EBOCLOUD: Dare to Imagine Life After Facebook

I purchased the book EBOCLOUD by Rick Moss immediately on recommendation from a friend. There was no way I could resist reading a book with the tagline, “Love Must Evolve” that dares to explore life after Facebook.  If there is such a thing as a fantasy book club, this would be the book I would want to read and discuss with a group of people. In my dream book club I would want a full spectrum of people represented.  Give me political and religious left, right and middle. In this motley crew let there be humor, creativity, compassion, empathy and intellect.  I am certain with this group, we would never run out of things to discuss and we would learn a great deal from each other as the themes of the book inspire us to think and grow.

There is no shortage of thought-provoking themes in EBOCLOUD.  I was inspired to think about the following while reading and after: Online social evolution, Facebook, Twitter, community, isolation, pop culture influence, love, relationships, technology, control, trust, power, privacy, profit, singularity, mobile apps, web neutrality and the future.

Like the movie Inception, the book has layers. It is a novel within a novel. The characters are interesting, quirky and real. I am certain whoever reads this book will be challenged to think differently about something relevant to their life while simultaneously being entertained. Dare I say, this is the future of entertaining content. Content that inspires growth and thought. My plea: Divert your eyes from the train wrecks of popular media (ie. CHARLIE SHEEN) and READ THIS BOOK.

I had the pleasure of connecting with author Rick Moss.  Here are his answers to the questions I had for him after reading EBOCLOUD.

Shot taken by Rick Moss while researching locations around Manhattan for EBOCLOUD

What inspired you to write EBOCLOUD?
I had a couple of crackpot ideas about how to save the world. We all have these kind of crazy thoughts from time to time – ‘If only the powers that be would do such-and-such…” – but they go nowhere. We’re usually afraid to voice them. But I thought of one of my favorite human beings, Kurt Vonnegut (who had just recently passed), and how brave he had been in putting his crackpot notions out there for the world to see. So in a way it wasn’t a “what” but a “who” that inspired me into EBOCLOUD. In fact, literally, one of Mr. Vonnegut’s crackpot ideas forms the philosophical basis for the ebocloud.com humanitarian social network, which is all explained in the book.

I was impressed with your ability to create a novel within a novel. What influenced you to tell the story this way?
Greed. Like I said, I had two crazy ideas for saving humanity. I didn’t want to give one up, even though I was advised that digressing from a linear story line would turn readers off. I built one idea into the novel-within-the-novel and the other into the main narrative. It also occurred to me that I could set up certain parallels between characters in the two stories and reflect themes back and forth that would give resonance to the emotions the reader was experiencing. I’m not sure if I was fully successful, but I sure had fun trying.

Also—and this is admittedly a bit abstract—it had to do with texture. I’d never written fiction before. The natural association I made was to my painting, which has been my primary creative outlet all my life. I use a lot of collage in my work—lots of layers and mixed media. Adding two different genres within the same book felt like layering on of texture to me—more depth.

If Flounce (the name of the novel wrote by one of the characters of EBOCLOUD that inspires and influences others in the book) is a metaphor for how pop culture influences impressionable minds, what kind of entertainment do you long for and what can you do without?
I suppose most related to your point about impressionability, movies have me coming and going. With a novel, I can distance myself, but with a good movie I find I’m senselessly captivated. Among my favorite movies, for example, is John Ford’s The Searchers. I’m sure I’ve watched it a dozen times and feel like I discover a hidden level of meaning each time. And yet, I always get caught up in the story and the performances. One of my ambitions is to instill a cinematic feel into the scenes of my stories. I hope that comes across.

As for what I can do without, I have no tolerance for “gawker” reality shows that take pleasure in peoples’ pain and ignorance—Jersey Shore, Housewives of Whatever, etc. I don’t find these to be constructive. They make me ashamed to be a part of this culture.

