The ’80s and the ’40s

A couple of timely items popped up out of my information stream recently: a book, and a game.

The blog GeekDad reviewed a book by David Sirota, Back to Our Future: How the 1980s Explain the World We Live in Now — Our Culture, Our Politics, Our Everything. As Jenny Williams writes:

Flip to any page in the book and some reference to pop culture in the 1980s will jump out at you. The introduction especially seems to be a long list of various ’80s things with a few other words in between to stitch them together. It is playful, but in the introduction it seems forced and not terribly informative. Sirota does make a good point, though, that many things from the ’80s are coming back. Our interest in things from that decade has resurged and we’re sharing them with our kids. The ’80s have suddenly become relevant again today. But why?

Sirota explores that “why” throughout the rest of the book. He tackles one topic at a time, starting with Michael J. Fox’s importance to the decade of the ’80s. Each chapter deals with much broader topics, not tossing quite as many pop culture references into each sentence. Other topics he covers include politics, advertising, and social movements. The chapters are filled with so much detail that it’s obvious that he either has a very good memory for the decade, or he has done his research. More bits of the 1980s than you need are continually tossed at you, but Sirota uses them to drive his points home.

If anyone picks up a copy of that book this month, mine some talking points from it for our forum discussion on 1986.

Looking in the other direction of the time arrow is an interesting Facebook game, America 2049, the first Facebook game to be completely narrative-driven. Run by transmedia designer Andrea Phillips and global human rights organization Breakthrough, the project netted some familiar faces to provide video content, including Victor Garber and Margaret Cho.

Has anyone played this game? Maybe you could share some of your thoughts about how it made you think about the future.

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Butterflies in the Darndest Places

The Internet can be the most interesting, enjoyable, useful, frustrating, confusing place in the world. Using last night as an example, i will illustrate my point.

I spent the early hours of the night working on the Internet to do research on my academic studies by simply typing terms into Google Scholar, which allowed me, within minutes, to catch up on a 50-year history of research on functional fixedness, (a human tendency which prevents us from finding innovative uses for things) without having to get into my car and visit the library. Interesting and useful.

I then spent the later hours of the evening working over the Internet with my colleague Kevin getting this web site up and running for the start of the Taming the Butterfly game. Enjoyable and useful.

Late in the evening, however, I received a phone call from a friend who wanted to know why we had posted this video on our company’s YouTube page:

Frustrating and Confusing. Why? Because we were not the ones who posted the video. Rather, some person had hacked into our YouTube account and posted it without our knowledge.

But on some level this was interesting (once i had gone in and reset our passwords to prevent her from hacking in again), because apparently the hacker had taken our “Taming the Butterfly” future of Bloomington theme and did us one better by pretending she is actually from the future.  It was also a little useful because it got me thinking more specifically about what a person from the future might think.  We’ve actually decided to leave the video up for now so that you can see it for yourself.

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Why We’re Taming Butterflies

The name of this game refers to the “butterfly effect,” a concept popularized by the 2004 movie of the same name in which small actions (like a butterfly flapping its wings) have big effects later on through a chain of events (like changing the weather).

The future of a community like Bloomington–its economy, its people, its resources, its culture–depends in many ways on the seemingly small actions we all take today. The Taming the Butterfly game is designed to get us thinking about these issues as an entire community. It is also a chance for us to practice doing so effectively by connecting in-person and through digital media.

The game will be held in the weeks leading up to TEDx Bloomington on May 14, and it is designed to encourage Bloomingtonians to:

  1. Play a fun augmented reality game (ARG) with serious purposes for Bloomington.
  2. Learn digital skills for today’s challenges, taught by local experts.
  3. Engage with other forward-thinking members of the Bloomington community.
  4. Change Bloomington to be ready for the challenges of the next quarter century.

The game will first be announced on April 6, at the Bloomington Geek Dinner, a recurring gathering of local technologists, academics, and entrepreneurs.

With consultation from Studio Cypher and others, SociaLens will be running the game registration and Week of Digital Fluency activities scheduled for May 5th through 12th. If you are interested in participating, please join by filling out our registration form as soon as possible.

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