Monday, December 03, 2007

Xbox and the future of the social animal

Imagine a place that mixed Facebook, World of Warcraft, Second Life, podcasting, video, Twitter and Skype.

Such a place would be a magnet for already huge and seriously interactive communities online.

Such a place would be of interest to Chris Kimble, David Grimshaw and Paul Hildreth who have already shown that the online context is important.

What I am suggesting is context that would be hyper rich and more important that other places to go.

Such a rich environment would be very important because, as Elizabeth Shove, and Alan Warde at Lancaster University note, social theorists maintain that ‘people define themselves through the messages they transmit to others through the goods and practices that they possess and display. In an environment of games, avatars and Facebook-like display added to a wide range of channels for spoken, music, video as well as text communication, people will be able to satisfy their deeply embedded human needs online like never before.

That is why I think that the Microsoft announcement a couple of weeks ago is so important.

Microsoft is to add a social network element to Xbox. It potential offers a mix and match of sensations that are now only speculative.

This has the potential to mash the real and virtual person in a fashion we are not really prepared for.

People, that's us, manipulate and manage appearances and thereby create and sustain a ‘self-identity’ as part of their need to be effective as social animals. Its part of our DNA.

This is part of the evolution of the human species.

These new developments offer a real and virtual combination.

In an answer to the question: "What sort of person is s/he?" will shortly be answered in terms of a combined real and virtual lifestyle or visible attachment to groups rather than by personal virtues or characteristics alone and on a globally networked scale.

In such an environment, the many selves and the picture of the world we modify through inputs from our senses hark back to Featherstone who in 1991 reflected upon the tendency for the same individual to seek to present him or herself on different occasions in two or more ways, as bohemian and conventional or as romantic or formal and now, as the internet evolves, there a possibility to do so in many manifest ways in hyper virtual worlds.

It is an extension of a not uncommon practice we have see online for a couple of decades but now it will be much more dramatic, entertaining, emotionally absorbing and above all infective across the whole online experience.

This is futureology, guess work and musings.

Why would people do this? Why should sane people spend hours gazing at a computer screen? Why should people be engrossed in blogs, social networks and games?

There is a deep itch in our human make up that make such activities compelling. In our millions we already do it. But add even greater richness – a step change as great as from Newsgroups to blogs, to MySpace to Second Life and it seems that such change is inevitable.

Perhaps the big question for us now, is: dare we think of such things and be, just a little prepared, - well - Just in case.