Screentime, or ‘Sedentary Time’?

Australian Screentime Guidelines

 

Here in Australia, when daily screentime for children becomes a topic of conversation, it usually crops up alongside The Childhood Obesity Epidemic. While no one is blaming screens solely for this epidemic, there are some problems with focusing on the screens themselves. Rather, this is a conversation about ‘sedentary activity’.

I detect a definite class issue surrounding the hierarchy of bum-sitting; for adults it has always been thus (until recently maybe, when it suddenly became okay to admit to ‘binge-watching’ certain high-quality TV series). For adults and children alike, books (preferably hardback serious tomes, preferably not genre fiction and definitely not YA) equal good sedentary activity while TV equals bad/lazy/beer-gut inducing/mind-numbing/brain-draining/crumbs down the side of the squabs squalor-y baddy bad bad sedentary activity.

(Is ‘sedentary activity’ an oxymoron? For my purposes, no.)

I worry when I hear the term ‘screentime’ that our thoughts on childhood sendentary behaviour are too narrow in focus.

  1. We should be talking more about how much sugar is getting into the food system. I’m pro-regulation of this. There is no call for putting sugar into canned vegetables. Baked beans covered in sugary sauce should not be allowed to carry the Heart Foundation tick.
  2. We should be talking more about how neighbourhoods are set up for children. We need green spaces and footpaths and sports facilities. These need to be safe.
  3. Workplaces need to offer more flexible working hours so that more parents can take their children to these spaces after school, or coach local sports teams, or simply supervise on the sidelines as kids work out their own games.
  4. Our children should be given an hour of physical activity during class time each morning before recess. That’s how school was run when I was a kid in New Zealand in the eighties, but my daughter has one afternoon of sport per week due to an overcrowded curriculum, and she’s only in kindergarten. She and half of her classmates take the bus to and from school, which adds up to several more hours of sitting per day. This is Australia, distances are vast, and we have no local school despite adequate numbers of children, who are all riding in vehicles to neighbouring towns.
  5. We should be talking about eyesight. Our daughter has codliver oil each morning, 1950s style. (I mask the flavour in a smoothie.) Her parents both wear glasses. She may yet need glasses herself because genes are against her, but as a culture we seem to have lost some of our ancient wisdom when it comes to nutrition. Is a backlit screen worse for eyes than words on a printed page, or is it the sustained near-sighted focus which is the problem for children spending less and less time outdoors?
  6. How are backlit screens impacting sleep patterns? The research I’ve seen suggests avoidance of screens an hour before bedtime. Does that mean that we should also be dimming the lights? What kinds of family activities might we instead be engaging in during that last hour before bedtime? Family readalouds, from my observation, are best practised by church-going families, perhaps instigated by their wish to read the Bible together, but is this a lost practice that families should strive to bring back? Crafts while listening to audiobooks? Dishes and next-day’s-lunch-preparation with the lights turned low?

We’re right to be thinking about screentime, of course, but if childhood has lost some of its magic, the problem is so much wider than time spent on screens.

this is why olds are hating on ipads

 

 

 

Attachments To Physical Books

It’s possible to gift an app, but not nearly as exciting for a small child with nothing to unwrap on their birthday.

Helen Dineen

Parents who buy books for their children have an attachment to print vs. e-books, a new Nielsen study has found. “While technology continues to shift the way we interact with content generally, parents still attach a high level of importance to print — in some cases they even report a higher level of attachment to print than their actual buying indicates,” according to Nielsen.

USA Today

A problem with ebooks and book apps is that you can’t wrap them up and leave them under the Christmas tree. You can’t present a child with a physical object and see a face light up each birthday. If you want to ‘gift an app’ via the iTunes store you can, but the best you can do for the “Surprise!” part is jot the code down in a birthday card, or buy them an iTunes voucher with instructions on how to buy it themselves. Not quite the same.

Researchers who conducted the study above have some ideas about why parents prefer physical books over ebooks:

“For reasons that are not entirely clear, there is a distinct bias toward print when parents are self-reporting,” the study says. “We believe this may be because they visualize ‘a book’ as being a print book when we ask, or because of subtle biases relating to their own self-view of themselves as quality parents.

