Altered States

From the early times of man, humans have used states of altered consciousness to attempt to enhance their ability to tell stories. Shamans used drugs, fasting, dancing, and whatever else they could find to open a channel to divine inspiration. The inspiration they received was in the form of stories of the creation of the world, or wise tortoise and foolish scorpion, or where the sun goes at night.

The tradition has continued into modern times. The writers, painters, and poets of Victorian age France used absinthe to pave the way to their storytelling muse. Hemingway used vermouth-free Martinis and “newly discovered” Daquiris to find his writing spirit. The songwriters and admen of the 50’s floated in on a veritable barge of cocktails. The writers of the 60’s used psychedelics. Hunter S Thompson appears to have used anything that would work and he could find.

It’s my belief that another fine age of altered states is coming upon us by way of technology. Technology is more involved in storytelling at this time than in any era (that we are aware of) thus far. From the fact that this blog is being prepared right now on a desktop computer, to the digitization of the comic book industry, to the CGI effects of Hollywood filmmakers, technology is bringing stories to us.

I think soon, technology will be bringing us to the stories.

Do you remember Choose Your Own Adventure books? I always loved them as a kid. It made you the star of the adventure, and increased your attachment to the protagonist immensely. Sadly, the suspension of disbelief always got a little broken as you hurriedly flipped to page 114 to see what happened when you tried to hide behind the rock while the dragon breathed fire at you.

Ebooks don’t have to have that problem. Ebooks can react to what you are reading, as you are reading it. In a choose your own adventure Ebook, when you choose to hide behind the rock, you could just click the link, and go right on reading. You could be greeted on the new page by the sound of the dragon breathing fire at you!

With the eye tracking technology we have at this time, you could actually read an entire book and have sound effects that match the action be emitted by the book the entire time. Chirping birds and the soft trill of a nearby brook as lovers meet in a secret glen. Honking horns and cursing taxicab drivers mixed with the sounds of a thousand people going about their daily lives as the gumshoe’s internal monologue follows him down a busy New York street. Whatever it might be.

Virtual reality always sounds hokey to people. They forever imagine bulky headgear and tactile bodysuits that show images unworthy of a Pac-Man arcade game. I have a feeling our glide into virtual reality will take place through an ebook reader, and the realm of sound as we read. I could be entirely wrong, but it seems so logical to me. Bring out the foley artists!

Steps into the virtual world revitalize the imaginations of the audience, which often leads to an incredible era of creativity. Maybe enough creativity will lead to the invention of true virtual reality gear. I’d love to see entertainment move to the level of the interactive book from Neal Stephenson‘s The Diamond Age.

Only the future can get us there. Until then, I’ll check out more cocktails on Drinkhacker and see what inspiration hits me for next week.

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~ by Benjamin Kenneally on December 14, 2009.

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