There is a trend emerging from people using communications technology. No longer are things limited to the realm of small areas, it is now possible to broadcast information to the world quickly. The web has the ability for other people to tell us what is going on as well as share our information with them.
One thing I have noticed is how much people use mobile phones. This has been most obvious when there is a need to wait for some event to happen. For example, it is common for people to communicate to friends and family while waiting to board a plane. This is not really odd given the nature of being potentially lonely or bored. However, it does seem that people treat the mobile phones as a link to someone just to make the time pass faster. All it takes is the realization that there is quiet time to potentially bring the need to call someone.
Mentally, the person forming this link is no longer fully focused on wherever they are. They are distracted by the conversation and can find it annoying to be interrupted by events happening locally. The observation is that people that do this have stopped any potential interaction with the things around them.
It is like they have created their own personal cocoon and only bring in people they trust into their world. Perhaps this is not much different from before. Perhaps it is just more likely to be able to see this private life in public.
Where could this go? Where does this lead?
It seems it will always be true that we want certain people to be with us. Even if those people cannot physically be there, we will always find comfort in being with those we can be ourselves with. This kind personal contact without the physical presence will always be something we, as humans, want. Mobile phones seem to be the direct proof of that.
Ideally, we want a link to be active whenever it is desired and we also want it to be as realistic in nature as possible. The technology simply is not there yet.
Imagining what could be possible leads to the idea of segmented worlds. In other words, the mind could be fooled to perceive senses that are actually not in the real world. Researchers are working hard to discover technologies that will lead to this kind of reality modification. Recently there were investigations into using ultrasound to trigger changes in the mind. Current research is focused on helping to cure diseases and conditions but ultimately will lead to new branches of brain research.
Given that the mind will be better understood in the future and that technology will be advanced as well, it would be possible to create a device that could be worn (maybe glasses) that would end up being effectively a mind interface. Once there, it would be possible to link directly to other mind interfaces of friends and family. Of course the interface would be protected and would mostly focus on the senses. The idea is to create the link such that the mind interface will supplement the senses and make it seem that the other person is actually there. This could also imply that the local reality could be largely removed by overlaying images from afar. Or, even more interesting, the two environments could be cleverly merged.
Just then I was imaging being at the airport. If my family was around me, it could seem that they are actually there with the local furniture. Perhaps the key is to choose which setting to share. And, of course there would be some complications. Maybe more realistically things would happen just in the mind with no outside actions. This would be more like a dream. So, in the easiest model, you share a dream with others. There would be no need to worry about moving around.
This is sounding more and more like the idea from the “Matrix”.
What are the social implications? How plausible is it that we prefer to dream than live in reality?
Well, most likely we would not want to do full “dreaming” in public. It is hard to believe that we would leave ourselves vulnerable in places like an airport. Tension usually comes from being alert. Being unaware means being relaxed but also potentially unable to respond to any changes. It would seem that there would be degrees of intensity of the link. Like a sliding scale, our sense of being somewhere else would differ based on our need of being locally aware.
A much more likely event in the near future is the ability to reduce the size of audio-based communication. Eventually the devices will be transparent. They will also be an always-on capable devices. Instead of focusing on the potential of calling anyone in the world, it will be more interested in links. From these set of links, you can choose to have ones active as much as you like. From a family point of view, this would allow for constant and instant communication with anyone family member with nothing needed except for being able to call out their name.
Personally it would be very useful for me given that it is harder to hear than it used to be. More importantly, the instant link means that it helps to create the illusion that that person is right there near you.
Put another way, you do not dial number to talk to someone in the next room. Why should it be necessary today to store numbers for people that you know well? Should not the technology hide any complexity and make it like a real personal communication?
Since starting this post I have been debating about where it is good or bad to focus on distant bonds. My initial impression is that it is bad for people to ignore their local environments. This has been true enough that mobile phones are often banned from things like driving. In many ways it just seems rude to have people ignoring what it going around them.
However, it also seems true that people are sharing more time together over these links than what would have been possible before. In theory, family and friends would be able to be together more with potentially more enriched relationships as well. Perhaps the links would be stronger for friends than family.
Thinking abstractly, Citrix is in the business of bringing information and people together regardless of location or device. As a company, it is only recently that Citrix has explored the social web aspect of business. Even then, the ventures are fairly limited and do not fully explore this potential. As usual, it is not always obvious that Citrix should consider entering this field. However, the idea of “distant bonds” could easily apply to business as well. Given the massive popularity of Blackberry and overall instant email access, it is clear that if you want to get ahead you need better connections with faster quality response means. It is common for managers to monitor email constantly via their iPhones. Being instantly informed and being able to respond comes at a price. The line between private and work life is blurred to the point of being erased.
Maybe if the links were better managed it would need lead to such grief. Or maybe this is just the cost of success. Regardless, the need for better consistent connections is obvious. This is true either between the people that we care about in both the personal and business spaces.
It seems that the investment in creating a more natural way to communicate over great distances would be appealing to all. The ultimate question is how to do with this with no external devices at all. Last night, an idea resurfaced. One of the biggest problems is battery life. If your battery dies, there is no way out. The science fiction idea that came forward is that given that we have a “brain interface” and that most likely it will be a fairly low power device, it will also be able to take energy the same way the body does. This idea could go a bit further to allow for the possibility of burning energy for connected devices as well. Certainly science fiction. However, people are actually looking into this. Check out this terse Wikipedia article.
In closing, there are lots of things coming on the horizon. As expected, they bring new possibilities but do not necessarily make things better.
It becomes more important to be somewhere else. As time goes by, it becomes easier to focus on something outside the local realm. Technology has progressed far enough that our desire to be connected to others can be simple and fast. This adoption of new technology will be widespread.