Thursday, May 20, 2010

Don't Trust the Signal

A progressively more common element I've been noticing in modern future forecasts is the idea that interconnection will make it easier for people to live their lives without leaving their houses. An early example occurred in Oath of Fealty, where one of the Todos Santos residents made a living by remote-driving lunar construction equipment. As the web becomes more and more ubiquitous and capable, it's not only going to revolutionize telecommunication - it's got the potential to revolutionize life in general, our work time and our leisure time both. The important question is whether or not it should revolutionize things to the degree that it can.

One of the themes I tend to revisit is this: "there's no substitute for reality." This is something I wholeheartedly believe - that experiencing something through the intermediary of a glowing screen or words on a page can never measure up with direct experience. I wish I didn't have to state this, as it seems incredibly obvious - but what's obvious to one person is not necessarily so to another. Moreover, I can already see today the beginnings of reality manipulation. Take augmented reality, for instance. Today it's purely ordinary - you hold up an iPhone in front of your face, and you see a bit into the electronic world - but how long will it be before augmented reality devices not only become more immersive, but become capable of editing things out of a wearer's view of the world?

Imagine a world of cheap vacations, but where you never leave your house - you "go on vacation" remotely, a probe your proxy. did something like this for their April Fool's gag this year, Virtual Vacations - it took me a few minutes to realize that it was fake, because it's the sort of thing I can imagine people actually paying for. Who needs the mind-opening experience of going to new places, experiencing new situations first-hand, when you can just sit in the comfort of home and watch it on your screen? For that matter, who's to say what you're even watching is accurate? Video feeds can be tampered with, and "vacation remotes" can be set down in Potemkin tourist zones. Why should the destination risk any chance at a poor remote vacation? Do the remote vacationers really have to know they're taking their vacations in some soundstage?

Dynamism depends on challenging boundaries. We can't expect to maintain a vibrant and dynamic society if more and more people become more and more content with the prospect of staying in their homes all the time. If people are to live, they can't do it through intermediaries - it really should be direct, or not at all.

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