Monday, May 31, 2010

Turns Out That Surfing Can Make You Shallow.

Roger Ebert wrote a splendid blog entry that sent me to this Wired story about the way we take in information from the internet, and what it does to our minds. Here's a salivary quote:

What kind of brain is the Web giving us? That question will no doubt be the subject of a great deal of research in the years ahead. Already, though, there is much we know or can surmise—and the news is quite disturbing. Dozens of studies by psychologists, neurobiologists, and educators point to the same conclusion: When we go online, we enter an environment that promotes cursory reading, hurried and distracted thinking, and superficial learning. Even as the Internet grants us easy access to vast amounts of information, it is turning us into shallower thinkers, literally changing the structure of our brain.

As an author of books (they're like an iPad, but with a different kind of pages), I've long felt that our society has become more fractured in its thinking, less able to think deeply. I see it even in myself (something that Mr. Ebert cops to as well). But the study referenced above gives an indication, possibly, as to the recent downturn in the publishing world. However, as scientists love to tell us, correlation is not causation.

Still, it's interesting to think about. And yes, I noted the irony of a story bemoaning the use of hyperlinks... using hyperlinks. In all fairness, the story originally ran in the print version of Wired, and is excerpted from a forthcoming book about this topic.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Good Storytelling Philosophy.

So, as you may have guessed if you've ever read any of my media reviews, when it comes to television, I like LOST, and that's about it. The show is winding down to its final three hours, all the characters are in play, everything is poised for awesomeness, and the showrunners took an episode away from that focus in order to explain some of the larger island mythology.

Before I ever started writing books, I never really thought through the types of deliberate choices that authors--and all storytellers, really--make to get their characters from the first page to the last. Or even who those characters are. It really is a step-by-step process that requires a lot of decision-making. And when you're writing a book, you can make those decisions in a vacuum so that everyone gets to read them all at once. But writing an episodic show that will be told in 120 installments over a period of six years--that can get downright terrifying.

All that to say, I really appreciate what Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse, the two showrunners for LOST, have to say in this extensive interview. Lots of interesting looks into their overall storytelling philosophy, both about the show and about telling stories in general.

For example, Damon, speaking on how you have to decide what your story is, instead of deciding all the things it is not:

Usually, when we get criticisms, it's along the lines of, "I really wish you hadn't done that." Or "I wish it had been different." And you throw it back at them and ask, "Well, what did you want it to be?" And they say, "I wanted to see the statue built," or "I wanted the Man in Black's first name," or "I want to know about the guy Sayid shot on the golf course." Okay, that's cool, you wanted those answers and we decided not to provide them to you. It's not because we're being cutesie, it's because that that didn't fit with our vision of the show.

Or Carlton, explaining why, so late in the game, they're still introducing new mysteries to the fabric of the show:

We feel that we as storytellers, basically can only approach the storytelling the way that we do, which is it felt like there was no way that we could just be answering existing questions without the show feeling didactic. There would have been no larger narrative motor. For the show to devolve into running through a checklist of answers, we would have been, honestly, crucified for that version of the show. It's ironic that the episode that's generating so much controversy is one in which we answered questions, but it's not surprising to us. Between what the audience thinks they want and what they will find entertaining - we have tried ot make the show in a way that people would find it entertaining, moving engaging. To do that required having new mysteries. That's the way we operated.

Anyway, lots of good stuff in that interview. If you haven't watched up to the most recent episode ("Across the Sea"), you'll probably want to avoid it. If you've never watched the show before, you can at least watch seasons 1 through 5 for free at Hulu through December 31, 2010.