Tag Archives: social media

Why Social Media Is NOT The New Tobacco

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It’s a full-blown crisis. Kids are spending hours upon hours using it. They’re becoming mindless, unmotivated zombies. Every day, it’s getting worse. It’s all around them. There’s no escaping it and if something drastic isn’t done, it’ll corrupt an entire generation beyond repair.

No, that’s not some hysterical rant from Jessica Lovejoy on “The Simpsons.” It’s not referring to smartphones or social media, either. That urgent message was referring to television. This isn’t another one of my thought experiments. This is one of my memories. It’s true. Televisions was a real concern when I was a kid. Some called it a full blown health hazard.

If that sounds strange, then chances are you aren’t old enough to remember a time before the internet was the ultimate addiction. It really existed. It makes me and many others in my cohort feel old, but it happened. When I was a kid still in grade school, especially between first and sixth grade, the internet wasn’t the thing destroying kids. It was television.

That memory I mentioned wasn’t unique. It came courtesy of an assembly my school held. I don’t entirely remember the purpose of the assembly. I was just a kid and it was an excuse to get out of class. What I do remember, though, was the common refrain about the dangers of television.

Adults of all kinds would find creative ways to tell us to stop watching television and do something “productive,” which I took to mean more homework, more chores, and anything else my teachers made me do. It didn’t really appeal to me and I don’t think it changed the TV habits of my peers, either.

That panic, while nowhere nearly as extreme as the Satanic Panic of the 80s, came and went like many moral crusades tend to do. Some are just forgotten, but others just evolve into a whole new panic. That seems to be happening with the internet and social media now. Watching TV is actually in decline among younger cohorts while their usage of the internet and social media is increasing.

I imagine those same teachers who bemoaned the impact of TV when I was a kid would be giving similar lectures on social media now. They would have competition too because parents today worry about their kids’ internet usage more than their drug usage. Some go so far as to call it the new tobacco to belabor its damaging and addictive nature.

While that kind of comparison strikes all the right emotional chords with concerned parents, I think it’s an unfit comparison to say the least. At most, I would call it absurd. The memories of all those warnings about the dangers of TV leave me inherently skeptical of anything that’s allegedly poisoning children. Unless it’s actual poison, I think the tobacco comparisons are premature.

Now, there’s no question that the internet and social media are having an impact on young people, old people, and everyone in between. There are documented cases where people have exhibited addictive behaviors surrounding their internet usage. Before you make any nicotine comparisons, though, keep in mind that people can be addicted to all sorts of weird things. The human mind is just that strange, powerful, and flawed.

Tobacco, and the nicotine it delivers, is an outside chemical that enters the brain and has real, measurable effects. Using the internet, whether you’re checking FaceBook or browsing Instagram, is not like that. That’s why internet addiction is not in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders that legitimate doctors use to diagnose addiction, but substance abuse is.

It’s also why porn addiction is not considered a true addiction, which I’ve talked about before. However, porn is more specific in its purpose and its effects. There’s also still a stigma, albeit a damaging one, surrounding it that sets it apart from the rest of the internet. A kid browsing the internet, for the most part, is no less damaging than watching cartoons on TV all day.

That doesn’t stop a growing number of people from expressing sincere concern about the effects it’s having on their minds and their health. Some may even prefer that their kids watch old Hanna Barbara cartoons rather than tweet, text, and live-stream all day. There’s a growing sentiment that the internet, social media in particular, hacks our brain’s rewards system.

On paper, it makes sense. You pick up your smart phone, you turn it on not knowing what to expect, and if you find something you like, you get a quick release of pleasure chemicals like dopamine and endorphins. It’s basically a form of gambling. A slot machine works the same way, but you don’t need to be a high roller to enjoy the gambling-like thrill.

Like so many other ideas on paper that go onto fail, though, it’s nowhere near that simple. The human brain can’t be that crude with its chemistry. As a good rule of thumb, if you ever hear someone other than a legitimate neurologist talks about the effects of dopamine on pleasure or addiction, chances are they have a very limited understanding of it at best.

While dopamine does play a role in how we experience pleasure, that’s just one part of a wide range of functions it has within our brains. Trying to understand addiction through dopamine alone is like trying to bake a cake with only a teaspoon of flour. There are many more chemicals, processes, and interactions at play.

Using social media may offer its users a rush whenever they get exciting news on their feed or see something that intrigues and/or offends them, but our brain processes that in a way fairly similar to anything else that catches our attention. The primary difference with the internet and social media is that it happens solely through a digital screen and that does somewhat limit those reactions.

I know that undercuts the concerns of parents who think the internet permanently damaging the collective psyche of their children, but I think they’re overestimating the influence of things that are experienced solely through a screen. Much like TV, the internet and social media can only effect so many senses and that is a major mitigating factor in its impact.

To understand that, go find a picture or video of an exotic location. If you’re a heavy user of Instagram, chances are that won’t be too hard. Look at those pictures. Watch that video. Take in the sights and sounds of that location. To your brain, it’s an appealing bit of visual and auditory sensations. However, those are the only two senses it stimulates.

What about the smell of the air, the feeling of the wind, and the sense of place that being in those locations evokes in our brains? Even if you experience it through hyper-realistic virtual reality, it’s still just sights and sounds at most. Thinking that alone is enough to damage a kid’s brain is like thinking someone can win a sword fight with a sewing needle.

That’s not to say the internet and social media can’t have a powerful psychological impact on certain people. That’s the key, though. It impacts certain people the same way TV impacts certain people. Sure, there are documented cases where social media played a role in a major tragedy, but those are the exceptions and not the norms.

In the same way not everyone gets addicted to a drug after they try it, not everyone is going to be irreparably damaged by the internet, social media, or TV. There’s a reason why extreme cases of people being heavily influenced by these things makes the news in the first place. It’s exceedingly rare.

