The smaller the attendance the bigger the history. There were 12 people at the Last Supper. Half a dozen at Kitty Hawk. Archimedes was on his own in the bath.


What is the art of immersion? The focus of the book is on how the internet is changing storytelling; and the idea is really that every time a new medium comes along, it takes people 20 or 30 years to figure out what to do with it, to figure out the grammar of that medium. The motion picture camera was invented around 1890 and it was really about 1915 before the grammar of cinema–all the things we take for granted now, like cuts and point-of-view shots and fades and pans–were consolidated into first what we would recognize as feature films. Birth of a Nation being the real landmark. It wasn’t the first film that had these characteristics but it was the first film to use all of them and that people settled on that really made a difference. I think we are not quite there yet with the internet but we can see the outlines of what is happening, what is starting to emerge; and it’s very different from the mass media that we’ve been used to for the past 150 years. (…)–the campaign in advance of the Dark Knight. This was what’s known as an alternate reality game. This was a particularly large-scale example that took place over a period of about 18 months. Essentially the purpose of it was to create this experience that kind of started and largely played out online but also in the real world and elsewhere that would familiarize people with the story and the characters of the Dark Knight. In particular with Heath Ledger as the Joker. Build enthusiasm and interest in the movie in advance of its release. On one level it was a marketing campaign; on another level it was a story in itself–a whole series of stories. It was developed by a company called 42 Entertainment, based in Pasadena and headed by a woman named Susan Bonds who was interestingly enough educated and worked first as a Systems Engineer and spent quite a bit of time at Walt Disney Imagineering, before she took up this. It’s a particularly intriguing example of storytelling because it really makes it possible or encourages the audience to discover and tell the story themselves, online to each other. For example, there was one segment of the story where there were a whole series of clues online that led people to a series of bakeries in various cities around the United States. And when the got to the bakery, the first person to get there in each of these cities, they were presented with a cake. On the icing to the cake was written and phone number and the words “Call me.” When they called, the cake started ringing. People would obviously cut into the cake to see what was going on, and inside the cake they found a sealed plastic pouch with a cell phone and a series of instructions. And this led to a whole new series of events that unfolded and eventually led people to a series of screenings at cities around the country of the first 7 minutes of the film, where the Heath Ledger character is introduced. (…)

The thing about Lost was it was really a different kind of television show. What made it different was not the sort of gimmicks like the smoke monster and the polar bear–those were just kind of icing. What really made it different was that it wasn’t explained. In the entire history of television until quite recently, just the last few years, the whole idea of the show has been to make it really simple, to make it completely understandable so that no one ever gets confused. Dumb it down for a mass audience. Sitcoms are just supposed to be easy. Right. Lost took exactly the opposite tack, and the result was–it might not have worked 10 years ago, but now with everybody online, we live in an entirely different world. The result was people got increasingly intrigued by the essentially puzzle-like nature of the show. And they tended to go online to find out things about it. And the show developed a sort of fanatical following, in part precisely because it was so difficult to figure out.

There was a great example I came across of a guy in Anchorage, Alaska who watched the entire first season on DVD with his girlfriend in a couple of nights leading up to the opening episode of Season 2. And then he watched the opening episode of Season 2 and something completely unexpected happened. What is going on here? So he did what comes naturally at this point, which was to go online and find out some information about it. But there wasn’t really much information to be found, so he did the other thing that’s becoming increasingly natural, which was he started his own Wiki. This became Lostpedia–it was essentially a Wikipedia about Lost and it now has tens of thousands of entries; it’s in about 20 different languages around the world. And it’s become such a phenomenon that occasionally the people who were producing the show would themselves consult it–when their resident continuity guru was not available.

What had been published in very small-scale Fanzines suddenly became available online for anybody to see. (…)

The amount of time people devote to these beloved characters and stories–which are not real, which doesn’t matter really at all, which was one of the fascinating things about this whole phenomenon–it couldn’t have happened in 1500. Not because of the technology–of course they are related–but you’d starve to death. The fact that people can devote hundreds of hundreds of hours personally, and millions can do this says something about modern life that is deep and profound. Clay Shirky, who I believe you’ve interviewed in the past, has the theory that television arrived just in time to soak up the excess leisure time that was produced by the invention of vacuum cleaners and dishwashers and other labor-saving devices.

{ Frank Rose/EconTalk | Continue reading }