Those of you who know me will agree that I am technologically backwards in that the latest electronic gadgets hold no fascination for me. It is somewhat incongruous I suppose since I work at a major technology company. I have never bought a computer (I have always had a work computer) and I still have not been tempted by the smartphone revolution. That being said I am a very passionate advocate of technology and find it incomprehensible when people use their smartphones with their right hand and bash technology with their left. The varied benefits of modern technology are too numerous to list and it is not my intent here to launch into a tirade against anti-technology folks. Instead I want to shed light on one particular aspect of technology that has perhaps been overlooked: the role technology, particularly in the last 50 years or so, has played in democratizing the arts.
Art is an outward expression of an idea in our head and as such needs a medium of expression. Without the medium there is no art. My assertion is that technology has not only created a wider variety of artistic mediums but also ensured that these mediums are available to a broad spectrum of people. Now more than any other time in human history it is easier to bring your creative vision to reality with technology. An aspiring writer need not use the traditional medium of pen and paper to get his writing to people nor does he need to pound the pavement and wait for an editor to get published. You can start a blog like yours truly. The number of people you can reach is only limited by your ability to be social online. What technology has done is lowered the barrier for entry into all types of artistic endeavors.
Aspiring musicians have benefitted from technology tremendously. A wide variety of music software exists to facilitate music creation. You don’t need a big music studio to record music. Software can provide you with all the bell and whistles you need to add to your own compositions. You can jam with your friends remotely. Musicians across different continents and cultures can create music together without spending money on flights and hotels. Technology has even done away with the need for recording on physical media. Photography is another relevant example. No need to mess around with chemicals in dark rooms. And if you believe the hype around Lytro, focussing will become a thing of the past. This new fangled camera allows you to focus after the images are taken!! You can play around and create the perfect picture in the comfort of your home on your computer long after you pressed click. How cool is that?
In addition to providing newer mediums for older art forms technology has also created brand new art forms such as web design and video game creation. Not only is content creation made easier, marketing and selling that content is also faster with technology. More people can dream of making a living through art. And if that is not possible technology makes it simpler still for an average joe such as myself to create his own art and not merely be content with consuming the art created by the professionals. Now that is cool indeed.
I draw your attention not to the fluffy white clouds where angels sing but to the data storage cloud where companies like Google and Facebook store the information they “collect” on us. All our actions on the internet are essentially a bits and pieces record of our personality. What we search for, read, watch, like, dislike on the internet can provide a window into our soul. In a day not so far off in future, it will be possible to “construct” a virtual you just from the fingerprints you leave behind on the internet. It may sound far-fetched to some of you and I can see the skeptics shaking their heads in violent disagreement. But it is already beginning to happen. The signs of what is to come are plain for all to see. On your Gmail and Facebook you already see online ads that are targeted to your own individual quirks.
I got started on this train of thought after reading this news item from last week, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-16801154. It talks about the legal challenges to living online after your death. Question asked here is whether you can assign a legal representative who will have access to your online persona after your death. Aside from the legalities, there are some very serious philosophical and religious implications. To get started let us assume that one day advances in computer algorithms will make it possible to build a virtual avatar of any individual from the information (data) on that individual present in the cloud in the hyper connected future (this is exactly the kind of future that makes some of us want to live off the grid). This “software” avatar will behave exactly like us sans the flesh and blood. The word avatar comes from Hinduism by the way and means incarnation or manifestation. It is interesting that even in technology we stick to such mystical/religious terminology.
This is not a coincidence in my opinion. Religion and science both offer us hope of immortality after their own fashion. In the world full of relative truths death is the only absolute. Since the beginning of times we have strived to wrap our brains around it. Religion says that there is something else to come for us after death and it is not the end. Science on the other hand has focussed on means to postpone death (physical destruction of our body) for as long as possible. But it appears now that technology, the child of science, is beginning to align itself more and more with religion (witness the hordes of iPhone devotees at the temple of Apple for example). Science is primarily concerned with inquiry and thought whereas both technology and religion aspire to make us feel better. Inquiry and thought never makes one feel better!!
So this is how it will come to pass. Through the wonders of technology, we will have a copy of our soul in the cloud in the form of our software avatar. It will not be subject to the mortality of the physical world and go on living long after the original copy is destroyed along with our physical selves. Our flesh and blood loved ones that we leave behind could still interact with the virtual us. The software avatar/soul will be “aware” and continue to “grow” through these interactions. Your soul/personality could also be plugged into a physical body and voila the world of Caprica and Battlestar Gallactica will become a reality. If this sounds like the stuff of your nightmares, log off Facebook and go outside. It is rather sunny for February.
Note: The featured image is from www.angelsghosts.com.