In Frank Rose’s, The Art of Immersion: How the Digital Generation Is Changing Hollywood, Madison Avenue, and the Way We Tell Stories, we learn that the world’s first social media superstar was not Kim Karsashian but Charles Dickens.
Oliver Twist was not originally published as novel. It was delivered over a period of two years as a series of a serialized chapters in the cheap pulp periodicals of 19th century London. Today we might call them blog posts.
In other words, as Mr. Rose makes clear, in spite of the wizardry of technological advances in storytelling over the past two hundred years, there’s not much new under the sun.
The Art of Immersion goes deep on examining the unsteady marriage of storytelling and the Internet entertainment technologies of the last 20th and early 21st centuries. It explores the roots of human engagement and provides insights to anyone looking to deploy online channels to forge new opportunities.
This is a detailed, well-annotated read – rich with Mr. Rose’s personal conversations and experiences with luminaires in the film and online entertainment industries.
The fun of the book comes in his accounts of the cluelessness with which the guardians of old-school entertainment industries came to terms with Internet-savvy fans of wildly popular movies and television shows. When Mad Men became a hit, for example, fans spontaneously started Tweeting in the personas of the program’s characters; the producers responded with cease-and-desist letters. As hits like ABC’s Lost and the Harry Potter films inspired new groundswells of online fan love, producers came to recognize the potential value of forging new brands of engagement.
The burgeoning online game industry was a natural candidate for entertainment partnerships – or so it appeared. The author explores the starts, sputters, and full stops that befell the brave (and sometimes foolhardy) creators of such bombs as Interfilm, The Lost Experience, and Avatar (the game), each of which attempted to wed old-school TV and moviemaking with Internet gaming.
Mr. Rose understands that mastering the elements of storytelling can help open the door to the promised land of richer connection and interactivity (a door which remains frustratingly stuck), and he suggests that answers to these futuristic challenges may be found in the past experiences of such groundbreaking storytellers as Mr. Dickens, who integrated fan input as an essential element of his creative process.
The great underlying message of the book is that every time a new medium comes along, from printed books to television, it takes a good 25 years for storytellers to figure out what to do with it. So we may need to wait for Mr. Rose’s third or fourth edition, circa 2025, to see how it all turns out.