Wearable With Flexible Display Set To Blow Your Mind Next Year
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Wearable with flexible display set to blow your mind next year
I still remember typing essays on a much loved typewriter in my first year of university. Then the first computer, the first email account, the slow yet fluid entry into a new digital world that felt strangely natural. The advent of the Internet age happened progressively, we saw it develop like a child born of many brains, a protean animal whose characteristics were at once predictable and unknown. As soon as the digital sphere and became a worldwide reality recognizable as a new era, predictions and analyses about it grew. Edge itself was born as the creature was still growing new limbs. The tools for research and communication about this research developed along with new thinking about mind-machine interaction, about the future of education, about the impact of the Internet on texts and writing, about the issues of filtering, relevance, learning and memory.
Thanks to the Internet, for the first time in my life I feel that I have a chance to compete on a level playing field. My academic background is embarrassing compared to that of most successful intellectuals. My public high school education was so abysmal that I had to attend to a community college in California for two years before matriculating at the (then) reputationless Pepperdine University. I scraped together a master's degree through the second-tier California State University system, and finally gave up hope for an intellectual life and raced bikes for a decade. By the time I earned a Ph.D. from the distinctly non-elitist Claremont Graduate University, I discovered there were next to no jobs, especially for someone with an intellectual pedigree such as mine. Since teaching as an adjunct professor is no way to make a living (literally), I founded the Skeptics Society andSkeptic magazine just as the Internet was getting legs in the early-1990s.
In the spirit of keeping the shadow at a distance, some work at staying uninformed. Julia, eighteen, says "I've heard that school authorities and local police can get into your Facebook," but doesn't want to know the details. "I live on Facebook" she explains, and "I don't want to be upset." A seventeen-year-old girl thinks that Facebook "can see everything," but even though "you can try to get Facebook to change things," it is really out of her hands. She sums up: "That's just the way it is." A sixteen-year-old girl says that even without privacy, she feels safe because "No one would care about my little life." For all the talk of a generation empowered by the Net, the question of online privacy brings out claims of intentionally vague understandings and protests of impotence. This is a life of resignation: teens are sure that at some point their privacy will be invaded, but that this is the course of doing business in their world.
However, in the Internet Age, the "complete extinguishing" never really happens, especially for prominent or prolific users. For example, the number of Internet searchers for something you wrote may asymptotically approach zero over the decades, but it will never quite reach zero. Given the ubiquity of the Internet, its databases, and search engines, someone a hundred years from now may smile on something you wrote or wonder about who you were. You may become part of this future person's own IPB as he navigates through life. In the future, simulacrums of you, derived in part by your Internet activities, will be able to converse with future generations.
I wasn't an early adaptor, but the process started early. I didn't quite understand yet what would come upon us, when Marvin Minsky told me one afternoon in 1989 at MIT's Media Lab the most important trait of a computer wouldn't be it's power, but what it would be connected to. A couple of years later I stumbled upon the cyberpunk scene in San Francisco. People were popping smart drugs (which didn't do anything), Timothy Leary declared virtual reality the next psychedelics (which never panned out), Todd Rundgren warned of a coming overabundance of creative work without a parallel rise in great ideas (which is now reflected in the laments about the rise of the amateur). It was still the old underground running the new emerging culture. This new culture was driven by thought rather than art though. It's also where I met Cliff Figallo who ran a virtual community called The Well. He introduced me to John Perry Barlow who had just started a foundation called the Electronic Frontier Foundation. The name said it all. There was a new frontier.
The way that neoteny relates to the degradation of the Internet is that as a parent, you really can't go running around to play gigs live all the time. The only way for a creative person to live with what we can call dignity is to have some system of intellectual property to provide sustenance while you're out of your mind with fatigue after a rough night with a sick kid.
Being a photographer for over 50 years has created an innate suspicion of cyber space but this superstition/suspicion does not interfere with my use of the Internet as a system of communication and research. I remain indifferent to the entire event of place as it is experienced by young arrivals to the planet who find the most concrete forms of reality floating upon the surface of their computer display.
In the meantime, the Center, like other institutions, has surrendered to technology. Today, people's minds are in a state of constant alert, waiting for the next e-mail, the next SMS, as if these will deliver the final, earth-shattering insight. I find it surprising that scholars in the "thinking profession" would so easily let their attention be controlled from the outside, minute by minute, just like letting a cell phone interrupt a good conversation. Were messages to pop up on my screen every second, I would not be able to think straight. Maintaining the Center's spirit, I check my email only once a day, and keep my cell phone switched off unless I make a call. An hour or two without interruption are heaven for me.
The social changes the Internet is bringing about have changed the way the two of us think about madness. The change in our thinking started, strangely enough, with reflections on Internet friends. The number of your Facebook friends, like the make of the car you drive, confers a certain status. It is not uncommon for someone to have virtual friends in the hundreds which seems to show, among other things, that the Internet is doing more for our social lives than wine coolers or the pill. In the days before Facebook and Twitter, time placed severe constraints on friendship. Even the traditional Christmas letter, now a fossil in the anthropological museum, couldn't be stamped and addressed 754 times by anybody with a full-time job. Technology has transcended time and made the Christmas letter viable again no matter how large one's social circle. Ironically, electronic social networking has made the Christmas letter otiose; your friends hardly need an account of the year's highlights when they can be fed a stream of reports on the day's events and your reflections on logical positivism or Lady Gaga.
This "homework hack" is, in reality, little more than the usual pattern of academic discourse, but carried out, in William Gibson's memorable phrase, with "one thumb permanently on the fast-forward button". Speed matters, because life is short. The next generation of professional thinkers already have all the right instincts about the infinite library that is their external mind, accessible in real time, and capable of accelerating the already Lamarckian process of evolution in thought and knowledge on timescales that really matter. I'm starting to get it too.
It's because human change takes place across generations, rather than within a single life. This is built into the very nature of the developing mind and brain. All the authors of these essays have learned how to use the Web with brains that were fully developed long before we sent our first e-mail. All of us learned to read with the open and flexible brains we had when we were children. As a result no-one living now will experience the digital world in the spontaneous and unselfconscious way that the children of 2010 will experience it, or in the spontaneous and unselfconscious way we experience print.