John Damaso, an English teacher at Brophy College Preparatory, has been teaching a unit about dystopia and had his students read my graphic novel “Vision Machine” (available for FREE in pdf and iPad app form).
This thread is for Mr. Damasco’s students (and anyone else!) who has questions for me about “Vision Machine.” Please feel free to post away!
All the best, and thanks for reading!
115 thoughts on ““Vision Machine” comment/question thread”
FROM TWITTER #1: @gregpak Like Montag & Faber in #Fahrenheit451, do you now see any subconscious choices in character names? #BrophyVisionMachine #Period4
The only name I really chose for double meanings was Liz Chitkala Evers. “Evers” felt like it indicated the eternal, something lasting and enduring, which felt appropriate. And if I recall, “Chitkala” means “knowledge” in Sanskrit, which again, felt appropriate.
I’d be curious if you and your class saw any double meanings in other names!
FROM TWITTER #2: @gregpak When you were writing #VisionMachine, were you inspired by any other dystopian stories or authors? #brophyvisionmachine #Period4
FROM TWITTER #3: @gregpak What inspired you to address/attack the fact that nobody reads user agreements in #VisionMachine? #BrophyVisionMachine #Period3
It’s just one of those things I’ve been aware of for years and this seemed like the perfect place to dramatize the dangerous risks we’re all taking EVERY DAY by clicking past those user agreement screens so fast. We all do it, because we can’t really function normally in the world if we don’t. But we’ll all pay for it one day.
After pondering what we could be bound to in a user agreement that we do not read such as in Vision Machine, do you now read the user agreements that are given to you?
Honestly — NO! It’s terrible. But I don’t have the time to go through pages and pages of legalese before updating apps I need to use immediately in order to do my work. I’m trusting that other smart people have done so or that any ridiculous provisions will end up being unenforceable by law.
I have, on the other hand, avoided using certain apps because of warnings I’ve seen about their terms of service. So at least there’s that.
FROM TWITTER #4: @gregpak What is the significance of releasing #VisionMachine for free in all digital formats? #brophyvisionmachine #period3
The book was funded by the Ford Foundation as an educational tool for helping independent media makers imagine the changes that are coming. So from the beginning the goal was to get it out into the world for free in as many ways as possible. We also released it on a Creative Commons license that allows folks to redistribute and remix the work as long as they don’t do it for commercial profit.
So does the price(free) correlate to the message in the story, as it sort of addresses copyright and paying for content?
I believe folks should pay for content if the creators are asking for payment. I don’t in any way support pirating. But this was an educational project designed from the beginning to be given away for free, which I’m very happy about.
FROM TWITTER #5: @gregpak Is there a character in #VisionMachine that portrays you & your thoughts towards a dystopian society? #BrophyVisionMachine #Period5
I’ll never say. 😉
As a writer, I write characters who hold all kinds of different opinions. I don’t tend to use characters as personal mouthpieces — and if I did I wouldn’t hang a lamp on it, if you know what I mean. 😉
The characters say the things they say because that’s what makes sense for them in the moment. My job is to make them feel real and three dimensional, not to have them say things I believe are “true.” In the end, it’s up to the readers to decide whom to believe or whom they agree with — my own opinion as a person shouldn’t really play a role there.
Do you have any specific thoughts on writers that do make their character’s mouthpieces for opinions, their own or otherwise?
As an English student, it’s more or less my duty to pour through books and find hidden meanings beneath the text. Do you like to write characters who express subsurface meanings and symbols, or do you prefer characters who are “people” for lack of a better word? You said that the characters you made in Vision Machine “feel real and three dimensional” and I believe you did a good job of that–they’re lifelike.
There are people that I know who think that characters should only be mouthpieces, who think that characters should be symbolic and express some special meaning.
I just wanted to know what your opinion was on the matter, as a writer.
Do you think that “Vision Machine”is setting the standard for future literature?
