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Theater of the Web

I didn't have a TV for a long while. Eventually I got one (which I still use mostly to play video games and run DVDs), but one night I turned on my television and saw what looked like a news anchorman.

I was just about to change the channel when he intoned: "Should Bob die?" And then, "Log on to our web site and vote if Bob should die."

I froze. This was intense—so much viewer responsibility.Was Bob going to die? Would he be allowed to live?

I kept watching until the newsman came back and said: "Eighty percent of you voted to say Bob should die." And at that moment I realized that something entirely new was happening to the group entertainment experience.

For much of human history, live theater was the most important part of society's entertainment. This isn't just what's on Broadway today, but it was at Shakespeare's Globe in the sixteenth century and Roman forums in 500 BC. Everyone dressed in their best and cruised on down to see a presentation, a story, a show. The experience was interactive: thumbs up, thumbs down, applause, boos and hisses, leaving at intermission if it turned out to be a bore. The performers would constantly make changes to keep the audience coming back.

Time has progressed, and this group experience is falling by the wayside. Most of us don't see a live theater presentation even once a year. Movie theaters, the more "modern" form of interactive group viewing, are less important, too, now that we can watch films privately and comfortably in our living rooms, alone with our DVDs, our big flat screens, and Surround-Sound.

The story of Bob revealed that the contemporary audience was ready to go beyond the fringe of an anonymous but only passive viewing of a show. People still desire an interactive group experience. They want to realize the moment when what they do and how they feel will actually matter—or at least make an impact on what will happen next. And here comes a medium that will let people have their privacy, but also give them a voice. Log on to an interactive web site where your point of view will be tabulated; your action will affect the results; you will be heard.

Bob's tragic adventure did have some technical flaws as an entertainment experience. To participate, you started in one medium (television) then had to turn to and log onto another medium (your computer). To get the results of your participation and to find out what happened, you had to run back to the original medium (television). But this is changing, too.

The interactive capability of the Internet is going to be the most important medium for society's next group entertainment experience. Time will tell to what extent this medium will evolve. The audience will be global, and it is eagerly waiting.

I choose Flash as a tool because it has the most possibilities for design, movement, sound and interactivity in this new medium. It's exciting because we will get to change and evolve the medium while we work with this tool as artists, designers, and developers.

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