Monday, January 10, 2011

Second Life in the Context of the Consumer Electronics Show

Sign at CES
Typical Marketing Message at 2011 Consumer Electronics Show
Second Life is not a virtual goods platform, and it’s doesn’t have a business model based on user-generated goods: it is, instead, a fully contained prototype of a version of the future in which technology has continued to take us in the direction of limitless choice in how the world we live in is constructed, how we decide to interact with each other and the content that we choose to consume. From Dusan Writer's recent tour de force Second Life Next: 2011
The universal message from the 2500 vendors at the Consumer Electronics Show was that happiness is obtained through the acquisition of new technology . . . that for every extra inch of screen size, higher density of pixel resolution, incremental speed improvement of processor, added bell and whistle, etc. there is an intrinsic improvement in happiness.

The insidious hypnotic mantra of consumer marketing subverts satisfaction with our current situation. It moves us to continuously scan the horizon for new possibilites instead of focusing on making the best use of what we already possess. It creates an addictive dynamic moving us to crave novelty to such an extent that even a week after purchasing some object of our desire, we are looking to see when the next version will be released.

It seems to me that the virtual goods aspect of Second Life extends and intensifies the dysfunctional consumer-addicted paradigm of meatspace to the virtual world. Since the relative cost of virtual goods is a fraction of their atomic counterparts, people are freed to pursue their Imelda Marcos shoe dreams and accumulate thousands of virtual items that provide momentary satisfaction before being lost in inventory.

So as much as I resonate with Dusan's idealistic vision, I think that Sony's creepy marketing slogan is a better metaphor for the impact of ever-accelerating technologically on our pervasively augmented lives.


Anonymous said...

Generally speaking, my view is that limitless choice and repurposed content really isn't new. What it is now is in hyper mode. Before that we probably had to use our imagination in a more active or concerted way (I can't find the right word here) to not only make the choice out of endless choices but to even envision the choice. In this hyper time, I almost want to argue that it might be even more difficult to even envision not so much a choice - because they're all laid out there - but to envision and create a *new* choice. Something that isn't so wholly repurposed. It's like when you try to think of the name of a song, but you have the melody of another song blocking your thoughts. So you end up singing the song that thrust itself into your mind instead of finding a different one, or - even more unlikely - creating a new one. Not mashed up, but new to the extent that the chorus wasn't directly borrowed from another piece...probably from the song stuck in your head, for example.

In an age of hyper creativity, isn't it ironic that we recreate from that which already exists? I still think it's more because of the speed of change and the need that all of society feels to "Feed the Beast" of content creation, than it is because we were never able to do this before without technology. We've always created, envisioned, stared down boundaryless choices, built masterworks on the shoulders of others (repurposed, recontextualized, etc). In the Pre-Technology Tsnami, we probably did it with much more angst or something (again, I can't find the word) or over a much longer period of time. But I think the ability and practice has always been there. To some degree, it often feels now like drive-through content creation or demo-ing content creation. It's a very fast process now, the speed of which I really believe encourages mashups. In general...and IMHO...and apologies for the ramble. It's an interesting topic that is quite tricky to nail down.

Botgirl Questi said...

I share a lot of those questions. As a matter of fact, one of my earlier drafts of this post used the analogy of the CES exhibit space . . . It seemed like limitless choices were displayed in the 1.5 million square feet of enclosed space, but although there were 1,000,000 varieties of 3D TVS, Cameras, iPad covers, etc. but it was mostly tiny variations on a few themes.

I think that mash-up genre is mostly positive. On the amateur end, It gives people who don't have the resources to produce works from scratch a creative outlet. And I think that artists like Girl Talk can produce works that transcend the source material they create from.

"New and Improved" has been the marketing mantra for decades, but the innovative leaps that dramatically impact society are few and far between:

Printing Press ---> Telegraph ---> Radio ---> Telephone ---> Television ---> Computers, etc.

AS for drive-through content creation, I've been torn recently between my love for cranking out prototypes that reflect my day to day shifting interests, and a yearning to create more substantive works that would require a commitment to stick with one concept over perhaps months of effort.

Oh well, interesting topic indeed!

Iggy O said...

I've been reading Wu's book The Master Switch with its discussion of market-saturation by physical technologies and the need to create a market for content.

I can see why virtual goods could be a new frontier for selling us stuff we don't need.

But that's the essence of marketing.

The formula works until Peak Oil works its evil magic on our technotopian dreams. Then meatspace will again become compelling in its demands, as the supply of cheese-doodles and 3000-mile-to-market Caesar salads suddenly getting disrupted, and all that jazz.

Unknown said...

Nice read. Thanks