What I’m Reading This Week: Polaroid’s Instant Karma

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This past Monday, Lens, New York Times’ photography blog, published an article about the historical significance of the Polaroid. Writer Matt McMann laments over the fact that when we visit new places, we spend more time with a camera or our iPhone in front of our faces instead of living in the moment.

It is hard to truly appreciate the technology that went behind the first Polaroid cameras, especially because of how accustomed we’ve grown to the insta-photograph. On an everyday basis we are surrounded by different means of advanced technology, so the Polaroid’s uniqueness doesn’t always hold its own. Edwin Land, the inventor and creator behind the Polaroid, was always known as a perfectionist. He spent so many of his hours dedicated to the precision that went into all of the improvements the Polaroid saw during his management. His dedication can readily been seen by looking at the multiple models of the Polaroid throughout the years.

Even though the Polaroid has taken on many forms and facets, it is still very much alive in the way we approach photography today. McMann mentions generations of hipsters and their love of Polaroid and instant film. Hipsters are largely drawn to this very specific photography because, as McMann claims, it “evokes a nostalgia for things they weren’t brought up using—vinyl records are another example—by eschewing the uniformity of digital picture-taking.” It’s interesting to wonder why certain populations gravitate towards this very stylized photography.

 Efforts like the Impossible Project are attempting to salvage the Polaroid and its reputation if you’re interested in buying products or reading more about the history of this revolutionary device. 

New Filter Applications Create Nostalgia-Infused Images

A handful of new toy camera filters offer a similar color adjustment to the infamous Instagram. By applying these filters to your images, you can see how pictures of Chicago taken just this past week can look as if they were taken decades ago.

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Exploring the Daunting Digital Space in Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From the Goon Squad

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Part novel, part short story collection, part memoir and even part PowerPoint, Jennifer Egan’s 2010 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, A Visit From the Goon Squad, is hard to categorize. After reading it back in August, I’ve come to categorize it as one of my favorite books that I’ve read all year. Thanks in part to its powerful prose and striking insight into the landscape (and future) of our digital world, Egan’s characters are wholly complex and flawed. It is hard to nail down a single protagonist as we are introduced to a handful of new characters each chapter. However, their connections to each other slowly reveal themselves as time passes throughout the book, and in time we understand the significance each character plays in the lives of one another.

There are several themes that echo throughout Goon Squad, but one of the most persistent is the relationship each character has with music. Bennie represents the more “old school” music industry where as a record producer he works with musicians and artists who vie for grit and soul in their songs. Sasha, Bennie’s assistant, eventually has children of her own and they live in a time where the popularity of music is determined not by talent, but by quality of noise and sound waves that can be controlled remotely. Obviously Egan could have chosen several industries to comment on, but the fact that she chose music, a pure expression of self and soul, is poignant. It is one of the most personal ways someone can communicate and portray themselves. Music also has such a rich history that one can assume its role is culturally significant (a conversation about the universality of music is also relevant).

Another idea that Goon Squad continues to revolve around is the question of authenticity—authenticity as it relates to ourselves as well as within our relationships with others. In the digital age where facts and figures can so easily be altered, what and who is authentic or real becomes more difficult to distill. Unfortunately, with the aid of technology and the Internet, it is now easier than ever to distort the projection of the person we claim to be. As more and more about ourselves is revealed online, less and less of our true selves can be masked by lies. At one point in the book, two teenage girls, Rhea and Alice, are contemplating their twisted love lives. Rhea has this moment of clarity and as she looks at her best friend, she thinks, “I can’t tell if she’s actually real, or if she’s stopped caring if she’s real or not. Or is not caring what makes a person real?” Rhea is contemplating about the very essence of her best friend’s basic intentions. After all of the years she has known her, this absolute introspection on their relationship, or the projection of their relationship, is questioned. It is these precise moments of clarity that really ground the novel and elevate it to another level of fiction.

As much as music and authenticity play into this book as larger ideas, the thread that holds this web of characters together is their relationship to the passing of time. I understand that time is such a vague and broad concept and addressing its importance in a novel could be deemed obvious, but because time barely exists in this novel, I find it important to mention. We visit the main characters several times throughout their lives, checking in on them as if we were old friends. Because of the book’s (anti-)structure, we are able to see each character through their own eyes, as well as through the people closest to them. We watch them age and grow into the people they promise they’d never become and the people they never thought they were strong enough to be. We watch them laugh and cry, learn and listen, fight and fail. It’s a beautiful comment on life as a whole for the very fact that this is what happens to us all. Here, the theme of music is even more interconnected—each chapter is dedicated to a different character and music references are echoed through the text. The music plays and pauses as each life is lived out.

