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Archive for the 'Technology' Category

Zeitgeist: Superman's First Comic Sells Online for $1m


Action Comics No.1

Action Comics No.1 (1938), the first appearance of Superman, created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster.

Earlier this week Action Comics No. 1, which features the first appearance of Superman, sold online for a record-breaking $1m (£640,000).

This event marks an important cultural milestone in media for a few different reasons, all centered on some notion of populism.

1. Internet commerce. The comic was sold through one of the many successful but niche, mom’n pop auction websites borne by the internet age — Unprepared for heavy traffic after news of the sale spread, the site was down yesterday, except for a press release.

From this perspective, Action Comics No. 1’s sale highlights how far internet e-commerce has come. Less than five years ago, making purchases on the internet was a scary thought to many, especially those 55 and older. And the notion that someone would spend up to a $1m on a less-than-secure-looking, website for a comic book would be laughable.

Detective Comics No. 27: Batman's first appearance

Shortly after I wrote this post, Detective Comics No. 27 (1939), which features the first appearance of Batman, exceeded Action Comics No.1's sale price, going for $1.08m.’s big sale is indicative of a broader trend toward trusting non-big brand e-commerce sites, a sentiment ushered in by trailblazers like eBay and innovated by upstarts like Threadless. As trust in online purchasing burgeons and apprehension dissolves, the internet’s democratization of information will have increasingly populist effects on e-commerce, providing a relatively level playing field for any who aim to sell their wares to the internet’s vast audience.

2. Comic books as high art. Long before recent ventures into new formats, comic books were one of the first popular forms of multimedia art, combining elements of literature and visual art in one medium. For much of their history, however, comic books have been regarded and treated as a low-brow form of children’s literature. But, with the conceptual treatment of mass-produced art in the pop art movement, some artists (like Roy Lichtenstein) took style elements from the medium’s early practitioners and elevated it through their own critically-acclaimed work.

Separately, as many who witnessed comic books’ maturation as a medium are now grown up, academia and other ‘elite’ cultural arbiters have started to treat comic books with some intellectual respect, instead referring to them as ‘graphic novels.’ Action Comics No. 1’s sale marks an important step in elevating a medium to high art: someone paying a boatload of money to acquire a piece of it. Roughly tripling the past highest paid sum for a comic book, the purchase puts comic books in the big league. Hell, auction house Christie’s online hub places the upper end of the price filter for paintings at $600k.

3. The story of Superman and his creators. After five years of failure and waiting, Jerry Siegel and Joel Schuster published Action Comic’s No.1 through National Allied Publications. As two young Jewish men in the American midwest during the early stages of WWII, Siegel and Schuster aimed to create a just and powerful embodiment of their frustration with a world that they perceived as unjust and unlistening to the plights of the powerless. Each, too, had personal stories that contributed to Superman’s inception. Siegel’s father was killed in an armed robbery, and Schuster was refused from military service due to his horrible eyesight.

The rise of Superman’s importance in popular culture, evidenced by Action Comics No.1’s sale, is indicative of a broader ideological trend — the valorization of the outcast martyr. An alien stranded on earth, Superman was raised by human parents to desire the attainment of social justice. As some Superman scholars note:

Among the things that made Superman popular was his fight for social justice, rather than law and order. The Superman of late 1930’s had no qualms about doing all sorts of illegal things in order to right what he felt were wrongs. This included getting confessions out of crooked politicians by threatening to injure or kill them, kidnapping and forcing weapon makers into fighting on the front lines of a war and trapping a Mining Company owner and his rich friends in an unsafe mine that his employees worked in. Some people would criticize Superman and superheroes in general because of these types of stories, saying they taught “might makes right” and were fascist.

And further, as others note, Superman’s experience resembles, in some ways, the plight of unpopular teenagers in high school and Jewish people trying to adapt to an anti-Semitic society. Like their presentations of self to society at large, the character is Clark Kent, and Superman puts on a ‘mask’ (glasses & street clothes) as his disguise as a normal person.

To end, I’ll leave you with a favorite painting of Superman by Alex Ross, one of my favorite ‘graphic novel’ artists. As my vernacular would suggest, I’m a bit of a comic book geek (, which would also explain why I’d write this post…).

Alex Ross' version of Superman.

Note: This post was written days before the sale of Detective Comics No. 27, which features the first appearance of Batman. While Batman’s story is certainly less populist in content (given Bruce Wayne’s elite upbringing and place in life), points 1 and 2 of this post remain extremely relevant. Not only that, but many might posit that, like Superman, ‘Bruce Wayne’ is Batman’s disguise, and Batman is the true character.

The transaction was conducted through the auction site Stephen Fishler, the co-owner of the site and its sister dealership, Metropolis Collectibles, orchestrated the sale.

Fishler said the seller was a “well-known individual” in New York with a pedigree collection and the buyer had previously bought an Action Comics No1 of lesser importance.

“It [Action Comics No1] is considered by most people as the most important book,” said John Dolmayan, the comic book enthusiast and dealer best known as the drummer in the rock band System of a Down. “It kind of ushered in the age of the superheroes.”

Dolmayan, who owns Torpedo Comics, paid $317,000 for an Action Comics No1 issue on behalf of a client last year.

The Buzz Around Google Buzz


Google Buzz Logo

Beyond Status Messages: Google's push into social sharing of updates, photos, videos & more.

Leaked yesterday in The Wall Street Journal, Google announced the deployment of Google Buzz, its exciting foray into providing its own real-time social media platform.

Other Google Social Media Endeavors

To say, however, Buzz is Google’s first social media venture is not quite right. In 2004, Google launched Orkut, its proprietary social network, to little fanfare and minimal Stateside impact to this day. According to demographic reports, over 50 percent of users hail from Brazil, roughly 20 percent from India, and a measly 17 percent from the US.

Interestingly, Google’s nascent real-time social media search has received considerably less media coverage (largely obscured by its release of Google Goggles on the same day and the existence of rivals like Collecta and Bing Twitter), although its ultimate impact on the largely untamed social media landscape, I think, could be tremendous. Echoing Michael Arrington’s sentiment, social media now feels like search did a decade ago. Perhaps Google can be the transformative force in real-time media, as it was in taming the vastness of the internet. Arrington writes:

A decade ago most of us were using AltaVista or something similar for search. No one was really complaining very much about the huge amount of spam and other noise that cluttered the results because we didn’t know there was a better way. Then Google came along with Page Rank, and had a profound effect on the quality of Internet search. Suddenly (and it really was that sudden), we couldn’t imagine going back to AltaVista and searching pages of results for the thing that Google gave us immediately.

The online social landscape today sort of feels to me like search did in 1999. It’s a mess, but we don’t complain much about it because we don’t know there’s a better way.

Google Buzz

Google Buzz may very well be the piece of social media that “unites the clans,” so to speak. While Gmail has allowed its 146 monthly million users (as of July 2009) to update Gchat statuses, this functionality lacked the timeline-view that allows one to view her friends’ update history, akin to viewing friends’ feeds on Facebook and Twitter. While Buzz links to external sites like YouTube and Picasa (which it owns), it also links to Twitter but doesn’t link to Facebook.  After a brief look at some of its other features and factors like competing ID systems, it becomes clear, I think, that Google is taking a big swing at Facebook with Google Buzz.

Multimedia sharing and viewing interface. A demonstration of Google Buzz’s multimedia viewing and sharing tools (see the video posted below) reveals moderately superior tools to Facebook’s. With roughly 15 billion photos (and adding 100 million/mo.) Facebook is quickly becoming the front-runner of user-generated online photo repositories (second only to ImageShack, which is growing at a much slower rate). It’s Facebook’s game to lose, and integration of Picasa into Buzz, which will ride Gmail’s coattails, will breathe new life into Google’s picture-posting positioning (say that three times fast).

Sharing privately and publicly & integration into Gmail. Unlike Facebook or Twitter (I think), Buzz will allow users to share updates with specific users (and only them, if the user so chooses), and will send responses immediately into one’s e-mail inbox. Beyond the benefit of automatically signing up users for Buzz, utilizing its integration into Gmail places Buzz updates in a much more interesting space than a mere update — part broadcast, part e-mail, part private message, all multimedia. A Google buzz communication may altogether become a new medium for communicating content-rich  messages to one or many users.

