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
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
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).