We’ve Built a New Dimension

Jason Hehra at Big Think reminds us today that “We’ve Built a New Dimension: The #1 Reason to Be Optimistic”

“we’ve been busy building entire new worlds over the past 15 years. … Hundreds of millions of man-hours have gone towards these construction projects of unimaginable proportion. … But it’s hard to appreciate the grandeur of what’s we’ve built. This is because these new worlds are abstract and nebulous — existing in the minds of users and in ever-changing liquid crystal displays. It’s easy to look at a 500 story building, constructed with hundreds of tons of steel, and feel a sense of awe. It’s much harder to look at a search bar on a 4.87 by 2.31 inch screen and feel the same astonishment.”

A useful point. But Hehra’s article doesn’t quite nail it. The new digital worlds that are made to resemble the old world, from Ethan Carter to Minecraft et al, are interesting new forms of entertainment — but not world changers. More interesting are the emerging ‘overlay worlds’, in which shards of the digital info-sphere come to be laid on top of the real world, providing a sort of pervasive mycelium of information and assistance. The default pessimist response to that is: “Yikes! It will be dominated by mega-corps!”. But the existence of open hardware platforms, user-controlled filters and plugin ad-blockers suggests that such everyday experiences will be more like the open Web, plus a few sensible embedded rules like not distracting cyclists and other people doing complex stuff at speed. Just as I now routinely block all Web ads and unwanted (sports etc) sections of online publications, I doubt that the tech-savvy will be seeing a personalised ad for Coke pop up on their Google Glass or Microsoft Holosphere every time they glance at a cafe frontage and their health-band detects “thirst”. I suspect advertisers are actually going to have to pay people to take such a pervasive level of advertising, despite the marketeer’s fever-dream that high-spenders will embrace it willingly.