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Flipping the On/Off Switch

Innovation Times

Posted by JR Reagan on June 20, 2013

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The line between our online and offline worlds gets less visible every day.

Most of us interact with our families and friends via social media more than we do in person. Powered by millions of players, many of the games we play online have developed a social conscience, allowing us to do real-world good while we game.

While it’s common for bricks-and-mortar retailers to set up shop online, now we can design our own products in online studios and have them shipped to our homes. We can now even visit a favorite online retailer in person, after the groundbreaking of its new flagship location. Other products break the on/offline barriers with products that monitor online moods.

And the actual people behind online blogs and social media accounts have ignited passions and payback, with global consequences.

You’ve got good game

The “gaming for good” trend is one that’s gained traction over the past few years, and now has a strong foothold in gaming communities. A social media game favorite now has a real-world counterpart, the MBF Farm, where players create their own virtual farms to help finance a farming cooperative in Kyrgyzstan. (Note: when you visit the MBF Farm site, you may have to hit the “translate” button, unless you’re proficient in Russian).

In 2011, a free social media game, planted 25,000 online trees in 25 days in the Plant a Real Forest Challenge. As a result, game studio Talkie will plant an equal number of trees in Brazil. Want to plant a tree from your smartphone? Buy a “smart-forest” where with every purchase, you get to plant a virtual tree, and The Conservation Fund will plant a real one along the Gulf coast of the U.S.

Taking gaming for good to a new level where crowds of gamers solve puzzles for science by unlocking the structure of proteins. In September 2011, the group announced that it had unlocked an AIDS-related enzyme that had long-baffled researchers.

Retailers and products that cross the line

The customer is truly king at retail stores. And retailers are now hosting online forums for design, where ideas are submitted, products are chosen by community vote, then put up for sale.

Products, too, make connections (or blur the distinctions) between the online and offline worlds. Lamps and other objects can act as modern mood rings, monitoring social media for emotional cues. Plants call their owners when in need of watering. Avoid traffic jams with crowd-sourced information delivered to your smartphone, which uses online GPS data and real-time, street-level input to surmise the quickest routes.

When worlds collide

Online and offline worlds are breaking down cultural barriers as well. Social media helped spread the Occupy Wall Street movement to Main Streets across America. Social media posts from Tahrir Square helped fuel the Arab Spring, spreading word about the uprisings in ways traditional journalists couldn’t. Most recently, teen blogger Malala Yousufzai, the first recipient of Pakistan's National Peace Award for Youth, was shot after she left her Pakistani school.

This isn’t Vegas…what happens in the virtual world doesn’t stay there. Whether building games for good, allowing markets to create products and online entities to venture into the real world, or providing tools for social change, the merging of online and offline worlds has entered uncharted territory. There may be apps for that, but right now, there just aren’t any reliable maps yet.


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