Monday, October 30, 2006

Connected Aloneness

Have you noticed that you are spending more and more of your time in front of your PC? And less time in front of your usual media, like the TV, like the radio, like the newspaper? Well, of course you have. The data from Comscore and Compete say that you do. And my guess is that if you ask most of your friends, they would probably say so.

At the same time, have you noticed that more and more of time with friends is virtual? That you have more virtual relationships and friends?

We are rapidly transitioning to a model where we are abstracting from our humanness of enjoying in-person face-to-face physically based meetings. To virtual encounters. To virtual meetings. To virtual relationships.

So, let's back up a step. And ask when did this start? Well, historians will argue that it started the moment we as humans started using symbolic communication known as language. Which then became books. But let's skip some millennia and get to recent history.

Let's go back to when (if you are old enough!) you first saw someone walking around with a Sony Walkman. Remember how people would get irritated about that person with their earphones plugged into their ears just enjoying their own sonic world? Well, now its commonplace. But back about 20+ years ago, it was a new social phenomena.

It was the beginning of our use of our own personal worlds. Where we separated from the people around us. Enjoying our own experience.

Zoom forward two decades. Now the use of cellphones and MP3 players are commonly accepted. And even email, IM, and your own list of virtual friends on a social networking site like MySpace has its own representation and in some way, an emotional connection for yourself.

Recent studies on kids between grades 7 through 11 indicate that IM use with people you know in real life is being surpassed by IM use with people you virtually know online. That the discovery of virtual people through virtual sites is a real phenomena. And is already dwarfing the use of IM. These surveys also reveal that these kids view as a status badge the number of virtual friends they have listed as "friends' on the social networking site's profile.

Why is this happening? Well, because it's fun! And maybe because it offers a seemingly brand new social playing field. Where you can feel a sense of discovery, differentiation, identity, and mastery. Where you can feel a bigger global stage for your life. A sense that your life is connected to everyone. A sense that you are not alone.

Are we any happier because of it? Good question. I don't know. Each person should answer this for themselves.

Where is it going? I think we are on version 0.1 of the virtual world.

Face it, we are already living in the virtual world. Its just clunky. We live in a virtual world full of text blogs, podcasts, flash video embeds, IM, email, and web page surfing. And sure, we hear of all the "registered users" of Second Life.

By and large, it's a clunky 2D one-person-at-a-time text world that is in the cro magnon stages of something that is arcing to an inevitability. An inevitable virtual world that creates experiences for all of us that are like the ones in Total Recall and Snowcrash. Only better integrated with our physical lives.

We are rapidly, in fits and starts, building out this new world for all of us. One where we can feel connected to everyone. But right now, connected while being alone.

This is something to think about. As we continue to read blogs like this. View video on sites like YouTube. Meet virtual "friends" at MySpace. And go about our usual digital lives. All in front of our PC. With everyone, keystrokes away from us.

In our connected aloneness.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

evhead: The Birth of Obvious Corp.

Just a note out about Evan Williams' new company, called Obvious, which acquired the assets of Odeo, where my firm Charles River Ventures was one of the investors.

Evan was and is great to work with. Evan is creative, fun, and down to earth.

Evan wanted a structure with maximum flexibility without the overhead of additional investors other than himself. He made a good and fair proposal to the board of Odeo and we happily accepted. Everyone around the table was happy to recognize the obvious and support Evan in his goal of starting Obvious.

We are excited to see him do great new things with Obvious. We wish him the best and congratulate him on his new adventure.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

The Consumer. What does a consumer do?

Well consume.

But investors and entrepreneurs use the word "consumer" as shorthand. It has been the capitalist slang for "human." Does this mean that there might be a different view of the word "consumer" ?

Its the purpose of this blog to explore and discuss all facets of this so-called "human." What drives a human. What motivates a human. What they do. What they construct. What they communicate. What they consume.

In a sort of client/server model, humans have been the consumers of the production of enterprises. Enterprises in the sense of pooling people together to create, communicate, and control. This model has existed for ages and fueled the development of the world we now know. And it covers the developments of organizations from religious groups to corporate marketing to governmental groups.

Historians have defined ages as the "agricultural period," the "industrial age," and the "information age." These are technological descriptions of societal development.

The previous ages have now enabled what I am calling the "virtual age."

Basically the use of virtual technologies. Virtual technologies are technologies that use bits, not atoms, as way to affect and integrate the real world. One could argue that the information age was about this. But it wasn't. It was about creating the information and network infrastructure that allows for this "virtualization" of the world and our lives.

The Virtual Age is all about the expansion and integration of our real world and our virtual world.

Remember the Truman Show? It caught our attention in a numerically huge way.....because it tapped into what people were sensing. That we are indeed in the "Virtual Age."