New trend? Media companies are going shorter on virtual, longer on reality.
Yesterday’s communication technology enabled me to keep tabs on a handful of folks who I couldn’t easily see (e.g. calling my Aunt Najet who lives 3,000 miles away in Tunis). Today’s tech also enables me to keep tabs on a whole bunch of folks who I can easily see but do not (e.g. following the Facebook updates of a friend who lives in my neighborhood but who I haven’t met up with since high school).
HOLDING THE BABY
While every month I keep tabs on an increasing number of folks, I feel that the emotional input I get from these interactions has not increased accordingly. No matter how many pictures and status updates I see of my friend’s cute newborn on Facebook, no experience summons the same emotion as holding him in my arms. In short, the advantage of today’s tech (or data cloud) is that it enables me to easily keep tabs on lives of a whole bunch of people; the disadvantage is that more and more of my interactions lack physicality, or shared space.
BACK TO THE BODY
My hypothesis is that as I, and those around me, have a greater volume of interactions with people in the data cloud, a tension is building. The more interactions I have in the data cloud, the more thirsty I become for an experience in the physical world. I believe that the recent success of companies that provide a physical experience can be attributed to this trend.
In the video game industry, several decades and billions of dollars were spent on luring gamers into increasingly sophisticated virtual worlds. Yet after years of this, a console called the Nintendo Wii dispensed with the pursuit of creating sophisticated graphics, and reminded gamers that they had a body. By asking gamers to wave around their arms to control virtual characters, Nintendo hit a nerve and outsold all of its competitors. Today Microsoft is taking this one step further, and is developing an Xbox accessory that tracks a gamer’s entire body, including the expression on their face, and relays it to their on-screen avatar (see Project Natal).
In the web tech industry, companies such as Facebook and LinkedIn, that have generated millions off of sites that allow people to build virtual social networks, are pushing out applications (see Loopt) that enable users to locate friends in their surrounding area (say the mall), and actually meet up with them in person. Google recently released its own location-awareness app (see Latitude) and is pushing it across mobile platforms. Michael Arrington (see TechCrunch) calls location-awareness the next killer app.
CHEW IT OVER
It’ll be interesting to track which organizations step away from the data cloud, and find innovative ways to get back to reality. In the meantime, why not sit back and enjoy a stick of Dentyne gum, whose “Make Face Time” marketing campaign gets to the heart of this trend: