Real life in virtual worlds

Each generation of media has its taboo. First it was sexually explicit literature. Then it was violent movies. Now it’s video games, an interactive media that encompasses sex, violence and anything in between.

Condemnation of video games is nothing new. Whether it was the violence of “Mortal Kombat” or the sexually explicit material in “Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas,” video games have always provided a target for angry politicians and concerened parents.

The most recent video game scandal hits a little closer to home, however.

According to the Associated Press, a new war game in develpment by Konami has been blacklisted due to its sensitive nature. “Six Days in Fallujah” was a first person shooter deatiling the battles of American soldiers in Iraq during 2004.

After outcries from veterans and their families, the plug was pulled on the game. While this may seem like just another example of video games pushing the wrong buttons, this is the first time such ire has been directed at a standard war game. If you look up the 10 most controversial games, a real-life war simulator is nowhere to be found.

In fact, games based on real life wars have been enormously popular while rarely drawing criticism. Perhaps this game is different because it no longer puts players into a long ago battle, but into a recent war Americans are still reeling from.

Video games are a medium unlike books and movies. They allow players to literally step into any number of roles. Criminals or cops. Cowboys or aliens. You name it, there’s a game out there that lets you experience it first hand.

What makes this recent controversy so different is that the game is not under attack for promoting sex and violence. It’s under attack for giving people the chance to experience a war that is still going on.

And for people watching young men and women return home in flag-draped coffins, that just might be too much.

Published in: on April 29, 2009 at 5:09 pm  Leave a Comment  

Sex in Second Life

You can do anything in Second Life that you can do in real life.

You can build a business. Go to school.

And of course, have lots of kinky sex.

Mirroring users of the World Wide Web, many Second Life users devote their computer time to playing out their sexual fantasies. Whether experimenting with homosexuality or hardcore bondage, Second Life offers its users the chance to make sweet love in a virtual world.

But things are about to change. Unlike the real world, Second Life’s horny citizens will now be relegated to their own sex-centered “continent.”

According to a recent article in Tech News World, the powers that be controlling Second Life have decided to sequester all X-rated material to a separate part of the virtual world.

The article goes on to state: “Linden Lab, the company behind Second Life, announced the changes Wednesday as part of a broader move to let users customize the site’s content. The changes will start going into effect in June.”

This separation of adult-oriented material will be affecting many Second Life users and their avatars.

As this article in InformationWeek points out, sex is a substantial part of the virtual community. Numerous businesses are devoted entirely to sex. As avatars are created without genitalia, some businesses specialize completely in selling the man and woman parts users crave.

So why the big move? Why all the changes over some pixilated  breasts?

It’s really quite simple. Second Life is a mirror image of the real world. And in the real world, what society considers naughty and taboo is to be kept out of sight and out of mind. Think of this move as just another way Second Life manages to stay realistic. Sex will be hidden for the benefit of the G-rated masses.

But those curious souls roaming the virtual landscape will always find space for their playtime. Whips and chains sold separately.

Published in: on April 22, 2009 at 6:18 pm  Leave a Comment  

YouTube made me cry

When I think of YouTube, I think of people falling down. Whether they’re tumbling from a trampoline or off a roof, the popular video site is synonymous with painfully humiliating falls in my mind.

I can only assume it’s the same for others. Everyone I know seems to use the site exclusively to watch the human carnage that results from battling gravity.

We don’t credit YouTube as the pinnacle of video sharing between users from around the world. We think of it as a place to waste a few minutes of our lives away.

But every now and then, when the moon is in the seventh hour and Jupiter is aligned with Mars, a video comes along to remind us how lucky we are to live in the age of YouTube. These clips allow us to share the beauty of humanity. They spread inspiration and emotional vulnerability like a virus. But a good virus that makes us smile instead of puke.

Such was the case with Susan Boyle, a rather plain looking Scottish woman who shocked and surprised her detractors with the voice of an angel.

As The Vancouver Sun explains, Boyle took the stage of “Britain’s Got Talent” to jeering and laughter as she explained that she was a 47-year-old virgin with dreams of being a singer.

Her performance ended with a standing ovation. And me bawling like a baby.

Feel free to check out the clip here.

According to CNET News, Boyle’s video has become a YouTube sensation spreading joy to people the world over.

What does this all mean, you ask? What’s the point?

Well, the point is I was emotionally moved by a short clip from a foreign broadcast I would never have seen had it not been for YouTube. A site best known for publishing videos with the intellectual sophistication of a fart joke made me cry.

I don’t know about you, but that makes me proud to live in the digital age. Most of all, it makes me appreciate the wonders of the Web.

See you in cyberspace, and God bless America.

Published in: on April 15, 2009 at 2:28 pm  Leave a Comment  

The last American (Myspace) virgin

That headline may be a little misleading. I’m by no means a virgin to social networking sites.

But there was a time, in the not so distant past, when I found myself abstaining like a nun at a swinger’s party.

I belittled people who had a Myspace and chastised  those who checked it constantly. What’s the point, I would ask myself.  We already have telephones and texting. We already have email. We already have regular mail, for that matter.

And for individuals feeling a little nostalgic, there’s also good, old fashioned face to face contact.

So why was creating an online account necessary to interact with people? It seemed more like a vanity project designed to show people how unique you were while doing the exact same things they were doing.

I know I wasn’t the only one who felt that way. According to ABC News, there are still plenty of people resisting the temptation of social networking.

But then, one dark and stormy night, I decided to give it a shot. I booted up my trusty computer and began the descent into what would become a shame spiral of Myspace addiction.

After seeing Tom’s smiling face welcome me to the club, I found myself feeling the tingle a heroin addict must experience after the first shot. I was hooked. I wanted to customize. I wanted to be clever. I wanted  colors to match and pictures to compliment. I wanted my top eight to be pruned and tended like a rose garden.

I found myself checking my profile as often as a junkie checking for a fix.

And if you think my addiction is exaggerated, check out this blog from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. The danger is real.

But there is light at the end of the tunnel. I am now Myspace free and have been Myspace sober for over two years.

Just remember, the first step is admitting you have a problem.

Published in: on April 8, 2009 at 12:11 pm  Leave a Comment  

New journalist manifesto

The changing technological landscape has opened the door for alternative media. It is no longer enough for a newspaper to rely on the tenets of journalism. The printed word must be sent out faster. It must be accompanied by audio and video. In short, it must adapt. Despite traditional media’s resistance, much can be learned from the pioneers of the Web’s new media frontier: bloggers.

Operating without major corporations backing them, bloggers are able to take advantage of the Internet and post content quicker than any newsroom. It is this speed of information that journalists should focus on most. Traditional journalism can sometimes foster an environment where a story is pushed back much too often in order to fine-tune a certain aspect. The blogger acts quickly and publishes while the traditional story languishes in purgatory.
In a rather humorous example, The Boston Globe has an article detailing how a Harvard professor wrote so much so quickly that a web page had to be started for his literary additions to his published book.

Journalists must remember that the Internet is not the same as print. Corrections can be made and mistakes can be fixed to a story after it’s been published. Unlike a print newspaper, an online newspaper can be monitored and updated minute by minute.

Another lesson journalists must learn from bloggers is the idea of participation between writer and reader. News stories are too often displayed as lectures being written for the general public. No audience wants to be talked at; they want to be talked to. This means making a news story part of a larger conversation between writers and readers. Make comments and suggestions easy for both sides to use. Publishing a story doesn’t necessarily mean the story is over. Sometimes that’s just the beginning. Journalists must foster an environment where community members are able to share their thoughts and insights regarding what is being published.

Traditional journalists must also focus on specific markets. In order for old media to survive in a new media world, an audience is necessary. In a sea of competition, journalists must make their work more valuable to that audience. One way to do this is through hyper-localization. Some sites, such as Knight Citizen News Network, devote themselves entirely to local citizen journalism. Online newspapers can offer stories and content directed at specific regional zones. This “street by street” journalism becomes invaluable to the reader. Another method is allowing readers to tailor journalistic content to fit their specific needs. A newspaper website could allow readers to program which types of stories appear at the top of the page. This fosters personal investment and participation, key elements to retaining an audience and forming a new one.

This focus on new media may lead some to question where non-computer users fit into the scheme of things. The answer is they don’t. Computers and Internet usage are already vital parts of everyday life. They will only continue to become more important as technological progress is made. Those with negative feelings toward technology, as well as those incapable of using technology, are in the process of being transformed. New programs and initiatives are working on closing the digital divide. Personalized content and mandatory usage are forcing neo-Luddites to embrace a digital life. Internet usage will become as inescapable as telephone usage. There may always be a small minority that refuses to follow along, but this group will be so inconsequential as to not even exist.