This seems a bit psychoanalytic for me. Using our own kid as an example, when we buy apps and Steam games for her (some cost significant amounts) she doesn’t appreciate the magnitude of the gift. “Can I have another game?” she’ll say, even though we just downloaded a game and paid $60 for it. She doesn’t display this level of ingratitude with physical presents. If she unwraps a doll she won’t immediately be asking for another one. True, she’s only young and doesn’t understand the value of money yet, but even young children seem to show a preference for large gifts. (The larger the better, until they start wanting gadgets and jewels.) My theory is that if you put a small gift in a large box and wrap it up nicely, the unwrapped treasure will be worth more in the child’s head because until we learn otherwise, size equals value.

Bits and bytes just can’t compete with that.

That’s my counter hypothesis, anyway.

The Role Of Glamour… If only!

The following are notes from a podcast from Zocalo Public Square: Why Do We Need Glamour? The speaker is Virginia Postrel, who has also delivered a TED Talk. Her book is called The Power Of Glamour.

power-of-glamour-book-cover

What is glamour?

 

The word ‘glamour’ gets sprinkled around on magazine covers: shiny furniture, jewel tones, satin dresses. This conveys the mistaken idea that glamour is a kind of style. In fact, glamour is neither a style nor a personal characteristic (because cars/cities/ideas can be glamorous also) and it changes with the audience. The best way to think about glamour is to start by thinking about humour. Glamour is in the same category: There is an audience and an object. Somehow in the interaction of audience and object, a specific emotion occurs. In the case of humour, the emotion is amusement/laughter. In the case of glamour the emotion is projection and longing: If only… (I could do that thing/be with that person/be on that beach/relax and have a hot stone massage…)

Glamour is a form of non-verbal persuasion. It can be a deliberately constructed form of rhetoric, and it is sometimes something that simply emerges (much like humour can either be constructed by a comedian or emerge naturally in normal discourse). Glamour can be deliberately crafted but whether it works or not doesn’t depend on the efforts of the person creating it — it depends on the audience.

Glamour_magazine_cover

How does glamour work?

Glamour takes our inchoate (not fully formed, rudimentary) longings: to be respected/loved/comfortable/wealthy etc and focuses them on an object.

Glamour can have unexpected consequences and take unexpected forms but it always says something about who we are and what we want. We’re told that we can fulfil that desire.

Glamour is a psychological process. We see something we know is ridiculous — a trip to a special place/electing the right president/pursuing the right career — something will make us have the perfect life, yet we choose it anyway.

This is not just about women. How many Air Jordans have been sold? (Not to women…) The superhero is the epitome of glamour. (Not Batman — Batman works better as an icon than as a symbol of glamour, but other superheroes embody glamour and appeal to boys and men.)

air-jordan-shoe

One of the best encapsulations of glamour can be found in the book Life Would Be Perfect If I Lived In That House. A lot of movie stars are not particularly glamorous, but you see the epitome of glamour in Home and Garden magazines.

 

Life Would Be Perfect If I Lived In That House Cover

From the acclaimed author and columnist: a laugh-out-loud journey into the world of real estate—the true story of one woman’s “imperfect life lived among imperfect houses” and her quest for the four perfect walls to call home.

After an itinerant suburban childhood and countless moves as a grown-up—from New York City to Lincoln, Nebraska; from the Midwest to the West Coast and back—Meghan Daum was living in Los Angeles, single and in her mid-thirties, and devoting obscene amounts of time not to her writing career or her dating life but to the pursuit of property: scouring Craigslist, visiting open houses, fantasizing about finding the right place for the right price. Finally, near the height of the real estate bubble, she succumbed, depleting her life’s savings to buy a 900-square-foot bungalow, with a garage that “bore a close resemblance to the ruins of Pompeii” and plumbing that “dated back to the Coolidge administration.”

From her mother’s decorating manias to her own “hidden room” dreams, Daum explores the perils and pleasures of believing that only a house can make you whole. With delicious wit and a keen eye for the absurd, she has given us a pitch-perfect, irresistible tale of playing a lifelong game of house.

Goodreads

Why is glamour important?

 You can shape your career and therefore your life with it. In the early 90s a bunch of people went to law school because they watched LA Law. The same thing happened with CSI and forensic science.

Glamour can affect how a country is run. Barack Obama is god’s gift to glamour. This guy is really glamorous. He was young and good looking and graceful and eloquent but people projected onto him their hopes and dreams and what they wanted for the country. The fact that he didn’t have a long record in public life (like Hilary Clinton) made him alluring. He is self-contained nad has a kind of mystery about him. Obama is a Rorschach Test.

