Monday, May 04, 2009


As more of us live more of our lives in digital contexts, it seems plausible that immaterialism will become more common. Consuming things made of bits might sound weird, but actually it offers a lot of the same attractions that make people consume things made of atoms. Facebook’s digital gifting is one relatively mainstream example. Consider the Fort Worth, Tex., company Alamofire. Its best-known creation is a Facebook application called Pack Rat. While nominally a game, it’s really premised on a virtual version of the urge to collect things: in this case, the things are “cards” that are basically little pixel-pictures. The company calls its wares “digital collectibles.”
Josh Williams, a founder of Alamofire, figured out the appeal of collecting pixelated stuff by accident. Originally he was in the business of designing digital icons, and he and his partners decided to make some of their creations available for others to use, free. There were thousands of takers, and he got curious about what they were doing with the icons. The most prominent answer turned out to be: Nothing much, just collecting them, trading them, using them as means of fun social connection with other collectors. “A light bulb went off,” Williams says. “We were in the wrong business.” Alamofire’s new project is called Gowalla. This time, the product is more tied to mobile devices like the iPhone and involves “collecting” digital icons by (nondigitally) visiting certain spots in various cities. Really, he figures, it’s not so different from what inspired earlier generations to collect postcards or other gewgaws. But, Williams adds, without “all the physical crap.”
Photo from the exhibition 'Collage Geomancy' by Michael Anderson at the Marlborough Chelsea

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