Indelible memories of those innocent years of grade school, awkward years of junior high, the posturing years of high school, and the challenging years of college are found between the covers of your old yearbooks.
You remember: those are the tomes filling that 60-pound box you’ve been hauling around all your life, transferring unopened from one attic the next, defying you to actually set them out on the curb on trash day.
One of the annual rituals of school days was the yearbook signing when you passed the books around to sign and be signed, getting back the most intimate comments from people you didn’t even know you knew, and getting rather bland sentiments from friends you thought were intimates.
Later, as a parent, you were eager to see the book that set you back $25 or more, only to find your Valicia had forgotten to have her class mug shot taken and was seen only once in the book in the blurry background of a pep rally shot.
And, of course, you hoped if young Terrence were voted something like “Most Likely to Succeed,” that he wouldn’t wind up disappointing American society and becoming a Charles Manson later in life.
So school yearbooks can be anxiety-provoking, but they can also be a lot of fun. Sadly, however, yearbooks are also among the victims of shrinking school and family economies. The good news is that help has arrived from the digital era of communications, which we are calling the Virtual Unknown.
At the university where I teach, Indiana’s Ball State, the award-winning Orient yearbook has been gone for several years now. At my former university, California’s Azusa Pacific, the Student Government Association would like it dropped and for student money to go elsewhere. Only a president nostalgic for a past era, is keeping it alive.
For awhile, many schools tried shifting from the expensive hard-cover books to video yearbooks. Some still are using that and publishing books digitally on CDs or DVDs, choosing to forego printed yearbooks altogether. The thought is that videos, sights, and sounds are better — and save more trees — than printed books.
But a lot of schools are taking digital to another level and letting students customize their own books.
Print on demand
Some of these schools, like the Chahta-Ima Elementary School in suburban New Orleans, are going to a new kind of print-on-demand yearbook to save costs. Companies like TreeRing Corp. , based in
Redwood City, California, use Internet-based technology that saves schools money by letting them print only as many copies as needed while letting a wider group of students, faculty and parents collaborate in the process.
Other companies offering these print-on-demand services include ones like Lulu, Ziblio, and Lifetouch.
Casey Gleason, principal of Chahta-Ima told the San Francisco Chronicle, “We wanted the school to be able to have a yearbook for its historical significance,” said Gleason, whose school has served several generations in Lacombe, La. “We wanted to do it at a reasonable cost, but not sacrifice instructional funds for the school.”
TreeRing is a start-up company featuring a publishing model that is catching on in the book industry of printing only the number of books needed by a customer.
It’s too early tell if this model will challenge the traditional school yearbook market, in which publishing companies like Taylor and Jostens dominate. But with more schools abandoning traditional yearbooks, it could.
The publishing of the yearbooks is done entirely online, with students, faculty, and parents able to contribute elements to the book. The class mug-shot pages and student organization pages remain pretty standard, but much of the rest of the book uses the “crowdsourcing” technique of having individuals upload pictures of themselves involved in school or family activities to other pages, for which templates are provided. They can even pop in pictures of news or cultural events during the year that were meaningful for them.
The result is a kind of personalized yearbook that insures your kid doesn’t have to lay out money to buy a book in which he/she is only pictured once or twice. So each book may be somewhat different from the next, but you pay for only your personalized book; not someone else’s. Another plus is that TreeRing pledges to plant one tree for every yearbook printed.
Very Californian and very cool.
No unsold books
It’s also cool for the schools and their budgets, because instead of being stuck with a couple thousand dollars of unsold books at the end of the year, there are no unsold books because a book doesn’t get printed by TreeRing until they receive payment from the student or family. The books are actually printed by an Indiana company contracted by TreeRing. Most of them are done in soft cover and costs can vary from roughly $10 to $15 each, which is cheaper than most traditional hard-cover yearbooks.
With these new publishing options available, yearbooks will hopefully be around for many years to come.
A silent prayer
But you still hope that “most likely to succeed” will refer to your young Terrence doing well in an endeavor that is considered legal and, who knows, maybe even ethical.
My dad was an artist who used oils, and later pastels, to create some beautiful landscapes and designs. I was thinking about him this week when I read about a British artist who has exchanged canvas for the medium of iPad and iPod screens to produce some innovative art.
Not sure Dad would have understood, but he would have appreciated the risk-taking nonetheless.