Throughout the book, the reader is often left questioning both the characters’ intentions as well as Egan’s. Who can we trust? What is the importance of each scene Egan decides to share with the reader? The end of the book sheds light and answers questions that the reader didn’t always think to ask in the first place, proving how smart of a writer Egan truly is. Because even though these characters’ lives initially appear chaotic and complicated, it is in the final moments and chapters that their hidden agendas are finally revealed. Those are the moments that make the book most satisfying and compelling.

We live in a world governed by our dependence on technology. From the time our alarm clock sounds in the morning to the text messages we send to our loved ones before going to sleep each night, we find our minutes and moments often dedicated to our devices. And as true as that reality is, Egan doesn’t shy away from what our future could entail. In the not-so-distant future, the quality of authenticity could rapidly diminish, and talent and truth could be even harder to decipher. But that doesn’t mean we’ll ever stop trying.

Read All About It: How Twitter is Changing News as We Know It

When was the last time you bought a newspaper? What about a magazine? How many print subscriptions have you cancelled in the last five years? Or even in the last year alone?

Although your answers to these questions are probably “I don’t remember, I’m not sure, most of them,” take comfort in the fact that you’re not alone. Readers everywhere have opted out of the print subscription in order to take part of the new digital wave of convenience. Digital subscriptions have become the new norm, and people are depending on their smartphones and tablets to deliver their news on an hourly basis. Because less and less people rely on the physical newspaper anymore, the industry is in dire trouble. The days of enjoying a fresh cup of coffee while thumbing through the Tribune are few and far between; most people now resort to reading the news on their cell phone while toggling back and forth between Facebook on a crowded bus. In fact, it has been almost two years since data reported that more people get their news from online sources (versus newspapers).

In the past few years, Twitter has gained a strong following (500 million users have been reported as of last month. Everyone’s heard of it, but few know its full potential. Because a lot of people assume it is a place for people to post personal updates or random unfiltered comments (similar to Facebook’s status feature), it often doesn’t get treated with the attention it deserves.

I estimate that I read about 90% of my news from sources on Twitter. I follow several different news accounts, especially those directly related to industries, brands and writers that I am most interested in. I believe Twitter holds the power of the future of news because it is the most tailored newstream one can find in the online news space. It’s a bold claim, but statistics are showing that Twitter is proving to be a growing and solid news source for people around the world. For those who follow Twitter on a regular basis, it will come as no surprise that it has been reported that 50% of people have learned about breaking news from social media channels.

Twitter is obviously not for everyone, and I understand how many people can be leery of a platform that houses hundreds of Kim Kardashian’s Instagram photos. What often goes unnoticed are the pages and pages of people who are posting material that is directly relevant to your interests and respective field. It is an untapped resource for so many people as it can help in a multitude of respects; whether you’re looking for a new job or a new restaurant, or perhaps you’re just looking to stay as current as possible, Twitter offers the user many benefits. When I began using Twitter almost two years ago, I had no idea where to start. I read several articles that taught me to approach Twitter as not a personal venting platform, but as a revolutionary way to find relevant news updates while interacting with my industry and community at large. I know that there is no other way I would have had conversations with some of my favorite writers and industry leaders had it not been for my involvement with Twitter. It’s so exciting to think that is where communication and news notifications are headed.

With only 140 characters to work with, Twitter has mastered the idea behind the attention-grabbing headline. Unlike a newspaper, users aren’t able to scan articles while scrolling through hundreds of updates refreshing at warp speeds. Users have such a small amount of space to work with, it often proves difficult to truncate precious characters in an effort to make sure everything fits in the text box (while still giving the reader a good teaser of the article you want them to read).

I have to wonder, however, if there will be a time when 140 characters is too long. Are our attention spans getting shorter and shorter? Are we becoming master scanners with the innate power to phase out what is not directly applicable to us? It’s interesting to ask how we have gotten to a place where the majority of our readership is interested in reading online, and filtering at will.

As much as the Internet has impacted printed news, it is social media that has truly turned the news on its head. The ways in which Twitter has been utilized applies to so many more avenues besides news. Several critics have written about Twitter as it applies to the political landscape, the future of photography, what it means for education, and a myriad of other topics. The way we read and comprehend news is changing, and I think it’s important to understand not only how Twitter can keep you informed of the topics you’re most interested in, but why it’s necessary to stay involved in the conversation.

