Thursday, September 24, 2015

Adult Coloring Books

Adult coloring books seem to be the thing nowadays. I passed by Fully Booked in Cebu yesterday and they dominated the entire front display. Inside, the showcase aisle had more of them. I must have counted twenty to thirty different titles, almost all with mystical themes.

In some ways, I can see their appeal. They're whimsical and surreal, evocative of their childhood counterparts, but with a slightly darker edge. Where they differ from children's coloring books is the intricacy and the closeness of the lines. Good luck trying to fill in the lines with crayons! I must admit, though, they do look nice when they're colored well.

Adult coloring books, though, represent a desperate last stand in the losing battle that book stores are fighting. In the last few years, we've been moving away from physical books, buying less of them or -- heaven forbid! -- reading less of them. Ditto for magazines, largely supplanted now by online ad-supported articles on the Internet. If it's any indicator, Fully Booked Cebu has given up half its second floor space.

Adult coloring books still retain the necessary physicality. (There are online equivalents, of course, but they're not quite the same thing.) Physicality means a far more limited reproducibility, so customers actually have to buy the actual book instead of simply making digital copies. Adult coloring books are bought and sold like the physical goods that traditional stores are premised on.

We also can't deny the other things going for adult coloring books. They're evocative of childhood, and we all seem to feel the need to reconnect with our roots. They sell because they're viral on the Internet. They're easier to produce than books with words. Heck, they're easier and cheaper to produce than even story books because the publishers don't have to spend for color printing!

In the end, I predict they will just be another passing fad. "Adult coloring books are today's loom bands," I heard a friend say. That's the problem with virality: they spike in popularity very quickly, and almost just as quickly disappear into the discount bin.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

That AlDub Thing

Do I know about AlDub? Yes. How can I not? It's all the rage these days. Everywhere I turn on social media, I hear it mentioned. When I shoulder surf over my wife's Facebook feed, it's there. It has even made its way to front page news of national dailies, the most memorable one being GMA network accusing ABS-CBN of sabotaging the segment in its cable channels.

So yeah, I know about AlDub. But for the life of me, I don't know what it's about.

From what I can gather, it's a TV segment on GMA's Eat Bulaga. They got this girl who's a YouTube star as the lead in a telenovela spoof, playing the role of a "yaya" of a family. Unlike other shows, they act out the drama on the streets. Have I got it so far?

And the producers found out they she has a crush on this guy, so they play it up. They show both of them on screen, but they never actually meet. That's the source of the tension that's been building up all this time, hence the buzz. Am I still on track?

All this I know just from the bits and pieces that people talk about. I'm out of the loop because we don't watch TV at home. I suppose I could find out what it's all about by actually watching a segment or looking up all the videos on YouTube. It feels like too much work, though, and I don't know if it's worth it.

Now I'm not denigrating this as a form of entertainment. If it makes people happy, good for them. Live and let live. I have my own pastimes that others outside of that subculture won't get. (If you're curious, at the moment, it's a game called One Way Heroics, a simple yet clever take on Japanese role playing games like Final Fantasy, and you don't really understand what I'm talking about, right?)

But I will say that it's refreshing not to know, to not be caught up in the thing. It means that I can spend the processing cycles that would have otherwise gone to AlDub on the things that I do find important. It means that I still enjoy the freedom to choose, social media virality notwithstanding.

This position, I think, gives me a bit more perspective than someone deeply involved in the phenomenon. I can look at it from the outside with an impassive eye (and at the moment, my emotional distance adjudges it cute but harmless.) I'm like a monk, really, cut off from the concerns of the world and hence able to contemplate on its state and how it relates to the larger context of existence.

The perspective works both ways, however. Just as I'm unable to understand AlDub and unready to involve myself in it, it also means that other people won't necessarily understand my own concerns, either, and will likewise be unready to involve themselves in it.

And so, well, live and let live, may you be as happy as I am, and I as happy as you.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Becoming One of 'Them'

Last Thursday I found out that a paper I had submitted for a conference had been accepted. Subdued as I was externally -- the most I allowed myself was a small "oh yeah" -- internally I was doing cartwheels.

I've been in academe for what's running to be a good seven years now, almost as long as I was with IBM. I hadn't planned on staying this long, but here I still am. I have one foot in administration (in research, ha!) and the other railing and kvetching against How Things Are Done. The time they let me lead the department, oh, I really shook things up. Good thing they took me out, otherwise I really would have done permanent damage.

The point being: for all this time I've spent in a university, I still don't really feel fully part of it. A university, I've found out, is a lifelong calling; when I look at some of my colleagues, this is really true. Their careers have been with the university throughout.

And so this is where my outsider status comes from. I've had a good ten years in industry, and I spent some years after that meandering -- in the family business, in writing and publishing, and around parts of the Philippines on a bike. I've had my turn at the hard knocks and I've developed my own outlook and philosophy.

I took up a Master's because it was expected and it was the proverbial union card. I'm still eyeing a PhD suspiciously because, though it means a higher pay bracket, it's almost a sure track to permanent administration. While I do like doing my kind of creative damage, I'm not sure it's worth the hassle. And if I do have to do a PhD, I'd like to do it in a field I can truly immerse myself in, not simply because it's expected. Age, however, isn't really working in my favor.

Back to the paper in the conference. I'm elated because it's my first. Sure, I've published in magazines and books, but this is my first academic paper in a computer science conference. I feel less of an impostor now, thanks to this new validation. I admit, I admit, like the feeling. However, it's also accompanied by a sense of dread. I'm becoming one of 'them.' Heaven help me, I'm already thinking of the next paper to write.