 

Three elements that make Glamour work:

1. Promise of Escape and Transformation.

Glamour takes our discontent and focuses it. It is a form of escapism, but not escapist in terms of distraction but escapist in terms of amplifying desire and focusing it on something in particular.

They are either around travel or around fashion/transportation/something you can inhabit. We all know its horrible to fly on a plane but when we see a picture we picture ourselves as the airplane. There’s still this image of glamour. Transportation vehicles are like clothing — they can be inhabited, and take us out of the everyday.

glamour-airplane

One of the stereotypical touchstone ways of using glamour in advertising is to sell beauty products. Fire and Ice was created by REvlon in the 50s (and then again in the 90s.) If you get this red nail polish you will unleash the secret siren in yourself. You will have this  moment where you feel yourself to be a different sort of person. It allows you to imagine yourself in this different life — not necessarily a life you want to be in al lthe time but which speaks to a side of you which needs to be sometimes fulfilled.

But this is just as glamorous: The Container Store. This is the most glamorous store in America, because what Americans really want is not so much luxury but a respite from all that stuff, and some sense of having control of their lives. You go in the container store and you see all the shelves and boxes and you can imagine your life will be perfect. These fit in your own house. You get that same sense of projection and longing with the promise of escape and transformation as you get when looking at a magazine with a diamond ring in it. Glamour is not only the things we think of stereotypically as glamorous but these king of things, which produce that same sensation of escaping and transforming.

 

2. Grace

Glamour is an illusion. The word originally meant a spell to make people think that whatever was in front of them was better than it actually was.

In its modern metaphorical sense glamour still has this element of magic and illusion. We often use the word ‘magic’ in conjunction with this concept eg ‘the magic of the movies’. the illusion is that glamour always hides things. It hides flaws/distractions/costs/disadvantages/effort.

Effortless glamour is a very common phrases. The sense that things just flow along without difficulty is an essential element of glamour. Glamour exemplifies nonchalance — all the practice and exertion which makes something possible is hidden.

The two different types of grace:

Theatrical Grace: Grace which actually exists in the moment. When Fred and Ginger dance they actually are graceful. However they didn’t actually meet up in some park and start dancing like that. There were hours and hours of practice, bloody feet, people helping out behind the scenes and so on. In the golden age of Hollywood a lot of the costumes were either too tight or too heavy for the actresses to sit down so Jean Harlow has to lean on a leaning board in between takes because her dress which looks so fantastic on screen has a hidden flaw, which is that you can’t actually sit down in it or it will tear.

Darkroom Grace: This is grace that is never actually there in the first place. YOu hide things on the image. The Gibson Girl. Whenever you look through a catalogue of interior furnishings somehow all those lamps light up without a cord, and they are not run on batteries. Eitehr the cords have been hidden by the stylist or they’ve just been deleted in Photoshop. Sometimes even the supports for the tables are taken away. Today’s critics of over shopping sometimes think these things started with Photoshop, but it’s older than that. In the Golden Age of Hollywood there were retouched and unretouched versions of actresses.

Glamour is neither transparent nor opaque: It’s translucent. It allows us to see a tantalizing, intriguing amount but lets us fill things in from our imaginations, directed by our own longings.

Glamour is often associated with physical distance — often literally distant — Shanghai perfume, because Shanghai was very glamorous in the 1920s. Ralph Lauren has said that he’d never been to aFrica, but if he had he would probably never have designed the clothes he had. His clothes were about an imagined destination rather than the true destination.

Another way glamour establishes mystery is often something in the past that we imagine went on. The silhouette is a glamorous trope. We can’t see a man’s face. Mad Men, for instance, is set in the imaginary 1960s where everything is hyped and his a very specific setting. No one is schlubby — everyone is dressed perfectly. [The 1950s and 1960s are particularly well-utilised in fiction for conveying the glamour of the perfect home with the aproned wife and blonde, blue-eyed children, even though this was a very unusual and temporary time in history.]

mad men silhouette

A future can also provide a glamorous setting: The final frontier. Star Trek fans find the setting glamorous. One of the things it represents is the glamour of an ideal workplace. People can picture themselves as themselves being valued for their contributions in a perfect meritocracy. But glamorous ideas of the future were very prevalent in the 20th C up to the 1970s. Modernity and the future were intertwined and glamour was one way people figured out what this whole modern thing was about. They got their ideas from advertisements and movies, not from manifestos, though there were plenty of those. What is this glamorous future that we’re all headed toward? What is glamour in the present that may be removed from me? What do rich people have now that will someday be available to me? (American fridges eventually became available to British people.)

