Can our experiences interacting with technology help us to become better people? Can our online interactions influence our offline behaviour? Jesse Schell, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University, thinks so; but reasons that we're going to want to be rewarded for it.
At a DICE conference Jesse Schell gave a talk on the future of gaming for the Internet Generation. By drawing together a number of emerging themes he's painted a picture of how our user interactions will develop over the coming decades - not just with games, but with technology in general.
One recurring criticism of the Internet is that it's a world one pixel deep; infinitely wide but intrinsically shallow. The Internet Generation are growing up with a diminishing attention span and an ever increasing appetite to be entertained. Social networking sites can help us while away our idle hours - or more likely, our working hours - with fun diversions that lack substance but still have a pleasing sense of accomplishment. You could have wasted 10 minutes, instead you've successfully planted some pumpkins in FarmVille.
Schell's question is whether it is possible to take that love of trivial pastimes and incorporate it into our real lives in a more meaningful way. The answer seems to be through rewarding the end user, and realising that even virtual recognition can have an impact on real world behaviour.
Marketing departments around the globe are no doubt trying to unlock the secrets of how to monetise this, and there is certainly an opportunity to influence people's actions by simply acknowledging them. Starbucks visitors who check in at coffee shops using Foursquare can unlock a 'Barista' badge to display on their phone. Despite the lack of a financial incentive users are willing to do this simply to have a new virtual trophy to show off to their Foursquare friends.
If it's possible to influence behaviour regarding something so inconsequential, then maybe it's also possible to create a more positive and meaningful result using the same approach. Wouldn't there be an unrivalled sense of pride having the 'Completed Anna Karenina' trophy on your Facebook page, or the 'Visited Machu Picchu' badge on your Foursquare account - rather than just having proof that you've been to five Starbucks?
Maybe over time your virtual rewards could help to shape your life into one full of achievements that you were proud to share, and might encourage others to do the same.
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