I would still make the case that the internet and social media are more influential on people, society, and our culture than TV ever was. By being so hyper-connected to such a wide audience, the professional trolls of the world have a way to effect others in a way that just wasn’t possible, even with TV.

As bad as some of those trolls are and as tragic as it is when some suffer because of them, blaming the internet for those ills is like blaming umbrellas for hurricanes. Lumping it in with cancer-causing drugs only further obscures the real issues associated with the ever-evolving internet.

There are, indeed, serious issues with how people use the internet and how it manifests. However, treating it like a dangerous drug did nothing to address the issues surrounding TV. It’ll do just as little in addressing the various controversies of the internet. Until the next “new tobacco” comes along, those same people who lectured me on too much TV will bemoan the dangers of the internet while ignoring all the good it does.

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Filed under Current Events, human nature, media issues, psychology

How Negative Expectations May Ruin “X-men: Dark Phoenix” (For The Wrong Reasons)

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There’s an important, but understated difference between negative expectations and a self-fulfilling prophecy. Expectations are like reflexes. They’re somewhat involuntary, reflecting our assumptions and understanding of a situation. A self-fulfilling prophecy involves actual effort. Whether intentional or not, it guides our perceptions in a particular direction, one often associated with a particular bias.

To some extent, a self-fulfilling prophecy is akin to self-hypnosis. We convince ourselves so thoroughly of a particular outcome that to consider otherwise would be downright shocking, if not distressing. That’s why it’s so difficult, at times, to escape a particular expectation, especially if it’s negative.

I bring up expectations and self-fulfilling prophecies because they do plenty to shape our reactions and attitudes, especially in the media we consume. For better or for worse, often varying from person to person, we tend to determine how much we enjoy something before we even experience it.

Sometimes, it works to the benefit of a particular movie, video game, or TV show. The powerful brand of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is built heavily on the expectations that a long list of quality, well-received movies have established. Conversely, the DCEU struggles with negative expectations, thanks largely to a catalog of movies that have failed to consistently deliver.

Then, there’s “X-men: Dark Phoenix.” It’s a movie for which I’ve made my passion and my excitement very clear over the past year. It’s also a movie that is in the midst of an emerging crisis. It’s not the kind that involves negative press, actors melting down on set, or sordid sex scandals, for once. Instead, it’s an issue that involves negative expectations that may very well become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

As big an X-men fan as I am, I don’t deny that the X-men franchise is not on the same level it was in the early 2000s when it dominated the box office alongside Spider-Man. Even though I loved “X-men: Apocalypse,” I can’t deny it under-performed and underwhelmed.

Despite that, “X-men: Dark Phoenix” has more going for it. It’s attempting to tell the Dark Phoenix Saga, the most iconic X-men story ever told. Moreover, it’s attempting to tell that story after it botched it horribly in “X-men: The Last Stand.” Even the director, Simon Kinberg, has gone on record as saying that he wants to “X-men: Dark Phoenix” to succeed where the last one failed.

Given how rare that kind of humility is in Hollywood these days, X-men fans and fans of superhero movies in general have every reason to expect better things from this movie. Given how low the bar is after “X-men: The Last Stand,” I’m more optimistic than I dare to be when it comes to comic book movies.

Unfortunately, that sense of optimism seems to beg getting less and less prevalent. Whether due to the underwhelming performance of “X-men: Apocalypse” or a growing impatience to see the X-men join the MCU after the Disney/Fox merger is complete, there’s a general sentiment that this movie is going to be bad.

I see it on popular YouTube channels. I see in the many comic book message boards I frequent. The overall consensus is that this is a Marvel movie that isn’t part of the MCU. Therefore, it’s going to be terrible. That is, by every measure, a terrible excuse to dismiss a movie, especially when we haven’t even seen a trailer.

To make matters worse, a recent string of leaks from an alleged test screening revealed details that have only fueled those negative expectations. For reasons that I’ll make clear in a moment, I won’t list the details of those links. I will, however, offer a direct quote that aptly sums up the prevailing attitude for this movie.

“I do believe some things won’t change. What can’t change is the movie being really underwhelming. Really lower your expectations because this one is not good.”

This news, if accurate, is not encouraging to anyone hoping to see a well-done Dark Phoenix Saga on the big screen. To make matters worse, those who already had negative expectations about this movie have even more excuses to resent it.

As I’ve noted before, people tend to cling to excuses that justify their preconceived notions. It doesn’t even matter if the excuse is true. Once they have it, they cling to it. It’s usually not done out of malice. It’s just a lot easier to keep thinking what you’ve already thought rather than adjust your expectations.

In this case those, the story surrounding the leaks has already confirmed to be untrue. That leak came from a Reddit post, of all things, which is akin to getting your news from 4chan. On top of that, and this is a testament to Reddit’s users, the mods have stated outright that the user was not credible. This is an exact quote.

Apparently test screen guy is Atlanta Filming, created an account and sent fake spoilers/leaks. Trying to discredit other bloggers because he wants to be “the only legit source”.

If that weren’t telling enough, it was already announced back in March that the movie was going to undergo reshoots in August. Now thanks to “Justice League,” reshoots have gotten a bad name, but they’re a fairly common practice. Even the heavily-hyped, positively-perceived “Avengers 4” is scheduled for reshoots.

Even if those leaks were accurate, chances are the cut of the movie shown at test screenings isn’t the final cut. Kinberg himself has said that the reshoots are intended to shore up the final product, as one would expect of any piece of art. It sounds so reasonable and logical.

That still doesn’t matter, though. It doesn’t change the expectations. This movie still isn’t meeting the impossible set of criteria that fans spoiled by the MCU have so unreasonably set. It’s not in the MCU, nor is it being guided by Kevin Feige. Therefore, it must be terrible.

