Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Dumbing Down By Wiring Up

It was inevitable that someone would make the connection sooner or later - too much multitasking is making us stupid. So suggests Robert Roy Britt in his article "Is the Internet Warping Our Brains?" While this is certainly fodder for my classmate over at (Dis)Engaged to tackle, since it applies directly to my struggling little brain (and those of other wired women) I am going to take it on as well.

A few interesting stats to throw your way (compiled from
With growing connectivity and participation we may be able to come together more, but conversely we may find our attention spans shrinking due to media overload. I've had this sneaking suspicion for a while now. More recently in conversations I find myself doing what I call a "reboot" from time to time. Someone will be talking to me, I tune out and go into "sleep mode" for a second, and then I quickly jolt back and have to pick up the threads. This is a little scary, and though I've been attributing it to the stress of a full time job, 3 classes, wedding planning and (when time permits) the rest of life, I fear that the many hours I spend online, watching TV and checking my iPhone (we used to all have the need for a "third space" now many of us have a "third screen") are causing serious brain damage.

Nicholas Carr expressed his concern more eloquently in his article "Is Google Making Us Stupid?" in The Atlantic this past summer. He says,

Over the past few years I’ve had an uncomfortable sense that someone, or something, has been tinkering with my brain, remapping the neural circuitry, reprogramming the memory. My mind isn’t going—so far as I can tell—but it’s changing. I’m not thinking the way I used to think. I can feel it most strongly when I’m reading. Immersing myself in a book or a lengthy article used to be easy. My mind would get caught up in the narrative or the turns of the argument, and I’d spend hours strolling through long stretches of prose. That’s rarely the case anymore. Now my concentration often starts to drift after two or three pages. I get fidgety, lose the thread, begin looking for something else to do. I feel as if I’m always dragging my wayward brain back to the text. The deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle.

That is precisely how I feel when I try to read books for school lately. Carr goes on to say that his exposure to the Internet and New Media are the cause of his disconnect, and that Google's desire to influence the way we consume so they can collect our data plays a big part in changing the way our brains function.

Since my laptop has done me the favor of melting down over the weekend, it will be easier for me to go home tonight and not jump right back online. I will fight the urge to turn on the TV, put my phone in its charger and sit on my couch taking in the eerie calm of the real world - that is, if I still can remember what that is.

cartoon from

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Moms on Facebook

(sung to the tune of Duran Duran's "Girls On Film")

See them uploading albums of their kids all through the night
Making friends with their children's friends might not always be so right
But finding old connections really takes them back
Especially after a maternity leave, it can get their job search on track
And I sense as she keeps poking me that everything is fine

Moms on Facebook
Moms on Facebook
Moms on Facebook
Moms on Facebook

Tons of apps all over her page as she's connecting
As she keeps posting old awkward pictures of me I despise
She's gotta come up for air once she joins six degrees of Jewish separation
And she wonders how she ever signed up for so many random groups

Moms on Facebook (every five minutes)
Moms on Facebook

Moms on Facebook (yes, I got your picture)
Moms on Facebook

Send another smiling baby picture you just made a new friend
Please don't send me another snow globe again!
One more look at your news feed for the last status updates of the night,
I'm tapping my foot, getting annoyed, trying to hold tight

Your AOL finally says "Goodbye" and we're off like a shooting star

Moms on Facebook (she's not an old lady)
Moms on Facebook

Moms on Facebook (back on two minutes later)
Moms on Facebook

Moms on Facebook (she's got more friends than I do)
Moms on Facebook

Moms on Facebook (IM with you later)
Moms on Facebook

Moms on Facebook (please take down that picture)
Moms on Facebook

Friday, February 20, 2009

This Is a Gym...Really?

No one would ever call me an athlete, but I recognized in my early 20's that going to the gym had to become a part of my life in order to keep the spread of my ass in check. Sadder still, now that I'm in my 30's I have to go a lot more. Sure I could probably cut back on the alcohol, but did I mention that I am in my 30's? I NEED to drink.

Since I must workout I decided that I could at least do it in a pleasant atmosphere, so I joined Equinox a few years ago. Their clubs are always clean, the equipment works and I'm not afraid to use their showers. This was not always the case when I belonged to New York Sports Club.

One of the locations I frequented most often was the club at Amsterdam and 76th street closest to my apartment. That location closed in 2007 for renovations, so I switched over to Columbus Circle, one of the newer and more crowded locations. I waited patiently for the Amsterdam club to reopen, and it finally did on February 12. Last weekend I checked it out and was really annoyed at what it had become.

