Posts Tagged magazines

The outrage cycle

Rolling Stone cover August 2013I was originally going to use this post to continue the debate over the now infamous Rolling Stone cover photo (as an aside, I encourage everyone to read the article, which was very well written) of Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

I was going to talk about how people who think Rolling Stone made an unethical decision are wrong, about how Tsarnaev looks nothing like Jim Morrison.

I don’t think that is going to resolve anything, though.

The day Rolling Stone released the cover and story, I was arguing with people on Facebook about the article’s content, the decision to put Tzarnaev on the cover, and the quality of the photography. I got up for a break, and walked past people arguing about something else on TV in the next room.

Public discourse seems to have become a never-ending cycle of outrage. People get outraged at things like this, then other people get outraged at the first group’s outrage. Meanwhile, nothing gets resolved.

People have every right to be upset when they see Tsarnaev’s photo in such a prominent place. They have gotten upset, and it hasn’t stopped there.

What’s amazing is how quickly a visceral reaction to something like this gets cloaked in logic. It’s as if people know that they are overreacting to something and feel they have to cover up that blatantly emotional response with reasons.

So the debate shifts from pure anger over having to look at Tsarnaev’s face every time one walks into Barnes & Noble to concerns over how the image is disrespectful to the people of Boston, or how its “glamorization of terrorism” could inspire copycats.

Consequently, the opposition fires back with reasons of its own: freedom of the press, the importance of knowing something, anything, about this unprecedented act of terror, and the acknowledged difficulty in predicting how potential copycats will respond to specific media images.

It won’t work, though, because the people boycotting Rolling Stone aren’t interested in a rational debate; they’re still just upset over seeing Tsarnaev on the cover. They won’t respond to rational arguments because they aren’t being sincerely rational.

In America, logic and emotion are confused way too easily. We use terms like “belief” and “morality” to bridge the gap between these two polar opposites. We have an initial reaction to something and cling to it tenaciously until Judgment Day.

Instead of being resolved, the issues of the day gradually fade away as people get sick of talking about them. Soon, Willie Nelson will be on the cover of Rolling Stone again, Tsarnaev will be on trial, and we’ll all have something new to be outraged over.

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Printed narratives

Cube Colors 034What do this month’s issues of Car & Driver and Popular Science have in common? 3D printing.

There’s something about the summer that causes magazine editors to compile lists of future technologies that are poised to change… something. The Car & Driver cover story  for August features “The Tech 50” for cars, while Popular Science is probing the future of flight in their July issue (both are on newsstands now).

Both the automotive and aviation industries, it seems, could benefit from 3D printing. “Printed Cars” was number six on C&D’s list of paradigm-shifting tech.

Jim Kor, leader of the Urbee printed car project, told the magazine that 3D printing is a superior manufacturing process because it requires less energy, produces less waste, and doesn’t require time-consuming retooling when changes to the design have to be made.

Popular Science was also impressed by a 3D printer’s lack of tooling, noting that aircraft manufacturers already use it to rapidly produce prototype parts.

It seems that 3D printing’s time has come, at least in the media. While there aren’t any cars in production with printed parts, and only a few small items on the spanking-new Boeing 787, the technology seems to have a bright future.

There have been glorious predictions of 3D printers for the price of a cheap ink jet in the tech press for awhile, but now journalists from other beats are developing applications for it. Time to take notice.

Maybe it’s my cynical 21st century media consumer nature taking over, but it seems like every time someone wants to write about the “future” of an industry, they are obligated to mention the hottest new piece of tech.

Whether its phone connectivity or data management, the technologies of centuries past are increasingly expected to absorb new “tech” to stay relevant.

There’s nothing insidious about this, and I have to say I really do like 3D printing. It’s got a whiff of Marxism to it, giving individuals a small chunk of the means of production. It’s theoretical march from startup office to heavy industry is very predictable, though.

Like other aspects of the tech-o-sphere, 3D printing is a very cool, genuinely new technology that hasn’t really found a purpose yet. Hence the endless possibilities being suggested.

