After being out of the corporate world for a year, I’ll say that one of the biggest lessons I’ve had to learn is – be present. And no, I’m not referring to the practice of mindfulness – though that’s been a lesson in itself. In this instance I’m talking about being hyperconscious when I’m working on a job. This means tuning my awareness to meaning, process, efficiency, limitations, environment and standards so that I can do what Cal Newport describes in his book of the same name – deep work.
What I have found amusing in my efforts to cultivate deep work is that though our brains thrive on that intense engagement of being present, the future that is being prescribed to us is one that does not require our presence at all. Progress in technology, business, education, travel and entertainment indicates that in ten or twenty years we will be living in a dimension that is brain-activated but physically disconnected.
Going one step further, I’d like to suggest that not only will the future have little use for our physical body, but that the future won’t even need our full consciousness. Activity will be launched based on a fragment of behaviour, a speck of DNA, and what is but a moment in a person’s life will perpetuate a chain of action on our behalf thanks to algorithms.
The future will have little use for our physical body… it won’t even need our full consciousness.
If we look at some products and services already being produced by companies like Amazon and Google, we see that instances of “non-presence” are already being cultivated.
- I am not here (when I’m shopping): When we’re running low on washing detergent, we press the Amazon Dash button. I’m not even going to go down the supermarket aisle comparing product benefits and prices. It’s efficiency with less thought and minimal movement. It’s click to refill. This form of “sub-aware” retail also manifests in subscription services where you don’t have to think, you just receive.
- I am not here (when I’m travelling): What do you do when you’re not driving? I’ve read that gaming companies are preparing for in-car gaming so that you can spend your time battling your way through a fictional world while being transported to work. It’s an example of how people will be somewhere else while in transit to their next destination.
- I am not here (when I’m online): So far, the internet is the only place where you can be in multiple places (and be multiple people!) at the same time. Post scheduling really ruined the perception that everyone was online at the same time, when in fact they have organised for posts to be published when they’re most likely to reach eyeballs. I imagine avatars will be the next progression. Simulations that are like you, but not you, will be your representative at all types of activities. The real you will be sitting at home flipping channels from one avatar to the next.
- I am not here (when I’m on holiday): You’re already able to attend events or visit destinations without physically being present. The experience is still gritty and not immersive enough for it to be a full-blown sensory experience ala Star Trek’s Holodeck. But if you think of the evolution of video games over the last decade, there will come a time where you will be able to experience Barbados or Tokyo or Reykjavik while home. It’ll be Ready. Player. One. – on a grand scale.
An argument against non-presence suggests that we should stop the future from happening, which is absurd. Humanity has already launched itself on a particular trajectory that at best will be shaped by decisions made around the ethics and application of technology, and at worst, accelerate our journey to whatever version of The End you subscribe to. Non-presence is the future. It offers too many benefits for it to be rejected. Through it we’ll witness lower carbon emissions, further democratisation of access to knowledge and experience, savings in time and money, and the most attractive reason of all, the ability to free ourselves from the limitations of the organic (and degenerating) body.
An argument against non-presence suggests that we should stop the future from happening…
I don’t have any desire to live forever in a computer. I have toyed with the idea that reality is a simulation, and I’m cool with it in theory, but somehow there is still a draw to the idea that a deep experience of life requires conscious “flesh and blood” presence.
If the future is non-presence, and our “being” ends up the result of logging into an account or turning on a switch, then the best thing we can do is to develop really strong idea of who we are and cultivate that identity. Profiles will have to get more extensive. And more connected they are, the more data they are able to weave and interconnect, the stronger the sense of self there will be in the future. How will that change how we view ourselves? I can only imagine.