FCW cartoonist John Klossner ponders the difficulty of visual humor in a networked world.
It was within moments of submitting my recent blog entry on social networks that I felt like something was wrong. Oh, I can always get a joke or two out of the Luddite angle -- "nothing's been the same since I changed from my tin can and string" -- but it's getting old. There have always been changes in technology, and there always will be. Networking is networking, whether it is gathering around the fire in front of the cave or tweeting to your 90 "friends."
I want to be a Luddite. I want to complain about new technologies and wax nostalgic about the way things were when I was a kid and we had Tang, and Twinkies and how these new technologies are all just hopped-up games. Of course, Luddite-ism is relative. I'm sure that at some point in history people were whining about the development of shoes, umbrellas and sliced bread (but the whining would have been legitimate only if the subject were using sliced bread for shoes).
Why is it so attractive to me to be a Luddite? I think I've figured it out: Technology has created an environment that limits possibilities for visual humor. To put it more plainly, it's hard to draw good cartoons with computers in them. By good cartoons, I want to say that I enjoy -- and aim for, with mixed results -- a combination of visual and verbal in cartoons. I like a funny drawing, accompanied by a funny caption, and vice versa.
Current technology makes it harder to create this combination, leaving us with cartoons that rely more on the caption to provide the humor. You can draw a couple people standing around a ... computer monitor. Or you can draw someone holding a ... cell phone. Or you can draw someone staring at ... their laptop. I want to draw an Alpine goat herder with one of those giant horns, poised over a mountain precipice, complaining that the network seems slow today, but it ends up looking like anyone else standing outside with their cell phone. It's just not the same.
(I also wonder if the urge to gripe about new technologies is a byproduct of aging. If so, are there any minor Luddites? Nine year-olds who wish the world was the way they remember it -- before they started mixing the peanut butter and jelly together in the same jar? I imagine a lot of technology is being met with resistance because it first gains a following with younger users. And does this trickle down? Do 12-year-olds get disgusted with 7-year-olds? I have a control group composed of these ages in my house. I would say "yes," but not for technology-based reasons as much as "don't come in my room!" reasons. Therefore, I can make the logical progression that all complaints about new technology are based on not wanting the new users of these technologies to enter our rooms and touch our things.)
If anything, I should celebrate and encourage the fast growth of technologies. People's tendency to jump to the newest technology, coupled with spammers' and hackers' desires to follow the crowds, means that those of us who linger over our older technologies will benefit from the smaller numbers of users and abusers involved in them. (I find this philosophy also works well in movie rentals.)
Fortunately for those of us in the humor business, there is still plenty of human involvement in all things technology. Virtual training, a subject currently on many minds and blogs, is such an issue. The use of many social media are unpredictable -- they have no established rules, users are making up the standards as they go, and the applications that best serve government and business are still unclear. Throw in IT's and management's need to control technologies and communications in their sphere and -- bingo -- plenty of irony for all.
It seems that many sites that are used for virtual training are also blocked by agency security settings. You can't imagine what a relief this is for me. All this time I had been considering Luddite-ism to be a line in the sand -- a black and white issue. But seeing that even those in the IT business can't decide what technologies are appropriate or not helps me realize that there are plenty of gray areas, and that I'm not alone.
And there will be plenty of cartoon possibilities in the future.