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Funzo the Magnificent

November 29, 2010

The great thing about blogging is that you’re free to be wrong – to go off one morning in a direction that you later realize is a bit or even a lot off.  I stand by my diagnosis a few days ago of the first, lowest level of consumer – Homo Gullibilis, easily swayed by advertising and the cult of “cool.”  But I need to dismiss my idle statement about “three levels of consumer” – I think I tossed that out thinking there were just three – trough-feeders, hobbyists, and connoisseurs.  But it’s more fragmented than that.

Homo Gullibilis is the “pure consumer,” the eater of what’s fed to him.  Yet the genius of modern mind manipulation is how it has managed to convince some of this genus that they are actually something more.  This is true of allegedly “interactive” entertainments, in which you “log on” to enter a keyword to win a toy while watching a Star Wars marathon, or “participate” in a chat room to discuss the arcana of the latest episode of “Lost.”  But watching and discussing “Lost” isn’t altering or adding to the show, any more than moving from one level of a video game to another or unlocking “Easter eggs” changes the enclosed and complete nature of the object “submitted for your approval.”  We are invited to think that we are functioning at the same level of critics and connoisseurs merely because more buttons need to be pressed to reveal a work’s inner nature.

“Interactive” entertainment is still passive, though developments in video game technology are making it less so – starting with the Wii and now with new Sony and Microsoft systems, you are at least forced to interact with the enclosed, finished product with your whole body and not just your thumbs or typing fingers.  In an ideal world, all art is tactile – you could touch a sculpture and see for yourself how depth was given to pupils and irises, how closely the feel of a torso was to the real thing; you could smell an old book’s pages or put your eyeball practically against the craquelure of a painting.  The frustration of the connoisseur, the frustration that drives them to collect, to possess, is that desire to physically interact with the “real presence” of a work, instead of experiencing the frustration of regarding a replica in print or the original behind glass. 

One of the great AI developments to come will be the creation of a video game whose story will eventually be yours alone – that how you play it determines how it proceeds, in a way that nobody else can or will play it – like life itself.  You could mimic this with a huge, closed set of scripts to be played out (additions to the set would still make it a finite set), which would provide a wealth of “diverse” experiences, but the breakthrough will be an “open” system in which the AI is smart enough to write new stories itself, independent of the writers who started the yeast fermenting – not unlike what I projected for “Alex,” who would change his interests and tone of voice and very being to be an ever-better friend.  At this point, the difference between playing/consuming and actually creating would finally be blurred.

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