I heard women griping as soon as I entered the locker room. It sounded like lame theatrics so I didn't pay it too much attention, but I quickly noticed that the lockers were electronic so you couldn't use your own lock - the cause for all the commotion. Personally, I thought the system was kind of cool, but I could see how Equinox hadn't really thought through their target audience when I realized that the women standing around were mostly older (I know I am going to sound really ageist here, but older women DO have more of a learning curve when it comes to technology, just as older men do). Also, without the ability to use your own lock, all the lockers looked the same, which probably made it harder for people to distinguish their lockers.

I stowed my stuff and headed out to the gym...what there was of a gym anyway. The sprawling three floor complex had only one floor devoted to gym equipment and a few classrooms. The rest of the place was all about lounging, with couches and coffee table books scattered around. It was a decorators dream of amazing fabrics, fixtures and other design elements, yet hardly a gym in sight.

Never mind, I headed for a treadmill and did my thing because I WAS THERE TO WORK OUT. The one innovation I thought I'd like in this club was the treadmill, because it had an integrated entertainment center built into the console. However, the design make it hard to change channels on the TV as I was running and the screen was impossibly small. I walked around after my run and was dismayed by how little equipment there was compared to aesthetic touches, and I got angry as I pictured articles in architecture or spa magazines featuring the location.

Granted, Equinox has always been more of a boutique gym than say a NYSC or a Gold's, but this location took the concept too far. I don't want there to be more couches than weight benches at my gym. I want a hook in the shower to hang my towel on, even if it interferes with the feng shui. If I get a chance to steam, please don't make me do it in a room that has an entirely clear glass wall that puts my big ass on display to the rest of the locker room. You don't want that as much as I don't want that!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Gearing Up for the Oscars

To me, the Academy Awards Ceremony is like the Super Bowl for women. There are always incredible "plays" like amazing dresses and heart-wrenching acceptance speeches. There is the question of whether one "team" will begin to sweep early on or if the battle will be more of a back-and-forth between the rivals. And as if my home team had lost, I despair when the film I am championing doesn't take home Oscar gold.

My version of fantasy football is filling out my Oscar ballot. I take it just as seriously, doing tons of research on the nominees before the big day. When it comes to movies, I play to win. So this year, as I do every February, I have sat in many a darkened theater forming my opinions. It is hard to see all the nominees but I do my best, and this time I managed to see The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Frost/Nixon, The Reader, Slumdog Millionaire, The Dark Knight, Iron Man, Tropic Thunder, Revolutionary Road, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Wall-E, Man on Wire, Trouble the Water, The Witness and Wanted. Of course, any one filling out their ballot while reading this will notice a few gaping holes in my screening list. I am still hoping to see Milk and The Wrestler by Sunday, but I'll have to turn in my work picks by Friday.

A lot of strategy goes into choosing the winners; there are always some political choices or "career" wins. To wrap my head around it all I turn to the web.

The LA Times "Gold Derby" online column has often been the first stop in my research. Author Tom O"Neill compiles stories, expert predictions and odds on the winners. This year, Tom has joined the digital revolution. You can get Gold Derby on Twitter. Join the Gold Derby Group at Facebook. Become friends with Tom O'Neil on Facebook. Get Gold Derby RSS feed via Facebook. RSS Feedburner or RSS Atom.

The Academy Awards website is also good to peruse for information about the telecast and local screening events, but I go there mainly to check out the message boards to see what people are saying. I also go to sites like The Oscar Guy, IMDB, You Tube (searching for those pesky shorts), and Oscar Frenzy.

This year, my two new favorite platforms/best friends have been Netflix on Xbox 360 and iTunes. Through Netflix I watched many of the documentary nominees that were harder to find, as well as The Visitor, a sweet little film that I highly recommend. iTunes allowed me to download many of the short films. Though in past years I have gone to the IFC Center or MOMA to view the short programs, being able to download them to my iPhone has made catching them infinitely easier.

There are also tons of odds predictors if you want to get right down to it (but isn't this art?) and one of the newest ones I've come across is a sports betting site Bet Us. Seems like you might even be able to wager real money here, but online gambling is where I draw the line.

When I think back to my childhood Oscar viewing, I shake my head at how utterly handicapped I was in predicting the winners. Now with all the digital help, my picks get a little bit closer every year, and in the end, isn't that better than actually winning the award? Okay, maybe not.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Anatomy of a Media Meltdown - "Are you not entertained?"

On the February 11 Late Show with David Letterman Joaquin Phoenix appeared to promote his new film Two Lovers. Who knows if it is a good film or not, but it certainly wasn't what had people buzzing the next day.

