immersive experiences

Halley Suitt has been blogging about Harvard's "digital identity/branding" conference the past two days. I particularly like this post, which gets to the key issues that trouble many faculty about the whole distance learning push on campus.

The president of Harvard, Larry Summers dropped by to open this conference. I was particularly intriqued by one issue he brought up. He described all the benefits of watching a football game in your living room -- good seat at the 40 yard line, instant replay, comfortable couch, 72 degree temperature, clean bathroom easily available, etc. and then the unfavorable conditions in a stadium -- usually poor, distant seating, no instant reply, hard bench, freezing conditions at time, dirty bathroom at the end of a long concrete ramp. He asked, "What is the nature of an attractive experience?"

In other words, why the heck would anyone attend a football game? What attracts people to a group experience? What is it that makes a shared classroom experience better? Is there something irreducible about an in-person classroom experience? (Most of us believe there is.) What is it about distance learning that just doesn't cut it? Where do the digital and the in-person experiences compliment one another? Do they conflict?

It's not just what attracts people to a group can have a "group experience" where a whole bunch of folks watch that same football game together in your living room, and still you can wish to be there in the cold, in the end zone, part of that experience.

I thought about this a lot after PopTech. After all, why go to PopTech? Everything's streamed after the fact. You can watch it at your leisure, replay the bits that went too fast, even project it on the wall and invite your colleagues over.

The easy answer is the interactions before/after/between speakers, the 'networking.' But that's not it for me. I enjoy meeting folks there, but what I really love is somewhere in that opera house shared experience. The whispered conversations with the people sitting around me. The conversations that carry over from the opera house to the hotel to the dinner table. It's the total immersion in the experience, unencumbered by the other aspects of my life at the periphery.

That last bit may be the crux of it. When I was finishing my dissertation, I found I only got real writing done when I removed myself physically from the environment where other work needed to be done. The total immersion was necessary, critical, vital to the process. Perhaps the best experiences have to be.

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This page contains a single entry published on November 16, 2002 4:55 PM.

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