Saturation’s Implications

In my post “Molding Versus Mimicking Reality,” I wrote about augmented and virtual reality technologies that “the countdown to market saturation is now clearly underway.”  I’ll discuss some of the implications of this, and provide some additional evidence to support this view, below.

As I write these words, the foundations of some pretty advanced dynamic 3D display technologies are already in place, from the mobile to the billboard scale, and from the non-immersive to the immersive. Since these new dynamic 3D displays “contain” the currently dominant dynamic 2D displays, Marshall McLuhan’s work suggests that significant social change is likely to accompany the resulting shift in our dominant display medium. [1]

A particularly important change will be the increase in public awareness of the communications capabilities of dynamic 3D display technologies, including augmented and virtual reality technologies.  This will build on any existing public awareness of their gaming capabilities.

Industry firms are likely to soon be able to distribute these technologies through some of the same established networks that mobile communications devices are currently distributed through, as the technologies will become increasingly essential for communications over time.

This means that the potential for dynamic 3D displays to rapidly saturate the global marketplace should not be underestimated.

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Reality Channels

In this post I primarily want to convey an idea of the sheer size of the virtual and augmented reality universe that humanity is poised to gain access to, and why having access to this universe is likely to eventually change how most people view reality itself. I’ll begin with the following thought experiment.

Imagine that you live in a giant mansion with thousands of rooms. Each of these rooms represents a specific “reality” or “world” that is either purely virtual, purely real, or a mix of virtual and real. So in other words, only one room in this “mansion” represents the unaltered “real world” of our everyday experience.

How likely do you think it is that you would choose to remain solely in the “real world” room at all times, given that:

  1. There are thousands of other rooms in the mansion that you can go into
  2. The “real world” room is more restrictive and dull than the other rooms
  3. Most people in the mansion are in the other rooms

Obviously, this is a rhetorical question. Augmented and virtual reality wearables, and the virtual reality ecosystem that supports them, are soon going to provide individuals with access to a huge number of compelling alternate realities.  As people spend more and more time in these alternate realities, the real world is likely to be relegated in their minds to the status of a single “channel” on a vast spectrum of “reality channels.”

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After Automation

In his famous essay “Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren,” John Maynard Keynes wrote the following words about life in a largely automated society:

Thus for the first time since his creation man will be faced with his real, his permanent problem—how to use his freedom from pressing economic cares, how to occupy the leisure, which science and compound interest will have won for him, to live wisely and agreeably and well. [1]

When Keynes originally wrote these words, casual readers may have envisioned that most people would spend their days in such a society lounging around with little of real interest to do, since machines would take care of essentially everything. Perpetual boredom probably seemed like a real possibility.

Estimates today about the aftermath of widespread automation include Jeremy Rifkin’s belief that there will be significant growth of the non-profit sector [e.g. 2, 3], and concerns mentioned by Martin Ford [4, 5], Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee [6] about the potential for spikes in economic inequality. These views tend to focus on the future of real world human activities in the aftermath of automation.

In this post I will focus instead on the fact that virtual and augmented reality technologies are soon going to change the entire context within which we view Keynes’ statement above. As these technologies achieve their promise over the next three decades, humanity will gain access to a vast universe of engaging and challenging virtual world experiences, which automation will provide us with significant time to explore. The most surprising thing about the majority of jobs and social activities of the future is thus not what they will be but where they will be!

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A Marvelous Medium

In this post I’ll discuss an important advantage that augmented and virtual reality wearables (which I’ll refer to as “AR/VR wearables” from now on) have over all other forms of visual media.  A clear authority on the social influence of media was the great Marshall McLuhan, who wrote that:

All media work us over completely. They are so pervasive in their personal, political, economic, aesthetic, psychological, moral, ethical, and social consequences that they leave no part of us untouched, unaffected, unaltered. [1]

McLuhan also wisely observed that:

…the “content” of any medium is always another medium. The content of writing is speech, just as the written word is the content of print, and print is the content of the telegraph. [2]

I infer from these statements that although society has successfully adapted to many forms of media over time, it is particularly important to be aware of the arrival of new forms of media that are capable of entirely “containing” the currently dominant form(s) of media. This is quite a rare occurrence of course, but when it does happen we may expect a lot of social change to follow, given McLuhan’s words above.

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