You mean the interactive iPad app? I think it’s fun and innovative and shows what’s possible to do with multimedia storytelling with today’s tools. But I have no idea if we’re going to see more of this kind of work or if it’s just a thing that a few folks will play with for a while. I love this kind of stuff, but the honest truth is that the vast majority of people just want to consume entertainment as they always have — as linear books or movies without a lot of digression along the way. People DO love livetweeting television shows and other kinds of events. But that’s a different kind of interactive experience from poking around in other corners of a storyworld that a creator has laid out for you. So I’d say this one’s up for grabs. If I had to guess, I’d say that there will continue to be tons of increasingly complicated interactive books and comics like “Vision Machine.” And for some projects, it’ll be AMAZING. But I think it’ll be a long time before it’s the primary, mainstream way that people consume comics. And that’s fine. People have been reading books-as-books for hundreds of years. New technology has allowed for new forms of art to arise. But books continue plugging along, just as movies will continue plugging along.
When you wrote Vision Machine back in 2001, did you ever imagine something similar such as google glass would ever come into existence? What inspired you to think of the ieye, along with it’s virtual reality features, both seen today in G-glass, as well as the more imaginary aspects of it (such as sharing imaginations in “Jane’s World”?
I’ve been thinking about changing technology for about as long as I can
remember. I grew up as a big sci-fi reader and I got really into
personal computing, digital media, and the internet from the 1990s on,
so I’ve been thinking about all of the possibilities for years. I had my
first inkling of what eventually became the iEye idea back in 2002 or
2003. So yeah, I pat myself on the back for thinking of it all before I
ever heard of Google Glass. But of course, many, many other people have
had the same idea over the years, so that doesn’t make me particularly
prescient or special. I am, however, proud and lucky to have gotten
“Vision Machine” done and out into the world before Google Glass was
ever announced. 😉
In your story, Vision Machine, did you intend for your characters to symbolize specific figures or classes in society? Where do you see yourself among them?
What impact do you think that the additional audio component of Vision Machine has on the reader’s imagination?
I hope it makes the characters and drama more real for people. There are some purists who don’t think motion comics should have voice performances. But I love great voice performance and think it can enhance the experience.
What was the significance of releasing Vision Machine as a free app?
I’m honestly not sure. It’s possible that eventually some form of interactive storytelling on tablet devices will become universally embraced. But it could also remain a niche medium for a niche audience. One of the factors working against it is that most people honestly just want to passively consume their entertainment. Interaction isn’t something that people are universally longing for. Yes, people are livetweeting everything. But that’s different from a crafted interactive experience that requires action while the story is being told.
It’s also tricky because there’s no universal format for interactive stories and no special place they’re stored on your devices. People know where to stick their music and movies and books. They don’t have any place to stick an interactive comic book app. That just sits on the main screen like any other app, but it feels a little weird there — we don’t have individual movies sitting on the main screen. If even on a subliminal level, I think this lack of a standardized place for these things to live will make it hard for consumers to want to download a bunch of them.
Over time, of course, that can change!
Have you considered expanding the graphic novel from only the current media formats (ex. graphic novel and pdf formats which I have consumed) and upgrading to actual motion picture?
Sure, it’d be a blast! But the budget for a movie of this scale would be tens of millions of dollars, which I don’t quite have at the tips of my fingers just yet. 😉
If you were to make Vision Machine a motion picture, what changes (if any) would you make? Would any characters, plot points, etcetera be left out or added?
In the iPad app, there were little interactive links that had in red: View the whole agreement HERE. However, the link did not work. Was that on purpose?
Whoops! That’s a goof. But that would be pretty cheeky of us if it had been on purpose. 😉
Thanks for the reply. I probably wouldn’t have read the whole thing anyway, but I probably would have skimmed through it to see what I could find.
I’m glad that all of these questions are being asked, but I’ve been meaning to ask, why did you write “Vision Machine” in the first place?
Do you feel like that you could’ve found a less cheesy name for the iEye?
Way back when I think I was referring to them as the Goggles. Which is pretty funny, because later down the line, Google was the company to first make something like this into a mass market device.
If you could change the ending to Vision Machine, what would you change, and why?
I’d keep it the same. It’s a mind-bender, but I like it. 😉
To clarify, the fourth wall WAS broken in the final page of the graphic novel right?
Why did you include a conflict between the US and Texas in the background of the story?
