Saturday, August 23, 2014

Like Is The Hardest Addiction.

Last week, I began an experiment with Facebook after reading this article, by Elan Morgan about Facebook 'Likes'.

I have increasingly found myself becoming dissatisfied with Facebook and what I've seen as the lack of engagement among my social network. 

The basic premise of the article was that Facebook 'Likes' are actually manipulated by Facebook to push certain content into your news feed based on your activity. The article also suggests that simply 'Liking' content on Facebook is detrimental to the notion of social networking and engagement and I gotta say, it resonated with me. 

For too long, I was quite happy to go along with 'Liking' people's updates or photos or links without actually engaging with their message. I made what I felt to be the erroneous assumption that 'Liking' something was enough. 

But it isn't.

Like logo is Copyright © Facebook Ltd.

Liking stuff simply clogged up my feed with an ever growing stream of disengaging content (those fucking memes being the worst).

In a subsequent discussion I kicked off on Facebook, I made the point that, to me, Liking is akin to slacktivism. You can blindly scroll through your feed and click 'Like' on friends updates as if it were of no consequence but it doesn't equate to engagement.

So, I made the decision to quit Liking content on Facebook. Instead, I actively made an effort to interact with content that I personally found engaging. If I had an opinion about something someone posted, I commented. I made an active effort to comment my appreciation for what my friends were sharing and I also made the effort to re-share content with an updated status of my own that told my friends what I thought about the content I was sharing. 

I also made an effort to hide content I don't want to see anymore - aka - those fucking memes! There is a really handy function within the mobile app in particular that allows you to hide content that is shared by your friends without hiding their streams entirely. For example - I got so sick of seeing posts from "I Fucking Love Science". Sure - I do actually (fucking) love science, but seeing those posts every single day eroded my enjoyment of Facebook. 

The results, while not absolute, are encouraging. 

By not 'Liking' everything that vaguely impresses me, I've found myself having some really great discussions about different topics. I've also seen a large decrease in the amount of memes and superfluous content in my feed and in their place, I am seeing much more organic visual content - personal photos from friends which vary in their interest but I much prefer. I am also seeing content from friends I actually forgot I had. This goes to my suspicions that Facebook has been manipulating the content I see in my feed based on my past behavior.

Actively sharing content from friends has also become much more satisfying. I made the comment recently that if I share something of yours, it is because I care about you. The positivity of that 'paying it forward' has been borne out in both comments and increased interaction between myself and my friends. 

So it's been a week. And I can honestly say that I have enjoyed a greater satisfaction with Facebook overall. My interaction with it has been lesser - simply because I have a busy life - but the quality of that interaction has increased markedly. 

In conclusion, I recommend you try it out. Make the leap and really question what you want your feed to look like. By not Liking content straight up, actually interacting with the sharer of that content and actively hiding content that doesn't engage you, I'll bet you'll find your user experience greatly improved. 


Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Robin Too.

The past 24 hours - give or take - have seen an outpouring of grief at the sudden death of actor and comedian Robin Williams. Celebrated, much loved, kinetic, hilarious, legendary - all are terms that have been associated with countless tributes that have poured in from around the world. He was an actor of a generation, a pop culture icon (?), a figure of inspiration. 

These are all fair assessments of a man who has entertained for nearly 40 years or more. His accolades are deserved - his legacy cemented. But there has emerged, for me at least, another picture of Robin Williams that, while not detracting from my view of him overall, serves to humanize him to a level that is worth exploring.

Last night, I downloaded a podcast from comedian Marc Maron. It was an interview that Maron recorded with Williams back in 2010, book ended with some up to the minute thoughts from Maron about the actor's death. In the roughly hour long interview, Maron and Williams discussed the latter's early career, his comedic beginnings, his successes on stage and on screen and the material rewards that stemmed from that. 

They also canvassed the excesses of Hollywood in the 1980's, the vices that flowed to people like Williams as a result of success - the cocaine addiction and alcoholism and the mental illness. A fact that I certainly wasn't aware of before now was Williams was present the night John Belushi died. It was an enlightening and, admittedly, a sometimes disturbing insight into the perilous nature of success and excess that is not often talked about - though Williams has, in more recent interviews, been willing to discuss these in more detail. He didn't shy away from talking about the destructive nature of it all and how it shaped him.

The other alternate view of Williams came to me this morning via the comedy talk show Keith & The Girl. In it, host Keith Malley was quite forthcoming in criticizing the overwhelming expressions of grief on social media which he believed had gone way over the top in terms of a collective outpouring of emotion. He also broached - actually, he launched head on into - the subject of charges against Robin Williams that he was a joke thief. This, too was something that I was aware of in the past, though I wasn't prepared to give much credence to it. You always wish to see those you admire in the best possible light. 

Without pointing towards specific charges or allegations - you can Google this for yourself - the internet does throw up a number of articles that tackle Williams' apparent joke thievery which cast the actor in a different light. 

Malley's passionate argument around the faux grief and emotion poured into social media extended into his anger at certain comedians, whom he knows personally, who have pointedly criticized Williams in the past for joke thievery - yet they were in their on Twitter, on Facebook or wherever they could find a soap box, mourning, lamenting and telling the world how much of an inspiration Robin Williams was to them. 

There is enough anecdotal evidence to suggest that Williams did in fact engage in a level of joke thievery. It's disappointing and saddening. But, in any posthumous examination of a person, particularly a figure as revered as Robin Williams, I think it's a necessary component of that examination. 

I'll continue to watch his movies and admire him as a performance artist of incredible energy and talent. But, I will add these alternative view points to my own impression of the man that Robin Williams was...

Because, at the end of his day, Robin Williams was human...


Monday, August 11, 2014


I was chatting to a dear friend of mine this morning and we were lamenting that Robin Williams was perhaps one of the most influential actors - nay people - of our generation. 

Sure, there have been celebs who have come and gone, but Robin Williams was something else. He was a pop culture icon before we even knew what they were. 

I watched "Mork & Mindy" on the black and white TV when Channel 8 was the only channel we could get in our house. 

The movie "Popeye" was one of the first films I ever saw on VHS. 

A comedy album he recorded in the early to mid 80's was one of the first "rude" records I ever heard - the kind you listen to in your bedroom with the volume turned way down because you're afraid your Mum might hear it.

"Good Morning Vietnam" was the movie that introduced me to the music my parents grew up with. It was also the film that really brought home to me the futility of war. 

"Dead Poets Society" was the movie that inspired me to read more, to treasure words and to never accept mediocrity. 

Boys, you must strive to find your own voice. Because the longer you wait to begin, the less likely you are to find it at all. Thoreau said, "Most men lead lives of quiet desperation." Don't be resigned to that. Break out! break out now is the time!

Robin was there when I was a kid. Robin was there when I was a teen. Robin was there when I was a young man, tortured by my own darkness. 

He is no longer here. 

I weep for him.


Monday, August 4, 2014

Where Memories Reside.

The indomitable movie franchise, Star Wars, redefined the notion of movie merchandising when it was released in 1977. And yet, legend tells that expectations were so low for the movie when it originally launched that potential merchandising partners either took a wait and see approach or they passed on the opportunity to participate in marketing the movie entirely 

Of course, unless you were living under a rock, Star Wars took the world by storm and toy manufacturers were caught completely off guard. They could not foresee the movie going public's hunger for their own piece of the Star Wars universe and they were scrambling, in the aftermath, to get something - anything - onto the shelves in order to cash in. 

Fast forward 37 years and Star Wars merchandise still ranks among the highest selling movie merchandise in history. Fans, young and old, hunger for their own little piece of that galaxy far, far away. Countless Christmases and Birthdays all across the world have witnessed the opening of a Star Wars toy or book or lunch box or play set or any one of a hundred different permutations of something Star Wars. 

And with these have been the spawning of a thousand different memories of that very simple occasion; memories which have become almost as treasured as the item itself. 

A recent discussion on the Star Wars pod-cast "Full of Sith" touched on that idea - the memories touched off by a piece of Star Wars memorabilia - and it got me thinking about my own, favourite piece of Star Wars merchandise. Of course, my collection is considerable, but the discussion had me going through it, trying to decide which of the many pieces I own are the most treasured. 

I've narrowed it down to three.

First and foremost is my copy of Deborah Fine's and Aeon Inc's "Star Wars Chronicles" from the late 90's. It comes in a beautiful and sturdy dust cover folio which you open to slide the book out. It probably has some of the most comprehensive and gorgeous still images and photos from the movies and the sets, melding fiction with fact to tell the story of the films and the making of them side by side. 

It features a series of exquisite gate folds, comparing characters, ships and the scale of those ships side by side. 

My family all chipped in to buy it for me on my 27th or 28th birthday, as it was quite a pricey investment,  and it is such a lush piece. Every time I open it to have a read, the pages have this kind of powdery feel to them and a smell that is not unpleasant. I always feel as though I should be wearing a pair of those cotton gloves whenever I take it out for a read. 

The second piece is my Lego AT-AT which I saved up for, when I got my first full time job. I was putting money aside for what seemed like ages before I got it. When I finally got it home, I armed myself with enough beers to keep myself going and I think I spent around 6 hours putting it together on a cold, wet Saturday afternoon. 

I've never been so satisfied putting something together as I was when I stood back and marvelled at the completed model. As with many of those higher end Lego pieces, the AT-AT offers such a tactile experience, with doors that open and close and accessories that you can take out and play with. Of course, my children and I love playing with it and when it's not sitting proudly in my office here at home, it can often be found in the thick of some sort of battle between my Star Wars Lego, their Lego Chima or Lego City. 

The last one - and perhaps the most poignant - is an original Kenner Biker Scout figurine along with the original Speeder Bike. 

Now, when I was in my teens I was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of spinal cord tumour. After spending a long time in hospital where I underwent extensive surgery, I was allowed home but I had to spend some time with my grandparents because my parents worked. 

On one of these days I was feeling pretty low and my Pa had to run some errands for my Nana. While he was out, he stopped by the local toy store and managed to pick up both the Biker Scout and the Speeder Bike at the same time. He knew how much I loved Star Wars and, although he didn't, he made sure to ask the girl at the store what to get. You can imagine how it lifted my spirits when he came back from the store with them. That Biker Scout and Speeder Bike sits proudly in my display here at home, complete as it was the day he bought it for me. It has outlived him, sadly, but the memory of him coming through the door with it won't soon be forgotten.

That's the awesome thing about Star Wars. Beyond the sheer fun of the movies themselves, Star Wars has been responsible for some of the best memories of childhood and growing up. I can look at many of the pieces in my collection and they'll touch off something in my life that will make me smile.