Have you forgotten how to read?

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Online reading is different than experience than reading a book.

For one, the digital experience is stickier because of its dopamine-hitting bells and whistles. We are constantly shifting between articles, apps, and text messages, hijacked by the latest gaze of entertainment. It’s the equivalent of flipping TV channels.

Writes Canadian author and journalist Michael Harris:

“Online life makes me into a different kind of reader – a cynical one. I scrounge, now, for the useful fact; I zero in on the shareable link. My attention – and thus my experience – fractures. Online reading is about clicks, and comments, and points. When I take that mindset and try to apply it to a beaten-up paperback, my mind bucks.”

Since physical books lack the immediate stimuli, reading requires an entirely different mindset. It enforces focus and patience. Said Harris: “I do think old, book-oriented styles of reading opened the world to me – by closing it. And new, screen-oriented styles of reading seem to have the opposite effect: They close the world to me, by opening it.”

Screens are for short-term readers; book heads play the long-game. The latter know that great moments in novels are as scarce a goal in a soccer game, but they can also be more exciting.

Books test our attentiveness while creating anticipation. Perhaps they are the only escape we have left from our distracted world. Constricted to one tangible novel of a screen, a paperback can help recalibrate the imagination and slow down time.

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Losing control of our attention

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Screens are contagious. If we see one person look at their phone, we emulate them like we do catching someone yawn.

But the addiction is not totally our fault. With the vibrant colors of apps, the dopamine of Facebook likes and news alerts, on top of serving as a consolidated utility of our camera, wallet, and communications device, our phones are designed to hook us.

Tech is the “cigarette of the century.”

It’s amazing that in this post-internet world of surfeit information and 24/7 conversation we can even concentrate at all. We’ve numbed our thumbs from excessive use.

We’ve lost the signal to those little gaps of solitude and doing nothing where we reaped the benefits of a wandering imagination.


Can we get our bored minds back?

There are plenty of options other than riding the Facebook or Google monopoly on our attention. For as many tricks these companies play us, there as many tips to get away from them: turning our screen gray, just sitting and staring outside the window, and at the most extreme: throwing our phone into the ocean.

We can only harvest quality attention if we can escape the torment of distraction and external stimuli fighting for the inside of our heads. The world around us already creates a theater inside our head. We see the world once, with an intrinsic pair of eyes, with no need to record the outside world with a third eye.

“Attention is a form of prayer,” wrote French philosopher Simone Weil. We should insist on slowing down if we’re to restrengthen the human will.

Win back your attention by turning your screen gray 📱⬜👀

The variety of colors on our smartphone screens pop like candy. As advertiser Bruce Barton wrote in his 1925 book In The Man Nobody Knows, “The brilliant plumage of the bird is color advertising addressed to the emotions.”

We tap into Instagram, scroll through a few photos, and return to the home screen to bounce off to other apps. And then we repeat the process again in a mindless fashion.

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After a while, we start to lose all conscious brain power. We fly between apps like we’re hitting buttons at the casino. The variable rewards keep us spinning in a ludic loop. Technology undermines our attention by bombarding our senses with a surfeit of stimuli that lights up like a Christmas tree.


How can we win back our focus in the distraction era?

Turn it gray. That’s right: we need to dull our screens to bore our senses. Turning the phone grayscale doesn’t make it dumb, it just makes it less attractive. Writes Nellie Bowles in the New York Times:

I’m not a different person all of a sudden, but I feel more in control of my phone, which now looks like a tool rather than a toy. If I unlock it to write an email, I’m a little less likely to forget the goal and tap on Instagram. If I’m waiting in line for coffee, this gray slab is not as delightful a distraction as it once was.

Want to give your thumbs a break and regain some attention? Study the instructions on Lifehacker on how to turn your screen grayscale.

Your vocation chooses you

We all start out with a dream, a goal of someone or something we want to emulate. We keep that dream close, putting up bedroom posters and memorizing phrases that propel us to keep pushing toward our goal.