It’s unfair, unreasonable, and just plain asinine to judge “X-men: Dark Phoenix” by those standards, especially with reshoots to come and no official trailer. At this point, the negative expectations are so heavy that they’re starting to sound more and more like a self-fulfilling prophecy.

With that being the case, I feel like I can predict the reactions from people once the trailer drops. Sure, there will be some like me who are eager to give this movie a chance after what happened with “X-men: The Last Stand,” but I think there will be more comments like this.

“It’s not the MCU. I’ll pass.”

“X-men Apocalypse sucked! I’m not even giving this one a chance.”

“To hell with this movie! Just let Marvel have the rights back already! Fox can’t do anything right!”

Now, far be it from me to defend Fox, the same company that gave us “Wolverine: Origins,” but these are all intensely petty reasons to judge a movie. I say that as someone who is guilty of setting low expectations for movies, cartoons, comics, and TV shows. Hindsight has done plenty to reveal which of those were the result of self-fulfilling prophecies. That still doesn’t make the expectations any less absurd.

Even for those who aren’t just ardently opposed to any superhero movie that isn’t a product of the MCU, I think I can predict the criticisms they’ll probably levy against this movie even after it comes out. Chances are, they’ll be every bit as petty and include comments like this.

“It’s too dark and not cosmic enough!”

“It’s too cosmic and not grounded enough!’

“It’s too much like the comics!”

“It’s not enough like the comics!”

“It doesn’t have enough [Insert Favorite Character Here]!”

“It has too much [Insert Intensely Hated Character Here]!”

There will probably be plenty more excuses for hating this movie, far more than I can list. It doesn’t even matter how subjective they are or how empty they may be. People who are determined to hate something will find an excuse that satisfies their psyche and vindicates their feelings. Anything else would require that someone actually re-evaluate their expectations and that’s just untenable.

It’s frustrating and tragic that a movie or any piece of media would be subject to this kind of debasement before it’s even completed. It’s one thing for a movie to face skepticism because of production troubles, “Solo: A Star Wars Story” being the most recent example. For a movie whose primary crime is not being in the MCU, that’s just plain absurd.

In terms of the bigger picture, it’s good for superhero movies, as a whole, if “X-men: Dark Phoenix” succeeds. It’s unhealthy for the genre if the MCU is the only acceptable avenue for quality superhero movies. We’ve seen with “Wonder Woman” that it is possible for a superhero movie to succeed in a world that doesn’t have Robert Downy Jr. or Chris Pratt.

X-men: Dark Phoenix” deserves the same chance. That’s why I intend to keep my expectations high, but cautious for this movie. Even if it turns out to be good, though, I worry that it’ll be undercut by too many people who are too eager to hate it. It would be both a tragedy for the movie and all those involved, as well as a bad omen for the genre as a whole.

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Filed under Comic Books, Jack Fisher, Superheroes, media issues, movies, X-men

The War On Boredom: Generation Z Already Bored With The Internet?

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There’s a recurring theme in the history of conflict, crises, and panics of all kinds. Most of the time, there are obvious signs. From the Great Depression to the Great Recession of 2008 to telling signs that something was up with Harvey Weinstein, there were ominous hints that something much bigger was going on. By not heeding those hints, we made things worse in the long run.

Granted, those hints are obvious through the lens of hindsight. I don’t mean to make it sound like predicting a crisis is easy. If it were, then nobody would ever lose money in the stock market and terrorists would be out of a job. It’s an unfortunate, but unavoidable theme in human history. The various signs of looming issue are subtle and the implications require more foresight than our brains permit.

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That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t make an effort to sniff out a crisis before it happens. The cost of being wrong is usually far less than the anguish of being right, albeit with a few notable exceptions. I’ve been talking about a particular crisis that may very well be in the early stages as I write this. It doesn’t involve harassment, wars, or economic collapse, though. It involves boredom.

I’ve speculated that boredom may be the plague of the future. I’ve even hypothesized that Generation Z, the current cohort that is barely out of their teen years, may be prone to the kind of nihilistic mentality that further compounds the effects of boredom. I sincerely hope I’m wrong, but I’ve yet to see anything to discount my points.

Call it the boredom wave. Call it the coming War on Boredom. Call it whatever you want. It’s an issue that we’ll have to address on some levels. As more and more of society becomes automated by machines and streamlined by artificial intelligence, more and more people will have more and more free time on their hands.

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Even if we get to the point where society has a universal basic income so that nobody has to work or toil, we still have a problem. What are people going to do with all that free time? What happens when there’s so much of it that the boredom becomes infuriating? It’s hard to say, although there have been some disturbing signs.

Recently, though, another sign emerged, courtesy of The Daily Beast. In a recent article, Taylor Lorenz explores some revealing anecdotes about how the emerging youth in Generation Z is getting bored with the internet activities that have kept Millennials so entertained for the past couple decades. If the War on Boredom is to be a real conflict, then this could end up being the catalyst.

Say what you will about the veracity of these anecdotes. There’s a reason anecdotal evidence is considered weak evidence by the legal and scientific community. These stories still offer distressing insights with equally distressing implications. This is just one that the article highlighted.

“When I’m bored while I’m on my phone and I’m switching between different apps… I’m just searching for something to do,” said Addie, a 15-year-old in Long Island. “It’s like walking around your house in circles.” Often, they’ll find nothing on their phone entertaining and simply zone out and daydream.

Now, I’m sure every previous generations, from Millennials to the Baby Boomers, will roll their eyes at that complaint. I can already hear the condemnations of this emerging generation. A part of me, a Millennial, even feels that way.

