The Notion That it’s OK to be Average

by Eli Hodapp

I’m writing this from the back of the party bus, having just concluded our media tour of Finland. We’re on our way back to Helsinki from Tampere and it’s been snowing most of the afternoon. The sidewalks of Tampere are covered with a thick coating of ice, then today’s fresh snow, and the people of the city seem entirely unfazed. The bus driver especially doesn’t care about the snow. We’re barreling down the highway, at highway speeds, with what looks like barely even a dusting of salt on top of an otherwise snow covered motorway. Learning to drive in the Chicago area has made me fairly confident driving in the snow, but this is just bananas comparatively.

I saw a bunch of cool things today, but the highlight of the day was the conversation I had with some fellow journalists and a local game developer over lunch. I find the cultural differences of various European countries to be fascinating, and I just can’t get enough of talking about how things are here, and why they’re that way. Apparently, in Finland, what people strive for is to be decidedly average. You don’t want a lavish house that sticks out, you drive the same Audi A4 as your neighbor, and largely just don’t live a flashy lifestyle– Prioritizing friends, family, and overall just being a good person over having a McMansion, whatever the most expensive luxury car you can barely afford to lease is, and all the other things that go hand in hand with the American culture of excess.

Thinking back, knowing this makes all the incredibly generous programs for start ups and entrepreneurship make so much more sense. When you remove the drive to have as much wealth as you can accrue, the best things you can buy, and all the other things that go with just generally being greedy, you can have these fantastic government-sponsored programs, free shared office space, and everything else. I’ve spent the past week pondering how great it’d be to have some of these programs in the USA. But, thinking about it further, I just don’t think it’s possible. We’re too profit driven, too self-centered, and there’s no way you’d ever find an angel investor or government program that’ll just dump money into your idea without being concerned if they even get it back.

Now, I don’t mean to sound particularly anti-American because greed-driven capitalism has brought us tons of amazing products, innovations, and other things that likely would never have existed if everyone was content just being average. I just wish there was some sort of comfortable middle ground to be found between the two cultures. Maybe such a thing exists somewhere and I just haven’t found it yet.

After talking to other European journalists here, I’m thinking I really want to spend some time in rural Europe, away from all the major cities that my travels have been centralized around before. As soon as I have time to do it I’m going to start searching for where I want to go either before or between the International Mobile Gaming Awards events next year. I’m imaging my absolute ideal location would be some sort of rural road-side pub with some kind of in-house bed and breakfast place that I can stay. I really wish I spoke more languages, as I think doing what I want to do only speaking English is going to be fairly challenging.

I’m not sure I’m gutsy enough to, for instance, choose some place to stay in rural France, spend a month learning the basics powering through the French Rosetta Stone software, and then just soaking up the rest through immersion. That seems kind of scary, but it could be an incredible experience. I mean really, all I need is a bed to sleep in and some form of WiFi. The rest I can figure out.

I just wish things with my Dad’s health would stabilize a bit so I could figure out what sort of long-term plans I can make to do something like this. Also, the weak value of the dollar makes me question how feasible it’d be for me to stay somewhere in Europe long term unless I found a place that’s just dirt cheap. I’ve been told rural areas will be, especially in the off season, so maybe it would work after all.

I do have the Prius though, and for about a hundred dollars in gas and in two days or less I could be anywhere I want to go in the USA. I could do Nashville for a bit, then head down to Key West. That might actually be pretty great. I really find myself enjoying the fact that I’m not tied down by anyone or anything lately, and really don’t want to squander that. Staying inside the USA would remove all the exchange rate, health insurance, and cell phone complications among other potential problems.

Anyway, the best iOS-related thing I saw today would definitely have to be WildChords. It’s an edu-tainment game that utilizing any guitar and nothing more than the internal mic of an iPad can teach you how to play. It’s absolutely incredible how well it works too. These guys not only managed to build this amazing musical transcription engine to figure out what chords are being played, but they also managed to game-ify it in a way that seems to make practicing fun. Watching the demo in action felt like magic, like something out of a sci-fi movie. I almost want to go out and buy a cheap guitar to try it out myself.

Following that, I had sort of a confusing meeting with people from Nokia’s R&D department. Nokia as a company just seems insane these days. They’ve been totally left in the dust by the iPhone, but still are working on all of these crazy things that I can’t see ever going anywhere. The first thing I was shown was this weird WebCL tech demo which combines WebGL, WebCL and javascript into one evil abomination that, apparently, can be used to edit photos inside of a browser? Things got weirder yet, as I was shown a phone that is controlled by bending and twisting. It was sort of cool seeing a flexible LCD, but I can’t imagine ever needing this technology for any reason. The strangest thing was this project that apparently had been in development for two years. It was a set of prototype phones with all sorts of sensors in them that can sense where other phones are locally. You could do things like put two phones together to create one large screens, or use a flicking gesture to fling a photo from one phone onto another.

The idea is cool, I guess, but since these were all R&D people they refused to comment on anything to do with actual potential products. I really have to question whether or not something like this will even ever see the light of day, especially with the recent unholy alliance between Microsoft and Nokia. I guess it makes sense that Nokia as a company is in the state that it’s in when they’ve got a team of dudes working on flicking photos between phones for two years. What a weird situation. The sad part is, I actually got to handle the Lumia while I was here and it’s a fantastic device. I just can’t imagine it ever catching up to Android or iOS in any meaningful way.

It’s just about noon in the USA, and I’ve got to figure out story scheduling for Friday on TouchArcade. Brad and Jared have done a fantastic job picking up the slack while I was gone, but I think I should really write something up about my whole trip. I think an editorial piece on the power of globalization in the downloadable space and how countries like Finland have such a substantial advantage might go over pretty well. Or, it might not. It’s really hard to say what sort of things get traction these days.

This trip was totally worth it though, both on a personal and professional level. I’ve made so many great contacts, and have seen so many awesome things, that I can’t believe I was honestly debating declining the invitation to Finland initially. I’m excited to see all these secretive projects in the works here come to fruition in 2012. It’s going to be one hell of a year.