Friday, August 31, 2007

Jack Myers and Virtual Worlds

Another man who is unafraid to bang his own drum (see Wednesday) is Jack Myers.

A recent press release, in connection with his new book, describes Myers as editor and publisher of Jack Myers Media Business Report, the web site, and The latter is 'the online community for intelligent TV fans'.

His abbreviated c.v. tells us that Mr Myers was identified as one of the 1,000 Most Creative Individuals in the U.S by Who's Really Who and is the recipient of the George Foster Peabody Award; he has won the Crystal Heart Award from the Heartland Film Festival, and has been nominated for both an Academy and an Emmy Award. Myers has consulted with more than 200 leading media companies, agencies and major global marketers on media and marketing trends.

More importantly, perhaps, the Myers Emotional Connections Research Studies, launched in 1999, are said to have emerged as state-of-the art standards for measuring audiences' emotional connections with media.

Now, if you've been reading the GOB for long, you begin to see how I might be interested. Myers has recognised a point often repeated here, to the point of tedium, namely that fiction and drama are all about creating emotion in the audience.

Moreover, Myers has recognised that the same is true of much else in the modern media, even when said media appear to be dealing with established fact. For example: watch any modern TV news bulletin in the UK, and what you see, as often as not, is not news as such, but some form of gossip or speculation deliberately dressed up in such a way as to arouse emotion. I doubt whether news bulletins anywhere else in the world are much different these days.

Even more to the point, Myers has picked up on the new phenomenon of virtual worlds, and the fascination which they hold for young people in particular. Do I need to say that fascination is an outcome of emotion? Wow, that was terrific! say the participants in, say, Secondlife. Wouldn't mind some more of that. This is an emotional reaction.

Arising out of his studies of emotion, Myers recently authored a book, in co-operation with Jerry Weinstein. Entitled Virtual Worlds: Rewiring Your Emotional Future, the book itself is interactive and 'virtual', in the sense that it allows readers to submit contributions to a 'reader-generated novel'; successful contributors may even take a part share in the royalties.

The book argues that 'Virtual Worlds and enhanced social networks allow people to explore and experience new universes, while expanding their emotional range and depth, changing the nature of communication, and creating different identities.'

This, I somewhat reluctantly agree, is true. I also agree with the authors' view that 'a growing number of young people are spending unprecedented amounts of time in a virtual existence. Virtual Worlds are becoming an embedded part of our culture and the implications for every aspect of society are unimaginable.'

Whether this is a healthy situation or not is open to question, and I for one have reservations about it. But even those who are violently opposed to these developments need to recognise that opponents aren't going to get very far by standing up and shouting, 'This ought to be stopped!'

For me, much the most interesting aspect of Jack Myers's numerous enterprises is his research into audience emotions. You can find the titles of some of his reports on his web site.

If you do click on the titles of these reports, you find, not surprisingly, that getting sight of his research findings costs money. For example, a copy of the Myers 2008 Emotional Connections Research Studies will cost you (or your company) $120,000.

Myers's press release states that Myers is a Board Member of the Newhouse School of Communications at Syracuse University, and serves on the Dean's Advisory Board for the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development at New York University. This suggests that he is working with some pretty respectable academics.

All of which is fascinating to me. I have thought for at least forty years that there was considerable scope for linking up audiences to some form of data measurement device(s), and finding out what exactly happens to human beings, physiologically speaking, when they watch a deeply moving or exciting play or movie.

We already know some of this, from observation of our own reactions and those of other audience members. For example, in a suspense movie, people's hands sweat. In a comedy, people laugh, and rock backwards and forwards. In a tragedy, I have heard it said, a side to side movement can be observed in the audience.

Such physiological research can be supplemented with psychological research, through the use of questionnaires and interviews.

The holy grail of all this, of course, is to identify the triggers of emotion, so that various emotions can be produced pretty much at will. Find the answer to that, and you will make a fortune. Even better, or worse, depending on your point of view, those who control the levers of emotion can sweep themselves into positions of leadership and influence in politics, religion, and the arts. No trouble at all.

Don't we live in a wonderful world?


Anonymous said...

Yessir we should be appalled. It is demagoguery, older than Euripides and will prevail with the uncritical thinker. And you know as well as C.S. Lewis in "Abolitin of Man" that modern education preserves the lessons of critical thinker not for the masses but the privileged. You know about class systems, yes?

Anonymous said...

'Virtual world' - always seems to be used in such a way as to suggest that it is somehow not part of reality and that they are all wizzy and new. If you look beyond the bells and whistles, the smoke and mirrors, they are quite clearly part of reality and nothing new.

Anonymous said...

Manipulation of emotions is not new: history is awash with grotesque examples. It is present every time we switch on the TV or open a paper. What triggers particular emotions? That is obvious too. But we are not all triggered in the same way. When I was a kid and went to the pictures with my sister, if I did not laugh at Laurel and Hardy (or whoever, that she, and millions like her found funny) she would dig me in the ribs and demand that I laugh! THAT I did find funny! It is pretty obvious which newspapers she reads and TV programmes she watches. As, no doubt, might be said of my preferences.
News programmes are often (usually?) aimed at the emotions, they can make the less newsworthy seem spectacular. "They" are all at it — the spinners and weavers of politics and society.

There can be no doubt, our minds are 'got at' through our emotions. Children need to know what it is to 'live and breath and have our being' and they will not get that through a Virtual World, but through good parenting, a good home and social life.

And yet, for an old biddie like me, the Internet has opened my eyes to enormous possibilities and friendships. When friends and family are dying off at regular intervals, that is something not to be sneezed at. But we have a duty to make sure young people are not being drawn into dubious friendships and practices. We are all subject to our emotions, some more than others, but children are especially vulnerable.

Frankly, I do not see the need for research into emotional triggers. The 'book' surely must be written already. Isn't that the bible of today's 'spinners' and weavers'?

Anonymous said...

I'm happy there's a web site for "intelligent TV fans." Is there a site for the stupid ones?

I, too, think this is all wonderful. As one or two wizards direct us, we'll be like rats rushing (in neat order) down virtual sewers.

Clary Antome said...

"Go, go, go, said the bird: human kind
Cannot bear very much reality."

(T.S. Eliot, 'Burnt Norton')

Anonymous said...

Fiction writers of a certain age will doubtless remember Georges Polti's Thirty-Six Dramatic Situations. The people who tried to teach fiction-writing back in golden times that mostly weren't held that the situations having the power to arouse emotion were that limited in number. It began, they said, way back in 1750 with Italian dramatist Carlo Gozzi. Goethe and Schiller also agreed with the total. So yes, the book on emotional triggers surely has been written . . . and rewritten . . . and rewritten . . . .

gih said...

And so it goes, continue to find food to live.

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