Flashback: Boogie Rights

The Hawaii Research Center for Futures Studies blog, where I posted about futures studies and experiential exploits, is no longer accessible. Therefore, I will be using this space to re-post some “classics” from the 2007–2009 era. First up, a summary of an infamous 2008 SXSWi performance, orginally published in March 2008.

Boogie Rights

How will people communicate and what will social networking look like in 2025? That was one of the guiding questions for the South by Southwest Interactive panel: Futurists’ Sandbox: Scenarios for Social Technologies.

Stuart and I, along with panel organizer Michele Bowman (Global Foresight Associates), Wayne Pethrick (Pitney-Bowes), and Jamais Cascio (IFTF and Open the Future) participated in this unique event — which those who attended will not soon forget.

We began working on the panel in January, starting with group discussions on emerging issues in social media and technologies and how these would interact with larger global trends. After surveying the landscape through our initial conversations, we developed four distinct, but generic, future worlds. From these futures we would imagine and write specific scenarios involving social technologies and the shape of human interaction.

The generic futures were:

Mobilization — A top-down world of government and corporate power. Consolidation against terrorism and the rise of eco-mercenaries to go after rogue carbon emitters, and a strong centralization urge.
Community — A bottom-up world of distributed networks and localism. Open models do well here, but so do open-source guerillas.
Challenge — global warming, peak oil, and the failure of resilience. Some parts of the world are worse than others, but nobody’s very happy.
Transfiguration — Better computers enables early-stage nanomanufacturing enables emergent AI enables full molecular manufacturing enables full artificial general intelligence systems. All in about 3 months.

We each ‘volunteered’ for one of the four alternative futures, and then each created a logically coherent and consistent story within that future. Stuart and I chose the totalitarian, control future. Combining our concern with expanding IP rights and their impact on expression and freedom, we decided to integrate elements of the aesthetic economy, IP expansion, and surveillance culture — thus creating a disturbing totalitarian corporate-state. In this world, social media and networked communication would have to navigate a field of technological and legal impediments, all built on the logic of complete and absolute content control.

Our co-panelists had their own creative approaches to their scenarios — the results are presented here:

Mobilization:
The Total Dream State: A Eulogy for Eddie Adams
Stuart Candy & Jake Dunagan
The aesthetic economy, including the communications, entertainment, design, culture and other content industries, has become the dominant economic and political force in early 21st Century states. These industries emerged from the economic and energy upheavals of the 2010s consolidated, efficient, and with a clear agenda (and the means) for further growth. The aesthetic economy quickly transformed into the Dream Society, conditioning all the ways people communicate and express themselves. Seizing on weakened governments, and leveraging their increased economic power, corporate media giants lobbied for and received unprecedented legal mandates to control, monitor, and enforce the intellectual property rights held in their content, media, technological platforms, and distributed wireless digital networks. Protecting copyright, patents, and ever extending IP rights became part of U.S. national security policy, dictated by the business models of the content oligopoly. Select corporations (the Big 5, and later the Little 2) were given access to Department of Homeland Security surveillance and field agents to find and prosecute alleged infringers and pirates. The Content Security Act of 2011 and the International Anaheim Treaty on Trade and Tariffs(ATTT) of 2015 criminalized a wide array of content and information sharing and established severe penalties for those found guilty in the tribunal courts. The United States and much of the rest of the world became a de-facto version of the Hollywood “studio system” from the early 20th Century, this time on a global scale and with total vertical control.
No one exemplified the rise of the Dream Society (and its impact on individual and collective liberty) more than Eddie Adams, a.k.a Dirk Diggler. From a small-town kid in Ohio, to the face of the Golden Age of pornography, to the icon of the free-culture resistance, and up until his tragic end, Eddie’s life is a testament to the vicissitudes of freedom and the enormous stakes of the current struggle. Please join us on March 11th, as we pay tribute to the man and celebrate the legend.
Design: Eliot Frick
Community:
DATAPOINTS® the personal data marketplace
Wayne Pethrick
The world, like the network that connects it, is always on, wide-open and flat-out fast. In terms of social technologies, bottom-up distributed networks have made their presence felt, manifested by unbridled lifestreaming otherwise known as sousveillance by those over 50, and self-veillance for those under.
In this future, data flows free like acronyms during a corporate powerpoint presentation (which, incidentally, is where we find ourselves today). Data is highly valued, a point now recognized by the average consumer largely through the establishment of a marketplace for information and data. To command top dollar, those generating data must keep their information clean (i.e. verified) and, where possible, contained. The principles of supply and demand still apply, if your data is of good quality and there is not a glut of it on the market, you can do well.
Enter the precocious star of this future scenario, a company called DATAPOINTS. Specializing in data verification, consolidation and trading, DATAPOINTS provides consumers with the products and services to secure and unite their information into a holistic data profile, the kind that organizations, both commercial and governmental, are always interested in acquiring.
Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to the DATAPOINTS Shareholder Meeting for 2025.
Challenge:
Can You See Me Now?
Michele Bowman
As our information technologies continue to propagate the world, the electronic exhaust of our click stream is generating unprecedented amounts of metadata. Rather than a useless by-product, however, metadata is a valuable resource, an untapped gold mine of previously invisible patterns, desires, intentions and relationships.
Social technologies are emerging to help us navigate, control, connect and leverage metadata, helping us make the invisible visible. How can we recycle and repurpose metadata to expose the hidden layers of connections between people, objects and environments? How will it be instantiated into the world and the Internet of things?
In the future, will we use metadata judiciously, or will we create a world of characterized by information obesity? Can you see me now? explores the social, legal and political implications of the evolving relationship between social technologies and metadata.
see Fringehog for more on Michele’s scenario.
Transfiguration:
Turn Off, Unplug, Drop Out
Jamais Cascio
Welcome to the Last Chance Session, potential Drop-Outs!
In a all-too-near world of nanomanufacturing, emerging machine intelligence, radical gene therapies, ultra-smart environments, and an all-pervasive, always watching global network, some people just don’t want to fit in. In a free, open society, removing yourself from the network is an entirely valid choice — but it’s a choice with consequences. The visitors in the audience are at the last point in the process, and have one more chance to decide whether or not to drop out.
The brief session will cover what they’ll gain and what they’ll lose by dropping out.
Topics include:
Reputation networks, Environmental awareness, Augmented reality, Community relations, Taxes (it always comes down to taxes)
At the end of the discussion, the audience will be asked to make their decision — do they drop out, or hook back up?
Jamais’ post at Open the Future.

