the end of comments in a flattening media-hierarchy

Oh, the incivility!

Recently the Toronto Star turned off online comments on their website.  I beat them to it by about a year.  I was recently asked why I would do that.  Don’t I want people to interact with my online content?

I sure do!  And if they want to they can share my blog and then comment on it to their heart’s content.  What do I possibly get out of running a comments section on a blog?  Nothing!  If you ask for a login no one bothers to do it, if you allow open, anonymous comments you get buried in advertising and nastiness, the typical by-products of human interaction.

With the advent of pervasive social media the idea of needing a comments section within your online content has had its day.  Anyone reading online content has their own social media presence of some sort nowadays.  They are more than welcome to leverage that in order to comment on my content.  In doing so they share my content.  It’s the least they can do if it prompted them to have an opinion on it that they want to share.

We’ve moved from stratified, traditional, paper based media delivery though early adopter online media delivery to a more mature, everyone-has-a-presence-online media delivery system (nicely explained in this essay lambasting education’s inability to free the essay from its millennium of bondage).   Embedded comment sections are a hold-over from an earlier internet where online readers tended not to have their own online presence.

Digital technology is forcing an increasingly flat media-scape.  Millennials spend almost no time in traditional media.  They could barely pay attention to Star Wars in the theatre when I was there last week.  I’ve stopped showing videos in class because asking Millennials to watch media simultaneously is alien to them and frustrating for me.  In a world where people distrust and often ignore the patronizing nature of traditional media it’s best not to fight the flow.

If you’re determined to hang on to the comment section in your online content you’re swimming against the current.  You’re assuming that your content is somehow more established, more authentic, more valuable.  You are belittling your visitors’ online presence by making them work in yours.  It’s ultimately about you refusing to surrender control of your content in an increasingly democratic communication medium.  That idea of control is a holdover from traditional, paper-based media hierarchies, it isn’t surprising that a newspaper struggled with this.  You’ve got to let it all go Neo.

If you want insipid examples of human nastiness and stupidity you’ll find them online, especially in anonymous, internal comment sections.  I’d long stopped reading The Star’s comment section for this very reason.  I also tend to blacklist those brave (often conservative) souls on twitter and other social media who hide behind anonymous or fake user names.  They feel very brave and are usually overly aggressive in their anonymity.

What’s funnier are those people who create social media presences based on their real self and then proceed to advertise their ignorance to the world.  If someone is going to confuse Twitter with texting there isn’t much we can do for their employment prospects.  People who are nasty online tend to get bitten though.   It’s a self correcting process and it’s happening less and less because we’re getting better at it.

This flattening media-scape isn’t just hurting traditional media, it’s also snapping at people who don’t realize that their reach has changed.  Democratizing media means empowering people who have no experience with publication, and make no mistake, every time you post on social media you’re publishing to the entire planet.  People in Timbuktu can read your tweets if they are so inclined.

There will come a point when there have been enough cautionary tales and social experience with self-publication that people will learn best practices and the vast majority will realize just how empowered and potentially dangerous we’ve all become in our flat new world.

In the meantime, if people want to comment on my content they’re welcome to share away, but I’m not providing a comments section because it belittles my reader’s own online presence and dilutes my material with mean and often irrelevant comments.

Motorcycle Media: short films, documentaries & time travel on a Friday night

Friday night had me home alone in the first time in forever.  After a rough week at work I was wiped and on the verge of a cold, so it was a low impact night.  I went looking for some escapist media and stumbled upon EXIF’s Top 6 Best Motorcycle Films.  I’d seen Shinya Kimura in The Greasy Hands Preachers, but I’d never seen the film that set him out as a motorcycle media icon, it’s just shy of three minutes of perfection:

Shinya Kimura: Chabott Engineering


Another one I hadn’t seen before that does a great job of capturing a northern motorcyclist’s winter dilemma is Waiting out the Winter.  It’s a short video, but it sets the mood of tinkering while we wait for the snow to recede in the frozen north wonderfully:

Waiting Out The Winter

WAITING OUT WINTER from Andrew David Watson on Vimeo.

Those short films made a great appetizer, but I was looking for something a bit more long form.  If you’re ever looking to pass a lazy hour or two in another time and place, Cycles South will take you to the early 1970s.  Like the ’70s themselves, Cycles South looses the plot half way through, but discovers itself again before the end.  If you’re delicate and can’t handle the very non-politically correct sensibilities of the early 1970s, don’t watch this, but if you can let it all go and are willing to exist in another time, Cycles South makes for a psychedelic road trip (man).  The whole thing is on Youtube in 15 minute segments, they connected together automatically with a few seconds of delay between, mercifully commercial free.


