Just ran into this essay (again) from Douglas Adams (late author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy) and had to share it. Great quotes about interactivity:
…but the reason we suddenly need such a word [“Interactivity”] is that during this century we have for the first time been dominated by non-interactive forms of entertainment: cinema, radio, recorded music and television. Before they came along all entertainment was interactive: theatre, music, sport – the performers and audience were there together, and even a respectfully silent audience exerted a powerful shaping presence on the unfolding of whatever drama they were there for. We didn’t need a special word for interactivity in the same way that we don’t (yet) need a special word for people with only one head.
I expect that history will show ‘normal’ mainstream twentieth century media to be the aberration in all this. ‘Please, miss, you mean they could only just sit there and watch? They couldn’t do anything? Didn’t everybody feel terribly isolated or alienated or ignored?’
‘Yes, child, that’s why they all went mad. Before the Restoration.’
‘What was the Restoration again, please, miss?’
‘The end of the twentieth century, child. When we started to get interactivity back.’
Because the Internet is so new we still don’t really understand what it is. We mistake it for a type of publishing or broadcasting, because that’s what we’re used to.
I think this push/pull balance that the Internet has partly enabled is an explosion off the vector that having the choice of channels on the television and the radio gave us. Multiplied by a billion. The interesting thing for me is that interactivity is not a boolean; there are many levels of interactivity that are appropriate for different situations. It’s ok to clap and cheer at concerts, for example, but if twenty thousand people storm the stage, the riot gear comes out and the show’s over.