But then something else happens along the way? The creative gods tell us to do something else instead.

“The grind is not glamorous.”

Casey Neistat wanted to be a filmmaker, another Spielberg that entertained the masses. But he didn’t have enough money nor resources. So he chased the dream for ten years and succeeded: he entered Cannes and won some awards etc. until one day he realized he was pursuing the wrong end. “Fuck it,” he said. “I just want to make internet videos.”

See, when we hunt down goals, we usually get redirected to something else that’s more personal. Technology broke down all the barriers to traditional creativity, production, and distribution. YouTube is Neistat’s movie theater.


Check yourself before you wreck yourself

Sure, imitate at first and get really good — everything is practice. But we shouldn’t forget to reflect and dive deeper into a passion that excites us the most. As Jim Carrey said, ‘your vocation chooses you.’

Don’t fight what’s natural even if no one else is doing it yet. Give in to the original inclinations and push onward.

A crisis in boredom

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Remember what it was like to be bored before the internet spread its wings of distraction?

The newbies won’t confess. With everything available to them at their thumbs, they’ll never know a world where people once stared at walls for nothing. Magazines at the dentist’s office will remain untouched, replaced by the rectangular glow of entertainment on handheld devices.


But the adults aren’t any better. We confuse busyness with checking email, answering texts, viewing Instagrams, or looking up stocks.

Everyone is suffering at the mercy of accelerated time, of chasing the closest dopamine hit to avoid dealing with the ennui of the present. We busy ourselves going somewhere, overlooking the serenity of what is near and remaining hooked on a ludic loop to numb the pain of idleness.

Stuck in a state of perpetual refresh 🔄

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The newest app, the latest iPhone — we make an excuse to spend more time with our smartphones. What can be perceived as self-absorption is also hypnosis, as the phone’s rectangular glow grips us into a ludic loop.

Social networks intend to get us out of a trance and sting us into experiencing the world; at least that’s what Instagram and Pinterest promised to do at their inception. Instead, our phones have our first, second, and third eye, recording memories so we can consume and forget about them again later. We are walking zombies, skilled without an iota of consciousness.


The smartphone is an arsenal of distraction, a computer, tv, stereo, and communications device propping up the thumbs of our hands. But it’s also the most liberating tool we’ve ever had. Used wisely, we can shape it to goad our curiosity, make new friends, and explore our creative instincts.

The music we play


Vinyl, cassette tapes, CDs, and MP3s were at one point mass produced. They were placeholders, meant to expire at the mercy of technological change and evolving listening habits.

So if we take the stream, a file-type that’s in infinite cloud-based inventory, what type of file emerges next?

The next development will focus on the quality of sound, just as mobile cameras improve the quality of resolution. And like photography’s countless editing tools, we’ll be able to work backward to tweak or filter out the type of sound we want to hear.


For instance, we can manipulate music files so they project a sound mimicking vinyl’s surface noise. We reshape it, like putting a black and white or red preset on an image.

The next evolution of music is therefore a personalized sensory experience, whether you want to hear sound in its cracked, hissy, compressed, raw state, or in its mass-marketed radio format.

Music will always be the “killer app” that people make their own.

Don’t let social media use you

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Attention is a gift that the social networks want to steal from you. Here’s a simple trick to ward off their magnetism and catch yourself: put the social apps on the fourth home screen.

That’s right: make it harder to access Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and Pinterest with just a couple taps. The design hurdle allows the mind to pause before engaging into a sinkhole of distraction and emotional envy.

Take back control of your time and don’t let social media use you. Direct its intention by redirecting your attention. Let the story be about your presence.

Move your phone to the living room

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Our phones are an escape from reality. We turn to them to avoid the tension of waiting.

Immediate gratification helps numb the stress of the moment. It also impedes our progress at work, relationships, and our innovation in general.

As Simon Sinek points out in the video below, the two things that take the most time to develop are our jobs and communication skills. There’s no app to help us succeed at these difficult and messy things other than our willingness and patience.

