a Wednesday evening in November during full lockdown. Your phone vibrates: “Log in here, there’s a party on a Google SpreadSheet”. You think of a clumsy phishing attempt or a bad joke, but your curiosity is too strong.
You click and land on a Google Spreadsheet. A door decorated with two modest balloons. Written in big red letters: Welcome!
On the first tab (Front door), the host recommends that you leave your coat in one of the spare bedrooms. You are invited to take possession of the premises and decorate the interior as you see fit: resize columns, add a sheet, paste images. You can invite friends but you are kindly requested not to share the address publicly.
First tab: you enter what appears to be the Hallway. Before your very eyes, a few cells are starting to be painted in green and blue. The first conversations are launched in cells normally reserved for not very talkative mathematical formulas. “What animal am I? “.
Google assigns a totem animal 1 to each anonymous person who connects to a Google Doc. The tabs are therefore populated with animals of all types: chinchillas, coyotes, zebras, koalas… the evening party looks like a menagerie.
A little shy, you do not dare to strike up a conversation with the other guests. You wonder what animal you are and where your friend might be …
One tab catches your attention – that of the dancefloor. You tell yourself that dancing is a good way to meet new people (?!).
A mirror ball hangs between columns F and G. The blue and pink boxes, which represent the dance floor, change colour when someone makes an edit to the document.
In a chat organised in column G, a few adventurers go in search of illicit substances. Other guests have created an array of song requests, songs that the DJ will kindly ignore. Eiffel 65 then Barbie Girl echo in the room, the evening takes a very 90’s turn.
You then decide to go explore the backyard. A few guests have had the same idea as you and are gathering around a campfire. Anyone bring marshmallows ? Someone is trying to draw a maze in the middle of the page while daisies are growing in the middle of the cells.
You’ve been zoning out with this Google doc for over an hour now. It might be time to go home. You go back to the home tab…. wow, the police have arrived!
Experiment to socialise between “happy-few”
The creator of this extraordinary evening is Marie Foulston, a curator specialising in digital exhibitions. In normal times, she organises interactive exhibitions around gaming culture such as this one organised for the V&A Museum in London in 2019, the world’s leading museum of art, design and performance.
But the lockdown forced her to innovate, as she explains in her “Medium” article published on One Zero accompanying the story of this crazy evening. “In response, or out of necessity, my work has shifted to the virtual.”
She also took advantage of the lockdown to organize other virtual events of this kind such as the keynote of Now Play This, a festival “about experimental forms of gaming” usually organized at Somerset House in London. This year’s edition was held on an island of Animal Crossing 😏
For the Swiss-French sociologist and anthropologist Nicolas Nova, researcher at Sciences Po (humanities and social sciences institution)’s Media Lab and author of Lagniappe, a newsletter about digital cultures, his celebrations of a new genre are “a good way to organize a more anecdotal, less framed party than by other means (aperitif via Skype, wedding on Zoom, etc.)”
For him, this should not be seen only as the result of confinement. It is a deeper exploration movement that seeks to create new methods of long-distance socialisation :
“This refers to a whole stream of players in the management of online communities who are seeking to reinvent ways of being together and socialising remotely since the advent of network technologies (beginning of the Internet, minitel, etc.). This gives rise to all kinds of experimentation”
Another current example of new forms of online socialization is the success of the online multiplayer game Among Us which drew over 3 million simultaneous players at the end of September. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a rising figure of the American Democratic Party, even gathered more than 400,000 spectators viewing her game on Twitch in October.
This Google Doc is also a return to the roots of the web, an expression of its pioneering and innovative side, sometimes bizarre and intriguing. The web of the 90’s / 2000’s was a totally free, unregulated and very amateurish space for expression where one came across brightly colored HTML-coded pages. It was a world reserved for insiders and explorers. These kinds of experiments seek to recreate more secret and elitist virtual worlds, as Nova says:
“On one hand, there is a desire to meet up whatever the situation (Covid-19, long distance, etc.), and on the other, a ‘happy-few’ aspect, in the same way as being in the IRC or Caramail channels in the 90s“
If you still want to enjoy the evening, the document archive is still available online. But you will not be able to interact, the modification rights have been withdrawn to make it a work of art frozen in time.
👉🏽 The kitchen: everyone brought their favourite beers and aperitif pastries, one guest even made a bowl of punch.
👉🏼 The coat room: one coat more original than the next, but the organisation warns: we can’t take responsibility for any lost property.
👉🏼 The blue room: an all-blue room with Eiffel 65’s ‘I’m Blue’ soundtrack.
👉🏽 The Upstairs Bathroom: the secret toilets, the ones where you don’t have to queue.
👉🏽 The billiards room: a beautiful pool table … and a shark swimming in it.