Sunday, July 4, 2010

If I Can Dream: An Interactive New Media Entertainment Catering to Your Voyeuristic Nature

If I Can Dream is an online reality show created by Simon Fuller. Simon Fuller is a British artist manager, television producer and creator of the Idol franchise (as in Pop Idol, American Idol, Etc. Idol) and So You Think You Can Dance. He is, or has been, the manager of performers and entertainers including David and Victoria Beckham, Spice Girls, Carrie Underwood, Kris Allen, David Cook, Adam Lambert and others. 

If I Can Dream follows performers (aspiring actors, singers, models, athletes) who are called the dreamers who also live together in a a house in Hollywood. The show isn’t exactly reality TV as it is not shown on conventional TV and you can only watch the episodes via their official website. There’s no judges or voting off. There’s not a pot of money sitting at the end. The goal is to get a job that will allow the dreamers to get out of the house and to move on to a bigger career. The show is just the first step.

Sounds boring maybe. And what is so special about the show, you may ask. Well, the twist is that the house is wired with 60 cameras and when you visit their website you can watch the live streaming from your laptop or computer. You can watch the participants' every move, every action, and every conversation. In real time! Video feeds are available at both 500 Kbps and 1 Mbps which makes it viewable to anyone in Indonesia who has an adequate broadband internet connection. The live feeds stream with very little discrepancies. If I Can Dream will be the largest persistent live "event" produced by a media company!

In this day and age where we don't even watch TV shows on TV anymore and with the emergence of new media, companies have been trying to capitalize on every aspect of the technology to keep up with the rapidly changing landscape of mass media entertainment. Most notably web 2.0 technology or web applications that facilitate interactive information sharing, interoperability, user-centered design, and collaboration on the World Wide Web. What Simon Fuller did, by allowing audiences to check in on the participants of the show whenever they feel like it, is pushing the boundaries of conventional media entertainment. You won't have to wait once in a week and sit in front of your TV just to see your favorite character or idol appear. By tapping into the zeitgeist and capitalizing on the voyeuristic nature of the human personality, Simon Fuller managed to create a new form of interactivity in new media entertainment and incite higher level of involvement from the audiences than those of the traditional media.

With the very Orwellian nature of the show I couldn't help but wonder, is this what entertainment has come to? Is there going to be more shows like this where the object of the entertainment is being kept under surveillance for the enjoyment and viewing pleasure of the audiences? Has the time come for what once was a stuff in science fiction literature and cinema to actually be implemented in our world? And if yes, is the voyeuristic nature of human personality the primary drive for this phenomenon? 

I mean yes, I believe there are voyeuristic nature in each and every one of us. Hell, that's why we invented TV in the first place. So that we can take a peek into other people's lives, albeit fictional ones. But this time, it's the reality that's being thrown back in our faces. Only time will tell if there is going to be more demand for shows like this which I'm betting, there will be more. So, is If I Can Dream an examination of the voyeuristic nature of human behavior or a new form of interactivity in new media entertainment?

Probably both.

And about being kept under surveillance, I don't think it's anything new. Don't we all already being kept under constant surveillance? We just got used to it that we don't even realize it or are not even bothered by it anymore. It might be the minutest details, but we are leaving trails of our digital footprints everywhere we go--social and financial records, school records, medical DNA, credit card bills, criminal records, Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, etc.--basically all the information that makes up who we are. Much of the information is required from us by larger institutions, enabling us to be tracked. Isn't that the equivalent of being under surveillance? All of this reminds me of a scene in the TV Series "Caprica" where a father tries to harness all those information to create an avatar of her dead daughter so that he could keep communicating with her in the virtual world. Now I couldn't help but wonder, when will that time come?

 The home screen

Overview of the house and rooms. The sky changes to day/night according to real time

All the cameras

Live streaming a dreamer brushing her teeth before bed

A camera showing a dreamer sleeping in his room

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