I could not have been more impressed by Seth Preibatsch’s keynote at SXSWi (w/audio recording). A 21 year old who dropped out of Princeton after his first year, Seth started SVNGR, a location based service that makes checking in into a scavenger hunt and other games. His energy, presentation, insight, humor, and content were all right on. He wasn’t a smug, cynical hipster opportunist geek like so many presenters. He was humble enough for someone I expected to be brash. He won me over from the beginning.
He said that in the last ten years we added the social layer to the web and in the next ten we’ll add the game layer. Then he went on to talk about all the stuff the game layer can fix, like education, by re-engineering motivations and rewards. Rewarding your participants is key for game makers, and your business is a game. It is by creating Epic Meaning for people that they become blissfully productive.
The first thing you’ll find when you flip through his slides are his ideas about how bad grades and failing are as motivations for school along with some suggestions for how we could have students level-up like a video game and remove some demotivation.
He had us play two games during the session. In the first he asked the audience to start clapping. They did, like applause. Then he asked them to synch up and clap a beat. They did in about 20 secs, it was a big crowd. He pointed out how quickly and easily a totally decentralized task can be accomplished
The second game was brought up in the context of how to solve global warming. Everyone had a colored card. The object was to trade cards while staying seated, and arrive at every row being a solid color. He gave them 2:30 to do it, and if they did, he would contribute $10K to a wildlife charity.
The audience accomplished the goal in 1:30 and he pointed out that the task was accomplished in a way that would have been impossible for a centralized government, that the hope of what the game layer can accomplish is taking an impossible problem and making it simply very difficult. All this from a 21 year old!
When Anais fell asleep in my arms this weekend, there was, luckily, an old New Yorker beside the recliner. I grabbed it with my free hand and greatly enjoyed David Brooks’s article, Social Animal. Here is a long lovely closing passage.
“I guess I used to think of myself as a lone agent, who made certain choices and established certain alliances with colleagues and friends,” he said. “Now, though, I see things differently. I believe we inherit a great river of knowledge, a flow of patterns coming from many sources. The information that comes from deep in the evolutionary past we call genetics. The information passed along from hundreds of years ago we call culture. The information passed along from decades ago we call family, and the information offered months ago we call education. But it is all information that flows through us. The brain is adapted to the river of knowledge and exists only as a creature in that river. Our thoughts are profoundly molded by this long historic flow, and none of us exists, self-made, in isolation from it.
“And though history has made us self-conscious in order to enhance our survival prospects, we still have deep impulses to erase the skull lines in our head and become immersed directly in the river. I’ve come to think that flourishing consists of putting yourself in situations in which you lose self-consciousness and become fused with other people, experiences, or tasks. It happens sometimes when you are lost in a hard challenge, or when an artist or a craftsman becomes one with the brush or the tool. It happens sometimes while you’re playing sports, or listening to music or lost in a story, or to some people when they feel enveloped by God’s love. And it happens most when we connect with other people. I’ve come to think that happiness isn’t really produced by conscious accomplishments. Happiness is a measure of how thickly the unconscious parts of our minds are intertwined with other people and with activities. Happiness is determined by how much information and affection flows through us covertly every day and year.”
Technology is anything invented after you were born. Technology is anything that doesn’t work yet. I love these two half-comic definitions quoted by Kevin Kelly in this TED talk.
Paraphrasing Kelly: The real tricks are exploring the exploration. Technology is about better ways to evolve. The infinite game. A cosmic force begun at the big bang. It’s the expansion of options, possibilities, differences, freedoms. Technology wants a trillion zillion species individuals discovering differences. It’s a way of playing the game by playing all the games.
Every person here has an assignment. Your assignment is to spend your life discovering what your assignment is. That recursive nature is the infinite game. If you play that well, you’ll have other people involved so that that game extends and continues even when you’re gone.
That is the infinite game, and what technology is, is that medium in which we play that infinite game. And so I think we should embrace technology because it is an essential part of finding out who we are.
I love it. What a freeing view of technology. An assignment to discover.
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But the soundscape is far too complex for human speech to duplicate, and so it is in music alone that man finds that true harmony of the inner and outer world. It will be in music too that he will create his most perfect models of the ideal soundscape of the imagination.