Open Thread for March 6, 2009

Watchmen is coming out. In case you have been in a comatose until, um, this morning.

Hmmm. So what’s the news this week?

watchmen logo

Oh yeah. Here’s your open thread.

14 Comments on “Open Thread for March 6, 2009”

  1. Hazel #

    So, not related to anything in particular, but I’ve been wondering for a while:

    Does it freak you out if someone reads over your shoulder on the subway/public transportation of your choice? Do you do it to other people to freak them out? Is it just a handy excuse for that creepy guy to get all up in your personal space? Alternately, is this the only way that you learn what the newspaper headlines are? Maybe you view it as the chance to get book recommendations from strangers and then you get frustrated when they don’t turn the pages fast enough.

    (Yes, I do read over people’s shoulders, but I try to be subtle about it. Sometimes.)


  2. mlawski OTI Staff #

    @Hazel: I was riding the train with a friend who will not be named, and we were both reading over the shoulder of a woman who was reading People magazine. My male friend then said, far too loudly, and in a far too high-pitched voice, “Omigod Patrick Swayze has CANCER????!!!” The woman didn’t seem to notice, though.

    Uh, I guess that doesn’t answer your question…


  3. Darin #

    I think there are so many things in modern society that the conventions have not been thought about or overthought for that matter.

    If I’m in a supermarket and I walk up to someone’s cart and push it away. Is there a recourse?! They haven’t purchased the goods, they only own them insofar as the goods relate to their preferences. But preference is not ownership, something I overthink.


    On a different note, Jon Stewart on the Daily Show was sending up Twitter. I was reminded of Marshall McLuhan’s the “message is the medium”. It has been incorrectly read and incorrectly judged to mean many things. Here is a great analysis

    McLuhan tells us that a “message” is, “the change of scale or pace or pattern” that a new invention or innovation “introduces into human affairs.” (McLuhan 8) Note that it is not the content or use of the innovation, but the change in inter-personal dynamics that the innovation brings with it.

    What is / are Twitter’s unintended consequences. If Twitter is mature enough that Jon Stewart can roast, then it’s mature enough to see the unintended consequences. Most people focus on Twitter’s SMS character limit (140), I’m not going to spill any more electrons on that.

    Among other things, I’d like to focus on Twitter’s barrier to entry. Maybe, lack of barrier is a better way to put it. The barrier to entry for email is miniscule, the social abuse large. For email, the message is “pushed” to the recipient. For Twitter, the message is also pushed but you can unsubscribe. The benefit of subscription (for many) far outweighs the costs of unsubscribing. The result is exactly what Twitter shoots for – hyper-connected.

    By receiving tweets, the individual is conditioned. They know how many can be expected to receive, what style, what type from each person. It’s like predicting a traffic pattern. What happens when someone stops being hyper-connected? There’s an emptiness from the conditioning. This happens by no other medium. This is what McLuhan was referring to as the medium is the message.

    Antropologist Robin Dunbar recently announced that the average number of friends one has is 150.

    They usually consist of an inner circle of five “core” people and an additional layer of 10, he says. That makes 15 people – some will probably be family members – who are your central group and then outside that, there’s another 35 in the next circle and another 100 on the outside. And that’s one person’s social world.

    This study was over 35 years from 10,000 US Students, maybe not the most Twittery type , but very close. Will the results of Dunbar’s average change because of the ability to be connected? Is there a point where the benefit of one more person is outweighed by the ever decreasing cost of being connected?

    I don’t know, I’ll have to go overthink it.


  4. Dan #

    Watchmen was good. Definitely not great and it is a totally different beast than the book, but it was good.



  5. Gab #

    @Hazel: I am a hypocrite about over-the-shoulder reading: I get anoyed when someone does it to me, but I catch myself doing it. I know *I* do it because I’m rather nosy-by-nature, but I can only speak for myself; someone else may do it for one of the other reasons you suggested, while another may do it because they know it makes some people uncomfortable. That would be an awesome study, though.

    @Darin: Do you have a Twitter account?* I don’t, J.I.C. it matters.

    Some of the scenes/ plot points were altered for the screen in poor taste. The one I had more trouble with than the ending was how Rorschach became Rorschach. That, and the sexification.