The difference between glamour and charisma

These terms are often conflated.

Glamour is a response to a stimulus and depends on the longing of the audience. There is always mystery. When we get to know somebody, their glamour disappears, along with the mystery.

Charisma is a personal characteristic like intelligence. A house cannot be charismatic. Nor can a city be charismatic. A person owns that, and is often much  more open. It does not require any mystery. You might know everything about Bill Clinton and still find him charismatic. Charismatic inspires loyalty. You want to be liked by the charismatic person. You cannot perceive charisma in a still photograph. One of the results of that is that when a charismatic person dies, the charisma dies with them. Andrew Jackson (seventh president of the US) is an example like this. Joan of Arc, on the other hand, has glamour. Regardless of what she was really like, her story lives on. The audience projects all sorts of things onto her.

The formula for creating glamour

  • bring out the best
  • conceal the worst
  • leave something to the imagination

But good luck with this, because it really depends on the imagination and longing of the audience.

 

QUESTIONS

What do you most want for your next birthday/Christmas/gift-giving occasion? According to the definition above, would you say this desired item includes an element of glamour? (Find an advertisement for that product — it might help you out.)

I recently had a birthday and bought an Apple Mac. Apple is very good at selling glamour, especially by pitching itself in opposition to the nerdy and staid and functional PC.

 

Do you resist glamour or embrace it?

I had been resisting this purchase, I’ll admit, partly because it’s such a cliche. I thought they were a bit overpriced [though I’ve revised that opinion now] and I was determined to avoid the cliche of glamour and ‘go in manual’ by building my own PC. In the end, the hardware — especially the screen — convinced me that I was better off just buying an Apple Mac.

Do you think your parents have a different idea of glamour? Where do your parents get their glamour fix? What about your grandparents?

My mother loves to change the furniture around in her house, and prioritises the purchase of new furniture. My father likes to work in the garden, creating the kind of space  you’d find in a Homes and Gardens magazine. They both like to visit open homes in their spare time, and twice they have made (what seemed to me like) impulse purchases of new houses after visiting an open day on the weekend. They especially like to visit houses which have not yet been finished — they might have the foundation down and the wooden frame up, but they like to step inside and imagine what the house could be, and how they would decorate it.

I have different interests — a brief tour of our house would tell you that we are functional people. The TV is positioned for best viewing (no reflection from window) rather than for best aesthetics. You’ll find cords everywhere, because we preference fast Internet and easy accessibility of gadgets over hiding tech equipment away. Rather than furnish our living room with expensive chairs (which we got rid of), we watch TV on a mattress which can be moved away to play Kinect games.

Do you and your friends agree on what’s glamorous and what’s not? Which words do you use to describe the idea of glamour?

My friends definitely enjoy dressing up more than I do, and will look forward to occasions which require makeup and high heels. I have a more unusual take — if I can’t go somewhere in either gumboots, jandals or sneakers, I tend to feel inconvenienced! I do share a love of Pinterest with many of my friends, however, and I suspect the huge success of Pinterest can be found in its imaginary glamour. Without even going to the shop to buy containers and labels, you can imagine you’ve reorganised your life. Until you turn away from the screen, this is a very cathartic feeling. Even just organising pins onto boards gives the user a sense of purpose.

 

 

See also: It’s Like They Know Us Tumblr, featuring glamorous stock photos and sarcastic captions

 

Television and the Power of Imagination

I like stories. Reality TV, which we all know is not reality . . . I see greater truth in fiction than in that false reality . . . A criticism against television is you’re not using your imagination because it’s handing it all to you. Oh, really? How often do you keep thinking about this stuff later on, imagining where else the story might have gone or where it’s going? . . . You’re imagining the subsequent seasons of Firefly.

Experts Discuss the Psychology of Cult TV from The Mary Sue

The Makers Of Culture

Culture is not merely an epiphenomenal outcome of computational systems in human brains, but in part at least is the result of feedback upon those systems by the high-level concepts and practices which earlier mental activity produced. Culture assumes an existence of its own outside the individuals who affect it. The majority of people may be passive consumers or spectators of culture, but significant minorities have a crucial influence on cultural development and content — chiefly: religious leaders, demagogues, writers, and thinkers — and the ordinarily vague grasp of the majority is a set of diluted versions of what these few have wrought.

