Thursday, September 04, 2008

News In The 21st Century

Back in 1970, Alvin Toffler published his book Future Shock. His main assertion was fairly straightforward: you know that feeling you have, that life is more hectic and moving faster now than it used to? It is. Quantitatively and qualitatively. The rate at which technology advances society on the whole is increasing, and some people can't handle the changes and develop what he termed "future shock." In fact, he went so far as to say that most of society's ills were actually symptoms of future shock. People are left disconnected and disoriented.

I read Toffler's book for the first time last year and discussed some of the ideas in it here. While I was focusing previously on the notion of ritualizing aspects of my life to make things smoother, another not-dissimilar idea is that of automation. I spend a bit of time setting things up to run automatically, so I don't have to concern myself with following them. I set them up once, and let a computer worry about it from then on. That's why I've spent some time working on getting a single-point online comics reader worked out. (Discussed here and here. More updates coming soon.)

I've been using iGoogle for some time now as my newspaper. I've identified any number of news sources that I want to keep an eye on, and sort them in iGoogle according to subject matter. Here's a couple of screen shots...
The tabs on the left are the different subject areas I'm currently using (wholly editable as needed) while the main portion of each page highlights the latest information from a variety of sources, with each box representing one of those sources. (Mostly in the form of RSS feeds.) You'll likely recognize at least a few of the names in the various title bars.

What's significant also is that I get a quick preview of each item. I can scan through all these sources fairly rapidly and check the headlines for anything remotely interesting. Anything that catches my eye can get a second glance in the short blurb accompanying it and selecting the item will pop it open to allow me to actually read the piece in full. These two shots are a little drier visually, as they tend to focus on news and promotional pieces, but as more artists are relying on tools like Flickr and DeviantArt, those pieces of art are getting incorporated into my setup and making it more visually interesting.

Speaking of bringing those news feeds in, this setup also allows for very quick facilitation of new feeds as I find them or change my interests. For example, when news of creators Twittering their problems with Wowio started coming out, it took me all of a minute to incorporate a new feed that presented me with any Twitter entries that mentioned Wowio by name, allowing me to keep up an immediate eye on the situation, with little time investment. Once the situation (or the company) dies out, I can easily dismiss the feed.

What this all does is two-fold. In the first place, it allows me to catch up on comic book news very quickly. I spend maybe a half-hour each morning reading through updates from 60-70 web sites/news sources and however many of my web comics have been updated that day. The other significant function is that I cut down the possibility of missing something because I don't have to remember each and every site that I regularly hit, and the titles continue to display after I've read through them, in case I miss something on a first pass.

MyYahoo and MyMSN have similar functionality as virtual, customized newspapers, but I prefer iGoogle because it works better in displaying a variety of online comics.

Did you catch that, by the way? I called them "newspapers." They have a broad swath of articles, ranging on a variety of topics, organized by category. But instead of Headlines, Community, Sports, Arts & Entertainment, etc., the categories are ones I choose. Comic Book News, Comic Book Opinion, Artists, Toys & Games, Web Comics, Music... And I'm also the editor of my paper -- I choose which people write the articles that appear, and how much real-estate I provide to any given topic. Heck, I've even got control of the page layout.

When was the last time you tried to read a traditional newspaper? I would regularly discard half of it untouched because I knew there was nothing in those sections that appealed to me. Classifieds? Gone. Sports? Gone. Home & Garden? Gone. And even then, it would still take me 60-90 minutes to scan through the rest of the paper and read whatever articles might pop out. (Which, I might add, was more difficult, since there were advertisements competing for my attention -- something that is wholly absent from my iGoogle.) Three times as much time for, at best, 1/3 of the content. It's hardly a wonder that old school newspaper subscriptions are falling off.

So what's my real point here?

My point is that there is a TON of information we're bombarded with every day, and unless you're interested in experiencing future shock after falling behind the curve, it'd be in your best interests to ditch that long list of bookmarks in your browser, and develop a better method for parsing the data before it gets to your eyeballs, forcing you to filter it on your own. The more you can do to make your news reading a smoother experience, the more likely you'll be to see the pieces that interest you the most without having to sort through the junk you don't care about. You'll be more knowledgeable about your favorite subjects (this applies not to just comics, of course, but ANY interest) and won't have to spend nearly as much time and energy keeping up.

One thing, though, if you do sort through all your news and information sources like this, be sure to include Kleefeld on Comics! You don't get quality sort-of-but-not-really-comics-tangents like this just anywhere!

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

What theme is that? Also, how were you able to list the tabs along the side, rather than up top?

Sean Kleefeld said...

The theme is called Semidark. I'm not overly keen on the grey wavy thing up top, but the color scheme works pretty well, I think. Everything is still legible, but the less used/less important links blend into the background more.

The side tabs are being beta-tested as part of an upcoming release of iGoogle, I believe, due to roll out sometime this fall. You can activate it by logging into your iGoogle, and pasting this code -- javascript:_dlsetp('v2=1'); -- in your browser's address bar and hitting return. Repeating the process with a 0 instead of 1 will return the older layout.