Poetry Versus Angry Birds

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“I have become comfortably numb.”

-Pink Floyd

When I commute into the city centre, I often take a book of poems. I read them eagerly on the way in to work. But after a long day wrestling with technical, logistical, and managerial issues, on the return journey I will invariably whip out my phone and tap away mindlessly at video games.

Certainly, energy is one factor in this pattern. Poetry demands attention (and good poetry rewards it in equal or greater measure); video games demand little but give back instantly in pleasurable (but short-lived) bursts. So, perhaps when I have less to give, I settle for the lightweight option. But this doesn’t explain the pattern entirely, because I often read and enjoy poems in the comfort of my own home when I am equally or even more tired — and I rarely play video games except to “kill time.”

The other factor is how incredibly uncomfortable I find being crammed into a tube carriage with strangers. Many people seem to take it in stride; for me every second counts. More than once, while playing video games, I have missed my interchange or only just looked up in time to get off at my stop. The stimulation and quick reward cycles of video games speed time up, which is exactly what I want at the end of a long day — to fast-forward through the unpleasant commute home.

Reading poetry, time behaves differently. Continue reading…

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Poem Flow for iPhone

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I found myself in a meeting today with my boss and several other tech-savvy colleagues, discussing the educational and productivity-enhancing implications of various new technologies. When we got around to the iPad, I mentioned its potential to bring some sizzle to literature — possibly in ways the Kindle cannot. I whipped out my iPod Touch, fired up the new Poem Flow for iPhone application that just got released today, and we all sat around for a few minutes watching “The Second Coming” by W.B. Yeats elegantly fade, in measured lines, across my tiny screen. The implications for the larger iPad seemed obvious.

The implications of this technology for poetry, however, remain to be seen. I was contacted at the start of this month by Laura Often, Public Relations for Text Flows, the company that partnered with The Academy of American Poets to bring Poem Flow to life. She was interested in having me blog about their project. I’m not sure if she found me as a former technology blogger or a current poetry blogger, but nonetheless I took a look. Unfortunately, at that time, I could only see a brief Flash-based demonstration on their web site.

Holding my iPod Touch in my hands while it runs this application is a different experience. The font is lovely. The transitions between lines (and parts of lines) are thoughtful and well-executed. In fact, the deliberate slow-down of the reading experience seems to be one of the few actual enhancements I’ve seen technology make to literature — perhaps the only enhancement in this regard, since mostly when it comes to reading, technology encourages us to speed up. Continue reading…

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