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All work and no play makes Jack a dull lad

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[Dave Birch] We’re about to begin another fantastic new experiment to push the Digital Money Forum blog in newer territory. As many of you will know, we’ve been collecting the more useful blog posts together and publishing them as a blook. The blook has proved rather popular (we’re got advance orders for 800 copies for next year’s blook already) and so it set me thinking. If a blook, why not a blovel (another of blogmeister Jane’s experimental ideas). After all, as a technologist I’ve always been aware that it sometimes takes an artist to bring the real insight and understanding. The canonical example in our space has to be William Gibson’s Neuromancer. Despite working in computing and communications and being deeply versed in the merging technology, when I got half-a-dozen pages into Neuromancer and I got an understanding of now and the future that I could never have obtained from specifications and manuals. Jane’s experiment and the memory of Neuromancer led to me to think about how Charles Dickens (OK, we’re setting the bar a little high, but you’ve got have goals) used to publish his books a chapter at a time in magazines? It occurred to me that we could do the same. That is, why not publish fiction in parts on the blog and then, if it’s any good and people like it, collect the parts together and edit them into a blovel to give out to the forward-thinking individuals who come to the Digital Money Forum? So, a plan began to form, but then quickly went on to the shelf. There’s an obvious problem, of course: I’m not a novelist, so where am I going to find someone who wants to write a novel with a digital money theme and write it well enough that digital money denizens will actually want to read it? Step forward Steve Taylor who — knowing nothing of blogmeister Jane’s experiment — happened to call me and invite me over for a coffee because he was writing a novel with a digital money theme and wanted to bounce some ideas around. Synchronicity! Steve is an advertising and marketing guy of long standing and good company, and I immediately realised that we could experiment together. Hence, the new new thing. Steve is writing a series of business scenarios (called “68”, see below) that use his novel “Pointless” illustrate some thinking about the future. Over the coming year, we’ll publish some chapters of 68 — and see if art can help to illuminate thinking. With a bit of luck, the feedback and discussion will help Steve to drive along both 68 and the accompanying novel and we’ll find some way to connect them and publish perhaps “68” or “Pointless” or both in physical form for the 2009 forum. So welcome to the world of “68: First Hand Reports from the Future of Communications”. Venga!

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[Steve Taylor] 68, unlike the London bus route after which it is named and on which it is being written, started in two different places. It began as a reasonably straightforward business book, a series of descriptive ‘Extreme Scenarios’ (to adopt the name of a technique commonly used in Idea Generation) with the aim of helping people involved in the media and communications industries to think the unthinkable.

But the scenarios were too dry, too functional: they needed bringing to life. So I turned to a satirical futuristic novel that I had started and abandoned, a third of the way through, a couple of years ago. ‘Pointless’ (I know: tempting fate, or what?) is an action adventure set in a futuristic society where private currencies, in the shape of rewards points schemes, have replaced money. (Not the only novel based on this premise: see ‘Jennifer Government’ by Max Barry). The concept is usually attributed to the right-wing Austrian economist Friedrich Hayek.

I became aware of the notion of private currencies several years ago when working with Dave Birch on a project that ended up with the idea being proposed to Virgin: they didn’t get it.

Apart from the competing currencies of Points there are a few generic features of my future world that are not immediately self-explanatory:

Remedies (often shortened, conversationally, to Rems) are smart pharmaceuticals that successfully tackle many of the diseases that are killers today: their cumulative effect is to prolong life well beyond its current span.

Points and Remedies are inextricably linked: in an exclusively mercantile society, if you have none of the former you cannot get any of the latter. This can lead to a sudden, dramatic reversal of the Remedies’ anti-ageing effects, decades lost in days. Some retro-culturally aware wag termed these unfortunates ‘Dorians’.

Google (‘The Big G’) has blasted its servers into orbit around the Earth – oodles of solar power and zero cooling problems.
Only ten 2007-style TV commercials are made a year and they are known as Big Clips. They are an ostentatious indulgence by the few brands so flush that they can afford advertising that has no directly attributable ROI.

Mobile devices are known as Companions: they’re the way you get everything.

Finally, the term Pointless describes exactly what it says – people with no Points, who live an outlaw existence beyond society.

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68 takes the form of a series of ‘first hand reports’, people from the future talking in their own voices about their work, their lives and their relationship with communications. People in my industry (media) are currently being faced with changes so fundamental that they challenge every assumption on which the business has be predicated for the past quarter-century. When Gary Hamel says that

a company’s legacy beliefs are a much bigger liability than its legacy costs

he could have been writing specifically about the media business. The ability to imagine a visionary, disruptive future is as rare as it is necessary. Which is why I began writing 68: to utilise storytelling techniques to help people think about the unthinkable.

The first installment of 68, “Mudge’s Story”, will be published on the Digital Money Forum blog next week.

These opinions are my own (I think) and presented solely in my capacity as an interested member of the general public [posted with ecto]

2 thoughts on “All work and no play makes Jack a dull lad”

  1. iang@iang.org' Iang says:

    The blog book is very interesting, I have a copy of the last year … and I’m watching the experiment with interest.
    What I did find disappointing is that comments are not included. I heard one argument that licensing is problematic, but I don’t buy it. A post on a blog comes with an implied licence, it isn’t so hard to write to the blog authors to extend, and it is easy enough to put a 9 word licence agreement on the site somewhere. “You give us the right to publish your comment…”
    There’s also a question of effort & reward: what incentive is there for someone like myself to spend my valuable Sunday afternoon to write a good comment to a good post, when all the popularity is captured entirely by the blog owner?

  2. Dave Birch says:

    The point about comments is very well made. I am toying with the idea of beginning to include comments but there are a couple of problems that I think need to be thought through. Assuming that I change the blog page to somewhere say “All comments are concerned to be licenced blah blah” and that people are still happy to post, I would want to be able to edit comments just as I edit the post when making the printed version. And I don’t want to deal with e-mails of the kind “why did you include comment X but not my comment”, that sort of thing. But thanks for raising the idea.
    It’s too late for this year’s blook (because almost three-quarters of it is already edited), but when I close off the 2008 version (end of February) I will consider the issue again. In the meantime, I’ll start a thread later in the week to gather comments.

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