A few years back, a number of political figures were making silly secessionist comments/jokes. This is a bit of a tweak of that.
Have you ever considered a sequel expanding on the implications of the ending, or do you feel that Vision Machine is better as a standalone story?
Whoops! Centrifuge manufacturer? What link are you referring to? I’ll correct that asap if it’s on one of my sites.
There are definitely stories that could be told as a sequel to Vision Machine. I’ve had a pretty full plate, so I haven’t pursued it yet, but someday…
Thanks for the reply. The link was in the right column on the main Vision Machine page, but it seems that it has been fixed now!
What was the process of writing and formatting the graphic novel?
I did an outline that described the whole story in broad strokes. Then broke it down page by page and panel by panel in comic script format.
What made you want to exemplify the problems that were exaggerated in Vision Machine?
As an independent media maker, I’ve always been interested in issues of copyright and trademark. As a citizen of the world, I’m deeply concerned about issues of privacy and surveillance. As a nerd, I love sci fi and technology. So this was a cool place where all that could come together.
What got you interested in writing?
Huge question! Books were always HUGELY important to me. People like Ray Bradbury, Kurt Vonnegut, and Maxine Hong Kingston were my heroes. So I’ve always loved stories and wanted to tell them.
On a deeper level, I imagine part of it comes from being a multiracial person in America. From a very young age, I saw the way racism can divide people. And learning to tell and hear stories seemed to me to be one of the only ways to bridge that.
Was Penny Jinadu really lost? I think there would be multiple possibilities, involving her being kidnapped from her family, her family being paid off to cooperate, or the whole thing being made up.
Ha! In my head she was really lost — they just jumped on the opportunity when it came. But all your suggestions are fun, too. 😉
How close did you work with the animators/pencillers?
Based on the ending of your story, do you think that humanity will ever be close to creating whole worlds on will? Also, do you believe that mankind will get to the point of “merging” with technology as in the ending in Vision Machine? Perhaps these are ridiculous questions on my part, but I’m simply curious.
Eventually scientists and researchers will come up with a genuine brain-computer interface. And yes, all this stuff will become viable. Once we can record and manipulate exactly what we’re thinking or imagining, anything’s possible. Will that happen in our lifetimes? No idea. But it’ll happen some day.
Does vision machine accurately describe your thoughts about what might come or has come from government censoring, corruption, or greed?
Yeah, pretty much.
I thought the surveillance stuff was a bit over the top when I wrote it several years ago. But I don’t think so any longer.
This is a future that’s entirely possible or even probably. It’s also entirely avoidable, but it’ll take a lot more work to avoid it than not.
In what circumstance would you consider making a sequel to “Vision Machine.”
If I got the money, I’d do it. 😉
Comics are MUCH less expensive than movies to make. But it’s still not cheap, and it’s very important to me that everyone get paid what they’re worth if at all possible when tackling a big project like this.
What was the hardest or most challenging part of creating Vision Machine?
Making the iPad app was a huge undertaking. I knew the process of making the original graphic novel. That wasn’t easy by any stretch, but I understood every step in the process. But making the app was an entirely new medium for me. Huge amount of stuff to learn. I was lucky to have the amazing team at CoCo Studios making it all real.
If you had to remake Vision Machine, would there be anything you would change or do differently?
If I were doing it all over right now, I wouldn’t make the app for the iPad. I would do an awesome website instead, so anyone with any device could access it. I LOVE the iPad app. But only people who have iPads can view it. If we were trying to sell the app, it’d make sense to do the iPad app — the App Store allows you to monetize. But the thing’s designed to be given away for free. A website seems less sexy. But it would reach more people.
Have you started working on a new website for Vision Machine, or is just a idea for something to create in the future?
What was the most enjoyable part of writing this piece?
At the beginning in NYC why was the city flooded? Was there any specific reason for doing that?
Global warming. In 50-100 years, parts of NYC will be flooded. There are tons of natural rivers running underground right now in NYC — it’s a massive, constant undertaking to keep water out of the subways even now. In time, with rising oceans, some of that infrastructure will fail and we’ll adapt. Canal Street will become a real canal again. That’s my guess, anyway!
Do you believe that Google Glass may have a similar, but less drastic, affect on today’s society?
