The case of the missing conference

Last Saturday I attended the Immersive Technology conference that was held at Cal State Long Beach. The premise was interesting I was looking forward to it. The Keynote speaker set the tone and it was good. Henry Jenkins, the director of the Comparative Media Studies program at MIT. He was entertaining and made some interesting points about an idea he calls “transmedia”. Transmedia is about content or a story that is dispersed across different kinds of media such as books, comics, movies, podcasts, etc. Each media’s attributes can address unique aspects of the story that the other medias can not. This can transform any the story by moving it our of  a linear, or sequential path onto something non-linear, more encompassing. The story is no longer a singular component, but rather one section  of a complete universe. In other words, each media can tell some of the back-story that the primary story needs to ignore because of the constraints of that media. Jenkins illustrated this by providing examples from “The Matrix” and “Star Wars” stories. He also mentioned how action figures and toy allow to tap into their own imaginations by creating their own stories.

Unfortunately, after Jenkins spoke, the conference seemed to loose it’s identity and direction. That in itself would not have been so bad if it not gone on the path of platform for self-promotion. Moderators and speakers allowed themselves time to present their resumes, but little time to really address ideas. Moderators focused on their panel and often chose questions from the audience that were asked by their friends, who then spent more time talking about their own resume before getting to the actual question. 

Despite the fact that there were some interesting speakers placed on the following 2.5 panels that I attended, there was little actual discussion about immersive technologies. For example, during a session named after the title of the conference, the speakers were entertaining, but were more concerned with writers’ control of the stories- a subject that is very important in most media. but one that gets muddled quickly when discussing interactive new media- especially the trend to user-generated content. There was no mention of Second Life, or online games such as  World of Warcraft where the users and players are generating the stories and content.  

The topic of the second was a mystery to the people who surrounded me, but the speakers did seem to be enjoying themselves. 

I am not sure that topic of the final panel was, but again, it became self-promotion and marketing, which would be important subjects in the context of  another conference. The moderator spoke at length about her past projects, especially about her design for the targeted marketing video screens sequences that were shown in Spielberg’s “Minority Report”. She than showed us a marketing film that was made for WalMart that illustrates her successful bid to do targeting marketing using mobile phones and video screens in those stores. With the knowledge that our economy is heading for a disaster, I was in awe when I watched how this program was primarily targeting people on the low end of the socio-economic spectrum to purchase large flat screen video monitors for their homes. Again, people spending more than they can afford.

All in all, it was a disappointing conference. SIgh.

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