Wednesday, March 07, 2007
The 1rst of Three Questions.
In the future, how will we communicate?
Asked 100 years ago, this question would have resulted in a fanciful reply that projected wide spread use of the telephone, (envisioned as a wooden box), radio (envisioned as a wooden box) and airmail (Involving biplanes). No one would have imagined the telegraph would become obsolete. Looked back upon from now, such speculations are almost always laughable.. Asked 100 years before that, it would have resulted in a blank stare: "The same as now! How else?"
Having reflected thus, and with speculations reigned in on the one hand and set loose on the other, I will suggest that in the future, our communications will be a guaranteed and unrestricted right and delivered via ubiquitous, freely available means wherein the dependence on actual, clearly definable devices diminishes with time, and where the the overwhelming abundance of information available to be communicated is not an impediment to accessing it.
The telephone in my parents' house when I was very small was in fact, a wooden box on the kitchen wall. It was a party-line and you had to speak to an operator to make a call. If I wanted to make a call, I also had to stand on a chair. The telephones of my children, far from the most elaborate on the market, fold up to the size and shape of a good skipping stone and are can send and receive voice and text communications, access the Internet, store all the address and phone numbers they can use, store and play numerous pieces of recorded music and solve just about any mathematical problem you'd need to solve and tell the time. The technologies being employed become so sophisticated that they near the point where different applications amount to different surface treatments of the same thing. An MP3 player is just a cell phone that is differently enabled. So, where is there to go from there? Better ergonomics? Different colours? More buttons? fewer buttons? Differently conceived buttons!
Those amazing tiny gadgets people now hold to their ear as they walk around the malls, talking about nothing in particular, stopped impressing many of us long before they were invented, back when they were still just props in Sci-Fi movies.
Before long, with achievable extremes in miniaturization and nano technology, we will see the virtual disappearance of devices such as cell phones, I-pods, Palm Pilots, etc. They will be replaced by microscopic chips embedded in fabrics, and other everyday articles and powered by ambient energy.
Hand in hand with this we have to ask what on earth do we really need to communicate, and why? How many things do we do simply because we can do them.
We've heard the complaint that we can talk all the time, but never communicate. I think the real challenge will be how to get past eyeballs and ear drums. The "how" of transferring information from one person to the next is just a part of the process. The part of the iceberg that's visible. It's the easy part. Dissemination of information will doubtless become more efficient:Smaller, bigger, better. We are on the part of the curve that graphs possible and probable improvements in communications, from hollow log and sticks to i-phone and beyond where the level of incline rapidly diminishes.
Language - in all it's forms, both verbal and non verbal, including expressions, gestures, smells, and timing are an other part, but the largest, I think, is how language is perceived both before and after it is transferred. - Are you saying what you think you are saying, and are you hearing what think you are hearing. We know that, as well as one person can construct a statement or question, another person speaking the exact same language can misinterpret it.
This may simply be a biological or Psychological limit. A wall we won't get past.
On the other hand, technologies move on many different fronts towards a common centre.. Once there was biology and once there was mechanics. Physics and psychology. The one had nothing to do with the other. - Now, we have Bio-mechanics. Even Nano-bio-mechanics. starting with what is, even at this time, known about chemical communicators such as pheromone's, auditory and gestural cues, stimulating the brain with low frequency electronics and so on ans so forth, I do think it will eventually be possible for me to know exactly what you mean when you ask. "How we will communicate?" without the filter of language.
I would hope the roll of design here would be to figure out how to avoid the dystopic implications that would attend this level of intimacy. Now is probably a good time to start.