As you can see, these summaries also reveal the presentation format we chose to represent the scenarios at SXSW. Again, we move from general to specific, as the presentations were but “the tip of the iceberg” of the scenarios themselves. Very much in the vein of the Hawaii 2050 kickoff event, we chose not to simply present or read the scenarios as is, but rather to create brief experiential performances, supplemented with tangible artifacts and images from this future (see the funeral announcement above). We enacted a interpretively rich scene to serve as a metonym for the larger world in which it exists. For our scenario, we chose to tell the story of the locked-down Dream Society through a eulogy for Eddie Adams, aka Dirk Diggler from P.T. Anderson’s film Boogie Nights [details of this concept and performance in part 2] .

There was no indication in the SXSW festival materials that our group would be ‘performing’ scenes from our scenarios, and, after some debate, we decided not to preface the panel with an explanation of the method. This was a risky choice, and with access to the active twitterati and audience members commenting live on the SXSW Meebo chatrooms, we could see that the reaction to the panel was mixed, but passionate. Still, for what might be risked in subverting audience expectation, we feel this performative, immersive technique is much more effective at engaging the audience at both emotional and intellectual levels — creating an unusual, thought-provoking and memorable event.

Of all the work we have done at the HRCFS during my tenure, this was the most completely realized embodiment of Dator’s 2nd Law.

Part 2: Dirk Diggler, Free Culture Warrior

South by Southwest Interactive 2008, Austin Convention Center, Ballroom B, March 11, 5pm Central Daylight Time.

Hauntingly familiar, but unplaceable organ music* fills the hall; on the large screen to stage right, the audience, filing in to see a panel on scenarios for social media in 2025, finds this curious image:

Just left of the lectern, on a pedestal in the middle of the stage is a…hmm…a stainless steel container, which looks somewhat like a turn-of-the-20th-Century diving helmet. Steam or smoke seems to waft out through its cracks. In front of the container is a framed picture of the man on the screen, only much older and carrying the countenance of hard-earned wisdom.

The Ballroom is full now; people are sitting along the walls and between rows of seats. The music fades, and a man — in Priest’s garb? — addresses the audience, “Please be seated…”

Stuart Candy as Diggler’s Priest. Image by coquedesign2000

And so began our South by Southwest Interactive presentation — a eulogy for one Eddie Adams, a.k.a Dirk Diggler, the protagonist in P.T. Anderson’s 1997 epic film Boogie Nights. For the next 20 minutes, we told the life-story of Eddie Adams through reflections and recollections of his Priest (Stuart Candy), his Lawyer (Jake Dunagan), and through his friend, lover, and co-star Rollergirl (played by the extraordinary Sandy “The War of Desire and Technology” Stone — thanks Sandy!).

About the scenario and experience

Scenarios are coherent stories about possible futures, but the context in which these stories are to be presented and received exerts a considerable influence on the content of the scenario and the representational strategies we choose. A contracted report to the Board of Directors of a Fortune 500 company creates a different landscape of possibility than a 15-minute presentation to a media-savvy festival audience. However, knowing the situational conventions of diverse contexts allows us to “play” with those conventions for maximum pedagogical utility. For the SXSW Interactive event, we felt like we could (and should) use the opportunity to experiment with affective forecasting, provocative performance art, and future-shock therapy.

The givens:

-the room: Ballroom B, capacity 300+

-day and time: March 11, 5pm (the last panel of the conference)

-the audience: SXSWers — media and technology oriented, well-educated, demographically skewing male and in the 25–40yr old age range.