Sure. The privacy/surveillance issues will begin immediately with widespread use of Google Glass. But much of the other aspects of the iEye depend on a true mind-computer link, which doesn’t yet exist.
In the App version of Vision Machine, what type of affect did you think the exploring the art in 3D option make, even though the characters were simply flat figures?
We focussed a lot on bringing the iEye interface elements to life. We could move a lot of those kinds of things without getting into the unnatural shadow puppet kind of animation you can get when trying to do limited animation with still images of people. And in terms of the emotional impact of the story, moving those interactive digital elements of the iEye could make everything feel more real and immediate for viewers/readers.
When writing “Vision Machine” were you motivated to entertain people or warn the of a possible dystopia?
The first priority is always to tell an emotionally compelling story. If that doesn’t work, nothing else will.
If you could go back and change one thing before publishing the graphic novel, what would it be?
Ha! I don’t know! But I’d like to play Chavez. 😉
Who do you see as the other leads?
I’m not to sure about leads, but look to Mr. Damaso’s period 3 class for as many extras as you need!
When you were writing “Vision Machine” what inspired you to write about a dystopian society in the first place, was it past experience or did you have a crazy epiphany or dream and were like, “Woah, I need to write a story about that.”
Do you think we are limited to knowledge, as far as what we are told on the news and corporate media at all, and if so, on purpose?
Sure. News corporations are corporations, and corporations exist to make money, so decisions are being made all the time on what kinds of news to publish or broadcast based on what will make money, not based on what the public needs to learn about. I think it very seldom comes down to a higher up explicitly saying “Do not write about this thing that our sponsors don’t want you to write about,” although I’m sure that happens. Maybe more pernicious is the constant chase for hits/viewers, so we get a ceaseless flood of easy clickbait like every dang Miley Cyrus story you’ve ever read and all the bad science reporting that ends in a question mark or just plain made-up dumb stuff (the imaginary rat ghost ship that’s not actually headed for England, just to name one recent thing).
First off I’d like to thank you for taking the time to reply. And yes, I totally agree with the idea that corporations aren’t as informing as they should be and could be. I had another question for you Mr.Pak, do you believe that the U.S government, in particular, uses fear and distraction as a device to keep a form of order in which they believe is just? This is personally for my interests, and am very interested in finding out. Thanks!
Will you buy Google Glass when it becomes readily available?
Probably not. I’ve played with one and wasn’t blown away. Admittedly, I only played with it for a few minutes. But right now, I don’t feel the need for the features that are currently available. In time, it’ll be able to do a ton more, of course. But I’m hoping I can resist. As you can imagine from reading “Vision Machine,” I’m pretty suspicious of the inevitable privacy trade off.
What are your habits when your writing? Specifically, where do you find that you write best? Bed, treehouse, table, coffee shop?
I can write anywhere I have a big enough flat surface, a decent place to sit, and either a lot of quiet or a ton of noise. Really noisy places can work great for me, actually — if there’s tons of noise, it’s pretty easy to tune it out. I do a lot of great editing on paper on the subway in New York.
But the best place for me is in my office, at my desktop computer with the big screen.
In our English class, we study types of dystopian control. There’s technological, philosophical/religious, bureaucratic, and corporate.
What category do you think Vision Machine falls under, if you had to pick one for a “best fit”?
1, 3, 4 in equal measure.
Were you making a direct reference to Apple when you came up with the name ieye, and if so do you find it ironic Google is making something similar to how you envisioned ieye i.e. Google Glass not Apple?
I was kind of surprised it was Google who’s first out of the gate. When I started writing, Google wasn’t doing hardware at all, at least in public. But if history is any indicator, there’s a good chance Apple will enter the enhanced eyewear market late in the game and totally take it over. 😉
Did you have any specific inspirations that lead you to create or influenced elements of Vision Machine?
Expanding on Christian’s question, were there any specific authors that lead you to focus on the dystopian genre of literature?
Is the conflict and tension with Texas that was alluded to in one of the subplots supposed to be a commentary on/reference to the immigration issue (particularly with the southern border shared with Mexico) that has become important to the modern United States?
