Tag Archives: review


I use my cell phone almost all day. I am constantly reading, searching, texting, communicating, and playing with it. I try to dedicate at least an hour a day where I am not within five feet of it. And that is hard. I want to play music out of it or do something at all times. I find it to be the most important gadget I have ever owned. The only thing that I don’t do on it is write. I go to my desktop computer for that as I find the keyboard and the large monitor refreshing.

I wake up with the phone feet from my face. I shower, watch WGN Morning News, and jump into my car where it speaks to my phone through Bluetooth technology to let me listen to a podcast or Pandora. When I get to work, I may text on occasion, but my eyes are glued on my two screen setup, unless I have to write on paper or I’m in a meeting. I jump back into the car where it resumes playing whatever I was listening to 8 hours earlier. I get home and turn my desktop computer on or the television on and have my phone in my hands or within a few feet of my fingers. And when I go to bed, I set my sleep app to track my movements. It’s a totalitarian device – from cradle to grave. Yet five years ago, I did not even have a Smartphone. Today, it is the thing I grab if I have a minute of downtime.

HerHer plays on this phenomenon. Within a course of a generation, we went from dial-up connections and chat rooms to constant Wi-Fi and apps. Spike Jonze envisions a world where we have a “friend.” The extent of that friend seems to depend on the needs of the individual and the person sets the limits. But as you see people walk around, everyone is talking to themselves. There is not a group of people who travel together in the entire movie. There are couples but they seem strange in the world. They are almost unsettling.

I posit that that is the point of the movie. Personal relationships are unsettling and we fear that reality in an age where we don’t have to interact that way. We can telecommute to the office, ask Siri questions, be rejected by a potential suitor with a computer screen between you, and IM/text all night long. If we didn’t have physical needs, I wonder how many people would explore the world.

We have all had the experience where we are at a restaurant and we notice a child playing with a device and someone will comment on how bad it is for the child. We have all had the experience where a group of people will sit down and immediately start playing with their devices instead of interacting with each other. We have all seen two people walk by us in what seems like a pairing but they are talking to two separate individuals through their phones or listening to separate music. Her shows us why we are uncomfortable with all of this when we see it but we don’t notice it when we live it. It is an uncomfortable movie, but within minutes of it ending, I saw three people turn their phones on.

Joaquin Phoenix’s character longs for his soon-to-be ex-wife and the past they shared, but at the same time, he has changed his entire perspective on what he needs based on this devastating event. He writes letters for other people for a living because everyone has disconnected from their feelings. He dreams of his wife but stays in his home playing video games, talking to strangers through his computer, and eventually falling in love with his OS. No matter how much you may have liked Windows XP, I will assume you didn’t have sexual feelings about it.

Hotter OnlineWhen I began dating, I used online programs and the first thing I noticed was that the same people seemed to have joined all of them. They seemed to not even want to move past the stage of chatting in emails. They would flirt with me and put butterflies in my belly but then disappear. A few months later, they may return. In some instances, they remembered talking to you but I assume that was because they didn’t delete their chat history. They lived online and continually looked for something more because the Internet provides you with a cornucopia of options. In theory, there is no end to what you can get or expect to get. There is always something coming around the corner. And perfection exists – and we must find it.

There is a subculture of digital personalities so we create our own image of perfection. We craft a persona on Facebook, Twitter, dating sites, and other online arenas. Many of us like to put positive feelings out there about our lives, children, houses, and jobs. We express all of the best of our lives. Others love to dwell on the negatives and use Facebook and Twitter as a release. But we craft what we want to say very carefully. We respond to certain people but not others. I think we love having such control in the image we put forward. We love having a group of people to commiserate with and to join in our joys.

Her gives us our own individual promise of what we perceive Facebook to give us. Samantha (Scarlett Johansson) gave Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) someone he felt he could trust unconditionally though he had no reason to believe that. She was created based on his desires and conditions. She was created for him just like we create our online persona for ourselves. I believe that is why Amy (Amy Adams) has an OS who is a best friend for her and someone that she was left by her husband who left her for a simpler life.

I love the Internet. I love that I have a place to post what I write. I love that I can then post this to Facebook. I know I am walking into a trap though. I know what is new and exciting today will be useless tomorrow. One day, Facebook will be a deserted island with all of these pictures and posts looking like the remnants of the Minoan culture. And I will want to write and be apart of the next thing. I would buy an OS to be my friend. I just hope I don’t lose sight of my real friends. I just hope I don’t lose sight in the reality of life and not the perfection that we have come to expect from the Internet and our online personas. Because even what you think is perfect today may not be tomorrow. And shockingly, there is nothing wrong with that flux.

Horrible things happen to people and they can happen to them without 100 people seeing the melancholy and expecting cheering up. Great things will happen to you in your life where there will be no one to celebrate or “like” it. You will fall in love. You will lose love. You will regain love. But most of all you will grow. You will fail and you will be hurt by people.

But if you want to live in a world where no one is hurt, then online is perfect for you because you can choose to ignore the hurt and the loneliness. You can try to find a little perfect corner where you will succeed – but it isn’t real. It isn’t life and it will never be perfect. It will shift and it will change. And you will need to know how to honestly react to it. It won’t just be logging off.

Book 2 (of 52) – Take 2: The Hangman’s Daughter by Oliver Pötzsch

The first books I got addicted to were murder mysteries. I began with the Boxcar children series, Encyclopedia Brown, and the Hardy Boys and made my way to Agatha Christie by fifth grade. Every once in a while, I try to grab one at the library. The cover of the most recent Potzsch book about the Hangman of Schongau looked interesting, so I decided to find the first volume in the series.

The story begins with a young man being found dead in a river with a mark on his shoulder that resembled the symbol of a witch. The town had witch trials years ago, and the hangman’s grandfather was the hangman at the time. The midwife in town was the main suspect as she was seen with witch items and with several orphans, including the boy who died.

Pötzsch paints a wonderful image of life in the dark ages, and by wonderful, I mean dire and desperate and insane. But the characters are very well formed, especially the main three: the hangman, his daughter, and the local doctor’s son. The story was alright though. It had a flow and became easy to read. Most of the twists did not turn too much. In the end, this was more about the characters and the time period than the murder of the young child.

Torture plays a large part in the entire book. The hangman has the duty to get a confession out of the midwife that he believes to be innocent. Through his training and experiences torturing people, he gives the midwife tactics and in some cases, drugs, to make the torture more bearable. Obviously, this theme has ramifications today – but the whole of this story puts town over truth, morality, and justice. All of the major characters seem to be okay with the torture. All of the major characters appear to know why the ending is justified.

A few more books follow these characters and I may pick them up. There is a lot to like about this book. And honestly, a lot more to think about at the end than most thrillers.

Book 1 of 52 (Try #2) – Fearing the Stigmata by Matt Weber

When I was in sixth grade, I remember someone asking me what I wanted to be when I grew up. And at this point in your childhood, you stop saying you’re going to be a race car driver or a fireman or something outrageous and begin thinking seriously about your career. Kids begin to understand what their parents do. They begin to understand what their friends’s parents do for a living. Lawyers emerge. Doctors blossom. And I said that I wanted to be the Pope.

I never aimed low. I wasn’t going to be happy as a local parish pastor. I wanted to be the Pope. Most likely, if you want to be the Pope, you shouldn’t be the Pope. But I was an altar service and Mass was incredibly important to me. I was coming up to my confirmation and was about to become an adult in the Church, which meant I decided if I wanted to go to Church and how I would grow up as a Catholic.

To put it lightly, this was not something that continued as I got older. I drifted from the Church for multiple reasons. But recently, thanks to a few of my friends, reacquainting myself with Father Larry when he was back in the United States and the fact that John likes to sleep in and I have nowhere to really go on Sunday mornings if he sleeps past nine, I have returned to the Church.

I go just about every Sunday and have rediscovered why I love it so much. But it is hard. I disagree with so many positions that the Church and its representatives have taken. I am incredibly happy with myself and how I live, but I doubt the Church would agree. So, when I was at the library last week to find a few books to read to try again to read a book a week, I saw Fearing the Stigmata by Matt Weber.

Fearing the Stigmata by Matt Weber

Mr. Weber works for CatholicTV and does short videos about being a young Catholic – young being 27. The book made me very intrigued by Mr. Weber’s videos. And I really enjoyed his book. He wrote about a lot of events and situations that reminded me of fears that I had growing up Catholic.

Weber seems like a guy I would really enjoy talking to about the Church and life. He has a great perspective on what the Church means and how he describes the universality of it. The stories that stuck out to me involved him going to a Portugeuse mass and realizing that it is still the same thing and that even though he understood nothing of it, it was still powerful and it still showed exactly why the universal Church is so amazing. I also enjoyed his stories of fear. The title of the book points to this, but the Church does make someone who truly wants to live a holy life fearful of so much. All of the mysteries and miracles are frightening. The altar is also a frightening place – you cannot cross it, you must bow in front of it, its reverence. But it is frightening, not like a horror movie, but in its glory. All that it represents makes you feel small and that is scary. Many of the stories that Mr. Weber tells relate to this fear of what the Church represents.

My only dilemma with the book is its subtitle: “Humorously Holy Stories of a Young Catholic’s Search for a Culturally Relevant Faith.” I don’t know if these stories really hit on the search for a culturally relevant faith. The only part of the book that touches on this, in my opinion, relates to how one’s Catholic-ness figures into one’s American-ness. Unfortunately, it is only a few pages. I wanted more of this and hope to find it in Mr. Weber’s videos.

