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How Does it Feel? The Currency of Experience

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How Does it Feel? The Currency of Experience

In 1967 Jimi Hendrix sang “Have you ever been experienced?” To be sure, Jimi was talking about acid, or otherwise...

9 Minutes Read

In 1967 Jimi Hendrix sang “Have you ever been experienced?” To be sure, Jimi was talking about acid, or otherwise channeling an entire generational vibe of the late Sixties. But as we play out the future of work into what some have called the “Experience Economy”, it’ll be remain an apt question (in a potentially less psychedelic – but equally if not more profound – sense).

As we wrote in Augmenting the Reality of Everything, AR will be a catalyst, and journeys everywhere will be an open door for creativity, self-actualization and experiences. So what will be the currency of the Experience Economy? What will be of value? What will be gifted and bartered? Will it be “likes”, numbers of views, plus-ups? Will it be gold? Euros? Dollars?

But what if a possible/potential/the currency of the Experience Economy is… frisson? <”Say what??”>

Frisson? A bitter lettuce on a bad hair day? No, silly! – those are frisee and frizzy (respectively). We’re talking about frisson. Have you ever gotten unexpected goosebumps from a profoundly cool piece of music? Where the hair on the back of your neck stands on end, and you feel – for a moment – like you could conquer the world? That’s frisson.

According to science, not everyone can trigger a frisson reaction – that’s a shame. Scientists estimate maybe only 55%-85% of people do, especially those that score high for “openness to experience”. Especially “chill-inducing” triggers have included Lady Gaga’s rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” at the 2016 Super Bowl and a fan-made trailer for the original Star Wars trilogy (the actual “source code” being so bad, its subsequent success seems amazing…)

We’ve been writing for the last year that journeys through time and space in augmented reality will reshape your experience. That’s all well and good for mundane work tasks, or moments when you’d otherwise be a captive audience (who wouldn’t want to reshape, or otherwise “melt” time on a six hour, coast-to-coast flight from JFK to SFO?)

But have you ever wanted to “take with you” the feelings or good vibes you got from a videogame, a vacation, a movie, a Broadway play, a painting, a song, a specific architectural vernacular, or album cover art?

As Shakespeare wrote “the play’s the thing”, in the future “experience is the thing”

Feeling All the Feels

An important question I like to ask all the time is: How does a book, film or piece of music make you feel? Music has its moments of frisson, and film can take it the next step. It’s a Wonderful Life did it in the Forties. Spielberg’s E.T. did it in the Eighties. At their best, Pixar Films offers a masterclass (see the recent Coco as Exhibit A). Patagonia films is doing amazing work catalyzing action for conservation as a feeling, transcending economics or politics (R.I.P. Katie Lee, the 98-year-old Goddess of the Desert).

It’s not just film: Gamers have these feelings all the time as they relate to videogames. In Augmenting the Reality of Everything, we talk about the importance of Intro and Outro in AR journeys. Each serves as the transition into the augmented experience from the non-augmented, analog “real world.” Seamlessness is key; the shift can’t be jarring or stilted. The world of video games offers something of a template or guide to best practices here: You want to create an engaging first impression that fuels curiosity and a desire to dive deeper – and back out to the real world again.

If you’ve experienced frisson, you know: it’s powerful. And it’s usually unexpected. It can be overwhelming, bringing a tear or two to your eyes. And it’s pretty difficult to replicate. (And no, we’re not talking about the dodgy, addictive dopamine effects linked to social media -- that’s different). So what if you could get even double the episodes of frisson in your life?

In a Maslovian world where fortunately most of our food and shelter needs are met, what would that be worth? What about 3X? 10X? 100X? Now THAT experience – to some – would be more valuable than gold.

In his book Hitmakers, The Science of Popularity in an Age of Distraction, author Derek Thompson writes that music – let alone AR – can trigger an ancient hominid response in the form of frisson (and he notes a cool relationship between nostalgia and goosebumps – both of which can be triggered by coldness – is that they both can both function to warm us up). Thompson writes: “I got ‘the chills’… A feeling slipped beneath the skin, and yanked a thousand little muscles and there I was… covered in goosebumps.”

If you blanch at the idea of a smartphone being ubiquitous, consider books for a moment: is it possible that people in the time of Gutenberg also tut-tutted sheaves of bound wood pulp (aka “books”) being in front of everyone’s faces? Moreover, a great book can make you LOL or cry. But we all know that letters on the written page, really, are simply abstract shapes. Do the wood pulp and abstract shapes of letters make their alchemy in your brain any less important or valuable? Invaluable? To Tolstoy, “When people read, they produce voices and see images in their heads. This is total synesthesia – something close to madness.”

But it’s not.

As a trigger, Thompson wonders about the catalyzing effect of art on people (music, painting… even AR, perhaps?), quoting Tolstoy: “[Art] is a means of union among men, joining them together in the same feelings and indispensable for the life and progress towards well-being of individuals and of humanity.”

The Future of Filters

If – in Tolstoy’s estimation – “art is feelings”, then how can we move those feelings from one person to the other, in a way that’s meaningful, valuable, and has meaningful currency? Already, your teenage kids and relatives -- love it or hate it – are spending much of their free time overlaying their worlds through filters like the ubiquitous “dog lolling tongue face” of Snapchat. The older-and-wiser among us may view these obsessions as being ridiculous, but they’re quickly becoming a common, experiential “lingua franca” of interactive millennials around the world. The future of filters will be to communicate feeling, intent, empathy, zeitgeist and mood.

Coupled with frisson as a catalyzing currency in the emerging experience economy, AR can be a powerful catalyst for human empathy. What if you virtually walk in another’s shoes? The Syrian refugee? The veteran? The immigrant? Celebrated film director Alejandro G. Inarritu captured the experience of the undocumented a year ago at Cannes.

Understanding of this type – and getting more of it – seems like a massive hill to be climbed by humanity, but the steps have already begun. With the payoff more powerful than money.

Or, in the words of Hitmakers’ Derek Thompson, “A full explication of this phenomenon is beyond our grasp. It’s not essential to understand it… it is a secret, a neural whisper shared by the sympathetic nervous system… A feeling that slips beneath the skin, and without permission, pulls on you from the inside.”


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