I’ve Seen The Future In My Head – It Is NOT Flat And Has No Keyboard

I've getting a bit jaded of the stories of 3D screens, mobile phones that show video over captured images, and MMO's. The idea that the human race is – over the long term – going to allow any business or technology to mediate it's shared creative or social experience through a screen and keyboard is so risible as to make me want to smack technology pundits with a wet kipper.

The whole history of technology is that the market rapidly rewards those that help remove barriers. Take Television. It's number one advantage was that you did not have to walk to the cinema and wait for a showing at a particular time. (OK, it did other things, but that was the critical one for me). That also applies to other things as well: I have a personal belief (pun intended) that Christianity dominated the ancient world simply by offer to remove work barriers and allow one (and then two) days off in seven instead of one day in either eight or ten under the Roman calendar.

Forget mouse traps: remove barriers, and they will come.

So, now we are beginning to see the cracks. MMO fever (to which I never subscribed) is waning with the final truth that there are not quite as many Second Life players as we were once lead to believe. MMOG Chart shows that there are more MMO players each month, but I really struggle to believe any of the figures in the absence of cold hard audited figures,

We are also beginning to realise that purely virtual worlds have really serious issues with copyright and with property ownership.

I think the thing that sucks about MMO's is that you have to reach them through a screen and keyboard. That is why they are – and will always be – no more than small clans of geeks and cannot cross out into the mass consumer world where we have real parties, go to the pub, meet friends and enjoy sunsets. Sorry, WOW players, you are sad fantasy nerds stuck in an interface ghetto. Probably the best place for most of you. <leaps into flame proof suit and heads for the shelters>

Time after time we are finding that the part of our digital world that really sucks is the interface that we have to it. Take typing: Keyboards suck. I'd blog more if I did not have to type it. I am slow, it hurts (as I never learned to type properly and have bad typing habits), and it sucks having to sit in front of a screen and be chained to my desk.

(Side note – who wants to play games with keyboards when we have the Wii? Not I! But the Wii + controller + screen is still a dead end)

And mice? They really suck. They suck slightly less sometimes, but are still a horrible distraction and lead to frustration, grief and the occasional weird injury.

OK, so we can get up from our desks and try to interface with the digital world on the move. Would that not be a good step forwards? Sadly not with current technology.

The tech world wants us to love our connected convergent media devices and their latest touchy feely interface. I don't. The mobile phone sucks as a video or complex graphical interface and sucks even more as an input device. Even if the phone finally learns to listen to me and can understand me (which is – really -way off yet) that is only half the problem.

The phone is just plain wrong as an input device. You have to carry it,
hold it, get a signal, charge the battery, look at it, understand it
and protect it from damage. Socially it disrupts our integration with
groups we are physically present with, financially they are way too
expensive for the small services they offer. Yet they lay more and more
functions onto a small interface.

I don't care if it is a Blackberry Bold, an iPhone or a G1 Android, they all suck at being any more than a phone and some basic text use. OK, on a really good day the GPS and maps might help. Just not all that often, and anyway the battery will go flat when you need them most.

Could we ditch the interface? Only partly right now. While I sometimes use speech recognition on my MacBook Pro and on PC (thanks Dragon, Nuance Dictate 10 works mostly now), it still needs a dead quiet room and no distractions so in many ways make using a computer even MORE socially isolating than it already is.

I am, however, a big believer in Augmented Reality That is not just because I particularly loved Vernor Vinge's Rainbows End (no apostrophe, before you vandalise the blog, check the book cover and realise, when you read it, that it is a pun). I genuinely think that the more we can overlay our connected digital knowledge in ways which are friction free and have no technical barriers, then the better our society and commerce will become. I wear glasses, so 3D glasses have no fear for me. OK, they are underdeveloped right now, but will improve. NO, not 3D glasses that split a screen into left and right channels, but real – projected onto the real world 3D Goggles. Given them 5 years and they might be usable. That is one way to go. Then contact lenses and then wire it direct into the optic nerve for all I care.

That will lay data and images over what we see. When we want. In an intelligent and interactive and relevant manner, driven by our profiles, our behaviours and our requests. Ok, it might get crazy as Tim Boucher so wittly puts it, but it will be cool for most of us.

Oh, yes, that will also need some sort of hands free control. I would expect that to start out as vocal, then sub-vocal, then motion or muscle firing patterns and finally “reading brain waves” like the Brain Wave Wii Controller.

Then we need augmented hearing. After all,a good chunk of the information we act on comes via our ears. When we listen.

Hence, don't try to sell me on 3D 52″ plasma screens, or bluetooth keyboards or your latest convergent pocket devices. They are all blind alleys on the technology road, designed to appeal to the ignorant or trigger childish desires to possess shiny baubles. (*)

So, augment my world. End the tyranny of the screen and keyboard. Take away the barriers, remove the horrible (designed to stop me working) interfaces that enslave me to ghastly machines and let me walk and talk and be free to communicate.

One day, we too, will be exultant. Just not yet. So can companies please concentrate on removing the barriers to our digital lives and stop with the filling of our non-recycleable electronic trash?


(*) I must now confess to having owned some shiny techno-geek baubles in my time ….


  1. Have you seen the new subvocalisation stuff? It's pretty much working already.
    I think we might just skip straight over the “vocal” part of your theory…
    (Although, to be fair, you may also have seen that the latest Tom Clancy game is voice controlled?


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