Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Breaking The Filter Bubble

One of the complaints I've heard rendered against some comic fans and professionals over the years is that they can be too insular in their reading. I've heard some really talented pros before specifically cite that part of what makes them talented is that they don't limit the type of material they take in. More to the point, if they write or draw superhero comics all day for a living, they read not just other types of comics, but other types of material altogether. Novels and poems and song lyrics and non-fiction and just about anything else.

If all you ever take in is a certain type of story, that's all you're going to produce yourself. You'll basically wind up rehashing the same old stuff over and over. At best, you'll wind up being a hack. The basic way creativity works is when your brain puts together two (or more) ideas that previously weren't put together by anyone else. That's why mash-up artwork online can be popular -- combining two ideas that wouldn't normally be put together is new and different.

Beyond just characters, though, a broader base of information better informs what you produce. A lot of the sexism that shows up in mainstream comics, I think, stems from the fact that there are so few women in the industry. Male writers are just writing what they know: men. So female characters come off as shallow or two-dimensional; there's no real reference outside of all the other shallow and two-dimensional female comic characters.

I bring this up, to some degree, in response to Google's changes in their search results, which are now incorporating social media aspects to the top results. Basically, if you haven't seen/experienced this already, the upshot is that anything you search on, the first results are, whenever possible, going to be pulled from your and your friends'/acquaintances' sources. Their Picasa albums, their blogs, their Google+ posts, etc. The potential issue there is that your searches are more narrowly focused on what you and your friends already know. Eli Pariser calls this a "filter bubble."

Personally, I try to actively combat that filter bubble. I still read an inordinate amount of material relating to comics, of course, but I do try to counter that with some other things as well. Right now, I'm reading a biography of Cleopatra for example. I also specifically went in to TURN OFF those personalized search results. I found having those only really distracting because I don't want to search on what I already read through a link on someone else's profile; I want something new!

You can walk around in circles if you like, I suppose, and stay within your comfort zone all the time, but I'd rather see/hear a wider variety of voices than just reflections of my own. I might disagree with many of them or find them wholly irrelevant, but at least I saw that my thinking wasn't the only option out there.

1 comment:

Richard Bensam said...

Yes. I have to admit I always wince a little bit when I see professional writers telling aspiring creators "you have to read more than comic books" because my next thought is, "if you have to be told that, you're the wrong person to start with."

There's another problem I have with this Google thing that also has an analogy in comics or other storytelling. If search results are customized by your friends and activities and past behavior...you can't ever tell what someone else sees from the same search terms. You can't just say "Google such and such" and know if other people are seeing the same thing you see. Is my business showing up for other people the same as it does for me? The book or album I'm trying to promote?

Okay, comics analogy now: two former assistants to Jack Kirby independently told me Jack tried to stay aware of current tv shows and cartoons and movies and music because he wanted to know what his readers would have seen, what would be familiar to them and what would be old hat. Not so much for making topical references, but more for the chance to get into the readers' heads and understand how to evoke a response. If you want to be a creator, you need to know what other stuff your audience is seeing. Living in a bubble makes that a lot harder.