How much inspiration came from real relationships in your life?
I drew heavily on friends and relations when developing characters, whether consciously or not. Characters don’t spring to life spontaneously. They have to be cobbled together using found materials. But at my age, I’ve witnessed so many interchanges between people and seen so many relationships built and unraveled that all those raw materials are floating around inside. I found it was a process of putting two characters in a room and watching what happened. I was amazed and how easily the dialog unfolded. But looking at the results, I’d be hard pressed to tell you where the pieces came from. The process works like those police sketch programs that grab a set of eyebrows from one type of person and a nose from someone else.

You have adult children, correct? Are their views towards relationships and community different than yours and if so, how?
You’re asking a father to explain his daughters’ relationships? I wish I were half that wise. My daughters are both artists, as are both their parents. I met their mother when I was about their age and we were living, as art students tend to do, within a tight-knit community of like-minded artists. Let’s call it “bohemian” for lack of a better term. I don’t think this type of community has changed from generation to generation since the 19th Century and I don’t see much that has changed in what our daughters are experiencing compared to my wife and myself. We’ll just have to see our girls are fortunate enough to meet partners and form a life-long relationships like their parents. My wife and I hope they do but know there are many other roads that lead to fulfillment in life. I’m not worried for them.

If I were to make a generational generalization (wow, that’s bad), I’d say that their views towards relationships are more fluid. They seem much less concerned with cementing firm bonds. I recently read about how civil unions have become very popular in France. Originally, they were legalized to accommodate gay couples, but straight couples are now jumping in and out of civil union contracts with hardly a thought. I don’t think 20-somethings in the States are going to be even that formal. In a way, it has to do with greater respect between men and women. My daughters’ generation tends to run in packs in which men and women are friends interchangeably and fall somewhat indiscriminately into semi-romantic dalliances. It’s very confusing to observe from the outside. And you’ll never get a straight answer to a traditional question, such as, “Are you dating him?” or “Are they a couple?”

Forget mobile apps. The ebo way: brain frequency tattoos.

How about technology? What conversations do you have around the “dinner table” in regards to how technology is shaping our lives?
One of our daughters is decidedly anti-digital technology; the other is, at best, ambivalent. In the case of our oldest, she’s interested in helping preserve forms of old printmaking technology, such as hand letterpress and stone lithography. (I wonder if some day a young artist will insist on working in an antiquated old version of Photoshop.) This daughter, at the moment, doesn’t own a cell phone and rarely gets on the internet. My younger daughter is spending so much time painting that I think she’s just too busy to indulge in online communities and such. She’s no Luddite, but she’s certainly not enamored with it all. Maybe it’s because they both grew up watching me glued to computers all day doing my design work. This is their form of rebellion. All power to them.

Do you believe that EBOCLOUD is a realistic view of the future? Why or why not?
No, no … that’s why they include the word fiction in science fiction. It was not my intention to write an accurate prediction. I believe certain things—some of the most transformational occurrences—will be inevitable, given the current course and momentum of technology. But I couldn’t possibly predict how it will all play out. I extrapolated emerging technologies in ways I thought would feel believable because that’s important to keep readers engaged in the philosophy behind the actions taking place. I could have come up with five other scenarios, assuming I was so clever. It wouldn’t have made a difference.

The slogan used on the book is “Love must evolve.” I believe that to be true. But what takes months in the book may take decades or centuries in reality; or we may not make it that far, sadly.

I see the pros and cons of an EBOCLOUD. One fear that I can’t get around, what happens if cloud control gets into the wrong hands? What are your thoughts on this?
The EBOCLOUD social network is a utopian ideal. The word “utopia” has gotten a bad rap in that last century or so because of all the failed attempts, like socialism. But then there are idealists with funny wigs that came up with systems like Democracy and got away with it, complete with all its flaws. The point I try to make in the book is that the ebocloud humanitarian system, which uses technology as a tool to recognize and reward altruistic behavior, could never hope to be a perfect system but that it’s got the potential to be world-altering, so it’s worth the effort. Just like our democratic system of government, you have to be extremely forgiving of the flaws if you expect it to work long-term.

