This is the transcript from a presentation I made on 28 October 1996 in Melborne Australia at the AIMIA conference:

There's a Storm Coming

This is a kind of forecast, because there is a storm coming and we should all be prepared. This particular storm is blowing in from the East and it's big--big enough to encompass the entire planet. It's going to be tricky to weather it. Many of things we're used to doing in storms simply won't protect us with this one. And, of course, there's nothing better than throwing a hurricane party on the eve of a really big disturbance. That's kind of how I think of AIMIA.

Type of Storm

What kind of storm is it? Besides being big, it will bring a flood of hype and a torrential downpour of technology. You can see this beginning already. In this flurry of activity, it will be difficult to discern what issues are most important, where to focus time and money, and how to stay on track.

Most storms come in cycles and this one is no different. It is the reoccurrence of a very old, infrequent storm, but when it hits, it hits hard, and little is the same from then on. This storm is the storm of Information Revolutions and it is hitting us for the 6th time in history.

History of this Storm

The first time this storm hit, it brought with it language. No one knows exactly when it hit, because people just didn't keep good records back then, but we have language now, so it must have hit sometime. After this storm hit, people began to communicate with a coherent set of auditory symbols that could be called language.
The second time this storm hit (sometime around 8000BC to be exact--I believe it was the spring of 8051BC), it brought with it writing. Now, communications had taken place before this, though nothing terrible important was said--take my word for it-- but now, at least it could be written down.
It was nearly 8500 years before the next time the storm hit and this time it brought with it the invention (or understanding) of perspective. Around 500AD people first had a way of organizing and representing their world spatially. With it came the start of geometry, a revolution in physics, and an entirely new way to paint and draw--all still valid today, I might add.
Around 1000 years later, in 1440, the storm hit again, this time bringing the revolution of printing. Besides our forests, our minds and societies were never again the same. We could now publish our thoughts, and share them on a scale never before imagined. This was the key activator for the Scientific Revolution that would take another 30 years to incubate while people--mostly scientists, writers, and other thinkers--started to use this medium and disseminate their ideas. As you can notice, the intervals between these storms are getting faster.

The fifth storm hit in the 1930s when broadcasting began to take off. This storm is particularly hard to quantify since it encompasses cinema, radio, and television all falling within a window of 30-40 years starting in the 1900s. It brought with it both the possibilities for mass communication and the tyranny of the status-quo.

Now, the sixth storm is just beginning to hit society again. This time, the storm is bringing with it a hard-to-define phenomenon we've so far called interactive media. It is this storm that I will talk about this afternoon. Now, we will probably have a much better word for it in 10 years once we can truly see the affects it has on society, but for now, let's just use the term interactivity.

Besides the fact that these storms are coming more quickly, they are stronger, having more influence (as their affects combine and overlap), and the time necessary for them to reach full strength seems to be shortening as well. These storms are overlapping, as they build on one another, since the knowledge they bring neither goes away nor becomes obsolete.

We can even start to see the next storm forming on the horizon, though we know little about it as this point. I will bring this up later.


Now, it is important to talk a bit about interactivity. Despite the amount of frustration within the industry--and even more for those outside it--, despite the money spent, the chaos generated, and the dismal failures of many projects and experiments, interactivity is still going to change everything--just like the storms that came before it. The first thing to realize, however, is that interactivity is anything but new--it's only new to computers and electronic media. We have been interacting with each other for longer than the first storm hit and we know a great deal about it. Only an industry who regularly flushes everything it knows every 6 months in favor of new whiz-bang technology could have forgotten that interactivity is such a basic human endeavor. Perhaps it is due to those of us in the industry that just don't interact with others that well at all, preferring to sit in front of our machines, building things instead of having conversations with others. Either way, we are binging and purging on technology without developing a healthy diet.

So, what is interactivity? Well, I can't easily tell you what it is, but I can definitely tell you what it isn't. Interactivity is not the same as dynamic media (which is to say that it doesn't have anything to do with animation, sound, video, or things moving around onscreen). If it is anything, it is the creation of experiences that others find valuable--or at least, interesting--but that's what this medium requires. Unfortunately, few people are ever taught how to create great experiences for others, and this will need to change in order for the storm to pass through. Believe me, if you want to weather this storm well, you better learn about the performing arts (like acting, theater, comedy, storytelling, dance, and especially improv).

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