And further, the demographic ubiquity of Gmail versus the relatively older crowd of Tweeters may make it the preferred broadcasting medium over Twitter, placing it in direct competition with Facebook.

Mashable’s Adam Ostrow, however, makes an interesting point:

… Gmail has historically added people to your contacts based on e-mail interactions. Hence, this contact list often varies significantly from your friends on social sites where relationships need to be made explicitly.

In other words, your Gmail contacts aren’t necessarily the same people you want to share status updates, photos and videos with. This is an issue that shouldn’t be overlooked in evaluating the new features Google is soon to unveil.

True story, Adam — but neither Facebook nor Twitter allows updates to reach a specific group of people (as I said, I could be wrong; it seems that the closest thing is Facebook’s multi-user messages). Separately, it’s oftentimes the case that Facebook users don’t want all of their Facebook friends (which include, in many cases, family members, co-workers and others who you’d prefer not to see the “less professional” side of you) to see their updates, and so end up not posting their updates altogether.

That’s my two cents on Google Buzz thus far. Please feel free to send/share thoughts and other articles as the subject gains more media traction. Until then, bask in the glow of Buzz’s demo video below.

The iPad: 3 Reasons Why a Built-In Camera Will Make It a Must-Have Device


Steve Jobs and Apple's new product: the iPad

Steve Jobs holding up the iPad, to be released in April 2010.

Rumors that Apple’s highly anticipated iPad will ship with a webcam gives me reason to believe that Steve Jobs’ tablet from on high is, indeed, the must-have item of the next decade.

A webcam not only adds value to the iPad’s functionality, but it also can potentially transform how we communicate with one another, interact with the real world, and convey our identities through social media.

1. As a Portable Video Replacement for the Cell Phone. Imagine a world in which people replace cell phones with iPads. Looking into the face of callers on a 10-inch color screen replaces audio-only communication. Not only that — instead of paying for the minutes and data plan for your smart phone, you only pay one flat fee for unlimited iPad 3g/4g service.

Skype on iPhone - click to Learn more about its limitations.

2. Augmented Reality Viewer. Imagine pointing your iPad at an object and/or place and immediately receiving a wide array of information about the object, which is overlaid on the image. Imagine you’re an anatomy student looking at a cadaver. Now a person in a mall. Now an art lover in a museum. The possibilities are endless.

3. The Ultimate Social Media Device. Imagine a world of mobile video journals, equipped with what is effectively a 10-inch mirror. Narcissistic video bloggers will have an even better tool to give on-the-go, content-rich updates of their thoughts and physical appearance at any given moment. Enabling mobile, video-rich social media updates may also empower a new level of citizen journalism, beyond video snippets and mobile tweeting.

Assuming both strong networks to support iPad and that Apple will leave these features unlocked — admittedly “ifs” — these features (enabled by another big “if,” the webcam) can alter the communications landscape even more so, I think, than the reader features will immediately affect the old media landscape.

Wiki-counter-terrorism & Social Surveillance


Social Drone

An MQ-1 Predator drone returned from a mission to Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan with a new paintjob, courtesy of

In his book Wikinomics, business strategist Don Tapscott writes:

“Employees drive performance by collaborating with peers across organizational boundaries, creating what we call a ‘wiki workplace.’ Customers become ‘prosumers’ by cocreating goods and services rather than simply consuming the end-product. So called-supply chains work more effectively when the risk, reward, and capability to compete major projects—including massively complex products like cars, motorcycles, and airplanes—are distributed across planetary networks of partners who work as peers (1).”

According to a recent article in The New York Times, unmanned surveillance drones are currently collecting more video intelligence than analysts are able to handle. The volume of footage taken from last year’s surveillance efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan nearly triple what it was only a few years ago–a grand total of roughly 24 years’ worth of footage, if watched without break. As operations in Afghanistan will certainly escalate in the near future and U.S. troops are withdrawn from both countries over time, the problem of excess, unmanned surveillance will only compound.

What if, as customers of national security, citizens aided the government’s counterterrorism surveillance efforts through mass collaborative online efforts? The government could post snippets of video on a centralized media hub, and citizens could review videos, comment on them, and flag them (if they see something suspicious). The government might even provide incentives for quality interactions — say, a fiscal or honorary rewards for good citizenship. Perhaps other citizens could rate others’ interactions, providing an element of peer evaluation and competition. Government intelligence officers could use the number of unique flags and/or comments to make triage decisions, and users could help screen the verity of flags by giving them a ‘thumbs up’ or ‘thumbs down.’

Citizens would become ‘prosumers’ of national security, adding value to the end product of counterterrorist intelligence because of their vested interest in U.S. national security.

There are undeniably both interesting and disconcerting aspects of this proposition. I’ll address what I see to be the most immediate issues at stake.

The Big Brother Effect & and Society of Distrust. If implemented, social surveillance should be limited to foreign threats, most would agree. Mass collaborative surveillance of faraway lands would foster national antagonism (in addition to a sense of social responsbility) toward threats external to a nation’s society. If focused inward, however, our trust in one another might suffer from fear of Red Scare-like accusations, akin to how many around the world distrust police. Separately, dislike for Americans in the international community may be exacerbated by citizens’ participation in military surveillance efforts.

Securispam and Poor Intelligence. For those of you familiar with the comment boards of YouTube, you’ll find that some of the comments are sometimes, well, pretty crummy and downright idiotic at times, even on serious videos. Inviting open commentary on quasi-sensitive information could result in a deluge of crappy ‘intelligence,’ not to mention create PR-nightmares that may result from less-than-politically correct commentary that media outlets — both domestic and overseas — catch wind of. Additionally, opening up participation to the online world could create security windows for foreign intelligence operatives to spam video surveillance posting boards with faulty intelligence. Imagine how many times you’ve watched a crummy video or read a stupid article because of how many diggs it received.

Needless to say, there are plenty of holes in my half-baked plan for wikicounterterrorism. But, the problem remains: as our government is increasingly inundated with an endless streams of surveillanc edata, a better system of reviewing what could be important information is needed. While creating an open wiki-hub for commenting and flagging video may not be the right answer, I tend to think there is something right in the proposition to incorporate mass collaborative techniques, at least structurally, into the processes for reviewing large amounts of sensitive data. Whether that means opening up the surveillance data to the American general public or limiting who can access the information — e.g., to government officials and/or outsourced private military companies — the excuse that there’s simply too much surveillance out there will not suffice, if national security threats pass under the radar.

To end this post, I’ll leave you with a  comment from then-Senator Barack Obama on citizen participation in national security efforts:

“”To succeed [in the War on Terrorism], we must improve our civilian capacity. The finest military in the world is adapting to the challenges of the 21st century. But it cannot counter insurgent and terrorist threats without civilian counterparts who can carry out economic and political reconstruction missions – sometimes in dangerous places. As President, I will strengthen these civilian capacities, recruiting our best and brightest to take on this challenge. I will increase both the numbers and capabilities of our diplomats, development experts, and other civilians who can work alongside our military. We can’t just say there is no military solution to these problems. We need to integrate all aspects of American might.”

The Counterculture of Our Future: 'Jacked In' versus 'Checked Out'


It’s appropriate, I think, that the first post of this blog covers a subject characterized by all four categories of the blog’s tagline —  “media, technology, culture and life.” The idea for the post — the emergent counterculture of those who reject a world in which outward-facing identities are increasingly characterized by social media — arose from two very different conversations I recently experienced.

An image pulled from DeviantArt by CrapsY (username).

The first was with an old friend, Michael P. (whose facebook profile I took the below quotation from), who forsook the life of  a Harvard-graduated consultant to work in a coffee shop and live as a Central Square hipster. Our conversation, which ranged from ‘catching up’ to ‘big issues,’ gravitated toward Michael’s thoughts on an emergent counterculture that he termed ‘the unplugged’ — that is, those who refuse to subscribe to a lifestyle that increasingly depends on modern technology. A proponent of this lifestyle, Michael made significant efforts in the last couple years to reduce his online footprint, pare down his digital interactions, and do things like increase the size of his record collection and work on a screenplay about an 80’s record producer.

As I understood them, Michael’s views (and those of ‘the unplugged’) are premised on the notion that technology detracts from our lives’ experiences by drawing our attention away from our real-world experiences and interactions. Michael posits that those who are ‘plugged in’ misguidedly reify technological advances as ‘progress.’ While technological artifacts seemingly make our lives better, they actually distance us from one another and definitively human activities — e.g., expressing ourselves through art and engaging the world through our tactile senses (sound familiar?).