They say things like, “You kids have no idea how great you have it! You’ve got a gadget in your pocket that gives you unlimited access to the entire library of human knowledge and an endless stream of entertainment, from books to videos to pictures of cats. How the hell can you be bored by that?”

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However, that’s easy to say for those who are old enough to remember a world without the internet, smartphones, or streaming media. I didn’t have internet access in my house until I was about 13-years-old and even then it was a dial-up connection that was painfully slow and prone to cutting out suddenly. In terms of combating boredom, my generation had different tools and different methods when we were kids.

To us, as well as the generations before us, the usage of smartphones and the entertainment content of the internet is still amazing to us. I still remember what it was like being at the complete mercy of what was on TV and having to play video games with no online multiplayer or DLC. Those time seem so distant now, but the teenagers of Generation Z have no such perspective.

From their point of view, smartphones have always existed. The internet has always been this ubiquitous thing that they’re a part of. It’s not a modern wonder to them. It’s a trivial, mundane part of their lives. People like me can’t see it like that because we still remember a world without it.

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As a result, Generation Z isn’t going to see all the entertainment and media as a wonder. They’re going to see it as part of their normal and no matter what form normal takes, it’s still going to be boring to some extent. That’s part of what makes normal what it is. The article itself even acknowledges this.

It’s tempting to think that these devices, with their endless ability to stimulate, offer salvation from the type of mind-numbing boredom that is so core to the teen experience. But humans adapt to the conditions that surround them, and technical advances are no different. What seemed novel to one generation feels passé to the next. To many teens, smartphones and the internet have already lost their appeal.

It goes even further, distinguishing how Generation Z sees their smartphones and contrasting it with their Millennial predecessors. When someone my age or older sees a teenager on a phone, we don’t usually assume they’re just bored. We think they’re just another self-obsessed teenager who can’t resist checking their social media feeds every half-second.

While it’s much easier and more self-serving to assume that teenagers are just that self-obsessed, it’s probably more likely that boredom is a larger factor here. I would take it further than that. I would go so far as to claim that this is one of those signs that we foolishly overlooked in the future.

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These teenagers have access to the same technology and media that has kept other generations so engaged and enthralled. However, they’re seeing it and they’re bored by it. Anyone who knows anything about boredom understands that when boredom reaches a certain level, you’ll go to extremes to feel any kind of stimulation.

With that in mind, what kind of extremes will Generation Z resort to in their efforts to combat boredom? If they can’t get it from their phones or their computers, how will they combat this issue? To them, it’ll be a war. To every other generation, it’ll seem asinine. However, it may very well consume the social and political landscape of the future.

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Filed under Current Events, War on Boredom

When “Progress” Isn’t Really Progress

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After I graduated college, I got my first full-time job at a software company providing technical support. Out of respect for my former employer, I won’t name the company or the type of software it made. I’ll just say that, like all software, it sometimes malfunctioned and users got really upset.

For the most part, those seeking support were polite and reasonable. I enjoyed helping them. It made the job feel rewarding, despite the erratic hours and mediocre pay. However, there were certain customers who, for whatever reason, just weren’t satisfied complaining about the product. They basically went out of their way vent all their problems on whoever was unlucky enough to get their call.

At my office, we called these people “rubber wall users” because they weren’t just an impenetrable wall of whining. Any time you tried to throw something at them to fix their issue, it just bounced right back at you. While we tried to be professional, there was an unwritten rule that even my supervisor understood. You say whatever you have to say to get that person off the phone and on with their miserable lives.

I’m sharing that story because it’s a fitting metaphor for a phenomenon we’re seeing more and more of these days. I see it in movies, TV shows, video games, and even novels, which especially concerns me. It involves pressuring artists, producers, and developers to be more inclusive and diverse with their media. Then, when it finally happens, that’s labeled “progress.”

With respect to the sincerity of those efforts, as well as the memories of some of the angry customers I dealt with, I disagree.

I’ve talked about progress on this blog before, mostly within the context of just how much the human race has made over the past century. You won’t find many people who celebrate that progress as much as I do. By nearly every measure, we’re far more prosperous, tolerant, and well-behaved than we’ve ever been.

That said, there are certain kinds of progress that shouldn’t count as progress. They’re only progress in the same way that getting an unruly customer off the phone with some moniker of professionalism counted as progress at my old job. It’s not motivated by a sincere acceptance of diverse opinions. It’s just a way to stop the whining.

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For the past couple years, I’ve found myself wondering just how much of this false progress is being mislabeled. I’ve been seeing it in multiple mediums. Comic books, a medium for which I regularly express my love on this blog, is just one of them.

While I’ve avoided talking about such controversies, I have noticed the same trend that others have vocally criticized in other mediums. Major publishers, including Marvel, have been pushing for more diversity in their books, but their efforts haven’t always been well-received and the resulting “progress” isn’t necessarily cause for celebration.

Beyond the diversity push, Marvel even made an effort to de-sexualize their characters. While that’s only possible to some extent for overtly sexual characters like Emma Frost or DC’s Starfire, some of those efforts have had a noticeable effect on characters like Carol Danvers and Black Cat. It’s now much rarer to see female characters flaunt their sexuality.

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For some, that counts as progress. Specifically, for those who believe depictions of sexy female characters promotes misogyny and sexism, it counts as a victory. If it upsets the fans and robs an inherently visual medium of a unique form of beauty, then so be it. That’s the price of “progress.” If I could say that with more sarcasm, I would.

Again, I disagree. In fact, I would go so far as to say those efforts by Marvel backfired and not just because it cost their editor-in-chief his job. Marvel, like all media companies, is a business. Businesses need to please their customers. When certain customers are especially vocal, they have to listen to some extent, just as I had to listen to those customers.