If I were allowed to make a prediction of my own, I’d say that these magazine articles will become self-fulfilling prophecies. People will eventually find an ideal use for 3D printing, just as they did for the Internet, and the rest of the world will be subtly warped to maximize that use.

Technologies can become widespread not just because they are useful, but because people want to find uses for them. Will 3D printing follow that trend?

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Newsweek: Grid Edition

Newsweek first coverNewsweek will cease print publication at the end of this year in favor of an all-digital format called Newsweek Global. Progress marches on.

Newsweek’s handlers made this decision for very sound reasons. The magazine was hemorrhaging money, and a digital version will allow it to reach the same readers without the confinement of a weekly publication cycle. It will also be subscription-only, so the shareholders will actually make more money than before.

No one should be surprised that Newsweek will not be available hot off the press for very long; digital is here to stay. A few years ago, the rise of digital news was seen as the death knell of newspapers and magazines. As a college journalist full of spunk, moxie, and a bit of anachronism, I was not ready to accept what some people called “progress.”

That apocalyptic scenario is no longer valid. The New York Times proved that people will pay for online content, and thus showed that print media could upload itself to the interwebs intact. Other papers are following the Times’ example, and news sites like the Huffington Post and Daily Beast (which ate Newsweek) are also popular.

The world really has changed, but I’m still not comfortable with it. I write for a news site(and this blog), and like it just fine, but can’t there be room for both print and digital media?

Scanning the comments on different versions of the Newsweek story, I found one bit of false astuteness about how communication evolved from cave paintings to the Gutenberg press, and that digital media is the next logical step. That really underestimates the impact paper has had on human civilization.

Putting something down on paper means people can take it with them, and keep it to themselves. The printing press may have made mass production of paper reading material possible, but it was not a paradigm shift on the same level as taking information off cave walls and out of people’s heads to put it on dead trees.

Compared to that, digital isn’t that impressive. It really just makes things more convenient and increases profits for the people that produce media. That’s very important, but let’s not romanticize it.

On second thought, it might not be a good idea to romanticize Newsweek either. It may have been publishing since 1933, but this is the magazine that called Obama the first gay president, after all. The takeaway is that a major title has gone all digital.

So Newsweek is a magazine that has lost its way, and the Internet may save it. The only opposition seems to be grounded in sentimentality: the feel of a page in one’s hands, or the permanence of having important events recorded in ink.

That kind of stuff never plays well in boardrooms or the homes of people who can afford iPads. In the span of a few years, digital media has gone from being a fantasy, to a threat, to a sensible business decision. That might be the most unsettling thing of all.

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Quality publications

I love the British. Not for the way they put on an Olympics or their highly efficient empire, but for their periodicals. While everyone in the States focusing on distilling media down to 140 character bursts of self-referential viral data, the British are still putting out thick magazines on every topic you could imagine.

I just picked up the July issue of The Railway Magazine at Barnes & Noble. It’s nearly twice the size of a comparable American magazine, with 114 pages to the colonists’ 60-70 average. And this is a magazine just for trains.

Granted, you do pay $9.99 for the privilege, but that’s only because of exchange rates; it only costs four pounds in the U.K.

American magazines sometimes publish items of comparable quality, but usually as expensive annuals or “collector’s editions.” It’s because magazines are expensive to produce, especially when you give up some advertising space for actual content.

The chances of every American hobby magazine morphing into its British counterpart is pretty slim, then. However, there is one part of this particular issue of The Railway Magazine that I think Americans should try.

Included with the new book was a reprint of the magazine’s first issue, from 1897. Back then, railways were only 50 years old and the magazine cost sixpence. It’s pretty cool to see how technology has progressed since then.

What if Motor Trend or Popular Mechanics reprinted their first issues and handed them out to readers? It would show how good modern journalism, and the things it covers, really are. Now might be a good time, since no one is going to want to go through the trouble of printing a promotional item on dead paper when the digital assimilation is complete.

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