Have you ever seen Koyaanisqatsi?
This isn’t the best pickup line, I’ll admit. Regardless, Koyaanisqatsi is this crazy “mondo movie” about how shit is fucked up. You can see it all in the first two frames of the film, if your media-addled consciousnesses crammed with the need for instant gratification can hang on through camera shots lasting far more than three seconds each: ancient, primitive people had everything right, but modern civilization is destroying the world. Okay, simple (or simplistic) enough. The director of this film, Godfrey Reggio, a former monk, said in an interview somewhere that this movie (and its sequels) are all about how evil doesn’t come dressed in the form of a monster or a two-horned devil, but instead as temptation: as flashy technology promising to make our lives easier.
My inner Luddite recoiled in terror when I first heard of Google Glass, which by now needs no introduction or explanation, beyond the statement that this is the first piece of technology I think anyone has seen in years which seems to have been brought to us via time traveler from the future. Although the first GLASSes that come out on the market will be too expensive, too bulky, and too weird for most people to buy, I think the idea will eventually catch on—particularly after Samsung mass-produces cheaper versions of the same thing—and that in a few years “glass” will be as ubiquitous as the smartphone. It seems inevitable, since plenty of people are already interfacing themselves with the internet as often as they can.
The privacy-related implications of having people everywhere walking around with cameras doesn’t really interest me: there are cameras all over the place, and immense amounts of useless data has already been gathered on millions and millions of boring, law-abiding, frugal, people. At first I was more interested in the gaming potential, since you’ll (eventually) be able to run around outside and shoot your friends with guns that don’t exist, with glasses like this; the possibility of eliminating real physical advertising has also intrigued me, since uploading a billboard into the virtual world will eventually be far cheaper and far more effective than building one from paint and plastic and then lifting it up above a highway. But beyond the far-reaching implications of augmented reality, what really gets me is the way that people (including me and including you) are voluntarily turning themselves into cyborgs: voluntarily hooking themselves up to The Matrix, with our phones and with our computers and with our thoughts, long before the first pair of glasses has gone on sale.
This reality is here now: we don’t look like cyborgs, but we’re starting to think like cyborgs. The fact that this product exists at all just goes to show that the people behind this massive company, the world’s greatest search engine, and one of the most powerful tools ever created, believe that there is profit to be had from marketing Locutus of Borg. But there’s no goofy laser beams, and no dystopian robotic slavery—there’s no unsustainable human cannibalism, either. Most people seem to want to be online most of the time. That’s how we spend our moments of freedom, and, eventually, that’s how we’re going to spend all of our time: jacked into an internet that is so incredibly tempting, with such infinite entertainment potential, that we won’t be doing anything else.
My inner hippy recoils from this future and wants to bound over dewy green fields and laugh in the sun beneath the sighing leaves of lush elms and oaks in response: but why make the effort when the same experience can be simulated—perfectly? Many of you are saying that’s impossible, but who knows, the Buddha may have been on to something: it may be possible to prove that the universe is a computer simulation, and we may be on the cusp of creating a simulation inside that simulation, which itself may have been created inside another simulation: turtles all the way up, and turtles all the way down.