It’s debatable how much those at Marvel actually bought into the “progress” that certain critics were asking for. I don’t doubt that some creators were sincere in their desire to improve diversity and expand the appeal of their comics. However, I also don’t doubt that a part of that effort was just to temper some of the whining by people who know how to be extra loud in the era of social media.

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While the impact on Marvel comics concerns me greatly, I noticed a much bigger effort late last year from an industry that has been prone to much louder criticisms. Specifically, it happened in one of my favorite video game franchises of all time, “Mass Effect.” Unlike what happened with Marvel, I’m not sure this beloved series will survive.

Prior to 2014, “Mass Effect” was the cream of the crop of video game franchises. It had a little of everything. There was action, drama, romance, exploration, insight, and yes, even a little sexiness. Characters like Miranda Lawson, Liara T’soni, Samara, EDI, and even the female protagonist, Shepard, had undeniable sex appeal.

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Then, in between the release of “Mass Effect 3” and the 2017 sequel, “Mass Effect: Andromeda,” a scandal broke out in the video game industry that involved everything from sexism to harassment to just how visible a character’s butt could be in a video game. I wish I were exaggerating, but it really happened and I don’t think the industry has fully recovered.

In the midst of that scandal, the demand for “progress” soared more than it did for most other mediums. Suddenly, the act of making a video game character too sexy was seen as contributing to a toxic culture of misogyny, sexism, and violence against women and minorities. It’s not like sex appeal had nothing to do with Lara Croft becoming so successful. Again, if I could say those words with more sarcasm, I would.

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Mass Effect: Andromeda” was developed in the eye of that storm. EA and Bioware couldn’t use the same approach they did with previous “Mass Effect” games. They had to be very careful with how they designed their characters, especially their female characters. One misplaced curve is all it would take to reignite a controversy that nobody wanted to deal with, given all the negative press the gaming industry had incurred.

As a result, the female characters in “Mass Effect: Andromeda” didn’t just dial down the sex appeal. In some cases, there was a concerted effort to make their female characters less attractive. This is best shown in the female model used for Sara Ryder, the main female protagonist. To say it didn’t translate to the game would be like saying drinking a gallon of bleach might make you a little queasy.

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Ryder wasn’t the only female character to have her looks tempered. Pretty much every female character, from the supporting cast to background characters, was designed with minimal sex appeal in mind. That’s not to say the game didn’t have some sexier moments, but compared to what other games attempted before that, it was pretty watered down.

That was just one of many problems that “Mass Effect: Andromeda” faced when it launched in March 2017. Now, games launching with bugs and glitches is nothing new. It’s standard practice for a game to get patched after launch. However, the extent of those bugs in “Mass Effect: Andromeda,” combined with unattractive characters, did not help the game’s reception.

I say that as someone who played the game and still loved it, for the most part. Since I love “Mass Effect” games so much, I found plenty of reasons to love “Mass Effect: Andromeda.” However, I found myself having to overlook more flaws than usual. I also found it hard to really admire the visual aspects of the game. Like comics, undermining that part of the experience can be pretty detrimental.

There were a lot of criticism levied against “Mass Effect: Andromeda.” Some are legitimate. Some are painfully valid. More than any other game, though, it was developed with the intent to promote a more diverse and inclusive product that appealed everyone and offended no one. As the sales and reception seem to indicate, though, even female gamers don’t like looking at unattractive characters.

As a result, nobody really hailed “Mass Effect: Andromeda” as progress. However, nobody staged a mass online protest claiming the game made its female characters too sexy and promoted toxic behaviors among its users. Some might count that as progress too. I am not one of them.

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In a sense, “Mass Effect: Andromeda” is a case study in a product where efforts towards progress just masked a desire to avoid outrage. Just avoiding outrage does not count as progress in any capacity. It just counts as a company trying to shield itself from bad publicity that might damaged its brand. Say what you will about corporate greed, but brand still matters to them, often more than money.

I don’t blame Bioware or EA at all for going that route, but simply avoiding outrage set the bar pretty low and it might have doomed “Mass Effect: Andromeda” before it ever had a chance. At the moment, the “Mass Effect” franchise is on indefinite hold because the response to “Mass Effect: Andromeda” was not what the developer had hoped.

Beyond the tragedy of damaging a beloved franchise, “Mass Effect: Andromeda” reflects a dangerous and potentially regressive sentiment in the industry. Rather than focus on pushing the envelope and doing something bold, artists and developers are more concerned with avoiding outrage. The actual quality of the final product can only ever be secondary, at most.

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There are a great many challenges facing the video game industry, as anyone who followed the news surrounding “Star Wars: Battlefront II” can attest. However, the precedent set by “Mass Effect: Andromeda” may very well be the most damaging.

Most agree that video games, like any other media, should work to appeal to a broad audience. However, as Marvel found out, forcing certain kinds of “progress” can have some pretty detrimental effects in the long run. It alienates consumers, frustrates developers, and limits the incentives to innovate and try new things.

At the end of the day, making female superheroes less sexy in comics and making characters in “Mass Effect” less attractive did nothing to reduce sexism, promote gender equality, or foster a more inclusive culture. All it really did was go out of its way to stop exceedingly vocal critics from whining.

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Bioware and EA didn’t suddenly become more enlightened about video games, female characters, and the impact of mass media. They simply took the path of least resistance, doing what would generate the least amount of outrage, at least in terms of sexist accusations. That’s not progress. That’s just frustration and, like my old job, very little good comes from it.

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Filed under gender issues, sex in media, sexuality, video games

Reflecting On The Brighter Headlines Of 2017

Goodnews

It’s over. The year that was 2017 is done and for some, the big New Years ball in Times Square couldn’t drop fast enough. I don’t blame those people. It was, indeed, a rough year for many. I consider myself among the lucky few who made strides in 2017 and have high hopes that I’ll do the same in 2018.

