by Geoff Olson

“Technology is the knack of so arranging the world that we don’t have to experience it.”
– Max Frisch, Homo Faber (1957)

ROBOTYou may be reading this article in the print edition. You may be reading it online. Either way, you should be doing several other things at once, including tweeting or Facebooking a link to it.

If we’re to effectively compete in the job market with robots, we meatbots will need to multitask faster for longer hours. Sleep is for newborns – and they’re going to have to pick it up, too.

In other words, don’t walk without fiddling with your mobile devices. Don’t sit with friends without texting other friends who aren’t there. Don’t be present in the stillness of nature without posting the scenery to an unknown number of viewers. Talk softly and carry a big selfie stick.

Of course, it’s possible to have a perfectly good time in the old-school land of sweat and smell. But stay wired. If you are biking, hiking, swimming, or having a Tinder-mediated hookup, be sure to wear a Fitbit or Apple watch to record the cardio workout. It’s valuable data for both you and the insurance industry.

Old medieval maps had the margins of the known world illustrated with sea dragons, captioned with “Here be Monsters.” The cartography is now in reverse. The alphabet agencies have scrutinized every square yard of Earth like a fanboy with Asberger’s grokking a diagram of the USS Enterprise. There is no place that that lies outside the gaze of the NRO, the NSA, or Google – with the possible exceptions of Atlantis, Gotham City, and Whoville.

Today’s scary dragons on the world’s margins are the unconnected: social media abstainers made up of the elderly, the poor, and the paranoid. (But don’t worry; CCTV cameras linked to facial recognition software with predictive behaviour modelling have flagged the asymmetric threats among them.)

For the rest of us who are wired to the gills, the price of freedom is eternal vigilance. Meaning we must be up to date on Taylor Swift’s latest dustup with Katy Perry or Apple Inc. –  or whatever else comes down the Buzzfeed pipeline. The only thing we need to fear is the Fear of Missing Out (FOMO).

This is our glorious burden in the new millennium: to know a tiny amount about a great variety of things. To possess knowledge that’s a mile wide but an inch deep.

The physical world is messy, painful, unpredictable, and the service is often atrocious. Virtuality has it beaten, hands-down. Take phone calls: calling another human being can result in an unpredictably long, complicated exchange, something the called party probably dreads just as much as you. That’s why four out of five doctors recommend texting for people who can’t be troubled to talk.

Luckily, Oculus VR and other makers of virtual reality goggles are working overtime to offer you an experience indistinguishable from real life, except for when you’re riding a paisley-patterned seahorse across space into a wormhole decorated on its inside surface with cartoon characters and lolcats. (You can change the preferences at any time.)

I get how that might not be for everyone. And it’s perfectly understandable that many overworked wagelaves want a long weekend getaway at one of our persistently physical provincial parks, sans wifi. Yet within the span of a decade, virtual reality tech may allow you and others to interact in a simulated provincial park with all the features of the real thing, including blackflies, loud rowdies, and swimmer’s itch.

That’s progress, especially if the real thing has burned to a crisp in a province-wide conflagration.

One day you might even have a trip to Maui streamed through a cable in the back of your head, Matrix-style. You’ll be able to explore the world’s great destinations without leaving your microloft, as your body supplies electromagnetic energy to the grid. You can be your own run-of-river project while hard-wired to the surveillance/sales panapticon, and forever inside the loop about Taylor Swift’s latest frenemy.

It will be like living inside reality TV…without the reality.

The Vancouver Courier, July 24

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