In part. It’s also a dig at a handful of stupid politicians who have talked about secession in recent years.
How did you become inspired to name the title of your story, “Vision Machine?”
Do you think that all of the conveniences and benefits afforded by technology are outweighed by the potential for intrusion into our privacy by companies and the federal government? And do you believe that some sort of legislation could be devised to prevent this invasion of privacy from happening, even as technology flourishes?
Were any of the characters in Vision Machine based on real people you have met?
What made you want to turn Vision Machine into a graphic novel?
Is there any significance to you choosing the name Sprout Computers for the name of the corporation in Vision Machine?
I used the name in my feature film ROBOT STORIES back in the day. It’s a non-threatening but subtly inspiring name that seemed appropriate for a self-styled visionary company like this.
What was your intention when you decided to make three essential characters in the story all women? (Jane, Evers, and The President)
I get bored with stories that feature only men.
Was there a message you were trying to relay to the audience with a female president towards the end of “Vision Machine”?
The story’s set in the future. In the future, we’ll have a female president. Probably much sooner than the “Vision Machine” story predicts, no doubt.
Also, I generally try to make my casts as diverse as I can. Most fiction is unrealistically monolithic when it comes to the diversity of its characters. I figure given that bias, I might as well tip the scales the other way a bit.
Did you put a father son duo in the book to domesticate the story more? Did you want to show that this will effect all people including a family setting?
I’m always looking for ways to get under the skins of characters, to help us understand and care about them more. Exploring family relationships is always rich in that regard. And yes, showing how this technology affects multiple generations was important.
Much like how the people in Fahrenheit 451 are oblivious to the world around them, do you think that the people who made their own fantasy worlds in “Vision Machine” would ignore the real world?
Sure, some would, absolutely. But when real world economic transactions shift to virtual worlds, those fantasy worlds become real in a significant way.
Are the characters of Vision Machine based purely what popped up in your imagination, or were they inspired by the personalities of friends, family, or co-workers?
Didn’t have any specific real world people in mind while writing. But everyone writers meet or interact with teaches us about human nature and can become an inspiration in some way, conscious or not.
If you could go back and change one thing about the book or the plot line what would it be and why?
I’d probably take more time to set up the main characters. Get under their skins a bit more as people. Find some quiet time before the iEye hits.
Do you think the futuristic IEye or the current Google Glass will replace and lead to the extinction of modern day cell phones?
Probably not. Too many people just wouldn’t want to wear eyewear for aesthetic reasons.
Have you ever thought about re-writing Vision Machine as a paperback styled novel instead of a graphic one?
Honestly never occurred to me. Not sure I’d want to dive back into the same story to rewrite it in that way. I am thinking of a couple of other prose projects, though. Cross your fingers for me!
What made you chose the people you interviewed for the “Real World Background”?Did the high school students, Andy Ihnatko, Jonathan Coulton ,and Jennifer Jenkins have any particular qualities that you were looking for before the interviews?
Yep, all those people are special and amazing in ways that made them perfect subjects for those interviews. The high school kids were part of a young filmmaker program — they were the perfect people to speculate on how young people might use the new technology presented by the iEye. Andy is one of the world’s best known and smartest tech journalists. Jonathan is an internet superstar who built his music career through sharing his songs online. And Jennifer Jenkins is an expert on issues of copyright and trademark and the public domain.
Do you find yourself becoming immersed so greatly into technology as the world progresses? With Vision Machine attacking the “anti-social” stereotype that technology has given the younger generations, do you think it will worsen like in your story, or do you see people going back to conversational basics? (i.e., more phone calls, letters, face-to-face?)
I don’t actually think social media has ruined our ability to converse or communicate. I’m sure people thought that the telephone would ruin us back in the day, and I don’t think that’s happened. Sure, some people will go overboard, like with anything. But the vast majority of people are just using texting and social media as another way to talk with friends when they’re not in the same room. A ton of social media is, in fact, filled with pictures of people interacting with each other in the real world. As long as we’re flesh and blood, that’ll continue.
You stress human imagination, creativity, and living in worlds that only the human intellect would dream of. What do you see with our imagination? How do you think our imaginations will change as years progress?
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