Google/Youtube lost its mind after I watched the series in order and started shooting motorcycle themed video at me from all directions.  Next up was Fifty Years of Kicks, a twenty minute documentary about two off road motorcyclists well into their seventies.  I wasn’t initially hooked, but the quality of filming and the narrative they were building had me after a few minutes.  There is something about watching old guys fight the clock that is heroic.  It makes me want to celebrate any small victories they have before the inevitable happens.


Looking for something on the history of motorcycles I came across The History Channel’s documentary on Youtube.  It’s a bit wiz-bang flashy and over edited, but you get some Jay Leno, and the jet powered Y2K.  When they went from that to some Dodge Viper powered thing I began to think this was less about motorcycles and more about bored rich people.  I didn’t get to the end of this one.


Have you ever wished you had an old, British uncle with an encyclopedic knowledge of motorbikes who would natter on about them indefinitely?  I was afraid Classic British Motorbikes: 100 Years of Motorcycling was going to be an advertisement for a dealership in England, but the big green Triumph Tiger in the opening moments kept me playing it.  This video takes place sometime in the early two thousands (hence my model of Tiger sitting in front of the dealership).  The idea was to invite in classic bikes and celebrate 100 years of motorbiking in Britain.  The camera work is amateur, as is the interviewing, but you’ll still pick up a lot of history from the owners and the knowledgeable interviewer.

I watched until he interviewed the owner of the dealership who seemed entirely disinterested in the whole thing and was apparently running the family business because of his dad’s love of bikes.  He made a stark contrast to the enthusiasm of every previous interview.  If you’re interested in British bikes and especially their history, you’ll enjoy this one (with a bit of fast forwarding).

It’s amazing what motorcycle media you can dig up on the internet with a bit of luck.

Motorcycle Media: Ride with Norman Reedus

A well made piece of motorcycle documentary!

I’ve been watching Ride With Norman Reedus on AMC over the past few weeks.  What you have here is an incredibly approachable celebrity who is obviously a giant bike nerd doing all the rides in the continental U.S. that he’s never gotten around to doing.

This isn’t some Harley-or-nuthin kind of biker exercise either, Norman throws his leg over everything from a Rolands Sands BMW R9T Special to a Zero electric bike, and that’s just in the first episode!  By the end of the season you’ve seen over a dozen machines from half a dozen different manufacturers.  Norman obviously loves his bikes and he isn’t particular about the flavour.

He likes his customs, but you’ll also find him riding
everything from state of the art Ducatis to 1950s
BMWs, often in the same episode.

Another nice touch is that this isn’t a boy’s own/Charlie & Ewan masculine and manly bike trip.  Norman goes out of his way to find motorcycle subcultures when he’s riding, and that often includes female riding groups and partners.  You don’t notice what a change this is from the usual testosterone charged motorcycle media until you see it done this differently.

The production values are excellent.  With aerial establishing shots and a wide variety of atmospheric images used throughout the ride, it doesn’t feel like you’re following a map so much as actually being where the ride is (much like you would on a bike).  Norman himself has directed film and published a book of photography, and he’s frequently stopping to take photos of his own or bragging on the nice little SLR he’s using.  A camera geek after my own heart!

In stark contrast to the hard man he plays in Walking Dead, Norman has an easy going Californian vibe that makes him both approachable and a joy to watch.  When a woman at Deal’s Gap says he looks like Darryl from Walking Dead he shoots right back, “yep, that’s me!” with a big smile on his face.

This show is going to get a lot of people interested in trying out motorcycling.  I hope to goodness AMC is already planning for another season (though calling five episodes a season is a bit much).  This show can’t cost that much to produce and it has a ready and expanding audience.  Ducati and Triumph should both get a nod for obviously ponying up new bikes for use in this, but it was money well spent.  The others should be lining up to provide bikes for the next round.  A surprise riding partner or two (Valentino Rossi?) would be most excellent.  Having Vale show Norman around Tavullia would be epic.

In case it isn’t clear, I’d highly recommend this if you enjoy travel documentaries.  If you’re into motorcycles at all you’ll love it.  Norman in Europe?  Norman in Japan?  With so many motorcycle subcultures to explore, this could easily become a world wide phenomenon.