The British artist is David Hockney, and he unveiled his work in Paris recently in a show still underway. As the Associated Press reports on Hockney’s creations: “Canvas is just so 20th century. That’s the message of David Hockney’s new Paris exhibition, where glowing iPads and iphones – their screens a changing medley of still lives and landscapes created … on the ‘Brushes’ application – replace traditional canvases.”
Lessons from kindergarten
You might call it Fingerpainting 2.0
So, instead of perusing framed portraits, abstracts, and landscapes, visitors to Hockney’s exhibition stare at dozens of plastic and steel contraptions made up of the hi-tech screens and wall adaptors. Each of them feature a cascade of color objects highly defined by the magic of digital technology.
A famed pop artist, Hockney has named the show, “Fleurs fraiches” or “Fresh Flowers.” The name is pegged to the still lives he paints with the iPhone Brushes application that lets you use your finger as a paintbrush. The name also connotes the immediacy of the show, which is updated regularly with new images.
A Where’s Waldo element
And, by the way, those images are e-mailed to the Paris exhibit by Hockney from wherever he is in the world at the moment.
A new kind of flowers by wire delivery system.
Brushes began as a communication medium but it has evolved into more of an artistic endeavor by Hockney. Over the past 18 months the artist has created more than 1,000 drawings, first on his iPhone and then on the larger iPad, curator Charles Schelps told the AP.
“He would lie in bed and draw what he was seeing – the scenes out his window, his desk, or more often than not, the bouquet on his bedside table,” Schelps said. “And then he would e-mail the latest drawings to his friends. Besides the 20 or 30 people who get his e-mails, this work has never been seen before.”
For artists on the go
The Brushes painting application was designed by Steve Sprang for the iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. It is the winner of the Apple Design Award for 2010 and it was even used by artist Jorge Colombo to create the cover of the June 1, 2009 issue of The New Yorker.
Brushes uses an advanced “color picker,” together with several kinds of electronic brushes that are moved by the touch of a finger. The application features multiple layers, extreme zooming, and a simple and deep interface.
It allows the user to choose any color using the hue/saturation color wheel, and you can undo your mistakes easily and move on from there.
The application also features a Brushes Viewer that makes a video capturing each step of how you compose your painting.
Removing the oops factor
Jorge Colombo says he depends a lot on the “undo” feature of Brushes saying, “It looks like I draw everything with supernatural assurance and very fast – it gets rid of all the hesitations.”
Further evidence of the suggestion found in the virtual unknown as elsehwere, “If you build it, they will come.”
When I was starting out in the newspaper business (remember that medium? he asked wistfully), I wrote a lot of obits as new reporters often do. One of the earliest warnings I remember receiving from readers was that, if you list the street address of the deceased and give the time and day of the funeral, you are alerting potential burglars to the presence of an empty house.
That’s the reason some newspapers don’t list those street addresses and it’s why families of the deceased ask a friend to watch the house while they are gone to the last rites.
I was thinking about that this morning when a segment of NBC’s Today show caught my eye and ear. It concerned yet another problem area of self-disclosing too much personal information (what I call living out loud) on Twitter, Facebook, or Foursquare. The latter is the location-based social network where players use their mobile devices to report their presence at a particular spot on a map for others to see. The more you visit certain places, the more points you stack up, etc., etc.
Great. So now you not only can bore others with what you are doing; you can show them where you’re doing it.
That raise any red flags to you?
Apparently it has to a lot of thieves, according to Amy Roebuck’s report on Today wherein she profiled a young couple who permanently loaned two laptops and a digital flatscreen TV to house burglars who knew they weren’t home. And how did they know that? Because one of them, caught on a home security videocam, turned out to be a FB friend of one victim and had seen her post about where she and her hubbie were headed on – ironically – the day her house was to be burgled.
An obvious question
The obvious question is why don’t social networkers choose their FB friends more carefully if they’re going to post that kind of information. The reality is that most of us have a lot of “friends” on that site whom we don’t really know that well.
When you see users whose pages boast more than 1,000 friends, you get the idea.
One reformed burglar, 35-year-old Richard Taylor, told the British Web site, Parental Control, how thieves use Twitter and Facebook in the UK to plan break-ins.
“I’ve seen lots of people who post a status update about being excited that they’re going away to Spain,” Taylor said. “But if you have 900 Facebook friends, how many do you really know? You might recognise their name from school but do you also know all their friends who could also see your updates?
