Yesterday I took a repeat-recommendation from a friend to listen to a podcast called Radiolab. It has a storytelling style that is similar to This American Life, but with a very cool, very engaging hodgepodge of sounds and effects thrown in to the mix. It all comes together to make each episode sound more like you’re listening in on a conversation than to a podcast. But that’s only the surface details, because if the presentation was good, without anything underneath, I wouldn’t be writing about this podcast right now. The best part about this podcast, is the content. They find really cool topics with a few stories for each, much like This American Life. But the stories are never presented just as standalone stories that tie into a theme. The stories are presented as a prelude to further a discussion on the topic of the episode.
My favourite episode so far, titled What Technology Wants, follows this amazingly cool idea of the Technium. This is a term that I believe was coined by author, and guest on this episode of the show, Kevin Kelly. The best way to understand the concept is probably to hit the link and listen to the show, but short of that I’ll try to summarize it briefly for you. You may have heard of the phenomenon of colonies of bees or ants acting as if they were a single unit. Individual ants of some varieties will use their own bodies to produce bridges for their fellow ants to traverse gaps in terrain, all in the name of gathering food for the queen. Similarly, bees will sacrifice themselves to ward off invading predators all for the sake of the hive. These are sometimes referred to as superorganisms – organisms made up of individual organisms. Just as the individual cells in our bodies would not survive separate from our bodies, individuals belonging to a superorganism would not survive long outside of the social network that makes up the superorganism. Well, Kelly takes this idea of the superorganism and applies it to essentially everything around us, and specifically technology.
Now if I start to think of humans, animals, plans and technology all as parts of a single superorganism, I am compelled to ask the question, “What does it want?” Just as Kelly does in his book and on the show. I really want to go into more detail on this, but then I wouldn’t be able to move on to this other really cool thing I discovered just today.
I should preface this by giving a shout out to my friend Coco, who first suggested that I mention TED talks on my blog. Unfortunately, two months later, it took my stumbling across a TED talk quite accidentally to finally do it. In any case, thanks for the suggestion Coco! I’ll have to come back and devote some more time to talking specifically about TED, but for now you should know that it’s a site filled with interesting, inspiring videos of lectures on pretty much any topic you can think of. Hopefully the one I’m going to go into detail on here will make you intrigued enough to check out the site for yourself.
The particular TED talk I want to…talk about is by a woman named Jane McGonigal. She develops games at an organization called Institute for the Future, and her interest is in creating games that will effect social change. She sees gamers and the vast amount of time they spend playing games as an overflowing and untapped human resource that can be harnessed to affect change in the real world. It’s a really interesting idea, and I don’t want to bastardize it by summarizing (much like I did for technium idea), so I will simply leave you to watch her twenty minute talk on your own.
Alright, so the idea seems a little weird, but there are already games out there that are trying to do this, as Jane mentions in her talk. Gameful is just one example of an online game that is trying to make a positive impact in the world around us. Well, that’s almost true. It’s a game that’s bringing game designers and gamers together to collaborate and share with the goal of making other games that will make positive real-world changes. I’ve just set up a profile with them, I’m not really sure exactly what I can do to help yet, but the way they’ve set up the site is very game-like. The Mayor, who is the little monster that runs the site, gives you goals that effectively cause you to become more immersed in the Gameful community. It’s a very interesting concept, so I’m going to be coming back to this site for a while to see where it takes me.
If you want a legit list of some positive real-world change games, you can go to this page on Gameful, which has a list of these kinds of games. I haven’t tried any of these yet, but I have tried EteRNA, a game-project designed to build up a database of RNA designs, all with the help of gamers! That’s right, you play this game, and you are actually contributing to scientific research! It’s a pretty cool idea, and not too shabby of a game either.
Anyway, I had all these ideas bouncing around my head and I needed to get them out somehow. And the more I listen to Radiolab, and the more TED talks I watch, the more cool ideas that keep bouncing around. Actually, when I first heard the What Technology Wants episode of Radiolab, I started imagining all of these really cool scifi scenarios that actually seemed plausible. I’ve been thinking about writing a short story or something like that on the topic, but I can’t really solidify my ideas enough to get a story out of them. Plus, I haven’t written a short story since I was in high school. So if there are any writers out there reading this, I would be real grateful for some tips!