Friday, January 06, 2006

The Future of the Future

This is another little shout-out to someone whom I recently learned occassionally tunes in to OaO. This is a fellow I used to work for in one of my prior lives (one which, frankly, was not all that different from this one). Anyway, we'll call him 'gtp.' What makes gtp cooler than either you or me, as I just learned yesterday, is that he has his own entry in the IMDB, by virtue of once having narrated a computer game.

What I'm cribbing today comes from a dinner conversation I had with gtp shortly after I quit working for him and just before I moved off to find my way in the world (which, as noted before, turned out to be pretty similar to my way in the world beforehand, except that I'm now married, studying acupuncture, and I blog). We were talking about visions of the future and gtp pointed out the following: the popular and widespread vision of the future has us expanding, off the earth and out to the stars, exploring the vast new frontiers. But not only does our current model of laws of physics make this a difficult enterprise, it isn't what's actually happening. Instead of expanding out, we're withdrawing further and further into ourselves.

If I remember gtp's premise, the main symptom of this is the slow replacement of the actual physical self with the virtual one in reacting and responding to the world. e.g. I have a physical identity in which my name is Paul, am 5'11", have black hair, and closely resemble the love child of Hugh Grant and Brad Pitt (just kidding. My hair is brown). I also have a blogger identity wherein my name is "Transient Gadfly," and I share a community with a bunch of people who only know me by what I write on this blog. If you follow that down the rabbit hole, you have that whole "on the internet you can be anyone you want to be," phenomenon, except as we move forward, we end up in some sort of Matrix-y, William Gibson-like world (that is to say, some science fiction narrative makers have fully embraced this kind of vision) wherein the outside world (where by contrast, you apparently can't be anyone you want) matters less and less and your online, virtual identity matters more and more.

I thought of this again lately when I noticed how much of popular computer gaming has become about not just getting through the game, but getting your character in the game better/richer/more power/more mojo/whatever. It's not just in the Warquest-like world where you're going up levels in some sort of role-playing-game-like way, it's in things like Grand Theft Auto, where you start out as a petty thief, and attempt to make your way up to crime lord--it's not about solving puzzles anymore, it's about solving puzzles so you become (virtually) rich and powerful and successful. It's especially these online worlds where this seems most evident, where actual outside world money is being exchanged for powers and advantages in the game. This phenomenon, this "who you are or can be online," is growing itself a real-world market, which seems like a big red neon arrow pointing to something dramatic going on.

This is another phenomenon I'd argue is not necessarily new (e.g. you could establish an identity through any kind of writing for the last several thousand years or so and it's likely to have been quite different from the actual person doing the writing), but the online platform on which it's happening now is making it a lot more prevolent and, apparently, a lot more attractive.

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