Journalists are a necessary part of a free society. They trade in information and news in the public interest. The Internet and World Wide Web are the greatest information gathering tools the world has ever seen. A balance and relationship between journalists and the Web is beneficial for both. Journalists should not shed their past in order to copy bloggers. However, they must study bloggers and learn what tools can be used to more effectively traverse the digital landscape of new media.

Published in: on April 2, 2009 at 4:15 pm  Leave a Comment  

Who needs doctors when you have iPhones?

If you needed anymore pro0f that machines will someday rise up against us and take over the world in a coup reminiscent of the “Terminator” films, Apple has been kind enough to provide.

According to tudiabetes.com, a blog for individuals with diabetes, Apple has put out three separate applications that help monitor and track insulin for diabetes patients.

Not to sound like an alarmist, but it seems pretty clear that iPhones will soon replace doctors and hospitals altogether.

And Apple isn’t stopping at diabetes with their medicine applications. Soon condoms will be obsolete with the iPhone’s new “Sterilization App.” Hangovers will be a thing of the past with the “Morning After App.” And finally, cancer will be eradicated with the “Cold Day in Hell App.”

All joking aside, it seems like application madness has taken over the iPhone.

According to Wired.com, Apple’s “successful iPhone application store surpassed 30,000 apps available for download  Thursday afternoon…This is rapid, remarkable growth, considering just in December, iPhone fans celebrated the App Store surpassing 10,000 apps. The App Store launched in July 2008 with just 500 apps available.”

This is the kind of mindless consumerism that lead to our current economic meltdown. People are buying applications that replace other existing technologies simply because they can. Some of these seem like genuinely original and helpful programs. However, too many seem to be marketed to individuals obsesses with needless opulence and new aesthetics.

It’s the virtual equivalent of the men and women who collect hundreds of pairs of shoes for no discernible reason. A pair of sneakers and a pair of dress shoes are enough. No one needs that many multi-colored Nike’s or high-end high heels.

Than again, maybe I’m just bitter because I can’t afford any new applications.

Published in: on March 26, 2009 at 4:40 pm  Leave a Comment  

Another one bites the dust

What do you imagine when you think of Seattle?

Rain? Coffee? Hip little boys and girls determining the next fashion statement?

How about the news?

If you chose the latter, you’re in for a rude awakening.

According to an article posted on Reuters.com, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer is sinking faster than the Titanic:

“Employees at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer will learn next week whether Hearst Corp will name a buyer for the daily newspaper, close its print edition or shut it down entirely.”

The atricle goes on to say, “Hearst, which is also threatening to close the San Francisco Chronicle unless it can save money through layoffs and other cost cuts, has already warned P-I employees that they could lose their jobs as early as March 18.”

Yet another depressing story detailing the death of newspapers. It was in this vein of thinking that I stumbled upon a blog that proposed a drastic change for print.

Blog Maverick detailed a plan for newspapers to mold their business models into that of online video sites. What if The New York Times created an agreement with a cable giant like Comcast. Suppose Comcast gave their customers exclusive rights to the online edition of The New York Times for a small fee. Each entity would help with advertising for the other. Comcast becomes a purveyor of one of the most influential news chains in history, while The New York Times gains revenue and expanded readership.

I know this raises many ethical questions, but let’s face it, newspapers are already corporately controlled. Besides, desperate times call for desperate measures.

Unless we change course, the newspaper as we know it will find itself at the bottom of the ocean, floating in a watery grave of irrelvance.

Just like in this article from JuneauEmpire.com, newsrooms around the world will become empty and the fourth estate will become a ghost.

Published in: on March 12, 2009 at 3:54 pm  Leave a Comment  

One small step for newspapers, one giant leap in the prospect of me having a job in the future

In the ongoing soap opera that is the newspaper industry, it seems there is  a recent ray of hope.

Last time on “As The World Prints,” we saw that the newspaper industry was scrambling to find a way to stay relevant in a digital age. Our main character, The New York Times, was struggling to stay afloat amid the attacks of its nemesis, The Evil Blog. In this episode, a respite of sorts is on the horizon for the paper.

As outlined in this article from Poynter Online, the New York Times has decided to make its entire archives available for Web developers to play around with.

