What Is Digital Blowback and Is It Real?
Today we’re going to talk a little bit about an interesting phenomenon that I have seen over the last little while, which I’m calling Digital Blowback. It occurs when people start actively turning away from digital representations of things and prefer reality.
For me, this first started when I was watching some old films. My kids and I were going through a cheesy 80s movie marathon, some of which are not necessarily cheesy but interesting. Movies prior to widespread CG had to have huge crowds of people, had to have people going through literal fight scenes, people being hurt, or at least with the possibility of actually being hurt. The peril was possible.
When someone was getting punched, they were nearly getting punched in real life. These were real people acting together, and when somebody got thrown up against a wall, someone actually got thrown up against it; it was a stuntman flying up against it. It was a physical stunt where someone could have truly gotten hurt.
Nowadays, you have no idea whether that’s a real stuntman flying across the room up against the wall or a CG version of a stuntman flying up against the wall. You have no idea anymore. The generated physics are getting so good now that you can’t tell the difference between a real person in peril and a CG character. I thought this to myself again as I was watching Doctor Strange: a lot of stuff happened in that movie, but you have to think to yourself, “how many actors were in any kind of real peril, or was all of it CG?”
I think we’re going to get this blowback against too much CG because you’re going to go look at the screen and say to yourself, “None of this is real. How can I care about this character when the reality is is that nothing is actually happening to them, they’re just standing in front of a green screen, and all this stuff is patched in around them?”
They’re not really in peril. When you think about movies prior to CG, think about all the amazing films and what they had to do without CG, real crowds, and fight scenes where there was still a possibility of peril. Now you don’t get that; it’s all faked with CG. It’s unreal. People are seeing the unreality, and there will be an antipathy towards too much of it.
Here’s an example: Look at the two Independence Day films, one pre-super-high-end CG and the other after. The first film had a lot more realism. If you compare the two, you see the cities being destroyed in both, but in the original film it’s much rougher, rawer, and more real. In the new one, it’s so well done and realistic looking that you know must be fake. Cities are being destroyed, and it’s ho-hum. Millions and billions of people dead in huge cataclysmic events, and it’s like, whatever.
Some people might say what about films like Toy Story? Can you believe in those kinds of characters? Of course, if the movie is very well written, it doesn’t matter if the character is real or not? However, when you see situations where “live-action individuals” (supposedly real humans) are in peril, you think, wait a minute, this is just CG. This person isn’t really under any kind of stress. This in person isn’t really in any kind of real danger. Then you must think to yourself, “Why do I care about this guy?” He’s not really on the edge of a cliff; he’s just been pasted into the edge of a cliff. I’m just saying that the believability may not be there any longer, so people will be less likely to want to watch this kind of stuff anymore because they know it’s not real.
Maybe we’ll see a return to more actual reality in films.
We’re seeing this in the book world too. Many have said that the paper book is over for the longest time. Paper is passé. Nobody reads paper books anymore. Nobody writes things down on paper anymore.
Even though there’s been this new surge of publishing and the electronic space with Kindle and others, people are still starting to move back and prefer paper books. Used bookstores are doing well again. Books are still being printed, and there are still lots of bookstores out there, even though some of the bigger chains have disappeared.
People are starting to enjoy the paper, not just paper books but paper notes. There’s something physical and intuitive about writing things down on a piece of paper with a pen or a pencil that is just not captured today.
No matter how fancy your iPad Pro and Apple Pencil are, you can’t capture the same feeling and visceral sense that you can with a piece of paper and a pen. Notebook systems are coming back. I wouldn’t be surprised if people started bringing Filofax back as address books and calendars.
(Of course, this will cause issues in a world where our digital agents are trying to help us to complete things – if they don’t know what we are doing or what we should be doing, how can they help us? But that’s a problem we will need to address – Maybe there’s an opportunity to blend the online and offline worlds there as well)
What are the other places that we can see this? What other places are we seeing people say – this is not real to me anymore; I want reality back? What are the physical manifestations?
I’m a fan of most types of music (except for possibly country and heavy metal), and my youngest son plays trombone in a jazz band, so we enjoy listening to jazz music together. Once again, as in films, look at the differences between the pre-electronic sampled jazz and real, raw, human-played instruments.
Today, music (most popular at least) is rife with fake strings, fake horns, and fake orchestras. Even something as cheesy as disco from the 80s used real horns and strings. Listen to bands like Earth, Wind and Fire, KC and the Sunshine Band, or even Madleen Kane (possibly the song with the most “disco” elements you’ve ever heard 🙂 ). Those were real horns, real strings, and real people playing real instruments.
There’s something again physical and visceral about the sound of those real instruments when they’re captured and played. Will we also see people reaching more for music played on real instruments?
Virtual and Augmented Reality
Let’s talk about the future of augmented and virtual reality in a world of digital blowback. Most people I’ve talked to about VR think that people will spend much of their lives in it. I feel that we will see two camps, those who are very introverted and connected to their computers more than they are connected to people who will enjoy spending as much time in VR as humanly possible. On the flip side will be everyone else.
Enter the Analogger
We’re going to see two distinct camps: people who love and live in VR and the digital world and others who prefer reality, real, physical things, and the physical world. Maybe “Analoggers” is a better word than digital Luddite 😉
Analoggers will reject a lot of the digitization of life. IMHO, most analoggers won’t start off like this; most likely, they will be sucked into the digital world like the rest of us, then something will happen – maybe cyberbullying, maybe they’ll be unhappy with their social streams. Something will make them leave the digital world, and like an ex-smoker, they’ll probably become activists, attempting to drive people back out of the digital world. Maybe they will instantiate like Morpheus and ask us if we wish to take the red pill.
As technologists, we need to understand and be inclusive of the analoggers in our future thinking. We need to be able to build a future seamless world that serves everyone, not just the “digitals” in the system. Maybe we need to take steps now to think about the best way to subsume technology into the analog world, to help without overtly helping.
If digital blowback is real, of course. It’s still up in the air. This is just something I’m predicting. If digital blowback is real, then how do we design technology for analoggers? If you ask me, that’s an interesting opportunity.