The ‘unplugged’ view, I think, tends to overly romanticize the past and a (purportedly) simpler way of socializing, expressing oneself, and interacting with the world. Though I understand the love for and actually tend to prefer activities that more intimately (in a physical sense) connect me to the product of my work, I (and, I think, many others) view technological artifacts as just another set of tools we can use to interact with the world — e.g., a paintbrush, a pencil, a pair of glasses. In other words, technological advances most directly affect media, not expression. Or, more simply, technological advances most directly affect the tools we use, not how we use them.

That said, the forms of expression undeniably change as a result of the given media through which they are expressed. The notion of ‘friendship,’ for instance, has changed dramatically. In a world where roughly 30 percent of the facebook friendships of those between 18 and 24 are people whom they have never actually met, ‘friendship,’ it seems, certainly means something less substantial than what it perhaps once did. For photographers, the development of Adobe’s Creative Suite has changed how they view their craft.

In this light, I think the dichotomy between ‘unplugged’ and ‘plugged in’ is misguided. The analogy implies a reliance upon a sort of technological energy for functionality. But technology is more than that–at least for me. It enriches, enhances and augments my reality; it creates opportunities to share information, connect with others and learn about things I never would have been able to otherwise. In many ways, my subscription to a life filled with technological artifacts is more akin to the Matrix’s ‘jacking in’ — that is, it’s a choice to participate in a whole other experience of reality (I recognize the negative implications that this term may hold. My use of this term is also an admission that there is certainly something lost in exchanging the simplicity of more immediate physical interactions with the world for a view shaped by a world in which technological advances are a given). In contrast, a life without technology, I think, is a rejection of participation in this world and its benefits — and so, I will term it ‘checking out.’

This distinction leads me to think of the second conversation I had on this subject. During my final interview presentation with Jack Morton Worldwide, where I now work in business development, Liz Bigham, the Director of Brand Marketing, asked me if I perceived a pull-back reaction to a world saturated with social media — a desire for real, physical connections with other people. During the interview, my first response was that the nature of interactions is being transformed by media and the capabilities of technology. That is, the line between ‘real’ and ‘virtual’ experiences would continue to erode as time progressed, and any desire for ‘physical’ experiences could eventually be entirely satisfied by virtual ones.

But thinking back on this question, I’m not certain this is the case. I anticipate that the ideological divide between ‘jacked in’ and ‘checked out’ peoples will only increase as technologies transform our experiences of reality more dramatically. Michael’s disdain for technology isn’t fading quickly, and there’s something intuitively appealing about his rejection of the ‘jacked in’ life that evokes sympathy. Don’t I also enjoy it when I get out to nature, leave behind my cell phone and computer, and cut myself off from the technological world? But my memory of the practicality of using technology always seems to win out. I like having a world of information at my fingertips, the people I know available at the touch of a button, and the host of possibilities technology provides me. I suppose, though, that’s the divide–some people don’t.

But perhaps there is something to my initial intuition in my conversation with Liz, and the ‘checked out’ counterculture will ultimately have less ammunition to fuel its ideology. At the core of disdain for technology, I think, is disdain for ‘the complex,‘ a purportedly enhanced reality in which our actions must conform to the constraints placed upon them by the limitations of technology. What this disdain fails to recognize is that accompanying the trend of technological complexity is an ever-increasing tendency toward simplicity in design. User interfaces are becoming more elegant and intuitive, despite increasingly complex back-ends. Physically, technological artifacts — e.g., televisions — are also becoming less cumbersome and streamlined. This tendency toward design simplicity will only become more apparent as  futures waves of technological artifacts reach us.

My guess: ‘checked out’ people will resist until Apple comes out with a strong enough ad campaign for its iTablet.

“As I look around the contemporary American scene I am puzzled by what seems generally to pass for a historical object or monument…With us the association seems to be not with our politically historical past…what we cherish are mementos of a bygone daily existence without a definite date. Archie Bunker’s armchair will recall–at least to the present generation–not only the many hours agreeably spent watching television, but also the environment, the setting, of a popular program, though not necessarily the program itself.”
– J. B. Jackson

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