    My biggest problem when I saw it had less to do with the movie and more with the audience. There were three boys under the age of ten in there- two with both parents and one with just his dad. The oldest looked to be about eight, and the youngest was still learning to talk (and believe me, he was trying throughout- when the Comedian is stroking Silk Spectre’s back and unbuckling his pants, he kept asking, “What’see doin’, Momma?” for example). The kids weren’t what bothered me- they’re kids and shouldn’t have been in that situation in the first place. It was the fact that their parents took them. And also the times the parents chose cover the little ones’ eyes: any time Dr. Manhatten’s manbits were showing, and during the sex scenes. The only time during a violent scene did a parent do anything was trivial- I can’t remember specifically what it was, but there had already been more graphic moments, and there were definitely “worse” ones later that went un-guarded. No, I don’t have kids yet, but come on, even without having read the novel, the movie is RATED R, and the previews give a pretty good idea as to at least PART of why. The sex, yes, but if they’re going to let their kids see heads hacked open and limbs cut off but not let them see a totally caroonish penis… Well, no wonder they took them. I dunno, it just sent my moral-outrage-dar going so hard the machine fried.

    *See? I’m nosy.


  6. stokes #

    Darin – I very much like the idea that Twitter is redefining our concept of friendship.

    The odd thing for me about twitter is that it’s unidirectional. Sometimes you’ll have a little back and forth with someone, but for the most part I just note what people are thinking and go on with my day, and my own tweets are very much message-in-a-bottle type deals. You end up with people who are your “friends” in that you care about them and pay attention to what’s going on in their life… but not in the sense that you actually, like, ever talk to them.

    But isn’t this the kind of relationship we already have with people like Brad Pitt? The KINDS of things that get printed in celebrity magazines are the same things that we gossip about all our friends. (Oh my god, she’s going out with HIM now? They got sooooo drunk last night! Etc.) I think social scientists have written about this… Sheely might be able to tell you more.

    This might be why twitter has been such a popular tool for celebrities. I can start following Paris Hilton’s twitter feed – or John Hodgman’s, or whoever – and get the same kind of constant information flow that I usually only get from my closest friends. And this reinforces the illusion that Paris Hodgman actually is my friend…


  7. Gab #

    Re: Twitter again. I have mixed feelings about Congress using Twitter now. A number of members were Twittering during Obama’s de facto State of the Union address last week. On one hand, that’s kind of cool because it shows they’re trying to get connected to their constituents and at least appear more transparent by using a communication tool popular to the masses; but on the other hand, they should be paying attention to the effing speech and not messing around with their Blackberries/iPhones, and I can’t help but think it’s, if nothing else, RUDE to be Twittering while, as PER YOUR JOB, you’re sitting in front of your President as they talk. Call me old fashioned, but I’d rather have them comment on the speech when it’s OVER- and besides, that’s what all of their new YouTube accounts are for, eh?


  8. Matthew Wrather #


    I think you’re underestimating the level of interaction on Twitter specifically. For those people who have really taken the plunge, Twitter–especially when combined with search–is more like the public square (combined with snarky asides.) No, you don’t talk with everyone, but a conversation–and coordinated action–eventually do emerge.

    I was at a conference this week, and by signing their twitters with the same tag, and then searching for that tag, we all managed to carry on something like a group conversation slash public record slash ape-like grooming behavior, reinforcing social bonds and membership.

    re: Celebrity
    I was thinking about this very topic earlier…

    It’s not just the twitters: EVERY new medium or avenue of communication seems to make celebrities more available, as though they were pals — as though you ACTUALLY had access to the intimate details of their lives.

    There’s a story that someone told someone once about Mel Gibson traveling somewhere on a plane with George Clooney (circa ER). When they arrived, people in the airport left Mel alone, but they were swarming Clooney: film stars are distant and unattainable, but TV stars are almost your personal property.

    How much moreso, then, when you can send a musician an email or a twitter or a facebook message and actually hear back from them? (I did this one with Jonathan Coulton, and it was awesome.)

    I think that we are coming to demand a greater level of personal access to the artists whose work we support with our attention and money. I also predict that there will be a concomitant shift to “niche” celebrities like Coulton, who speak directly to a more specialized and therefore smaller and more manageable audience.


