Let us dream of a new world, a new world we will create ourselves. A new world that is within our reach if we but reach out and grasp it.
Let us dream of what we can do with our technology, soon, very soon. It will be a world where you what you see and hear is what you choose to see and hear. It is a world where the anomie of modern life will give way to a mesh of relationships based on common interests and real values. It will be a world where who you are isn’t based on your credentials, isn’t based on your money, but is based on who you know and what you have done.
I have called it The Flash Society in the past – a world where help is a word away, where tribes and guilds enmesh their members in a web of friendship, obligation, duty and protection. The technology is almost here, and the social norms are already changing.
Imagine then that everything is transmitting. You are transmitting your location and whatever other information you choose to transmit. Every shop, every house, every road, every car, every item in every store – indeed everything manufactured or tagged, is tagged with information.
You wear a PDA on your wrist with a full screen, or for the truly daring a pair of visors. That PDA or visor is set both to transmit and to receive – and more importantly than receiving to screen. For in a world where every store is transmitting its location, what it sells, and its specials; in a world where all the roads are transmitting their current traffic load; in a world where those in your tribe are letting you know if they are busy, available, or inviting you to join them for a party, movie, coffee or conversation – in such a world, as with the internet today, the problem is getting the information you want.
So as you walk, shopping, you set your PDA to tell you what stores are selling shoes, to show their location relative to you, and to show any specials on men’s wingtip dress shoes. If you are a fireman, your PDA is automatically downloading the fire code history, floor map and water main locations of buildings and with a simple command they come up for you. Because that information is encrypted only people like yourself, police and building inspectors can see it.
Information is presented the same way it often is today in computer games – in iconic form or as simplified colors. Choose to see all the restaurants in a few blocks and each one might come up as a symbol – the brighter it is the closer it is, the more green it is on a spectrum of red to green the more expensive it is, and the symbol itself varies by the type of food – perhaps a fleur de lise for French food, golden arches for fast food, and a fortune cookie for Chinese.
In such a world, the world you see is the world you need to see at any given time. Those who need directions see both a minimap, but also a line running in the direction they need to go. Those who are heading to Customs see a list of the documents they need, those who want food or to find a lawyer see that. And a policeman sees those who have called for help – but they don’t see him on their display unless he chooses to let them.
This expands deeply into the work world. Imagine doing inventory in such a world – you look at each section in order and your PDA does the counting for you. Indeed, depending on transmitter power you might be able to take inventory without ever leaving your office. And fraud, in such a world, is mislabeling or unlabelling items – as people will become lazy and assume the virtual world and the real world are the same thing.
All of this will probably eventually be controlled both verbally and kinesthetically. A pair of gloves with multiple sensors, or for those who choose, full sets of clothes are used to give instructions through intricate bodily motions. In the same way that typing is learned, people will learn to control their data devices without even thinking about it, switching fluidly from view to view; changing the information they are transmitting with a quick and nearly unconscious movement of their hands; and creating new functions the same we string words together by the rules of grammar to create sentences we’ve never said before and may never say again, yet which seem to us as nothing special. The motion of pupils will also be tracked, and matched against the gestures of hands to select items visible only in a person’s visor or PDA.
Socially this world will be one where who you know has much less to do with the physical than it does today. This has already begun – many Millenials already have networks of virtual friends spread in a far net geographically. Nor can these friends be dismissed as not “real” friends, they are often truer friends than those who are friends by accident of geography, spending their time and money to help people they know mainly online. Indeed I am, personally, closing in on the point where more of my friends and business associates are people I originally met virtually than ones I met physically. And these are real relationships as measured by both money and time – thousands of dollars and thousands of hours have been spent on them, and earned by them.
My guess is that the most important of these will form out of groups centering around mutual interests and hobbies and form into long enduring networks of reciprocal friendship which will turn into societies with formal dues and duties. I have called these Flash tribes in the past, for the way they will be able to protect their members by quickly dispatching help to their aid and indeed I expect the first forms to be mutual aid societies, where social norms and the sharing of personal dreams that comes so easily in the virtual world leads to strong expectations that members will be there for other members who need help. It is this beginning which made me call them militias or tribes – because they will be tied together at first mainly by custom.
When traveling you will reach out to see who in your tribe lives in the area and can act as a guide, or a host. When doing research you will see who is an expert in your tribe. When doing business you will tend to use members of your tribe first, because you will know that strong social approbation will fall on those who fail to live up to their duties to a tribe member.
Oddly this world, if it turns out as it should and is not locked down by the interests of the modern world into a pattern more suitable to the current day, will also give individuals a great deal more functional freedom. Today the truth is that most people are effectively wage slaves. People work so they can do things after work, not live to work. They are dependent – their food, their energy, their clothes – everything they have, everything they need is completely disassociated from their own efforts, and fewer and fewer are able to independently generate the exchange needed to pay for those items without entering to a situation where most of the value of their work is appropriated by others.
In the new world, a world of microlocal production, or microlocal energy production where every building both consumes and produces energy; a world where design and manufacturing is simplified so that it moves into the reach of small groups of people or households, will allow many more people to actually offer the world whatever it is that they can make and produce. And in a world where the world is your customer – the odds of finding the people who want what you produce increases substantially, since if there are only a few thousand in the entire world that will be enough, while in the past unless those people happened to live near where you lived the market effectively did not exist.
This future – this dream – is something we’ll be discussing more in the future. What I have described is half prediction – half plan. Some of it will happen due to the simple nature of technological change. Other parts can happen or not, the potential is there, but it is not necessary that it turn out that way. There is always a lot of money to be made in monopoly and oligopoly situations and there are always people who will seek to create the bottlenecks, government grants and gates necessary to allow them to take a toll from everyone who wants certain goods or services.
One battle of this generation will be to ensure that those who want to make the future profitable to a few – to the winners of the last fight – are not successful. If they are, a lot of freedom and a lot of prosperity will have to wait, or will be realized elsewhere, by those who cannot afford to allow the past to strangle the future.