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Sunday, 15 February 2009

Reality 2.0 - Interactive Porn and Crumbling Moats

Adventure Gaming

For adventure gamers like myself – that strange subset of humanity who like playing computer games involving solving fiendish puzzles with nothing more than a magnifying glass, a notebook, some chewing gum, a piece of tape and seventy-seven apparently useless and inconveniently placed household objects – the Sam & Max series by Telltale Games is the pinnacle of perfection. Now, sure, the basic concept of a pair of freelance detectives played as a six foot dog and his little buddy, a small (but extremely violent) rabbity-type creature, is conceptually a bit difficult for people whose preferred persona is Sherlock Holmes or Hercule Poirot. But the plot is funnier than a stoat in the snow.

Reality 2.0

My favourite episode so far is the fifth in which Sam and Max find themselves fighting the Internet which has created an alternative reality – Reality 2.0 – and is intent on sucking the whole human population into it for reasons that don’t become entirely apparent until episode six. For anyone versed in the history of adventure games the denouement of Reality 2.0 is quite, quite brilliant so I won’t spoil this for you if you haven’t experienced it yet.

This is art imitating life, though, and Reality 2.0 is already upon us. The rise of the internet has provided the world with a new means of interaction. History shows us that civilisations are constructed around how we communicate with each other. We may start by creating the technology but it’s not long before it’s creating us. A bit like Frankenstein’s Monster without the bolts. Or the blood. Or the monster. Actually, that’s a crap analogy. Let’s move on.

Yodelling and Music

It’s obvious that without a means to communicate ideas or laws across geographies it’s impossible to hold together very large groups of people. The governments of cities, countries and civilisations rely on mechanisms to transmit information effectively. So it’s also obvious that the means of communications available will, to some extent, dictate the structure of the societies that arise. Hence yodelling explains Switzerland. Well, possibly.

One idea is that the very first form of group-speak was music – the ability of music to induce synchronised behaviour amongst its listeners suggests to some researchers that music was adaptive in getting larger groups of proto-humans to co-operate. You can see similar behaviour today amongst drunken people in night-clubs, drunken people at pop festivals and drunken people at office Christmas parties. I just can’t see how anyone could deny that music is obviously the common theme here. Although to be fair this isn’t the only theory.

Hieroglyphs

Certainly we can trace the technology of mass communication back to hieroglyphs chiselled on stone and scratched on papyrus. Phonetic alphabets followed with similar underlying transmission means permitting the rise of the Roman Empire, amongst others, with their controlled but decentralised command structure. When your only means of issuing orders is by hand written decrees carried by boat and horse across the Empire there are certain limits to how you can organise yourself. Mostly these means were used to issue instructions, create accounts and produce “entertainments”. OK, mainly porn.

Mass communication only really started with Gutenberg’s moveable type printing press in the thirteenth century which initiated an explosion of easily copied books spewing out across Europe. This technological change led to, in short-order, a revival of ancient learning (the Renaissance), a challenge to the established order (the Protestant Reformation) and a huge acceleration in science and technology (the Industrial Revolution). The first mass market books were primarily religious, scientific and, err, porn.

Cables

The subsequent advent of electronic communication, particularly the undersea telegraph cables strung across the globe in the latter part of the nineteenth century, represented another step change. Globalisation was then truly underway and people everywhere could be exposed to the same information (and porn) pretty well simultaneously. However the sources of this information could be controlled, either through governments or simply due to the capital requirements to access them.

Fast forwarding to the internet age we suddenly find that mass global communication is cheap and that it’s relatively easy for anyone to publish any old rubbish (witness this blog). However, there’s a difference – this communication is not a one-way push. We are not helpless recipients. Now we can interact electronically, create new personas, control the way we appear to the world and immerse ourselves in a world outside of our physical reality. And we can push back. And there’s lots of free porn (I’m reliably informed).

Welcome to the real Reality 2.0.

Social Networking

The rise of social networking sites from Facebook to MySpace and from Bebo to Twitter, with their countless imitators, and the creation of massive multi-player on-line games within which people can interact (some of which are devoted to porn - please don’t ask: I don’t know, I don’t want to know) are all aspects of the human need to communicate. Yet if communication mechanisms dictate the structure of our civilisations it’s inevitable that these changes will alter our societies and the way we live.

Many traditional organisations are struggling to cope with Reality 2.0. Used to a command and control structure where they can push information without really needing to handle responses their response to the new world order has often been toe-curlingly inept. However, even people immersed in the technology are sometimes apt to forget that by publishing their thoughts they expose themselves to feedback. From Peter Shankman’s blog (http://shankman.com/be-careful-what-you-post/):

This particular Twitter posting came back to bite the agency person from Ketchum (New York office) who made some unflattering remarks about Memphis this morning before he presented on digital media to the worldwide communications group at FedEx (150+) people. Not only did an employee find it, they were totally offended by it and responded to the agency person. The kicker is that they copied the FedEx Coporate Vice President, Vice President, Directors and all management of FedEx’s communication department AND the chain of command at Ketchum. Mr. Andrews, the Ketchum presenter, did not take into account that many FedExers are native Memphians and are feircely defensive of their city and their company.
Which somewhat exposes the limitations of the new media – in the end it was the command and control structure of FedEx that held the whip hand in this relationship. He who pays the piper, and all that jazz.

Virtual Reality

Even so, investors looking at their potential investments need to be carefully considering the impact of Reality 2.0, a social technology that’ll be disruptive to many old-style businesses. This doesn’t necessarily mean jumping on the bandwagon – trying to figure out who will be the ultimate winners and losers amongst the new technology companies is, at best, like playing hopscotch in a minefield. Still, deciding who will benefit and who will suffer is important if you’re interested in analysing the competitive advantages of any particular stock. Some previously impervious defensive moats based around bricks and mortar or old media are now about as useful as a chocolate fireguard.

This is not a flash in the pan. Reality 2.0 is here to stay and, unlike Sam & Max, you can’t take the Virtual Reality goggles off whenever you feel like it.

1 comment:

  1. My favourite episode so far is the fifth in which Sam and Max find themselves fighting the Internet which has created an alternative reality – Reality 2.0 – and is intent on sucking the whole human population into it for reasons that don’t become entirely apparent until episode six. For anyone versed in Interactive Porn the history of adventure games the denouement of Reality 2.0 is quite, quite brilliant so I won’t spoil this for you if you haven’t experienced it yet.

    This is my all time favorite episode :)!

    ReplyDelete