The second inspiring talk on Day One of ToC was by Douglas Rushkoff. Rushkoff is a synthesiser – he puts together ideas in a way which immediately makes sense and forces you to wonder why you hadn't seen it that way before. On this occasion, he didn't have any Powerpoint slides or other accoutrements beyond a flip chart, which he used twice. First, he drew a single and enormous upcurve, announcing that this chart represented all the other charts that were being shown at the conference i.e. all the numbers are increasing all the time. He then flipped the page and drew a second identical upcurve, which represented the total of all the charts that used that same curve. After that, there were no more charts – just Rushkoff talking. And his message developed that of Stephen Abram an hour before. Abram had said content isn't king in the new media world, no, context is king. No, said Rushkoff, contact is king. Of course! Damn, why didn't I think of that? (This thought is called 'the Rushkoff Effect').
What makes the net different, said Rushkoff, is that it offers the chance to socialise and to break down the barriers of mass media which were created to intermediate – to put something between people e.g. buying their oats from a company called Quaker rather than, as in the past, from Joe the local miller. The same thing happens with TV, which has increasingly split families into people sitting alone in different rooms of the same house. And lone individuals buy more because the purchases are substitute people.
The internet is, therefore, a remedial technology for people who have lost touch with each other. It is not interactive, it is interpersonal. People interact online around a certain product or idea or community less because they care about the focal point and more because it gives them an opportunity to get interpersonal with other people. So content is not king, contact is king. This seems like a pretty transliterate notion to me.
The lesson we must draw from this, he believes, is that people today are lonely and if we want them to visit our sites and buy what we have to sell there, we have to create excuses for them to interact with each other. He gave as an example a project from some years ago (will look up title and add later) where he did not invite people to write a book with him, but he posted up his pre-written manuscript and invited users to excavate it as if they were literary archaeologists from the future. They were asked to write footnotes to it, and in doing so they became their own community. I remember watching this happen around the Million Penguins Wikinovel in 2007 when the community which arose amongst the writers, editors and critics of the work became its most important element, and certainly much more important than the work itself, I suspect.
So this is his message for today – create opportunities for contact, and they will come. Of course, we all know that, right? But there's just something about the way he says it that makes me think I didn't understand it as well before the talk as I did afterwards. Must be the hypnotic effect of all those upward curves…