A New Look at Mobile Photography

The days of lugging around a tripod, rolls of spare film, and a five pound camera are long gone. With the advent and widespread popularity of smartphones and tablets, anyone can claim to be a photographer. Now all you seemingly need is a device that we are already accustomed to taking everywhere—our cell phone. Apps like Instagram, ShakeItPhoto, Hipstamatic and Camera+ are storming the App Store in an effort to encourage mobile photo sharing and image editing on the go (it worked). Questions revolving around the future of sharing, both for brands and individuals, continue to be asked by pros and novices alike. There have been a myriad of responses to the new technology and it’s important to examine one of the biggest photography revolutions in recent times.

Earlier this year, Facebook acquired Instagram for the hefty price of $1 billion dollars. It was a move that created mixed emotions because the merge represented the birth of a new social-sharing entity. One of the first questions regarding the merge revolved around the future of advertising for big brands. Reporters David Armano and Andrea Teggart list five key takeaways for brands looking to expand in the social realm. Read Article

Now more than ever before, the question of authenticity is left open for debate when looking at a photograph. Kate Bevan argues that apps like Instagram with its retro filters are nullifying the art and importance of photography. With the easy ability to adjust an image just seconds after it’s taken, these apps are questioning the art of photography as a whole and the creative process (or lack thereof) behind each image. Read Article

No one can claim that cell phone photography hasn’t changed their relationship with photography. Wired interviews photographer Stephen Mayes who claims that mobile and digital photography have transformed photography “by moving it from a fixed image to a fluid one.” As much as people are suspicious of the art behind mobile photography, Mayes claims that this is a new way to share the stories in our lives. Read Article

“The future of photojournalism” is a phrase that has been frequently tossed around following the popularity of Instagram and iPhones. The app is not just another way to share a photo with a friend, but it’s also a way for the photographer to be an artist in their own right… right? Author Olivier Laurent speaks with some of the world’s most famous photojournalists in an effort to address the future of their field and form. Read Article

Whether it’s Justin Bieber sitting on an airplane or Zooey Deschanel’s new nail polish color, celebrities are far and away the most-followed users on Instagram. Once again, this proves that people continue to be enthralled with all things famous. Instagram and Twitter have opened an interesting door to the general public as celebrities have not only found a new way to brand themselves and their careers, but they have also created a new way to interact with their very attentive audience. Read Article

Whether you’re a celebrity or a brand, a startup or an individual, it’s safe to say that you’ve been affected in some way by the cell phone photography phenomenon. The predominance of the digital snapshot is only growing, and critics and photographers from all walks have taken to the Internet to proclaim their position. Either way you look at it, the industry is indeed changing, and mobile photography isn’t going anywhere any time soon.

The Case for Ebooks

Cars are faster and greener; TVs are bigger and thinner; phones are smaller and smarter; and books can be read on a multitude of digital surfaces. And although Gutenberg couldn’t fathom the future of books when he started printing paperbacks over 600 years ago, here we are: reading on a screen no bigger than the palm of our hand.

The scope and breadth in which ebooks have spread in the past few years have not only been unexpected, but insurmountable. College campuses and corporations around the world have embraced this new medium as a means to communicate and share knowledge. Readers of all ages are finding a new and easy way to access their most beloved books. Libraries rent and share ebooks to hundreds of thousands of readers—already 65% of libraries across the country are involved in some kind of ebook-lending program.

Although this new format is challenging the norm and setting the publishing industry on an altogether different course, I believe its benefit is real and pronounced. Shouldn’t we be rejoicing in the fact that ebooks are making it easier and more accessible for readers across the globe? The days of walking to a bookstore or ordering a book online and waiting days (or weeks, if you’re on a library’s wait list) are long gone. Now, with the advent of the Internet, you are able to download a book and “begin reading within seconds.” I suppose the larger question is, what does this mean as applied to a whole? Has instant gratification driven us to extremes? Or have the advancements in technology only allowed us to continue to be a creative and dedicated species?

These questions are definitely important and necessary, but I can’t help but return to the bottom line: more people are reading, more people are learning, and more people are sharing. Regardless of the means in which they are doing so, they continue to involve themselves in an environment of books and learning.