The mostly quiet and often incoherent Phoenix appeared to either be on something or simply committing career suicide. Others have speculated that was all part of some elaborate hoax. At any rate, feel free to weigh in.

While an entertaining tidbit to break up my day, I was more interested in how the event was spreading virally. I had not seen the clip the night it aired, but the next day I received an email and an IM from two friends sending me the link to the clip on You Tube. Another friend had posted it on Facebook. I checked into my Twitter feed and saw a tweet from Defamer about it. Later in the week as I perused I saw Anderson Cooper had weighed in and was showing a remixed version of the segment. I finished my week discussing it with my coworkers and we ended up watching it again. They even parodied it on the February 14 Saturday Night Live.

Though there were certainly bigger, more important news stories last week, it amazed me how many times that one interview kept coming up. Which seriously made me doubt the randomness of the event. I haven't heard much about the film that Phoenix was supposedly plugging. I also hadn't seen the actor's newly disheveled appearance, though I had heard he was retiring from acting to pursue his "music." Whether a calculated move or unplanned meltdown, the generated buzz was astounding. Celebrities have always been under the microscope, but now that everyone is so plugged in the scrutiny is overwhelming. Marketers and celebrity "brands" alike need to be aware that they can harness this kind of attention or have their image carried away by it.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

UnKindle My Heart

I am what you might call a "reader." I put it in quotes, because I know to some it is a dirty word. While I read all kinds of digital musings all day long at work, that is not what I call real reading. Real reading is analog - curled up on a couch, lounging in bed or piled into a favorite chair, holding a real live book in your hands, flipping the pages and digesting as many words as possible. On-the-go reading of actual books is also acceptable, but I find it more distracting, especially when I am so wedged into a subway car that I can only open my book at a 45 degree angle.

However, I am also a New Yorker with limited apartment space and my book shelves have been seriously sagging lately. I try to get rid of books I know I won't read again, but I really like being able to refer back to my collection or pass a favorite book on to a friend. I could simply start getting my books from a library, but strangely enough I actually want to pay for books for the same reason I like to pay for my music - I want the people who create them to stick around and keep entertaining me. I'm not so self-righteous that I would turn down a freebie, but I still like to do my part.

Last year I caught wind of the Amazon Kindle, a digital book reader that has been so in-demand that very few people got it under their Christmas tree this past December. Of course, that was mostly because Amazon was gearing up to release the Kindle 2. If you've been to Amazon any time this week you've no doubt seen it.

While I relish my analog experience, I can see the benefit of a gadget like the Kindle. Unlike other small screen experiences, the screen is not glossy, so it is easy to read the words, which are also bigger. It really tries to mimic the book experience. I know this because whenever I come across someone reading from one on the subway my head is practically perched on their shoulder.

It can hold my entire library! Instead of writing down endless lists of books I want to read I can download them instantly! If those two features weren't reason enough, the device can also carry your documents, deliver your newspaper subscription, read out loud to you, bookmark, annotate and make your coffee in the morning. Just kidding on that last one, but come on, how far off from that is it really?

I'll admit that I really want to buy it and love it and make it my own and read to IT. But am I really Jay Gatsby looking out across the water at the beckoning green light? Do I really need a $359 book reader? My sensible side says least for now. Sigh.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

"I am a weapon of massive consumption,

...It's not my fault, it's how I'm programmed to function." So says Lily Allen in her new song "The Fear" which I am listening to as it streams on her MySpace page. The song, an ode to crazed consumerism, seems timely for the mess we're all caught up in at the moment, though it has a cheery pop quality that is kind of disturbing for the subject.

The Fear video

Allen just released her second album "It's Not Me, It's You" yesterday. Since I was keen on her first album a few years back (you may remember the equally cheerful song "Smile" about relishing the pain of a lover who jilted her), I am sampling the new album from her site's player. Allen virtually made her career thanks to MySpace, developing her following, allowing listeners to sample her music and publicizing her tour dates.

The current experience is a little frustrating because there are frequent interruptions as Domino's ads appear and have to be clicked away before a song will continue - major annoyance. Still, I can't help but admire how the singer has harnessed the power of her social network to get her message out. She is even performing 3 free "secret" MySpace sponsored concerts. The first one is tonight at Bowery Ballroom in New York.

Music seems to be the only area where MySpace has been able to continually beat it's eager little sibling, Facebook. I wonder how much longer that will be the case as sites like iLike are building an audience separately and within Facebook - will it trump MySpace? Though I have never been a serious MySpace user, to me iLike is a better version of the artist's "megaphone," broadcasting every little detail about their goings-on to fans. The experience is much more organized and customizable, though graphically inferior. Still artists have been loyally creating elaborate pages on MySpace for years, some even cooler than their own dedicated websites.

