Can Hollywood redesign humanity?

[From Big Think’s Hybrid Reality blog]

Can Hollywood Redesign Humanity

Parag and Ayesha Khanna on August 29, 2010

Most people do not come to Hollywood for deep conversation, but as we explained with respect to “serious games,” the entertainment universe is producing an impressive array of products that can educate youth to think more constructively about real-world problems through experimenting with solutions in online environments. There is also a new breed of film-makers who are advancing the cause of techno-optimism in ways that contradict the dystopian visions of robots taking over the earth. When we convened a salon of film-makers, online game designers, branding executives, and media personalities to discuss this construction of ever more immersive realities, they provided not only deep conversation, but also a sophisticated and controversial view of how Hollywood has moved beyond vanity and celebrity worship towards “world-building” that can inspire progressive behavioral change.

What is happening in Los Angeles today goes well beyond movies, and well beyond story-telling. As Henry Jenkins of USC explains, the rise of transmedia means that fiction has dispersed across multiple delivery channels, from comic books to film to the web; the entertainment experience has become unified and coordinated. What underpins this phenomenon is one of Hybrid Reality’s fundamental principles: the increasing cross-pollination of disciplines. In this case, production designers, game-makers, architects, sociologists, and other experts are designing virtual worlds and filling them with archetypes that inspire and train at the same time. The “Re Evolution” festival will do this in June 2011, focusing on the convergence of technology, culture, science and art, and the upcoming 5D conference promises to do the same by linking immersive design with narrative media.

The evidence is mounting that immersion in virtual life is impacting our real-life behavior. Even if this is a positive influence through the development of progressive transmedia, one debate that cannot be resolved is whether technology of this sort has the potential to alter some of our long-standing human social patterns such as hierarchical, power-based ordering of social and professional groups, or our evolutionary, biological desire to control others and hoard resources. In other words, can technology change human nature, or just amplify it?

The post-human camp, which includes adherents of the Singularity thesis, make the case that if technology and immersive environments can be used to meet all of our basic, Maslowian needs, then we might very well be able to transcend the “nature of nature.” But such evolution will be incremental and non-universal, so we will see whether transcendence can overcome dominance within specific communities. Perhaps Hollywood will be the site of this first experiment. Given the power of Hollywood to shape our perceptions and ambitions, the post-humanists will need Hollywood on their side.

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