Here’s a short summary from Poynter writer Steve Myers:

“Last week, the Times moved to make its journalism just as prevalent, and relevant, by giving outside Web developers a way to conduct customized searches on 2.8 million articles published since 1981, display the results on their own sites and combine them with any information they like.

More than a technical change that makes geeks’ hearts go pitter-patter, the Times announcement represents a change in how a news organization handles its most important asset: the journalism it has created over the years. By untethering its archives from its Web site, the Times can spread its journalism — and its influence — all over the Web.”

According to the story, the Times will eventually have all issues dating back to its inception in 1851.

While it may not sound like the most groundbreaking thing in the world, this move by the Times will allow them to license the search technology for their archives. This, along with an even further reach for their material, will bring in much needed revenue.

While were being told that becoming more locally focused is the way for newspapers to make money, as outlined in this other article from Poynter Online, the Times has gone in the complete opposite direction. They have decided to embrace the global construct and cash in on the technology instead of following along in its wake.

Nice move, New York Times. Nice move, indeed.

Published in: on March 5, 2009 at 5:09 pm  Leave a Comment  

Dawn of the Dead (Internet)

Imagine an America without Internet.

For my generation, that’s like imagining a life without hands or feet.

Without the World Wide Web, we’d be like lost sheep roaming a pitch black cave. Only instead of frightened “baaas” we’d be screaming “Where’s my Google?”

As horrifying as this scenario sounds, plenty of people on this planet live their lives without the aid of Internet. Their lives may be out of touch with celebrity gossip and viral videos, but they’re lives nonetheless.

But Americans? With no Internet? That’s a recipe for disaster.

We have come to rely so heavily on the Internet as our primary source for information and connection that to have it taken away would cripple the United States beyond belief.

We would be reduced to an updated version of the 1950’s, which, in retrospect, would sort of be like living in a third world country.

Forget for a moment the devastating effects this would have on our living conditions. Disregard the complete panic that would ensue when basic utilities and services are severed. The social impacts alone would be enough to send some people into the looney bin.

Even the loss of Google by itself would be enough to completely disrupt modern technology usage, as outlined in Ecommerce Journal.

The truth is, imagining an America without the Internet is impossible. There would be no America without the Internet. Whatever our past was, modern America is very much intertwined with modern technology.

We are a digital country living in a digital age.

The advent of Internet and the World Wide Web are very recent creations, as shown in the NetValley timeline. But they are now as vital to American culture as baseball and apple pie.

So go ahead and imagine an America without Internet. Your daydream would quickly become a nightmare.

Published in: on February 25, 2009 at 6:51 pm  Comments (1)  

To blog or not to blog

I recently read excerpts from two very different books dealing with the same subject. One was from”Everything is Miscellaneous: The Power of the New Digital Order” by David Weinberger. The other was from “The Cult of the Amateur: How Today’s Internet is Killing Our Culture” by Andrew Keen.

Both Weinberger and Keen wrote about the impact of technology on modern culture. While they each agree that technology, and the internet in particular, has deeply affected society, they completely disagree on whether or not those effects are positive.

Weinberger makes the case for a complete overhaul of standard information processes. He writes about citizen journalists and bloggers being the voice of the people, as opposed to an elite set of individuals deciding what’s important for us. His take on the internet is decidedly in step with “New Media.”

Keen maintains that traditional media “gatekeepers” are necessary for the public good. He writes about the negative impact of men and women flooding the world with useless information requiring no accountability.

You can check out both authors debating the merits of their views on Conversation Hub.

After chewing on the points raised in both texts, I’ve decided that each view is too extreme. It’s only through a compromise between the two that the public is best served.

We do need traditional media gatekeepers to sift through the crap floating around in the world. We need educated and qualified individuals to help us understand the  complex issues we face each and every day.

At the same time, we need tech-savvy citizens to keep major players in check. If traditional journalism is the “fourth estate,” than the bloggers should be considered the “fifth estate.”

Or at least the “fourth and a half” estate.

Credibility is key to giving and receiving information. We must be able to rely on our sources. However, we need the populace to be able to question and investigate what we all take as the honest truth. Corporations are prone to making decisions based on profit. We need average people there to guide major media outlets if they lose their way.

This article from the Poynter Institute illustrates how average citizens want to be more involved with the production and consumption of news.

We need the experts.

And we need the amateurs.

We just have to figure out a way for them to compliment each other; working together for the common good.

Published in: on February 19, 2009 at 5:38 pm  Leave a Comment