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The Blue Paradigm

In 1995 Clifford Stoll, a physics professor and former systems expert with Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and an early pioneer of digital forensics, wrote a bold book on the future of the (then fledgling) Internet, called Silicon Snake Oil. In that book he made numerous claims about the Internet’s future. Some of which were colossally wrong, even by his own admission, stating for example that little money would ever be made through e-commerce. But the thrust of Stoll’s arguments in the book, and around that time, can be summed up in one quote from him:  

“Life in the real world is far more interesting, far more important, far richer, than anything you’ll ever find on a computer screen.“

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Yet over the next two decades one could say there has been acceleration in Internet interaction, and social isolation. From everything from video games, or watching movies on YouTube, to dating, to what seems like a sub universe society by the likes of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, and beyond. If Stoll was right in his claim, few people were listening. 


In the history of the TV show Shark Tank, the biggest deal to date was made when Mark Cuban dropped $2m on Ten Thirty One Productions, (now Thirteenth Floor) a company that started out running Haunted Houses in the Los Angeles area, then expanded to a ghost ship/cruise, a haunted hay ride, then moving out of the Halloween season, into the Horror Camp Out in the summer, sort of a participatory Friday the 13th (without the actual bloodletting, I presume). What caught my attention most was Cuban uttering one small statement when he inked the deal that no one seemed to notice. That immersive and participatory entertainment was the wave of the future. 


“I think the next generation of entertainment is experiential entertainment. Where people get out of their house and get a unique experience.” 


Cuban also put $1.72m into a Boston based obstacle course company named Rugged Manic, which grew quickly, and doubled Cuban’s investment.  What’s Rugged Maniac? A shorter, easier, more fun version of Tough Mudder that gets people out of their house for a unique experience. 


There’s a business theory called Blue Ocean Strategy from a book by W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne that I’m a firm believer in. In a nutshell works like this: You’re trying to sail from one point to another. Most people look where others are going, and try to make it that same way, charting that same course if you will. But that’s where the sharks are, and that’s where everyone is thrashing about, clawing over one another, being eaten alive, creating a red ocean. It’s more of an unknown, seems more of a risk, but if you sail around that, you may take a longer path, you may get a bit off course, but the ocean there is blue. 


Put another way, Ten Thirty One is using Cuban’s money to sail into a blue ocean. And Cuban knew precisely that’s what they were doing.

Blue Ocean.jpg

In 2016 one of the biggest apps in history was launched called Pokemon Go! In case you’ve been living in a cave (or entirely out and about and unplugged!) it’s considered one of the first widespread augmented reality applications. A game that compels people to get out and move, search for others and capture items. Sort of like an Easter egg hunt meets geocaching. It did not receive the best critical reviews, and a lot of critics mocked it as a nuisance. However, it did something amazing that seems lost on many people – it used technology to motivate people get out and interact with others; to be involved in the real world (if an augmented version of it), with nearly 150 million people using it, and grossing over $3b in revenue. As people got out of their house and got a unique experience, it also had the added benefit of getting people physically active.


Augmented reality, like virtual reality, has been around a long time, longer than people realize. The View-Master of which VR goggles today came from, started over eighty years ago, in1939. Haunted houses, of which Ten-Thirty One Productions sail into the blue ocean is based on, around since the early 19th century. 


What may be happening today is not too different from the early days of the Internet as participatory entertainment, VR and AR grow and become mainstream, ubiquitous. But unlike the early internet days that pushed people inside, in front of their computers, towards isolation, this paradigm shift shows people tired of spending their lives as a virtual version of themselves something indeed far more interesting, far richer, in that the real world, even if it’s enhanced, or augmented, is something they actually want, even if they don’t actively realize it, nearly quarter century after Stoll’s observation.  


As to me. I’d get out and be more socially active myself in this new world, experience some of this, except I need to finish this blog post and start working on the next one.    

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