Tuesday, May 24, 2011

From rural life to city life to virtual life

In the aftermath of the industrial revolution, most of the population shifted from rural life to city life. No more immediate contact with nature all day long, less and less physical work, and more time indoors in an artificial environment with books and machines.

Now the computer revolution is unfolding, and most of the upcoming generation is shifting from city life to virtual life. Time is spent in virtual social networks rather than with neighborhood kids, playing online video games instead of chess and monopoly, reading blogs instead of newspapers, replacing face-to-face sex with online sex, surfing the web instead of chatting with office mates over breaks, texting in church instead of listening to the homily, finding one's way with a GPS instead of by watching the world outside. The virtual world is a great egalitarian. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female. Even in a wheel chair, you can live your virtual life just as well as anyone else. You are free to create your own persona, unlimited by physical constraints.

How can we do better still, and move to a more fully virtual life?

Our bodies are increasingly unnecessary. But we still need to eliminate the remaining burdens of physical reality. When we go to school, eat, sleep, we are not focused on the online world. Here are a few suggestions:
- game developpers should invest heavily in educational games for the classroom setting, so that children are also in the virtual world during school time. This needs to be much more widespread than now so that children learn from an early age that, whenever they are awake, they need to be engaged with a computer screen.
- food is a big time sink. Why do people not buy more ready meals, but still waste time shopping, cooking, eating, and cleaning up? Food processing companies need to greatly improve their products so that people finally give in. At the same time, farms need to grow less tasty food to diminish the contrast in taste between home cooking and fully processed meals. Progress is being made, but the freedom from food is still a long way off.
- sleep is also a huge time sink, although people now sleep about an hour less per night than thirty years ago. Pharmaceutical companies need to continue investing money on drugs that fight drowsiness.
- the keyboard, mouse and pen are discriminatory against those people who are handicapped, not just in the legs, but also in the arms. In addition using hands and fingers to type and click needlessly uses up muscles and physical energy. So, language recognition needs to be greatly perfected so that we can communicate merely by talking, without otherwise moving. In the longer term, research needs to continue actively on automatic interpretation of signals from the brain, so that eventually we can communicate directly with the computer.
- research on robotics needs to accelerate so that robots take over doing all the tasks of daily life that entail any physical effort.

At that point, we will have succeeded in making the physical world irrelevant, and we will be able to spend our time in a world of our own making, the perfect virtual world, where anything is possible if that is our wish. Oh, what a wonderful vision!


  1. Consider moving to central Lausanne. Our building is very old and still has no fiber-optic or telephone cables. Therefore we have a USB modem running through the cell phone network, which has a soft limit of 5 GB per month, after which it is limited at 4 kb/s (and even that is not reliable). It leads to glorious stretches of time where it is not worthwhile to use the internet at all! (Albeit this is often replaced by the Wii.)

  2. Dave, how can you survive in such a backwards place!

  3. you still have to go number 2 physically though ...

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