But as a 30 year old who is trying to navigate his way through and back into the Catholic Church, I really enjoyed the stories and how Weber details what the Church and religion means to him.

Only The Lonely…Sit Online Waiting…Sometimes Angry

In college, everyone had America Online Instant Messenger (AIM). We all had screen names that were related to us but that were not our God-given monikers. Mine was nightwing8782.

I wish I could pull this off
I still use that today on many things, such as my Xbox. I remember sitting at my Dell for hours at night hoping that someone would send me a message to see how I was. I would post statuses that would just ask for communication. And it drove me crazy whenever no one would say hello. I would go to chat rooms or other places just to have some personal interaction. The ironic part is that only five feet away was a roommate, twenty feet away were fellow cross country runners, and within a quarter-mile was over 900 real-life people.

When I read the article Is Facebook Making Us Lonely in this month’s The Atlantic Monthly, I had to agree with the main point, but I also had to disagree with the idea that this is a new phenomenon or that it is isolated to Facebook. The Internet has created a home for the lonely in a way that even Roy Orbison couldn’t imagine. It gives us a glimpse into the good days of all of our acquaintances. It allows people to stay close but far enough away as to not get hurt. But as the writer notes in the article, it’s a tool that can be used in many ways.

Over the past few years, I have worked at using the Internet, Facebook, and even this blog, as more of a tool instead of my source of communication. I do not sit on Gmail, or AIM, or any other instant message mechanism hoping that someone will contact me. I do my best to call people and now I actually make the bold decision to have physical friends. I turn to Facebook to share in people’s joys, not to dwell in my failures. I use Facebook to post stories that I have written, this blog that I have begun to take more seriously, and share a few thoughts about my day.

But the Internet over the years has also given me confidence.

This past weekend, I went to C2E2, the Chicago Comic-Con. Yes, there are lots of people who wear costumes of their favorite superheroes (as shown above), video game characters, and other themes that they enjoy. I went with friends from work who had listened to me talk about the mundane daily interactions among the comic book Internet community. When I first read comics in high school, I did not know a single other person who went to a comic shop on Wednesday. Even in college, I would hide them under my bed because I thought they were embarrassing. No one understand my AIM moniker for instance. Nightwing is the adult version of the first Robin, Dick Grayson. But then I went online to find people who like what I like. I found communities with message boards, blogs, podcasts, and lots of other mediums. I wrote a Blue Beetle story for a fan fic Yahoo Group. I realized I wasn’t alone. And it was marvelous!

But the Internet can be an angry, lonely place. At The Iceberg Lounge, Steve K. writes blogs about recent trades or comics and recently wrote about the state of the Internet community. This is a community that I dream of becoming a part of. I imagine sitting around a table at a convention one day with all of these great critics and men and women who just love comics. I find comics so interesting and amazing and I dream of talking about it. I love talking about the different art styles, some that I like and some that I dislike. I think to myself about the great writing being done at many of the small presses.

As Steve K. notes, it is also full of vitriol, and it seems to be on the rise. The Internet (and Facebook) give us all the chance to complain to a wide audience. We all become Simon Cowells – judging people we barely know to try to be funny, iconoclastic, annoying. I am sure that everyone has at least one friend on Facebook or Twitter or whatever that is constantly complaining about their job, their spouse, their kids, their … I might be that friend to you.

And there is a reason why: people like reading angry diatribes. People like bad reviews. A good review or a good story doesn’t get the attention of someone talking about how sad they are or how bad their friend/spouse/boss/President is. Think about your likes or comments on a wall. Do you respond to positive thoughts or to negative thoughts? I know I remember the negative ones more. The same is true about comic book commentary. I remember when someone writes badly about Stephen Wacker or Marvel. I remember when someone badmouths something that Dan Didio is doing over at DC Comics. It’s more entertaining.

From Comic Book Resources

This creates isolation, however. If the marketplace of ideas does not hear good thoughts due to lack of voice, then those who, for instance, liked Avengers v. X-Men don’t feel comfortable adding their two cents to the dialogue. If someone is trying to get attention on Facebook posts about how great their day was and no one asks why, but if they post about how bad their day was and get five people trying to sympathize, what behavior is incentivized? The Internet can become very homogeneous with everyone agreeing and posting on a topic such as to to fit in. The Internet can become very homogeneous because no one wants to counter the points that others are making and decide to hide in the shadows instead.

Loneliness created from a man-made device is difficult. It may be ingrained into distant relationships. But when people reach out because they want to talk about a comic or their day at work, it may be helpful to try to respond to the positive ones than only the negative ones.