Going Virtual, or Getting More Live
June 16, 2014
We were not there live last night -- but we remember what the Finals felt like, that seed that made the virtual rich enough.
Virtual is the new efficient. Going virtual in computing means doing away with what's not essential. But what it really means is re-thinking how to do something that's been done the same since before anybody can recall. MPE is going virtual this year, and every year for the rest of this decade that it can shed its Hewlett-Packard hardware, much of it built in the previous century.
There are good reasons for going virtual, as well as good reasons for going what -- actual? Live, there, that's the word for it, in-person and physical. Yesterday I got a Father's Day treat at the movie theatre. We don't go there often anymore, but when we do, we want to be in an IMAX Mini theatre, wearing 3D glasses. Otherwise, there's always streaming at home to experience stories.
Why even bother to leave your chair? In a world where information and experience can feel as real as being present, those are good questions to consider while investing. Last night an NBA championship game was being played just 90 minutes from my house. But while it was sorely tempting, I absorbed the experience from my purple leather sofa in front of a modest flat-screen TV. I wasn't in the arena with my San Antonio Spurs. I had a virtual experience. But as its greybearded leader Tim Duncan looked like a youngster in winning once again, late in the game which is his career, I felt like I’d been there -- because I remember when Abby and I were there, cheering for a title 11 years ago.
Scientists tell us that this sort of memory is what makes virtual experiences most powerful. We imprint on the emotion and richness of a live event, remembering the race of the heart and the sweat on our brow. Or maybe the feeling of being known and understood, in a meeting of IT pros or inside a conference hall. This emulated intimacy becomes palatable when you know the real thing. It makes it possible to become a powerful tool in a world we’re experiencing at a broadband pace. We can also control the mix of the event’s information and our own comforts.
At my house we had the network broadcasting its video on the TV, and we didn't time-delay with our DVR like we do during the regular season games. The pictures were live. At the same time, we live close enough to San Antonio to get a clear feed of the Spurs' flagship radio station WOAI -- where our comforting announcer Bill Shoenig called the action. I simply could not recreate this kind of multimedia inside the arena. Because I had dread as well as elation to juggle for three hours, the whole melange was more tasty when I could see what I want -- enhanced with replay ---while I could hear what I craved: that upbeat voice, making an outlook on a story Whose outcome we could not predict.
Virtual was better. An emulation can improve on the original.
We crave this kind of experience in our work, too. There’s a bit of an unexpected miracle going on in Hollywood this month. A legendary mansion will be the site of a PowerHouse user conference and advisory board meeting. It’s not the right time to attend, for some managers who use that development suite. So at least one of those pros has asked if the whole conference couldn’t be webcast. HP did this earlier this month at its Discover conference.
COMMON, the user group for the IBM enterprise server manager, has been trying to emulate a trade show for awhile. It's all well within the realm of reality, tech-wise. But a conference presentation is one kind of thing to splash over the Web. The interaction between users is far tougher to duplicate. HP tried this show concept, years ago, attempting to mount a virtual conference, complete with expo area. It’s a concept that’s still ahead of its time. Visiting the COMMON virtual conference above even shows a few animated people outside an expo hall, well-rendered. But without anything to share with you. There's no live-world reference with these people to recall.
Virtualization can only go as far as our experience will allow. Here in mid-June, a London pub was hosting a meeting of 3000 veterans for what amounted to a reunion. No presentations, just talk. This kind of exchange was sometimes the most profound part of a meeting, which is why the PickFair mansion in Hollywood and Dirty Dick’s London pub will resound with voices, handshakes, and a communal beverage. In my house, the beer didn't taste any different at halftime of the Spurs game, because I was drinking one alongside my favorite fan.
Earlier this month there were slick productions with TV-grade lighting and sound at the HP Discover conference. Live on your laptop, you could watch three relatively-fresh CEOs from Intel, Microsoft and HP explain why working together is a better idea for their companies than the alternative they’ve been trying: HP selling OS products, Microsoft peddling hardware, Intel integrating both into its own branded knock-offs. We did experience the novelty of watching a trade conference event live. But aside from the comfort and economy, going virtual didn’t make it any better.
I missed the coarse roar off the rafters of the AT&T Center at the timeouts, when the Spurs forced Miami to rethink its defense. But those camera angles, that replay, and the sharp commentary improved my virtual experience. Virtualization can multiply the gifts of its original. But when you don't know the original, it's a good time to experience it.
Wednesday evening we're going to the Riverwalk in San Antonio for the victory parade, a celebration where the team is ferried around the river on barges, with fans thronging the riverbanks. It will be a Spurs crowd ten times the size of any we've experienced inside an arena. We could watch the parade on that flat-screen. But it's better to have those live experiences to leaven a virtual loaf. That's why a mansion and a pub are still important parts of a world that's heading for the efficiency of virtual.