All the time spent staring at screens instead of observing our surroundings impede the serendipitous discoveries that lead to innovation. How can we think of new ideas when we’re preoccupied with a bright shiny object?

Our willpower is weak. To strengthen it, we can start by changing our habits. We can leave the phone behind when we go to dinner with friends and replace apps with a real alarm clock.

A phone is a convergence machine. It can do and be everything, yet get in the way of what’s important. There’s no way around the fact that good things take time which needs us to play the long-game. We have to find enjoyment in this slow but steady process called life.

Shake it up

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They say that it’s better to start something new when you’re young to avoid humiliation. As an adult, you’re not expected to learn new stuff: languages, sports, art, etc. Your skillsets are permanent. While that may be true, it doesn’t hurt to shake up the system to remind yourself that you’re still alive.

Think about how far you’d already come. You would’ve never thought you could pick up photography before the iPhone. Without music software like Garageband, you never thought you would’ve made music. Without Amazon Kindle author, you may have never been a publisher author. The list goes on.

Technology turned us all into foxes instead of hedgehogs. We might be amafessionals, but we’re far more capable of creative pursuits than before. It turns out all we needed was a widget, the Internet’s connectedness, and a little bit of curiosity.

We’ve been conditioned to avoid error and taught to keep doing what we’re good at. But learning to do more stuff keep things more interesting.

Beyond filters

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Nobody uses filters anymore like they used to. The overall consensus seems to be that #nofilter is just fine. But it’s also partly because people are better editors — mobile apps like VSCO and Instagram offer free toolkits that make it easy to adjust contrast, exposure, and saturation. You can also tweak the strength of the filter; a feature VSCO had all along, and Instagram has since copied.

Filters aren’t dead, though; they’re just evolving to meet visual means of communication and an appreciation for aesthetic. When Snapchat introduced facial lenses, users wanted to make their images more personal and playful. Meanwhile, Prisma’s popularity demonstrates the appetite to revert photos into pieces of art.

Smartphone users and social media enthusiasts love to dabble in photography. Having a good eye is not enough. Your images won’t stand out in the feeds unless they provide interesting context or are reimagined enhancements of reality.

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If you’re into new presets, be sure to download the limited edition Distortia Preset Pack from VSCO. Released to celebrate the company’s 5th anniversary, you can “reimagine the boundaries of color with these presets, created for unconventional looks and customizations.”

And while you’re at it, play with the with Mars effect of the Nike Sportswear filter as well.

Long on filters, or presets, whatever we call such special effects.

Clack-clack: California Typewriter, the movie

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“Keep ’em typing!” says Kenneth Alexander, a typewriter repairer with over forty years of experience. He works for California Typewriter in San Francisco, one of the last surviving typewriter repair shop in the United States.

California Typewriter is also the name of a new documentary out from American Buffalo Pictures, which highlights “the portrait of artists, writers, and collectors who remain steadfastly loyal to the typewriter as a tool and muse, featuring Tom Hanks, John Mayer, David McCullough, Sam Shepard, and others.”

The life of a computer is 3-5 years. The life of a typewriter is a century. The typewriter once made writing faster and louder. Today, the typewriter’s nostalgic noise may be the only reason people want to use them again. Says typewriter surgeon Paul Schweitzer who still fixes 20 of them a week from his Flatiron office:

“If you want to concentrate, if you want to write in your own mind, write with a typewriter. You see the words hit the paper. There’s no distractions.”

Tom Hanks grew so nostalgic of the typewriting in the digital age he recreated it as an app, eponymously named the Hanx writer. “I wanted to have the sensation of an old manual typewriter – I wanted the sound of typing if nothing else…cause I find it’s like music that spurs along the creative urge. Bang bang clack-clack-clack puckapuckapuckapucka… I wanted the ‘report’ of each letter, each line.”