Today's fickle music fans are demanding more of their favorite artists, and thanks to technology, can find ways to get their music free. So the musician-consumer relationship has really been turned on its head. Musicians have to be more creative in their marketing, using all the available resources to catch the audience's fleeting attention and harness it into iTunes or Amazon song sales, or even concert tickets. Free underground shows are not only great for publicity (for both Lily Allen and MySpace) but a necessity to show fans that you love and appreciate them as much as they are into you.

The next logical step? Personal emails ala Barack Obama. I can't wait until I get that email from Beck telling me he hopes I liked the new album or asking me to come out for his concert when he is in my hometown. Depending on how it's done, it could be awesome.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

I Won't Be A Hater If You Just Give Me What I Want

My fiance, Nien, was one of the first people in line when the iPhone first came out. He is incredibly tech-savvy and a computer programmer to boot, so I understood why he would be willing to fork over that kind of money. There was nothing about this new gadget that appealed to me though.

I remember getting so annoyed as Blackberry's and iPhones started cropping up and I started having to have a new sort of conversation - one directed to someone's bent head, as they more often than not missed whatever point I was trying to make. I thought it was so rude the way people were always glued to their little screens, typing away. In some cases it was even potentially dangerous. I remember one day stopping at a crosswalk and finding myself shouting desperately at a woman so busy walking and typing that she had a near miss with an oncoming bus.

So of course you can see where this is going...I just purchased an iPhone. Even though I always said phones were for talking, I found that people were texting me more and more, and my "talking phone" was not equipped for it. Hypocrite that I am, I looked at the model of my current phone that had a keyboard, turned up my nose at it and immediately came over to the "i" side. It was for the ease of texting, I said, but secretly I wanted that sleek exterior as well as the knowledge that I had beaten Nien to the 3G model.

I immediately loved it and became one of those obnoxious bent head people. On a visit to my father in Florida, I dimly remember nodding my assent to him when he asked me how my wedding planning was going. He must have thought he was spending time with a zombie - sorry Dad! I was downloading apps like a madwoman, and a week in, I had found my dream app.

Lose It! is every dieting stress-cases' takes into account your current weight and maps out a caloric strategy to reaching your goal weight. It suggests a daily calorie guide for losing 1-2 pounds a week, giving you a goal date. The calorie count seems a little low, but if you add in exercise you increase the amount of calories you can eat in a day. I really like this aspect of the program because so often people think that you can either exercise OR eat sensibly, but Lose It! really shows you that you should do both.

The best part about it is that you can look up almost any food, and if the food you are looking for isn't in there you can create a custom entry. It also saves your prior entries so you can quickly drop them in, as well as whole meals, which is great for someone like me who eats practically the same breakfast every morning. Here are a few screen shots so you can see what I am talking about:

While I am far from the crazy Bridezillas I've heard of lately (I hope), I still want to look good for my wedding. Lose It!, if anything, is making me feel like I have a plan. We'll see if it actually works (or I stick to it).

So I am officially a convert and am really trying to curb the number of times I look at my iPhone each day. Please feel free to snap your fingers in front of my face next time I see you if I am showing you the top of my head. I would do it to you.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Paint It Pink and Put a Bow On It

As I was trying to come up with a name for my blog, I found myself turning to cutesy phrases like herPod, femmetech and Ladytainment...all equally cringe-worthy. I had to take a step back and think about what I was trying to do.

Ideally, I would like this blog to be about the way women consume entertainment and technology, however, in my very first interaction with the subject, I found myself doing what I think a lot of marketers do when it comes to tech products - thinking that if they make it pretty we will buy it.

Now, I want to make it clear that I am not going to get all crazy feminist here. I am just as guilty as the next gal for buying something I thought was cute or flirty. However, I do find it very interesting that company's like Sony are focusing their energy on women like me, trying to beautify their products so that I will crave them as I would crave the latest purse or shoes.

The female tech market has amazing potential, and companies have seized on this audience in the last few years. Also, as new platforms emerge, designers are finding ways to pique our interests and get us involved, even to the point of enticing us to get in on major testosterone realms like gaming. So with this blog I'd like to look at my experiences with tech, my obsession with entertainment, and the ways in which both industries try to engage the feminine consumer.

While in the interest of full disclosure I have to admit this is a class project, I think there are a lot of interesting topics to explore, so I hope you will enjoy it. Please feel free to chime in if there is something you'd like me to talk about, something I say that grinds your gears or even hopefully something you have experienced yourself.