Even for those who did enjoy progress this past year, it’s easy for the news paint a different picture. Every day seems to bring a new headline hinting that we’re all about to die a terrible death, either by nuclear war, a new plague, or by all our smartphones exploding at once. I try to be optimistic about most things, but I totally understand why others are so pessimistic.

The past couple years have been more hectic than most, primarily due to the results of the 2016 Election. It was around the end of 2016 when I made it a point to remind everyone that, despite what the news media may claim, the world is becoming a better place by nearly every objective measure. I even go out of my way to report on news that promises the end of disease, suffering, and stupidity within the foreseeable future.

However, I realize that such progress is difficult to see and some of the more futuristic advancements I’ve discussed are still a way off, especially with sex robots. So, in the interest of putting a positive spin on the end of 2017, I’d like to highlight a few uplifting and promising news stories to help get everyone excited about 2018.

Some of them involve technological breakthroughs that promise to improve the lives of many. Others involve the kind of feel-good stories that often get overshadowed by bloodier, more sensational headlines. These are the stories from which we should draw inspiration as we head into 2018. We’ll do ourselves and our futures better by moving forward with a sense of hope.


Muslim Hackers Unite To Kick ISIS Off The Internet

There’s no way around it. Muslims face a lot of discrimination, thanks largely to the worst of the worst of their extremes. Religion taken to extremes can, has, and will continue to cause all sorts of horrors throughout the world. That’s why a news story like this is important for perspective.

When it comes to taking on the extremes of any religion, the best weapon are the adherents of that very religion. Given how ISIS has often exploited technology to further their extremism, there’s an uncanny sense of poetic justice in seeing other Muslims fight back. It should give anyone hope that the extremes of any faith rarely succeed in the long run.


FaceBook Uses AI To Help Prevent Suicide

Social media and its effect on people has been in the news for all the wrong reasons lately. The events of 2017, which built off the side-show horrors of 2016, only made it worse. It’s getting to a point where social media only ever makes the news when it’s doing something bad.

However, like ski-masks, machetes, and crazy glue, it’s a tool like any other. Its moral value depends on how it’s used. For an effort like using artificial intelligence to measure social media activity to assess suicide risks, I say that’s an inherent good. We lost some great people to suicide in 2017. Any effort, be it AI or simply calling a hot line, should be applauded.


Practical Quantum Computers Are Almost A Reality

On the technology side of things, something I try to stay on top of on this blog, there are all sorts of exciting advances and not just in sex toys. Most are bits and pieces of progress from other bits that we made in years past. Others, however, have the potential to bring so much more.

That’s why advances in practical quantum computers is such a big deal. The idea and concept of quantum computers is actually pretty old. Making them practical, however, has been one of the biggest engineering challenges in computer technology. It’s a first step, but by far the biggest.

Advances in 2017 weren’t just baby steps. Now, the theoretical part of quantum computers is basically resolved. It’s now a matter of when and not if. Once quantum computers enter the picture, then all bets are off. From biotechnology to 3D printing to sex toys, quantum computers promise to revolutionize all of it and this past year brought us that much closer.


Gene Therapy Is Set To Cure Once Incurable Diseases

I’ve talked about big advances in biotechnology. I build the entire basis of “Skin Deep” around them and entertained thoughts of a world where diseases that hindered our sex lives are no longer a concern. Some of those advances are still a way off, but 2017 saw advances that should make our future that much healthier.

Before we can wipe out all disease, we need to attack those most vulnerable. This past year, we began that process by modifying the genes that cause fatal inherited diseases like SCID and Glybera. It’s a critical first step towards modifying other disease-causing genes, both in developing embryos and adult humans.

It may not be the giant leap some are looking for, but those leaps rarely come in a single year. However, this still counts as a major step and by taking that step, the years beyond 2017 will have less suffering and more health.


Getting Into Space Got A Lot Cheaper Thanks To SpaceX

If fighting the good fight and advances in technology aren’t enough to lift your spirits, then why not look to the stars? Let’s face it. It’s been a while since anyone got excited about space travel. Nobody has been to the moon in decades and space travel is so routine that we don’t even think about it. Then, Elon Musk came along and made it cool again.

Musk being Musk, though, he had to do one better. He actually made space travel a growing economy. Thanks to developments by his company, SpaceX, getting to space got a lot cheaper and more efficient with the Falcon 9 rocket. It marks one of the most important steps in making space travel more than just a gimmick for governments.

Cheaper, more efficient rockets means getting to space is easier. Getting to space easier means more opportunities. More opportunities mean more chances for ordinary to know what it’s like to actually venture towards the stars. That should give anyone who admires the stars reasons to get excited for 2018.


Prison Inmates Give Food To Needy Kids

Blurred image of prisoner shaking hands with charity owner when handing over food donation.

Even if you’re still jaded by 2017 and all the stories I just shared didn’t help, then sit tight. I’ve got one more that should help make 2018 more appealing. Even if you think this past year sucked, I’m willing to bet you consider yourself less jaded than standard prison inmate. If you’re free or not in the process of being arrested, you consider that a plus.

So when a bunch of prison inmates find it in their hearts to give food to needy children, how can your heart possibly remain hardened? It’s true. This past year, a group of prison inmates showed that humanity is not at all beyond possibly say your heart is still hardened?

These kinds of stories are part of the reason why I believe humanity deserves more credit than it gets. Yes, the news tends to highlight our worst, but stories like this show us at our best. That’s why I believe having faith in humanity is so important and carrying that faith into 2018 can only help us in the years to come.

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How NOT To Fight For Net Neutrality

It’s neither unusual, nor surprising when the government does something stupid. It’s also fairly common to see those same governments make decisions that are not popular with the people. Governments are human-led institutions and humans are flawed creatures to begin with. As such, there will always be moments where government action incurs significant outrage.

