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Rome Viharo and the Future: Storytelling, Shamanism and How Social Media Replaces Government

Rome Viharo, founder and CEO of Media Social
Rome Viharo, founder and CEO of Media Social

Rome Di Giulio arrived at the Ribbit Tree Dojo on Old Topanga Road for the Topanga Film Festival's transmedia workshop in his signature Darth Vader T-shirt and Bermuda shorts. A forward thinker who places no restraints on his creative vision, Di Giulio describes the transmedia genre as "a story ... and a work business."

Known for his boundless energy and limited attention span, Di Giulio is not fixated exclusively on transmedia. He also turns his myopic lens on other interests including Pokémon, as witnessed by his bright yellow Pikachu backpack, and confesses that he is deeply interested in bugs, lizards, flowers and clouds, but is no longer drawn to snakes. Di Giulio, who recently turned 6, is accompanied by his dad, social media guru Rome Viharo, founder and CEO of Media Social. 

Viharo, a self-proclaimed former "hipster douchebag," was on the innovative edge of the music scene in L.A. in the '90s with his band i-SPEAK. The KCRW darlings were a pre-Ozomatli 12-piece who pioneered the infusion of DJ, sequence samples, hip-hop, world music and soul into a live show. After transcending the music biz, Viharo emerged momentarily as an award-winning digital filmmaker before taking another large leap a step ahead of the rest -- making the obvious transition into the social media matrix. 

"After my music and filmmaking careers bellied up, I gave myself an extraordinary education on what we're now calling transmedia," Viharo says. "Returning to film or music would be a big step backwards. It's really no longer relevant anymore. Technology and the audience is more relevant than the media that they're watching. My fascination is how to tell a story and how does this affect distribution and marketing through social media affects the story itself. I think very few people understand where it's all going. A lot of artists are confused. They're not relevant like they used to be."

Viharo, along with Media Social partner Maf Lewis, recently dove into the void making the correlation between Amazonian shamanism and Google search in a recent TED (Technology Entertainment and Design) Talk titled "Google Consciousness" in Cardiff, Wales. Needless to say, Viharo went viral.

Handsome and self-assured, Viharo speaks with authority in a digital dialect as he connects the dots between memes and the sacred "plant spirits" of the Peruvian Amazon.

"In the talk I play with the idea of intelligent plants discussed amongst the curanderos of Peru and the idea of intelligent computer networks discussed amongst western philosophers today. We created a meme onstage live at the TED Talk."

His meme explored plant and Internet sentience as a way to support the idea of social media replacing government as we know it. "It essentially refers to an idea that spreads virally called Google Consciousness that plays with the idea that the Internet could become sentient," he says. "Sentient, meaning conscious ... aware.

"The Google algorithm, especially the way we use it, is now actually a contender for being conscious. We use it as a metaphor for a collective intelligence or a collective consciousness with the participation between technology and people using the Web. There's a very credible argument to that. What is more bizarre to consider: intelligent plants or intelligent computers?"

His geek philosophy leans liberally into the work of American philosopher Daniel Denet, whose book Consciousness Explained, published in 1991, predated social media. Denet asserts that consciousness is a function of the brain and that Search and Wikis describe the process "flow" in the brain as remarkably identical to how you could map search, SEO and PageRank on Google. "The way he [Denet] describes how the brain produces consciousness was a perfect description of the way the Google algorithm works."

Viharo introduced shamanism in the TED Talk, comparing Google to Peruvian shamanism -- two contradictory ideas about the world and consciousness that share a transcendent in common.

Coining the term Media Mandala in 2005, Viharo has some thoughts about transmedia in general: "Transmedia is a sort of buzzword," he says. "I don't like it so much," he adds, offering a more developed explanation of the experience.

Transmedia is storytelling with the arcs of the story placed across different forms of media, on or off line, books, film, video and so on. The viewer goes on his own journey, possibly even participating in some way, like chatting with the author.

"With technology nowdays, I think the journey of the audience is more interesting and engaging than the actual media they're consuming," Viharo says. "I think that film or music is no longer relevant. The technologies that are distributing them are more relevant in today's day and age. It's also a nonlinear process. You're not sure where the viewer is going to come into your story. To them the first part of your story could come at the middle of their journey. It's a great challenge for storytelling."

Briefly re-emerging from bug world, Rome Di Giulio has reconsidered his comments on the meaning of transmedia, now offering a more refined delineation of transmedia. "It's story with tech-a-knology he offers," then darts off in pursuit of a butterfly.

Follow Sam Slovick on Twitter and see more of his work at SamSlovick.com.


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