The concept of going anywhere anytime to experience anything has been standard science fiction fare for years. Star Trek gave us the holodeck, Aldous Huxley the feelies, Woody Allen the orgasmatron. The modern entertainment experience already includes Surround Sound, 3D worlds, and touch technology. Biotechnology, informatics, and sensory research are coming together to immerse the average consumer in alternative universes. Now get ready for the sensory revolution.
Evolving technologies let us create and explore virtual worlds, where we can enter a virtual chat room as an avatar representing our self-image du jour. We can play a 3D game and feel the vibration of a force feedback mouse or joystick.
Digital editing technology is becoming cheaper and more accessible. We can be anyone or anything and participate in the creation of new types of online culture. A good friend of mine is developing great software that helps many high school dropouts in their efforts to earn a GED diploma through online support courses.
Touch technology and instant access to 3D audio and video data over the Internet continue to stoke the fires of the entertainment economy. Taken to their natural extreme, these technologies blur the lines between entertainment, information, and community. This is an outgrowth of our pursuit of aesthetics and creative expression, our sharing of information, and our desire to socialize.
The omnipresent Internet, inexpensive and ubiquitous streaming media technologies, and the trusty old Webcam give us eyes onto just about anything, anywhere, anytime -a rock concert, a conference, a library, corn growing in a field in Iowa, a guinea pig in a cage. We also can hear anything anywhere anytime with Websites that aggregate vast libraries of MP3s and radio feeds from around the world and from outer space. Online communities are growing around common interests that cut across the borders of national identity.
Many of us spend more time touching our keyboards or remotes than we do touching another person. With the growing prevalence of cordless headsets, wearable cell phones, automobile navigational devices, and our Palms, we are becoming more physically intimate with our PCs than most of us are with our own families. Even our feet soon will be cradled in computerized sneakers (coming to a mall near you).
The future will bring an entirely new realm of sensory immersion. Research shows that Internet consumers are receptive to the idea of connecting plug-and-play scent-emitting devices to their computers. The ease of use and low cost of digital scent devices will let us expand our sensory horizons. We’ll be able to smell anything – places, people, foods, perfumes, spices, cartoons – anywhere, anytime. Digitized scent on our computers and set-top boxes, and, yes, one day, even “smell phones” will offer new ways to express ourselves and to discover the world.
People in the New Economy will spend a great deal of time and money exploring the freedoms that new sensory technologies offer. These technologies will contribute to our ability to walk into a virtual world and become part of it. We’ll be able to travel without boarding a plane. To have a deluxe shopping experience without having to find parking. To feel and even smell a loved one who is far away. To virtually experience in real time just about anything we want. In this future, we will be able to conquer many physical barriers to communication and community building.
Albert Einstein said: “If at first the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it.” The idea of a smell phone (or a holodeck or an orgasmatron) at first sounds absurd. This gives me hope.