– A.C. Grayling, The Reason Of Things

(An epiphenomenon is a secondary phenomenon that occurs alongside or in parallel to a primary phenomenon.)

The Power Of Symbols

The Romans did not have a symbol for nothing (zero), and were so hampered by the lack that they were incapable of contributing to mathematical knowledge.

– A.C. Grayling, The Reason Of Things

What else do we still not have a symbol for, or a word for? Future generations may look back on us and wonder, how did nobody not realise that was missing?

If there is no means to express something, does it really exist?

Things I Have Learnt After Making Two Interactive Book Apps

 

1. What looks very impressive and difficult to program is often very simple for a programmer. What looks simple is difficult. Only programmers know which is which, and sometimes not until after they try.

2. Art looks better on a retina iPad. Unless the artwork isn’t all that good, in which case it looks worse.

3. When you get a fancy Wacom tablet, spend a good few hours setting it up. Otherwise you might use it for an entire year without making use of its full sensitivity.

4. Forums are great. Art forums, app forums, literature forums… On the Internet you’ll find someone who can help with your random question. Unless you’re a programmer and you want to know about blend modes in Cocos 2D. Good luck finding anyone who’ll part with information about that.

5. Book apps are not subject to the same limits on page number as a printed book. But you’ll find your audience is subconsciously accustomed to picturebooks of 32 pages. (Picturebooks tend to be exactly 32 pages for these reasons.) Anything less and they’ll think it’s short. Anything longer and they’ll feel like it’s long.

6. If you make two book apps that makes you a Knowledgeable Person about book apps.

7. The story app world is very small. You’ll meet the same people everywhere you go on the Internet. The following day you’ll visit the app store and see a whole heap of book apps you’d never heard of and change your mind about that. You won’t be able to make up your mind about whether this is a very small world or a super massive one.

8. When it comes to content in picturebooks, Americans are very conservative. Europeans not so much. Australians, somewhere in the middle.

9. The Australian market for iOS apps is bigger than you might think given the modest sized population.

10. People who download your apps when they are free have the harshest criticisms. People who pay for storybook apps are among the most literary people, and literary people are overwhelmingly very nice.

11. The educational discount program that some schools are a part of is a nightmare for those trying to use it. Apparently.

12. If someone emails you because the sound isn’t working on your app, it’s almost always because their iPad is muted. Either that or they haven’t turned their device off in months and need to reset it.

13. Every reviewer has a different favourite page, and these don’t line up with mine.

14. But everyone remembers the one page I considered taking out because testers said it was very weird. Weird = original and memorable. Don’t be afraid to be quirky.

15. Don’t just back-up every ten minutes. SAVE AS.

16. A storyapp expands to fit the time and money you’re prepared to sink into it. It’s reassuring to realise that it’s not about the 3D, the parallax or the animation — it’s still about the story, and always will be.

17. The most gratifying sale isn’t actually a bulk educational sale — the ones that feel the best are ‘gift’ apps.

18. Even once an app is out there, it’s never really finished. Apps are like plants — they need regular attention and updates.

19. Inspiration and learning comes from unexpected places, not just from print picturebooks and other apps but also from film, theatre, comic books, advertising material…

20. Everybody always wants to know how much money you’re making. (All true, but see number four here.)

 

*

For anyone wanting to produce a book app with a service provider to help with the code and marketing etc, see this list of publishers/tools.

We don’t scare so easily anymore.

Audiences don’t scare as easily as they once did. Not only have they seen just about every conceivable brand of horror movie–from torture porn to alt-history vampires–they’ve seen real-life terrors that Alfred Hitchcock never had to compete against. Considering this desensitization through saturation, it’s a marvel that one of the biggest horror phenomena of the last decade comes in the historically tame format of a weekly anthology series.

Do you know which series they’re talking about?

I haven’t seen it myself. More here, on how to tell scary stories, from a creator who is doing just that.

With Hallowe’en just passed, here are some collections of the scariest stuff, curated by others.

50 People On ‘The Darkest, Creepiest True Story That Terrifies Me To This Day’

10 Creepy And Fascinating Videos You Should Watch If You Don’t Want To Get Any Sleep

10 Novels That Will Scare The Hell Out Of You

Tony DiTerlizzi’s Top 10 Books For Creeping Out Kids

Top 10 Horror Stories from Stephen Jones

However

10 Movies That Prove Children’s Cinema Was Scarier in the ’80s from Flavorwire