“People put all kinds of information on Facebook including their address and mobile number. A burglar just has to call your mobile and if there’s an international ring tone they know you are away. These days everyone is Twitter-mad, I use it myself. But putting information that anyone can see on the internet leaves you vulnerable to a break-in. ”
As is usually the case, where there is an issue like this occurring on social networks, there is an entire Web site or sites that are launched to address, solve, or sometimes exploit the situation. Sounding a warning against helping thieves burgle your home is one such site called, plainly enough, Please Rob Me .
What this site does – or rather used to do because it has stopped – was to stream data from Foursquare, showing how many homes are left unattended after their residents have announced their plans to be elsewhere. The tagline of the site is, “Raising awareness about over-sharing.” Apparently someone felt Please Rob Me was oversharing, too, however, and it has discontinued running those lists of unattended places.
The out-of-town crier
The site picked up the information when the Foursquare disclosures were posted by users to Twitter, making it totally available to anyone on the planet with access to the Internet.
Now the Please Rob Me home page says, “We are satisfied with the attention we’ve gotten for an issue that we deeply care about … Currently we’re looking through the emails we’ve received regarding the future of the website. As soon
as we’ve thought of a suitable way to continue, you’ll find it right here. We’re not showing the Twitter messages anymore.”
One could make a strong case that this site, which launched just last February, was exacerbating the problem caused by oversharing on the social networks. That may well be the reason it is looking to reinvent itself. But Please Rob Me did succeed in getting the attention of the mainstream media, as witnessed by this morning’s NBC broadcast segment. There is value in that.
As for me, my Facebook and Twitter messages announce that I’m always home, I never go anwhere, and my 145-pound Bullmastiff is a light sleeper on his bed just inside the back door.
A further reminder that individual privacy is hard to maintain in the Web 2.0 era came two weeks ago when a Rutgers University freshman committed suicide after seeing his sexual activity broadcast over the Web. It had been secretly recorded over a Webcam in his bedroom Sept. 19.
Tyler Clementi, 18, jumped to his death off the George Washington Bridge shortly afterwards. Two Rutgers students – one of whom was Clementi’s roommate — stand accused of secretly webcasting the sexual encounter involving Clementi and another man who has not been identified.
It’s the latest tragic episode in what many are calling cyber-voyeurism.
In an ironic twist, Clementi leaped to his death apparently over this webcast and yet used the same Internet to announce his intention, according to ABC News. His message, posted to his Facebook page Sept. 22 at 8:42 p.m. read simply, “Jumping off the gw bridge sorry.”
The attorney for one of the two students charged with invasion of privacy said in a statement Tuesday that his client, “committed no crime,” and described her as a “wonderful, caring and talented young woman with a bright future.”
In New Jersey, it is a fourth-degree crime to collect images showing sexual content or nudity without the subject’s consent, and it is a third-degree crime to transmit the relevant content.
Although invasion of privacy laws exist in every state, the application of those laws vary from state to state. And, unless those cases lead to wrongful death charges or civil claims, the punishment can be fairly light, especially in cases where suicides result from the humiliation caused by the unwanted exposure.
One university English professor, Brian McNely, has noted about this Internet overkill, “You have the capacity to yell ‘fire’ in a movie theatre, but there would be consequences of some legal ramification. Things that students say online publicly like Twitter and Facebook, they should assume those things are going to stay forever. People have to be very wary about what they post.”
This is the fourth time the focus of this blog has been on either self-disclosed “sexting” or on individuals suffering the consequence of others posting sexual messages or other revealing information about their friends. What some people have seen as a passing fad is apparently more than that. What some people feared to be a damaging application of the social media has proven to be just that.
The fact that nearly all of the suicides that have occurred so far involve teenage victims make the problem even more egregious.
The medium is the massage
The late Marshall McLuhan often spoke of how each media form “massages” us differently and has different effects on it. For example, watching a traumatic event like 9/11 on live television produces a different effect on us than reading about it the next morning in the newspaper.
The same is true with the Web and the social media found on them. We can feel a real invasion of privacy when unwanted messages, photos, or videos are posted about us, and rightly so. And that sense of embarrassment – which reached the point of humiliation with Tyler Clementi – can lead to tragic consequences.