I got to read Alessandro’s Barico long-essay (book) called The Game. In short, it is a reflexive mapping of how the Digital Revolution came to be.
The Digital Revolution
Baricco acknowledges the digital revolution as a direct change of how humanity has approached its progress, by making use of gamification. Everything that we’re approaching now is the “popularity” (or democratization, as he calls it) of progress, and how elites are no longer in power. These elites, the professionals that accounted for how a certain discipline was to be executed, now don’t have power over the people because the internet allows everyone to do everything.
With this shift in mind, which started with Space Invaders, the revolution fuels itself. It empowers people to create more systems that eventually end up taking over and changing the world again. Napster did it when someone wanted to share their music. Google did it when someone wanted to search the web. AirBnb did it when someone wanted to make money out of their apartment.
While explaining the mechanics of this revolution, Baricco traces a timeline and a map of the major points in this journey that takes us from somewhere in the 1960s with the invention of the internet to the today of Tinder, Spotify, and Google.
Some interesting ideas
There are a few ideas that I found intriguing from his point of view:
- “Soul” / “Vibration”. He points out that the co-existence of old technologies next to the new ones which are technically superior persist because of a certain spark, a certain “vibration” or “soul”, as he calls it, that these old methods still have. The main example is about cinematography, where the film going through the projector would cause the screen to slightly vibrate and flicker, and that sensation has gone away with digital film technology. This soul that was left out of the artisanal aspect of movie-making (and other disciplines) still makes it desirable – but he does not explain exactly why.
- “Elites” / “Priests”. He defines an elite as a group of people that, because of their position or their knowledge, hold authority over how certain things are done. Mailmen were in charge of mail delivery, but the internet has opened a lot of other options. Radio hosts were the ones giving the news, but now everyone with a microphone can do it. The power that a librarian had to know where all the knowledge was located is now superseded by the almighty Google and so we don’t need them anymore. Their power has gone away, replaced by technology or by specialized systems.
- “The Game”. He explains how progress can be seen as a game. Our interest in progress is not so much for progress itself, but rather because every need and challenge has been gamified in a way that we’re driven to go one step further. This mindset shift that took place when we saw we could create any world characterized generations entirely. The motivation is not always the gains, but rather fun or challenge. This mindset is more about just making things work and forgetting the old ways of “how things should work”.
- Quick-truth. Certain half-truths become truth just because some people believe them. They’re not entirely factually correct, but they have enough of a component of truth to survive in humanity’s hive-mind. Not quite the same as fake news, but very close. These are a direct consequence of the economy of attention and the ideas’ needs to survive. While Baricco did not mention this, it very much ties closely with the memetic evolution and diversification we’re so used to. Also, with how more means of communication will lead us to an attention-based economy.
- Post-truth. A nice describing term for our age where we have access to all data aspects and so we’re able to verify anything, but at the same time, doubt everything and without elites to guide us, truth doesn’t matter as much anymore.
My point of view
This sounds very romantic, but I pretty much disagree with Baricco’s point of view. In short, I think he counts the digital revolution as something without precedent, but I believe it is just a natural step further of the technological progress we’ve seen. Some of his arguments I could recognize from what was said about the printing press, or radio, or TV, and regardless of them being true or false, they’re not new.
Don’t get me wrong, I think he’s got a point on how we’re approaching the digital progress, but I don’t think it’s something inherently different and revolutionary. I believe it is pretty clear this was the direction humanity was going to take if you see the steps that came before it.
I will write a more in-depth analysis of the points I see differently, in the future.
The book itself
I have to point out that Baricco’s writing style is… unique.
First of all, in structure. The book starts building up towards a concept that is hazy and not clear at all. At about the middle of the book, it all makes sense and as readers, we’re hit with the epiphany we’ve been waiting. The rest of the book just keeps moving around that concept, not adding much more.
Secondly, there’s the writing style itself. This feels less like a book or an essay and feels more like a candid conversation with a friend. That’s something I can appreciate, it does make it easier to work with while discussing complex subjects.
But it so happens that this very last point is its own enemy. Baricco’s digression over subjects and unrefined structuring of sentences leads him to write paragraphs on half-baked analogies that don’t land anywhere. More than once I read sentences that said something along the lines of “so this might, or might not, be such an important aspect of mystic consequences”. The problem I saw with sentences like these is that they prevent me from extracting meaning out of them. In this example, was “this” an important aspect? The “might, or might not” phrasing makes the sentence sound centered but undermines it. Then, again, in my example, what does it mean that the consequences are mystic? Sure, the sentence carries an ethos that feels interesting, but I cannot make any useful statement out of it. Again, this is just an example that I made up, but several times, during my reading, I had to put the book down feeling I was not being taken seriously as a reader.
Then, there are lots of colorful observations of society and the impact that Amazon, Spotify, Google, Apple, Facebook, and others have made into our society. Regardless of being factual or not, they invite to reflection and consideration of the broader aspects and impact that not only we shape these companies, but they also shape the world around us.
All in all, it was an interesting read. As I mentioned, I will be diving deeper into its concepts later, but if this subject is of interest, you have to at least give it a try.