May 2012
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Month May 2012

Entertainment Gathering 6 : A Relaxed Version of TED

Recently Elizabeth and I spent two days at a telecast of the EG6 (Entertainment Gathering): Rebooting Tomorrow conference broadcast from Monterey, CA to Chicago, IL. The event is the brainchild of concert pianist and MIT Media Lab fellow Michael Hawley. Previously unaware of either the event or Hawley, we had no preconceived ideas of what the experience would be like.

We were a little unnerved that there were so few attendees and that half of them seemed to be Field employees who were encouraged to attend (seeing as they disappeared in droves when the lights went down). We became increasing more so when it became apparent that this was going to be a truly eclectic and interesting experience. Both avid conference attendees — as budgets allow — we are usually disappointed in the local fare. Chicago seems to slower to embrace or grasp crowd sourcing of information and the idea of conferences as the new concert, book club, coffee house, etc. The notable exception to that being Chicago Ideas Week.

Rather than boil this down to the essence, to prove my point we are instead giving in-depth descriptions of some of the speakers. Some presenters were less effective because their egos and personalities focused more on their own accomplishments with little empathy about packaging their experience in a way that would be valuable to others. Other presenters were wonderful at packaging their ideas and connecting with participants. Large segments of the California conference were not shown. Elizabeth was a bit bugged that the simulcast didn’t include Neil Stephenson’s segment, but we are both glad it happened at all. Overall, should this event happen be held again next year, we suggest you check it out.

Manufactured Reality : The New Reality?

Tupac Shakur came back from the dead for the first Coachella Valley Music & Arts festival to the joy and amazement of the festival-goers – and the wider public by Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre.

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This digital resurrection was actually brought to festival-goers by sophisticated CGI and projection technology of the Digital Domain Media Group. The intent of bringing back Tupac seemed to be driven by many motivations : to use the brand equity of an extreme rap figure, to set a certain tone and association for the festival, and to provide an amazing spectacle that would generate buzz and value to the endeavor.

The media’s reaction intensified the meaning of the event, by asking is this ethical on one hand to how did they do that? on the other. Public events and controversy is nothing new. When we go to an event, there is what we think we will experience and what actually happens. Think about the game show investigations in the 1950s that highlighted contestants being fed answers. Think about in more recent times when milli-vanilli were caught lip syncing on stage at their concerts and their 1990 Grammy was taken back. Events are a type of contract : ticket holders expect an authentic event, and when this authenticity is put in question, then the contract is broken.

In the case of the Tupac resurrection, this was a surprise and delighted ticket holders. Inadvertently, this act raised serious questions of authenticity, use of manufactured celebrity, and what defines reality. In a culture being more and more defined by media and mediums, society is facing sincere questions of authenticity and reality when the medium becomes the driving force for engagement.

Already, Snoop and Dre are reportedly thinking about taking the Tupac hologram out on tour. James Montgomery from the Digital Domain Media Group weighed in by saying Once this becomes a little less cost prohibitive, given the wild popularity of deceased stars like Elvis or Michael Jackson, I can see Las Vegas shelling out a lot of money to have these sort of ‘live reviews.’ This means that any historical documentation of dead celebrities can be repurposed to create a seamless experience for contemporary consumption.

Simon Coronel, a magician discussed the art of deception through illusion and the power it has in affecting the mind to both struggle and be pleased with experiencing the impossible. The combination of sleight of hand through dexterity & misdirection by using distraction for critical moments create the impossible. No matter how perceptive you are, you still fall for the illusion in front of you.

In the case of Tupac, the sleight of hand was the use of holographic technology and the distraction was the seamless speech Tupac gave inserting the name of the festival and talking directly to Snoop and Dr. Dre. Everyone knew this was impossible, but bought into the experience.

With the Tupac resurrection, will media personalities have to put in their wills that their moving images cannot be manufactured – or have to be done with the approval of the estate? For example, Fred Astaire’s movie clips were repurposed to seamlessly integrate a Dirt Devil vacuum cleaner. His widow, Robyn Astaire, the guardian of her husband’s image licensed Astaire’s image for Dirt Devil and defended herself, saying she was doing only what Fred would have wanted. I’ve had to deplete much of my financial security over the years to prosecute infringers she has said. I just feel Fred would have wanted me to do these commercials.

But what about for live events? It is not deceptive advertising to publicize a concert with Johnny Cash, as everyone knows he is dead. As long as the estate sanctions it, these events will not be breaking the law. However, if James Montgomery is right and the technology to reanimate dead celebrities becomes commoditized, then what will be the meaning and value of these manufactured realities?

Society today is much more accepting of manufactured reality because for the very reason that the amount of media we are consuming on a daily basis is already manufactured to varying degrees. From people pretending to be something they are not, to using digital aviators as equivalents to themselves, to images being photo manipulated and presented as authentic, to reality TV which is continually remanufactured depending on the response from the audience. These trends are redefining the ingredients and definitions of reality.

Interestingly, the craving for authentic is on the rise – possibly out of a reaction to these trends. Many are using the term authentic to imply trustworthy, real, genuine – not processed. There are parallels to food and food production where certain markets want to have food as unaltered as possible. When characters on Star Trek use the holideck to go to places they crave for, this synthetic reality is a way to use character’s experience as a time of reflection, or to provide them with experiences they never could draw from. Maybe in the future there will be two tiers of transaction for the public. Authentic experiences that have not been processed, and manufactured experiences that have been art directed and are synthetic.

Bette Davis, had it right when in the movie All About Eve, Margo Channing said “Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy night!”


A Question of Identity : An Interview with Tom Suiter

Tom Suiter is a unique individual – a devoted father, highly curious, a collaborator and a talented designer and leader. He is able to bridge business issues and different types of strategies to inform powerful and immersive brand experiences. This all happens through a very accessible interpersonal style.

We met in San Francisco when I was leading the user experience group for the Chicago office of USWeb/CKS and he was Chief Creative Officer. Tom asked me to work directly for him auditing and evaluating the creative capabilities of the company nationally. My memories of working for Tom was that he was a thoughtful listener, communicated clearly and had his priorities in order – to find the best people to do the best work. This has been a continual theme throughout his career.

The evolution of Tom is one of learning the craft of design and then enhancing these skills by wanting to expand corporate identity into wider spheres of influence into what Peter Behrens referred to as a total imagistic panorama where integration at all levels create experiences that are both powerful and relevant. His design response in many different industries has allowed him to concentrate essential core values of brand, brand articulation and brand management – but without all the stifling quantitative language that gets in the way.

Professionals that can lead, shape and implement branded experiences are few, and the number of people that Tom has identified, mentored and collaborated with is a powerful marker to the level of creative excellence that any company would want to strive for. As Steve Jobs once said to Tom – It’s Perfect.