As for getting the idea into the right hands, I promised myself I would do my best to introduce these concepts to the scientific community once the book was published, so I’m in the process of doing that now. I recently published an article for the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies and have a number of social scientists and others reviewing it. My thinking is, if there’s any merit to the notion, give it to the intellectuals first. That’s the best way to keep it out of the hands of politicians, since they’re all steering clear of the “intellectual elite” these days. I’m not concerned about government control, really, because it would require too much cooperation from the people to function. And as we’re now seeing in the Middle East, this technology favors a dissemination of power. I think we’re good.

Do you believe LOVE as we know and want it now will become extinct? And if it does, how is the ebo way better?

Well, first, this assumes we have a clue what love is as it now exists and what it is we want from love. Our desires are so complex. How much of what we think we want is desire for companionship; how much is a need for sexual fulfillment? How much is intellectual fulfillment and recognition of common feelings? Just try to separate all these intermingling feelings and, at times, conflicting desires.

What happens when technology gets involved, perhaps, is that it to some extent isolates the physical influences; sort of puts those complications to the side. So it’s possible it may get people to a place where they will naturally begin to transfer the fulfillment they seek in one-on-one physical encounters into communal experiences. And maybe we’ll be able to develop forms of involvement, en masse, that will just beat the hell out of one-on-one coupling. Do I believe it will happen? It’s just a theory.

Facebook (and similar social tools) have turned trust into a commodity. In your opinion what is the future of trust as commodity, feeling, and/or theme?
Wow … the future of trust. That’s a meaty topic. Yes, I think you’ve put it very accurately that trust is being traded now as a commodity. When we log on to a website and expect access to virtually unlimited free information and services, the provider typically asks us to do a little horse-trading. “Trust us with your personal information,” they say,” and we’ll give you all this wonderful stuff in return for free.”

I’m a pragmatist and I know we benefit tremendously from our free enterprise system. For content to be free on the internet, we need a broad-based “trust system” so marketers can work with brands and finance all the operations that bring us all these wonderful services we want. I don’t get paranoid about it. Maybe that’s because I don’t have things I’m trying to hide. Maybe if a loved one had been wrongly accused and mistreated by the media and I was trying to protect them, I might feel differently. I’m sure what feels like transparency and general good will on the internet to me now could turn into a nightmare quickly if the tables turned and the government and media were tracking someone in my family.

I’m afraid I haven’t answered this very well. It seems to me that the future of trust, related to social media (if that’s the question) will be about as complicated as trust in human relationships, which is as it should be, it seems to me.

Tell me something about you that might surprise people that only know you as the author of EBOCLOUD.
I’m fairly certain we are the worst at understanding what would surprise people about ourselves. I might think, for example, that people would be delighted to find me witty and charming only to find that they’re shocked to see how boorish and egotistical I am.

So maybe I can tell you something that surprised me about myself… I do all sorts of writing for work and have done so for years—news articles, business pieces, email, tweets, etc., etc. Some of it is interesting; most routine; some of it a real slog. But I had never written fiction before, apart from a few silly student pieces. When I had the two crackpot ideas that became EBOCLOUD, I sat down to write what I originally thought would be perhaps a 3000-word magazine essay. I found I couldn’t stop. I wrote for two years and wound up, at the end of the first draft, with 175,000 words.

I’ve tried an array of art forms. I started drawing and painting when I was about nine. I’ve done etching, silk screening, lithography, photography, video, film, computer animation, web design, graphic design, illustration and all sorts of mixed media. I found writing EBOCLOUD to be the most satisfying of all the creative experiences so far. I just absolutely had a great, joyous time. It surprised the hell out of me.

Ebocloud-CoverWhat is next for you? Are you working on a new book?

Yes, I’m at the early stages of Book #2. The only thing I can promise is that I will try to challenge myself as I did with EBOCLOUD, but in a different way. As they say at the gym, “Exercising the same way is not exercising.”

To learn more about Rick Moss and EBOCLOUD visit his site and blog.

To get your own EBOCLOUD click here. And PLEASE, after you read it let me know; maybe we can make my fantasy book club a reality.

A little more behind the interviewer’s interest: See Advanced Communications