The latest example of this has to do with net neutrality, a topic with a boring name, but enormous implications. If you’ve been near a news feed at all over the past few weeks, you know that recent government decisions regarding this topic have generated a lot of headlines and that’s rarely a good thing. Outside wars and moon landings, more government headlines usually implies more trouble.

However, I don’t intend to make this article about the merits of net neutrality or why it’s important. There are already people much smarter than I am who have broken this issue down and organizations much better-equipped than I am to help people do something about it. Let them be your guides in navigating the nuts and bolts of this issue.

Instead, I want to focus on one particular element of the debate that isn’t being discussed, but has been painfully obvious. It has less to do with the actual controversy surrounding net neutrality and more to do with how some are reacting to it. To say those reactions have been heated would be like saying Johnny Depp is mildly eccentric.

When the FCC rendered its controversial decision on December 14, 2017 to reverse the net neutrality provisions that had been put in place back in 2015, it generated a negative backlash almost on par with a major tax increase and a new sex scandal. Celebrities were quick to voice their opinions. Here are just a few.

Those reactions, for the most part, were fairly tame. They expressed dismay, concern, and anger over the decision. That’s entirely okay. That’s even appropriate, given the nature of the decision.

However, some reactions were a lot more severe. On top of that, they were a lot more personal as well, directing the anger and animosity towards one particular person. That person, whose name has become synonymous with all that is wrong and ugly about the world, is Ajit Pai.

Now, without getting into the details of who this man is and why he did what he did, I need to make one thing clear. I’m not out to defend this man or endorse his politics, nor am I looking to add to the pile of hate that he’s gotten over the past few weeks. I just want to note the sheer breadth of that hate. This is just a sample of that hate.

The level of hatred got so absurd that Pai himself actually took the time to read some of these tweets and after getting into an argument with Mark Hamill, no less. I’m not sure if whether it’s him having a sense of humor about the whole situation or he’s just entered that state of learned helplessness that renders him incapable of caring.

Whatever his reaction and whatever further reactions anyone may have to Mr. Pai, there is one important detail that is getting overlooked in this situation. It’s a detail that both Mr. Pai and those that hate him need to acknowledge. It may not make much difference at this point, but here it is.

Hating and insulting Ajit Pai will NOT change his mind or undo his decision.

If I could yell that into a bullhorn and direct it into the ears of every person on the internet, I would because it’s a critical detail for anyone that actually cares about the topic at hand. Insulting the man who helped render the decision and directing all that outrage into personal attacks will not undo what has already been done.

The decision is made. Whether you think it’s a good thing or the worst thing to ever happen in the history of modern civilization, it’s too late now. It’s in the past and unless you’re Dr. Who or have a flux capacitor handy, no amount of outrage or hatred can change that.

If anything, that may make it even worse. There’s a sound, psychological reason why overt personal attacks don’t work in debates. Anyone who has any debating experience or has taken any classes in the subject learns fairly quickly that these kinds of attacks are considered logical fallacies for a good reason. They don’t further the argument, nor do they change or shape the minds of others.

In fact, “South Parkdid an entire episode recently about just how counterproductive these sorts of attacks can be. They showed with their trademark vulgarity that just insulting someone only makes them more defensive and more determined to justify their actions, no matter how irrational they may be. This is also why debates with creationists are so counterproductive.

If there are legitimate reasons to oppose Mr. Pai’s decision regarding net neutrality, and I believe there are, then insulting or attacking him is the quickest way to ensure that neither he, nor his supporters will listen. They’ll just dig in even more, clinging to every reason and excuse they can to justify their decision. At that point, neither yelling nor rational discourse will have any meaningful effect.

I don’t deny the passion and the sincerity of those who decry the recent FCC decision. I get why they’re singling out Mr. Pai for such scorn. He’s the chairman of the FCC. He’s the one who signed off on this decision. It’s his name on the dotted line. He’ll bare a larger chunk of responsibility than most once the consequences of his decision set in.

Be that as it may, that doesn’t mean anger and hatred are the best ways to combat that decision. I know that sounds like the kind of touchy feely crap that has no place on the internet these days, especially on the unfiltered platforms like social media and 4chan. However, there is some merit behind a less heated approach and it has precedent.

It comes courtesy of a man most of us knew growing up as kids. His name is Fred Rogers, host of the long-running children’s program, “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.” Beyond being a wholesome kids show, Fred Rogers might have been the nicest man to have ever endured these harsh modern times.

He did this by being caring, compassionate, and completely genuine in everything he did. When there was something terrible happening, he didn’t focus on the negatives. He looked to inspire hope. He did it after the September 11th attacks. He did it every day on his show for decades. He also did it in front of Congress.

Back in 1969, Congress was looking to cut federal funding to PBS, calling it an unnecessary expenditure of taxpayer money. Mr. Rogers, who relied on public broadcasting to get his show to the masses, decided to take action. He didn’t do this by using John Oliver’s approach of incessant and childish mockery. Instead, he used the same caring, compassionate rhetoric he used to inspire children.

It worked too. In fact, it worked so well that instead of cutting PBS’ budget, it actually got increased after Mr. Rogers’ testimony. He did all that without a single mean tweet, angry rant, or public shaming campaign. He just reached out and connected with these powerful people with sincerity and heart and they responded.

That is how you exact meaningful change in a tense debate. That is how you get someone to listen to your arguments, even if they’re not inclined to accept them. Insulting or yelling at them only gives them reason to shut you out. Show a little heart, as Mr. Rogers did every day, and people will respond.

I don’t know if it’s too late to use that approach with Ajit Pai, but I do know that the debate over net neutrality isn’t over. There will be other chances to confront the issue and change the course of the debate. There will be other people not named Ajit Pai who will end up making this hard, unpopular decisions.

