“We are the people of the future” – that was a friend’s comment in a recent discussion about sl and the place that it’s gained in our lives. i took it to mean that by maintaining a presence in a virtual world – a presence that creates its own discrete niche as well as interacting with others in communal activities; a presence that may have artistic, commercial, educational or other related propensities, and a presence to which we attribute our own individual characteristics, (whether factual or imagined), and are able to relate to on a personal level – we have taken the first steps towards what we may assume will be the norm in the future.
That’s a fairly reasoned assumption, but by any law of probability, there’s an equal chance that our futures may take an entirely different path altogether – notwithstanding what our present condition may lead us to assume. The future is notoriously difficult to predict.
There are those in my family who, although they probably wouldn’t pass as true ‘Trekkies‘, are certainly fans of Star Trek and as a result, over the years, i’ve sort of taken it for granted that one day we’d be talking to computers that do whatever we ask them, routinely teleporting from place to place and be living in colonies scattered amongst the stars. Medical procedures would consist of waving buzzing handheld technology over the patient, and doors would open with a satisfying swooshing sound… i’ve been disappointed so far and, the more i consider it, the less likely many of those things seem in my lifetime.
Maybe setting my standards by Star Trek is a little optimistic – let’s try something more realistic instead. i’m writing this piece on 13th July 2012, just a couple of days after Marty McFly arrived in the future. Sadly, it’s not quite the future Spielberg imagined – although it does bear more than a passing resemblance to sl. The fact is, no matter how savvy we may think we are, there will always be something that’ll catch us out and the future is guaranteed to throw in a few surprises that we never expected. Take tablet and touch screen technology – if you’d have asked me whether there was a future in it a couple of years ago, i’d have laughed at you… now it seems that the world’s going tablet mad.
Let’s get back to sl: whilst it may be appealing to think of ourselves as the pioneers of a future world where everything from leisure to business will be experienced vicariously in a virtual environment, i’d hesitate to secrete away all my eggs in that particular basket, because i honestly don’t think that’s the way that things are likely to unfold. Just like the talking computers in Star Trek, (not to mention Blake’s 7, 2001: A Space Odyssey and Red Dwarf too), it seems like a great idea – but, if it was that good, then why – when you consider that we already have the technology to do it, (think Siri), and have done for quite some time – aren’t we seeing people chatting away to their desktops and having conversations with their laptops on a regular basis? Simply, i’d suggest, because in real terms it’s such an impractical and cumbersome way of interfacing with an inanimate object. Besides, if you’re anything like me, you find it both faintly disconcerting and thoroughly irritating having a conversation with a fake ‘intelligence’. (i have a particular aversion to those automated phone systems… “Did you say ‘the Odeon in Bratislava’?”). When you extend the premise to experience rl through the medium of a virtual world, especially one like sl, with all those wonderful ‘features’ that we like to complain about ad-infinitum, the reasons why it’s unlikely should be patently obvious. Even with the new kids on the block, like Cloud Party and 3Di Cloud upping the stakes, at best i anticipate a brief flurry of interest before it all settles down into background noise.
My gut feeling is that we’ll see our real world evolve with a focus on augmented, rather than virtual reality – the ‘there’s an app for that’ society, wearing their Google Glass enabled specs, but still very much inhabiting the real world. Much as we’d all love to have an excuse to spend even more time in sl, it’s really far too clunky, inconvenient and – i’m afraid – rather too far behind the times to keep pace with a world that is changing ever more rapidly.
Tomorrow people? (another talking computer!), well maybe we’re not – it may seem odd to think of virtual worlds as old hat, but to be honest i’ve always been a bit stuck in the past anyway!
And I’d rather be high
Think I’ll walk me outside
And buy a rainbow smile
But be free
They’re all free
So maybe tomorrow
I’ll find my way home
Stereophonics – Maybe Tomorrow