-length of panel: 1 hour, to be divided by 4 panelists, so 12–15 minutes per presentation.

The variables:

-the generic scenario. Choice: top-down totalitarian control.

-the specific scenario. Choice: an Intellectual property-led media oligopoly.

-generic presentation format. Choice: a participatory, experiential scenario based around an event appropriate to and indicative of the world we envisioned for 2025.

-specific presentation content: Choice: A funeral service for Eddie Adams/Dirk Diggler, with several eulogies in his honor.

Why Dirk Diggler?

The world of 2025 we had created was rich with productive tensions. It was a world ruled by entertainment and media companies, yet it locked-down content and expression — creating the ultimate permission culture. Everyone would be affected by this system — and the impact on social networks and media would be profound. We imagined the course of creativity in this world, especially for people who were supposed to make a living in the aesthetic economy. How would designers, musicians, filmmakers, writers, actors, and others navigate a world in which their creative output was centrally controlled? How would content be produced and distributed over communication networks? Who were the winners and losers?

Who has the right to censor content? What is lost in an IP lockdown world?

We were confident on the general shape of the scenario, but we were struggling to find the most fruitful “tip of the iceberg” to evoke this world. So, Stuart suggested we turn to a classic Edward De Bono technique and choose a word at random to kick-start some lateral thinking. The first word that appeared was “lecher.” Now, neither Stuart or I would likely describe pornography as a necessarily lecherous endeavor, but certain conditioned responses made the cognitive bridge to the concept seemingly unavoidable.

Some of the most egregious abuses of IP (from our perspective) involve the increasing shrinkage of the public commons and the commodification of cultural knowledge and life itself. If the scope of control were extended to its most extreme, what else could be owned? Within a few seconds, we connected the top-down creative governance to pornography to one of the most famous names in porn — Dirk Diggler — to the alienation and ownership of Dirk’s most special gift. It basically wrote itself from there.

Protesters at the Diggler v. Disney Supreme Court Case

Why a Eulogy?

Knowing the space and layout of the facility where the event is to take place is a fundamental, but often under-appreciated, part of designing experience. We knew that we would have hundreds of audience members, sitting in rows, looking forward at a stage. With other presentations to follow, and limited time, we knew we couldn’t arrange or re-arrange the room too drastically. So Stuart and I began to brainstorm contexts in which people would be so situated, but somehow still directly involved in the proceedings. It adds to the impact of the experience, in our view, if the audience is somehow implicated in the performance. For example, in one of our Hawaii 2050 futures, audience members were cast as climate refugees, fresh off the boat from inundated Micronesian islands, and in the process of being forced into the citizen-soldier military of the Democratic Kingdom of Hawaii.

Two ideas began to hold out the most promise: an awards ceremony and a funeral service. The awards ceremony was inspired by scenes in Boogie Nights where Dirk receives several awards as the industry’s top actor. We thought about Dirk returning for a lifetime achievement award, and through the ceremony we could tell the story of how his image and publicity rights were sold and later abused, the court battles lost, and the power of media giants in conditioning our everyday lives.

Having suffered a recent loss in my family (to be unfortunately repeated in the subsequent weeks for both Stuart and me) I was intrigued by the process of narrativizing a life and the affective registers associated with a funeral service. And, as a funeral is an event which almost everyone has experienced at some point in their life, it gave us a formal structure and set of shared conventions in which to hang the performance.

As we fleshed it out, the funeral/eulogy experience seemed to hit all the right marks. It would immediately signal to the audience that a different kind of attention was required for this panel. It would put them in “up-time” as our colleague Matt Jensen likes to call it. Secondly, there was the right mixture (for our sensibilities) of absurdity and provocation in the concept of eulogizing a fictional porn star. The ready-made backstory helped us craft a narrative trajectory in which we could uncover the processes and choices that led to the “Dream Society” of 2025, and personalize the stakes involved for individuals and collectivities as well. Finally, we designed the scene to be humorous and fun, but even the parody of the sacred allowed us to show the profanity that over-reaching intellectual property laws could have on expression and basic freedoms.

This format also gave us clear genre conventions around which to imagine and design artifacts and images. We knew we would have a funeral announcement, a slideshow with images from key moments in Eddie/Dirk’s life, and other items such as protest signs from Eddie’s trials, a ‘Che Guevara’-like icon shot of Eddie, and movie posters from his career, post Boogie Nights.**

Diggler fought for all of us

Long, Strange Trip

We did not want to waste a great opportunity to push ourselves in new experimental directions, to make an alternative future for 2025 come alive in a meaningful way, and to create a memorable experience for the SXSW audience. In this I think we succeeded. We also had a great time at the festival, and contributed the best we could to keeping Austin weird.

*”Living Thing” by Electric Light Orchestra, transformed into a funeral dirge by John Maus.

**Samples seen in this post. Thanks to designers Melissa Jordan and her team at PinkerGreen Design or their spot-on designs and our fellow asylum inmates — designers Eliot Frick and Matt Jensen, for their willingness to contribute intellectually and creatively to this absurd concept.

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