When that time comes, anger and outrage will do little to move the conversation forward in a meaningful way. There’s a right way and a wrong way to convince people of what the right thing to do is for a complex issue, such as net neutrality. Even if the ways of Mr. Rogers aren’t enough, the ways people are using to attack Mr. Pai can only do more harm than good.

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The TomatoMeter: Is It Ruining Movies?

Let’s not lie to ourselves. We all have that one movie that we love, but everyone else, from our friends to professional critics, hate with a passion. I don’t deny I have my share. In fact, I have more than one. Some of my favorite guilty pleasure movies involve such critically panned classics like “Dude Where’s My Care?” and “Terminator Genisys.”

I don’t apologize for loving those movies, nor should anyone else apologize for liking the movies that they like. Everybody is entitled to their own tastes in movies, TV shows, comics, and porn. Granted, tastes in porn can be somewhat revealing about a person, but that’s another discussion for another article.

The discussion I’d like to have now has less to do with our ability to love critically panned movies and more to do with what’s happening with the movie industry, which has released more than it share of terrible movies. These are strange times for Hollywood and not just because it’s much harder to hide a sordid sex scandal.

Anyone who has watched at least one movie or been to the non-pornographic parts of the internet for at least ten minutes has probably heard of a site called Rotten Tomatoes. It is to movies what a rectal thermometer is to your health. Most people don’t like using it. Many try to ignore or avoid it. Sometimes, though, it tells us important things about our general health.

I’ll try to keep the rectal analogies to a minimum because there’s a growing issue with respect to Rotten Tomatoes and how it’s effecting the industry. More than one major producer has come out and bemoaned the site’s impact on the industry. Granted, one of those voices is Brett Ratner and his credibility has taken a huge hit lately. That doesn’t make that impact any less serious.

There was a time as recently as 2007 that a movie could get a lousy score on Rotten Tomatoes and still do well at the box office. Most recently, movies like “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” were the poster boy for this phenomenon. That movie earned a pitiful 19 percent on the Tomatometer, but it still managed to rake in over $836 million at the box office.

Personally, I really enjoyed that movie. I thought it was a lot of fun, despite Shia Lebouf’s goofy demeanor, at times. However, that movie might have been the last of its kind in that it failed so hard with critics, but still made plenty of money, both domestically and at the foreign box office. Later movies did much worse domestically and had to rely on international box office receipts to turn a profit.

Since then, a bat Tomatometer score can really hurt a movie’s profits. Most recently, the two movies that suffered this the most were “Fantastic Four” and “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice.” Both of these movies didn’t just under-perform. In some cases, major studios singled them out as a reason for declining profits.

Even more recently, the “Justice League” movie took a major hit when its Tomatometer score tanked, even though the majority of audiences liked it. There’s already a lot of doomsaying going on that, due to the poor reception of the movie, it could end up losing a great deal of money for Warner Brothers.

Think about that for a moment. The critics hated that movie, but the audiences loved it. However, due to the poor Tomatometer score, a movie like “Justice League” is doomed to go down in history as a failure. Even if the point of the movie is to entertain the audience, which “Justice League” seemed to achieve, it’s going to fail because a handful of critics said so.

This is where the influence of Rotten Tomatoes gets kind of scary. There are a great many movies that audiences love, such as “Independence Day” and “Home Alone” that have lousy Tomatometer scores, but were still huge box office successes. They succeeded because they pleased audiences and not critics. They’re certainly not the only ones.

If those movies had come out today, then they wouldn’t have been as much a success. Today, it’s easier than ever to look up how acclaimed a movie is and judge its quality, based on its score. Some of the people who ended up loving movies “Home Alone” might never have seen it, just because of the Tomatometer.

On some levels, that’s understandable. People don’t want to pay to see a movie that sucks. We waste our money on enough crap these days. We don’t want to pay $15 to see a movie we don’t like. However, how do we even know we won’t like it until we see it? Are we really going to trust critics to do that kind of thinking for us?

Now, there will be some who never pay much attention to what critics say. Even if Rotten Tomatoes had been around years ago, I still would’ve seen “Dude Where’s My Care?” because that’s just the kind of guilty pleasure movie I love.

However, if too many studios are concerned about what the almighty Tomatometer says, then movies like that might not even get made in the first place. Sure, the world wouldn’t change much if a movie like “Dude Where’s My Care?” had never been made, but that’s not the point.

If an entire industry is going to obsess over what a handful of critics on Rotten Tomatoes say about their movie, then they’re going to focus on pleasing them instead of audiences. This has already caused some consternation among movie fans, some of which suspect that there’s something corrupt going on behind the scenes.

While I don’t usually subscribe to conspiracy theories, I don’t think this one would take a full-blown CIA operation to achieve. If a movie studio wants to spend a few extra million dollars bribing movie critics to prop up their Tomatometer score, then I can’t think of how anyone could stop them.

Sure, it’s unethical, but nobody is going to prison for that. Human nature tells us that if there’s a low-risk way to achieve high-risk returns with little chance of getting caught and only minor repercussions at best, then it probably will happen at some point. It’s not unreasonable to suspect that it has happened in the past, but those involved are smart enough not to get caught.

With the Rotten Tomatoes, though, that kind of corruption becomes even easier because the result is quantifiable. You can see it in the Tomatometer score of a movie. It’s hard to imagine such a powerful tool not getting corrupted at some point.

For now, I suspect this trend will continue with Rotten Tomatoes wielding greater and greater power over a movie’s success. That trend could easily change or reverse down the line. For now, though, I won’t go so far as to say that Rotten Tomatoes is actively ruining movies. I’ll just say that it’s setting a dangerous precedent.

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