format (of the Medium) is the Message

After having two blockbuster successes with classic television, "The Rifleman" and the original "Star Trek", I was prepared to declare victory and move on. But then some clues on steered me in the direction of "The Virginian." How did I manage to miss this marvelous program when I was a kid? Actually it is probably because I was a kid. The Virginian had a 90 minute format -- too long for young kiddies.

Since I am watching the first two seasons, it was fun to see some of my favorite guest stars from "The Rifleman" reappear on "The Virginian." Similarly,  new guest stars on "The Virginian" reappeared 3-4 years later on "Star Trek."

The long format virtually makes the show a mini-movie. Superb guest stars, from the movies, would deign to appear on this television show: Betty Davis, George C. Scott, Robert Redford, Matthew Broderick, and even a young Ryan O'Neal, who looked about 17 years old.

In a longer show, the plot does not seem forced or contrived. There is time for false clues, so the ending is not completely predictable. The characters have room to travel a longer "arc." Aimed more at adults than kiddies, the characters show the incongruous collection of good and bad traits that makes human beings so interesting.

Better yet, the resolution of the story was not syrupy: it tended to offer the characters exoneration, a new but uncertain beginning in life, and partial redemption, rather than a perfect "buttoned up" happy ending.

The results of the longer format are so impressive that it makes one think about how the formats of other media genres affect their content and results. Take what you wish: 30 minute "Evening News", suburban sitcoms, office cubicle sitcoms, newspapers, blogs on the internet. With the latter, there are dire consequences to blogging too frequently, or reacting to the news of the moment. 

If the blog is just a thinly-disguised advertising platform, its integrity is compromised. It's not that people shouldn't try to monetize their blogs.  I want the internet to be part of the economy. But it leaves a bad taste in my mouth when I start to take a blogger seriously, and then catch myself with "Oh this is just the build-up to the next click-bait."

At any rate, thinking about the format of any medium is probably the first thing we should consider. The writers might be clever enough to put in some information of real value, despite the format, but the odds are not stacked in their favor.