  9. Trevor #

    My view of Twitter is this: Facebook and MySpace are the kind of guys you meet at a party, they seem cool enough and interesting without being overbearing. They’ll invite you to hang out, grab a beer, maybe ogle the waitress at Rbuy Tuesday, but only when you want to and have time to. Twitter is the needy taped-glasses and mom-sown-sweater-wearing guy who takes it literally when you ask “how are you doing?” because he then proceeds to tell you, and then he’s constantly calling, asking if you wanna catch the Bergman retrospective because you once mentioned that you liked “The Seventh Seal” in passing. He also seems insistent on letting you know what he’s up to at all hours.

    Granted, I’ve never used Twitter, so I could be making the classic mistake of making fun of that which I do not understand. So I’ll move on to the other topics:

    Re: reading over the shoulder, even if I’m not typing anything particularly bad or looking at websites where women drink urine from a guy’s dick (those exist, apparently), I feel a little uncomfortable about someone looking over my shoulder. Part of the genius of college computer labs is their ability to harness that slightly irrational but understandable discomfort and turn it into a sort of self-moral policing (i.e., would you really look at a porn site if the person next to you or around you in some other way could see it? Not unless you don’t mind people thinking you’re a pervert).

    Re: Watchmen, I just read the novel last week so I’m not as heavily invested in it as some of the long-time fans (though the plot is fairly fresh in my mind), so I enjoyed it without any guilt that it was somehow “not true” to the book. The change in the end is understandable because the subplot that put the original end in context is missing from the film, but I can understand the complaints about it without feeling like it’s a lesser movie for how it ends.


  10. Trevor #

    @Matt: I know when I first got my MySpace and Facebook accounts, part of the draw was the “access” to celebrities that I liked whose sites I could link to as a “friend” even though I knew deep down that the chances of me bonding with AJ Jacobs over our shared love of trivia or Patton Oswalt over his overall awesomeness were slim.

    Now, however, I put more stock in the friends I have online who are friends in real life, and while I still sometimes seek the friend request of someone even just on the margins of fame (for instance, I sent a friend request to Demetri Martin on Facebook), it’s more about my desperate attempts to try and network so I can show off my writing to folks who could give me a hand in acquiring a steady paying gig than just to say “I’m friends with so-and-so from TV!”


  11. Equinspire #

    I think the possibilities of Twitter don’t really start to hit you until you start using it yourself with something like TweetDeck. Like anything with the net, you need to pick and choose what you want to engage with. I like finding clever, witty people to follow. It’s pretty cool that someone can brighten your day in 140 characters or less.

    @Gab Friends of mine were also distracted from watching Watchmen by small children in the theatre. One was about 4 years old apparently. It’s rated MA(15+) in Australia, so kids under 15 are allowed in if their parents are with them…


  12. lee OTI Staff #

    My Watchmen experience re: Audience: Sunday 12:15 PM screening on the Upper West Side was a vastly different experience than the 18-minute sneak preview at Comic-con.

    At Comic-Con, a super-enthusiastic audience was cheering the little references to the graphic novel, gasping at the big reveal of the Comedian [doing something that I won’t spoil], and otherwise enjoying the screening as a collective experience.

    At the AMC in NYC’s Upper West Side, the audiences’ body language told me that they weren’t getting it and weren’t getting into it.

    No big surprise, but it was an interesting study in contrasts. I liked the movie, but I think I would have had more fun seeing it on opening night with my fellow fanboys.


  13. Matthew Wrather #

    @trevor — I agree that a great deal of it is crap, but I still think there’s going to be a NEW category of celebrities (funny… I almost typed “superheroes”.. I have watchmen on the brain…) where the interaction is not fake.

    That is to say, I’d say part of Jonathan Coulton’s creative output (not to harp on him, but he is one of the folks really finding his way on the web) is a steady stream of email, twitter, and facebook engagements with his fans.


  14. Trevor #

    I think I will friend-request this Jonathan Coulton fellow ;-)

    Like a lot of old people who don’t understand technology and thus mock it, I am willing to admit my Twitter-less existence might be altered in the near future if I find myself compelled to engage in it. But I’m wary of the overly needy types (like myself if I’ve had too much to drink) who see it as the only way that they can share their thoughts with the world.

    Now, if you’ll just follow the link to my blog…;-p


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