Things You Want To Do In Your 40s

Work for myself so I don’t have to work for some myopic middle manager more interested in climbing than doing the right thing?  Yeah, that’d be nice.  Work on something as hard as I can knowing that no one else can walk in on a whim and derail it?  That’d be nice too.  Challenge my technical skills and develop my diverse talents to new levels of excellence?  That’d be awesome.  Have the means to fearlessly explore technology and the world around us?  Brilliant!

$1.3 million doesn’t sound like a lot of money but it would mean a thousand bucks a week until I’m 75 years old.  Somebody better at math and competent with investments could probably figure out a more accurate, lower amount that would do the same thing.  It’s comfortably middle-class, but I don’t really dream of being rich, I dream of being free from work to pursue my passions.  If I could pull that off what would I do with my time?  It’s kind of like retirement, but I want to do it now while I’m still able to do something useful with it.  I don’t think I ever want to retire.

Mechanical Sympathy would expand and become an
income stream of its own. It would be the centre of
an online media empire!

Here’s what I’d aim at if I weren’t busy pulling the plough:

MEDIA MAKER

Writer:  I’d exercise the English degree and write, but not in a specific genre.  I’d pursue motorcycle and travel writing more aggressively.  I’d be happiest freelancing and working once or twice a month on assignment with the occasional larger travel project which would lead to a book.  Lois Pryce is a role model.  While that wasn’t happening I’d be writing fictional novels.  It would be nice to work for established publications, but developing my own brand online would allow for more control over what I’m creating.  I’ve been working in large bureaucracies for too long.

If it’s new and technically challenging I’m into it. 
Having access to that kind of kit is exciting.
I like to be surprised by what new tech can do.

Photographer:  The goal would be to have the work pay for the gear, and the gear I’m looking for is pretty technical.  I’d like to have professional quality photo and video gear on hand, as well as technically challenging tools like aerial drones, full spectrum and 360° virtual reality cameras to test limits and produce original, even experimental work.  If it’s new and technically challenging I’m into it, especially if it probably won’t work the first time.

Digital Media:  Exploring digital media has long been an interest (I teach it now).  Having access to the latest tech, not to consume but to experiment and explore, would be fantastic.  Projects would include VR environment building in CAD and simulation, as well as immersive media creation.  I’m working on a VR research project in school at the moment.  I feel like major breakthroughs are currently happening there.  What we have in ten years will make our screen use today look archaic.

TECHNOLOGIST

I got into 3d scanning last year.  The resolution isn’t
spectacular, but it’s amazing what you can do with
a simple 3d scanner on an ipad.

Mechanic:  I’ve dusted off old mechanical skills with motorcycling, along with some long unused artistic urges.  Customizing motorbikes is an elegant way to combine left brained aesthetic creativity with right brained mechanical expertise; it’s a whole brain hobby!  Having enough time, space and money on hand to chase down old bikes and see customizations through to completion would be grist for the writing and photography mill.

Digital Engineering:  I’m especially interested in micro-manufacturing using digital tools.  Multi-axis milling machines using CAD models offer new avenues into high-tech customization.  3d printers are making advances every day.  Being able to print my own fairing designs would be brilliant.  Being able to print my own designs with dragon scales would be even better.


An opportunity to borrow new technology and see what it is capable of would also be grist for writing and media creation.  If in the process I happened to get very good at producing customized parts, I’d lease the gear and get to it.  As prices fall on what was once expensive industrial grade equipment and digital management makes high tolerance production available to everyone, a new post-industrial age of customization will emerge.

Kawasaki’s H2 supercharger impeller is a thing of beauty.  The technology that built it is becoming more accessible every day.

With table top laser cutters and various other digital tools becoming commonplace, the chance to explore these technologies without safety nannies hand wringing from above would be delightful.  The home garage of the future is going to be a magical place of customized, personal manufacturing.  It would be a blast to have the time and means to explore it.

I really do enjoy teaching, but the vampiric bureaucracies that manage it make working in education feel like giving blood; you’re doing a good thing but you always come out feeling drained.  I’d happily take in apprentices on my own terms and genuinely enjoy helping them discover and develop their talents, I just wouldn’t want to do it in an institution of learning.
 
One of the things I want to do in my forties is stop others from diluting my focus and wasting my time with their own mediocre expectations.