25 Years Ago, Tetris Paved The Way We Now Digest News (AKA 'The Stream')

This year marks the 25th anniversary of Tetris, perhaps the simplest, most addictive and ubiquitous computer game of all time. Journalists, academics, bloggers and fans of computer gaming, media and pop culture have exploited the celebration with an abundance of coverage. And there's been no shortage of interviews with the game's inventor, Russian mathematician Alexey Pajitnov.

Why is Tetris so addictive? Players must position blocks to fill a grid without leaving spaces in between. Successfully completed sections disappear. The more sections the player completes without reaching the top, the higher the score. Pajitnov told CNN: "First of all, it's a very simple game and it has a really strong creative spirit in it. So instead of destroying something, you kind of build up the profile out of those small pieces and enjoy doing it. And that's probably the very important addictive factor."

One of the most engaging aspects of Tetris is the perpetual, intensifying stream of bricks. In fact, this very element foreshadowed how we now consume most news content and personal status updates on the Web: in reverse chronological streams. Tetris' layers of bricks fall with greater speed and complexity as you master the ability to arrange them in straight, crumbling rows. That is not unlike news feeds and status updates that funnel into your desktop and mobile interfaces, intensifying as your ability to sort and digest them increases. Indeed, there are classical elements of game mechanics.

I wonder if there is a meaningful endgame similar to Tetris as our ability to sort and digest news and status streams matures. I don't think Tetris has an endgame, but I'm hopeful there will be one with news and status. The intensifying problem is that streams are overloaded with noisy signals and too frequently collapse focus. As my friend Len Ellis says, "an abundance of information creates a poverty of attention."

Regardless, we're only at the beginning of a sweeping adoption of information streams. And we desperately need tools and filters to make them valuable -- versus destructive.

How do you manage your streams?



2 comments about "25 Years Ago, Tetris Paved The Way We Now Digest News (AKA 'The Stream') ".
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  1. Anatoly Bykoff from PreciseInfo, July 24, 2009 at 12:56 p.m.

    There is a new phenomenon, the Information Overload,
    that has triggered a new approach to information mining
    and searches.

    That approach is based on sophisticated filtering that allows to
    precisely zoom in on the exact information you are looking for
    and increase the signal to noise ratio by orders of magnitude.

    Some of the examples of that approach are the Programmer's
    Goldmine collections, featuring precisely selected articles
    on various programming languages.

    See: (C++ programming language) (MFC/VC programming) (Java programming language) (Javascript programming language)

  2. Catherine Ventura from @catherinventura, July 24, 2009 at 5:36 p.m.

    Brilliant analogy, to which I would add (as a former Tetris addict) that the game inspires us to quickly learn to sort and classify, as the ever increasing stream of information is doing as well.

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