People opposed to the ebook and digital ereaders love to lament over the death of the paperback. They claim to miss the smell of a newly printed book or the feeling of turning the last page in a series. Paperback books aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, so I never really understand this argument. Just because I own an ereader doesn’t mean that I have altogether forgotten the paperback book. In fact, I still buy just as many paperback books as I did two years ago when I bought my first Kindle. A wide range of writers (from Carr to Wolf to Ulin) have dutifully and articulately addressed what this new technology means for our brains. Their research has proven vast and in depth, and I suggest looking up what they have to say if you’re interested in the science and neurological effects of reading in the digital space. Until then, if you haven’t tried to read on an ereader, I encourage you to pick up a device and make your own call.

Morning Commute

I don’t want to wake my roommate with our loud and antiquated door, so I make sure to be quiet as I lock the door behind me and place my keys in the hidden zipper pocket just above my tailbone. I take the four flights of stairs two at a time; I feel the peanut butter and toast I consumed only ten minutes before settle in my stomach. My laces are tied, single-knotted, and my gloves are tucked under the sleeves of my jacket. Before I open the front door of my building, I secure my headphones after starting Pandora. The Who starts singing, “I woke up in a Soho doorway.”

The air is sharp and clean, immediately invading my layers of fleece and wool. My body, still warm from slumber, begins to chill after the first few breaths shock my lungs; any part of my body that was still asleep comes to life. My muscles tighten and relax.

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I jump in place and walk for two blocks. My body begins to warm, and having adjusted to the thirty-degree weather, I start running. Right foot, left foot, right, left, pound, boom, pound boom. I have to pace myself because all I can think about in those first five minutes is warming up. I don’t think about the day ahead, my schedule and my work, or my weekend plans—I think only about my body and my blood, slowly warming to the rhythm of the run. Breathing is important, and I concentrate not on the music flowing from my headphones, but the beating of my heart and the steady breaths I force myself to take. I think about movement, the gradual progression of a collection of steps that will eventually bring me 5.2 miles to my office.

I run through the very north edge of Lincoln Park, past the Alexander Hamilton statue and North Pond. This short stretch is the hilliest section of the trip. The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum is on my left, and I revel in the patches of tended prairie and fauna. I run east on Fullerton, excited that after barely one mile, I am approaching Lake Michigan. The sun has been in the sky for fifteen minutes. Today it is copper, burnt and melting just slightly above the horizon.

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The sight before me is one of the reasons I live in Chicago. With the lake and the rising sun to my left, I head south, focused on the John Hancock Tower in the approaching distance. I watch its flickering light cutting through the morning haze and I know without a doubt that in roughly 20 minutes time, I will run past its front door.

Commuting with me on the trail are a varied collection of travelers. There are zooming cyclists with neon shirts and shoes clipped into their pedals; leisurely bicycle riders in jeans and sweatshirts; there are runners, much more seriously and self-disciplined than me, running while sporting Chicago or Boston Marathon gear; there are walkers and wanderers, headed to work or back home.

My time on the trail is soon coming to an end, and as I leave the path and head towards Michigan Avenue, I am always acutely reminded of where I am. Running along the lakeshore manages to separate me from the city. The air is cleaner, fresh from its trip off the rolling tide. But it is the merge into the heart of the city that keeps me awake, guiding me toward my office and my desk, my responsibilities and my day ahead.

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Continuing on, I quickly pass the Hancock building on my left. I’m still headed south, and I will continue down Michigan until I reach the Chicago River. Running over the bridge gives way to a new texture and resistance, and I bounce up and down admiring the water below. I cut west at Wacker Drive, smiling to myself as I see the 134, my usual express bus, stop in front of me; hoards of passengers spill out and I’m more than thankful that I didn’t have to stand for a half hour with my hand held above my head for balance.

It’s soon time for me to leave the River and cut south. Depending on the traffic lights, I change this part of my route every time. I’m often forced to jog in place at intersections, waiting patiently while cars dodge pedestrians and maniacally honk their horns. I’m usually slightly saddened by this point because I know that I am merely blocks from my destination. I see my building, a black and grey structure made strongly of steel and grace. I look at my clock; it is 7:30AM.

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We constantly think about where we want to go, about destinations rather than journeys, and it is on these morning runs that I am most often reminded of the importance of that time. Although I come across other people, it is a rare time when I am alone with my thoughts. My legs are the only thing moving me forward, and the only thing that can make me stop. Every time I leave my apartment and start my run towards the city, I wholly dedicate myself to the task at hand and to the moments that will only be mine. Throughout the business day that follows my run, my time is not my own. It is my company’s and my coworkers’, and although I understand that decision and that ownership, I miss these minutes along the lakefront. Free from the overwhelming presence of technology, it occupies a space that is entirely mine—and that is why I run.