Part of the typewriter’s appeal is its rejection of the multi-tasking and impulsiveness behaviour of ‘Generation Thumbs‘ on iPhone and iPads. The beauty of slowing down and Internet-less device is avoiding distractions enhancing your mind’s focus, developing a concentration that many readers experience with the Kindle. Note, however, you can replicate the pace of a typewriter on your phone if you type with one hand.

Don’t expect the typewriter to enjoy the same comeback success story as vinyl– typewriter enthusiasts are a small niche. But do expect the typewriter to be live on in new formats, whether it’s an app or a distraction-free writing tool like the Hemingwrite “with a continuous wi-fi connection to your Evernote account.”

Mars Effect: Download the new Nike Sportswear x VSCO filter

Image by Wells Baum

The new Nike Sportswear x VSCO filter dropped while I was on vacation last week in the Dominican Republic. It paints a Mars-like effect on your photos. This is how VSCO describes it on its blog:

“the preset creates a bold, duotone look using strong black and red hues. The tonal range of each image is remapped to these two colors, resembling the innovative look and expressive style of Nike Tech Pack.”


As I typically do with every new preset release, I go back and try it on recent photos to see what works. Portraits and scripture seemed to work out best. Here are some of the ones that came out.

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Nike has sponsored a VSCOCam filter before with the NikeLab ACG x VSCO. It also featured a dark aesthetic.

I love creative accidents. I originally applied the Nike Sportswear preset on this image and the changed it to preset X5 but the sky retained some of the red and black from the Nike preset.

You can see a bunch more pictures from the trip on the VSCO Grid and on Instagram (@bombtune).


This is my daily collection of interesting reads and new music. I spend a lot of time digging the web for cool stuff and remixing them here. If you dig the blog, please consider making a donation or buying a book. A cup of coffee to helping out with hosting goes a long way.

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Real or fake? How to identify the authenticity of online photos 

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Real or fake?

 

Perhaps just as critical in determining the veracity of a photo is reviewing its context. Who published it and what story is the source trying to tell? It is election season, after all, and everyone has their own agenda.

Former Adobe vice-president Kevin Connor founded Fourandsix Technologies to develop a better system of fact-checking photos. The first thing he suggests people do in photo forensics is reverse-Google the photo to see if it has appeared online before. If you identify a match, check for edits. You should also, advises Connor, research original publish dates.

“For example, it’s not uncommon for an image to appear on social media claiming to be of a crowd in a recent protest, but reverse image searches then reveal that the image was actually taken in a completely different city years earlier.”

Connor developed the website izitru.com to help streamline the verification process. Photographers can upload their original files to its database to authenticate their images.

Last but not least, fact-checkers can run images through error-level analysis (ELA) on websites like fotoforensics.com. An ELA scans the compressed areas to reveal the modified parts of the image. But remain wary of drawing any conclusions.

“At best, ELA might be useful for directing your attention to certain areas of the image that may deserve future scrutiny, but you shouldn’t make any final conclusions based on ELA alone.”

In all cases, the best thing to do in determining image authenticity is to use common sense. Look at an image for clues. The below example shows a woman wearing a laughable t-shirt at a Clinton campaign rally, only to be voided by the original untouched version shared on Twitter.

Fake (obviously)

 

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Real/Source: Twitter

Online images are innocent until proven guilty. Use your best judgment to sort the retouched marketing images, most notably in fashion and food ads, from the the news. But when it comes to real stories, we can’t afford fake. Media outlets like the AP forbid manipulation:

“AP pictures must always tell the truth. We do not alter or digitally manipulate the content of a photograph in any way. The content of a photograph must not be altered in Photoshop or by any other means.”

You shouldn’t believe your eyes: how to identify fake images online

PS: The below image of 300 dead reindeer struck by lightning in Norway last week initially looked photoshopped. But the Norwegian Environment Agency confirmed the report, even capturing a video of the aftermath.

Lightning Kills More Than 300 Reindeer in Rare Mass Death
Image courtesy of Havard Kjontvedt, the Norwegian Nature Inspectorate